Women Leading Change in Commercial Real Estate: Interview with Real Capital Markets Exec Tina Lichens

As women scale to new heights in the commercial real estate industry, they are not only changing their standing but also the elevating the industry as a whole.  Among them is 18-year veteran and trailblazer, Tina Lichens, Chief Operating Officer of Real Capital Markets (RCM), a leading marketing and transaction platform for commercial real estate principals and brokers acquired by LightBox in Spring 2019.

tina lichens

Lichens has led RCM to a number of milestones, including reaching more than $2 trillion in properties brought to market (achieved last year), growing the company’s investor database to more than 62,000 qualified principals and facilitating nearly 12,000 transactions through its platforms every year.  She shared her thoughts on the state of the marketplace, the coworking sector and perspective as a woman leader in the industry with Connected Real Estate Magazine.

Prepare for the Long Cycle

As the commercial real estate market moves into a long cycle, owners should remain focused on the age-old concept of providing exceptional customer service and tenant experience, says Lichens.

“The focus has not changed over the decades. The ideas that the customer is always right and tenant satisfaction is a priority are critical to success in the industry because it’s very costly to replace tenants,” said Lichens.

Lichens’ comments were part of a follow-up to Real Capital Markets’ June 2019 Investor Sentiment Report. The report covered a general outlook as well as coworking and the issues and trends impacting the office markets across the country.

Lichens said owners may need to become more aggressive about leasing and embrace an incubator mindset to insulate themselves from vacancies and stabilize their assets during long cycles.

“The incubator mindset which many investors have started to adopt in part because of coworking is a viable way to create long-term stability and ensure that your tenants stay within your portfolio. As more building owners nurture their tenants and help their companies grow, the value will play out. Serving your tenants will make them want to stay with you and even take on more space. Ultimately that enables owners to improve occupancy and, very likely, value.” Lichens said.

She added that there are significant operational efficiencies that can occur when  taking on an incubator mindset and growing in the same geographical markets.

The Future of Coworking

While there exists looming uncertainty from investors surrounding the performance of the coworking segment in an economic downturn, there is little evidence of that in the marketplace right now.  “We don’t have the benefit of experiencing what the segment will be like in a downturn from a volatility standpoint,” Lichens cautioned.

While tenants may prefer short-term lease agreements and flex space options to mitigate their financial risks and add adjustability in uncertain economic times, offering that flexibility does come with a cost, Lichen said. According to Real Capital Markets June 2019 Investor Sentiment Report,  investors indicated that they were less likely to prefer buildings with higher than 20% flex-space or coworking leases. Lichens added that it is possible that in an economic downturn coworking rents are likely to fluctuate and impact the profitability of flex space operators.

However, the massive influx of cash from private equity and WeWork’s plans to go public are positive signs for the sector, she said. “Our clients think that the coworking market has not played out yet as more private equity investment continues to pour into the segment,” Lichens said.

Women  In Commercial Real Estate

For the second year in a row,  more women are filling REIT directorship positions than men. Fifty-two percent of the newly elected REIT directors during the 2019 proxy season were female, according to FPL Associates/Ferguson Partners’ 2019 REIT Board Composition and Diversity Report.

As an industry veteran, Lichens has witnessed first-hand the transition of more women to leadership positions in the commercial real estate industry.

“There are so many more women in business, in technology – as entrepreneurs. Women are taking more prominent places on the professional stage. You can see it in the numbers, the media, in conference rooms. I’m excited to see the dialogue surrounding women in the workplace evolve from stereotypical labels to abilities and individual contributions,” Lichens said.

Lichens said her path to success in the industry has been marked by adapting a highly client-centric focus and building a team with a similar mentality at RCM.  She leads with a philosophy that by focusing on helping clients succeed and grow their businesses, outward signs of success, such as company milestones, personal accomplishments and higher levels of corporate and individual opportunity will naturally follow.

Lichens advice to women is to do your job well, treat your customers and colleagues well and make a point to interact with people above, below and around you.

“People want to work with people who do a good job and who they enjoy being around, who they trust. And, this can be one of the hardest things – for men and women alike – be authentic toward others and yourself. Know what you like, what you’re good at, what you need to improve to get where you want to go.” Lichens said.

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