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Shop Talk - The Real Estate Agent Podcast

Real Estate Agent Podcast Episode 56: Matt Brower

Episode 56: Matt Brower
November 18, 2020

Matt talks about the challenges and opportunities of working in commercial real estate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I always tell the brokers on my team, your brand is built with the deals you say no to.

Matt Brower

About This Episode

Since the age of 16, Matt has wanted the freedom and entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by working in commercial real estate. Today he’s a founding broker with Column Commercial Partners, working with clients in and around downtown Denver. He’s also the host of the Industry Alchemist podcast.

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Episode Transcript

JON: Hello and welcome to Shop Talk: The Real Estate Show. I’m Jon Forisha, and joining me on this episode is Matt Brower, Co-Founder and Managing Broker at Column Commercial Partners in Denver. A note before we start that this episode was recorded back in July 2020, which is why we mention some stats about the pandemic only being a few months old.

JON: Matt, thank you for joining.

MATT: Appreciate you having me here. Excited for the conversation.

JON: Yeah, absolutely. So let's start with your background. How did you get into real estate?

MATT: You know, I'm one of these odd people that when I was 16 years old pizza cook at a pizza shop in Phoenix, Arizona that the manager wasn't going to let me have a night off to take my girlfriend to the dance or something like that. I don't remember. So I thought about it at that time. I was like, wow, I don't know if I'm wired to have a boss or have to punch a clock or, you know, to have somebody tell me what I have when I can take a vacation day or not. So I kind of went through this conversation back then of, well, here's what I want. I want flexibility with my time. I want to earn a good living and I just want, you know, all around freedom with, with my time and resources and whatever.

MATT: And my dad was always in construction, my whole life, just kind of construction jobs, residential commercial. And I think that's probably how I got exposed to real estate back then. And I thought, God, it would be really fun to be the guy in the suit or like, you know, wearing the polo or something at a construction site. What is that job? So somehow I arrived at real estate broker one step further and, and I do commercial real estate exclusively commercial real estate brokerage is something I've wanted to do since I was 16. And here I am.

JON: Wow. I love that it started with you wanted to own your own time.

MATT: Yeah. Yeah. It's a entrepreneur, I think real estate in general to be a real estate agent. It's very entrepreneurial endeavor. You take on a lot of risks, but I think the benefits completely outweigh the risks.

JON: Yeah. Yeah. You can build it the way you want to. Whenever we're selling our Pre-Licensing products, we always, you know, sell the dream that way. Take charge of your schedule and everything. So exactly. That's awesome. So why specifically commercial, did you ever dabble in residential?

MATT: You know, I've never done residential. Mostly because I really want my nights and my weekends to be mine. Yeah. I do love being involved in a business community. So I'm, you know, here in Denver having, having a meaningful impact, real to have an impact in Denver's business community is really something I thrive in. I love building my network with other entrepreneurs and people just, you know, building their own companies and kind of going down that route. And this is not true for everyone, but I think the potential of income, the amount of income you can earn you know, if you're working, you have to work hard regardless of your, if you're in residential or commercial, but the potential for the higher income is greater in commercial I believe. Not true for everyone. And there are tons of residential realtors that make absolutely just crush it and it's amazing. But yeah, that's kind of, I'd say the three main reasons.

JON: You've talked about, you know, nurturing your, your business contacts. I'm sure networking is a huge part of commercial.

MATT: Very much so. Yeah.

JON: Do, do you have any tips for people on how to get out there and network better?

MATT: Something I picked up very early on this concept of give before you get mentality. So if you're, if your brand in the market is, you know, and I'll just use my, my, myself as an example, gosh, Matt is such a, he's always looking for ways to help people help connect good people, refer potential clients to me, you know, those are the types of things you want people to be saying about you in the marketplace. So you have to give referrals, you have to give, you have to help others. And the result of that will be people innately are going to want to help you. We all want to help each other at the end of the day, right? So it can't be, you can't go and have a coffee with somebody and say, what can I get out of this person? It's this mentality of what can I, how can I help this person?

MATT: If you start there, everything else just kind of falls into place over time. And that's probably the first thing I'd say. Linkedin, I don't know if I know in commercial real estate, a lot of brokers use LinkedIn as a way to expand their network. Before I go and have coffee with somebody, I will look them up on LinkedIn, try to see who they know that I might want to meet. And I'll come up with three to five people in that coffee meeting that I can ask them about, Hey, do you think this person would be receptive to you introducing us? Would they get any benefit out of what I do? You know, those two, two things that I think are, have been very helpful in my business.

JON: Yeah. Those are some great tips. Using LinkedIn more I think is, is it's a pretty underutilized tool for a lot of people. They think they go on there to, you know, when they're looking for a job, but if they're happily employed, sometimes they don't use it all the time.

MATT: And truth be told, I mean, it may not be the right tool for residential real estate. Sure. I don't know. I think it's helpful regardless, because if you're you know, if you want to be selling million dollar homes or above and earning those bigger fees, chances are that potential client of yours is at a certain job level that they probably are on LinkedIn. I can't remember a time that I was trying to get a meeting with a CEO or a CFO of a company. And they haven't been very active on LinkedIn. It's just a very utilized tool in the business world.

JON: Hmm. So do you think it's possible to have a foot in residential and a foot in commercial to do a little bit of both?

MATT: It is possible. Absolutely. I actually know several people that do it. I think in any business, the more you can focus, this is the hardest thing for any entrepreneur, any business owner to get to, because you never want to pass up a deal, right? You know, if somebody refers you a deal that may not be perfect for you, but you know, I want the revenue I'm going to take it off. The more you can focus your business the better, and the reason why is that after a while of saying no. I always tell the brokers on my team, your brand is built with the deals that you say no to. So the idea is you want to build your network well, that you're, you have just a lot of inbound referrals without making any effort. Your network is referring people to you that need your service.

MATT: If I'm taking on every deal, if I'm doing residential here and commercial there, and that, you know, that industry and helping somebody you know, rent some retail space and sell an office building yes, all of that generates revenue. But how does my network know the perfect client to refer to me if I'm not you know, if I'm not creating a clear picture of my brand in the marketplace. So again, it's possible, but I think the better strategy is focus, focus, focus, and yeah, you might have to, you know, take a first couple of years and not earn quite as good of an income, but it will pay off tenfold if you can stick to you know, one single thing and do it well.

JON: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like if you're trying to do all of it, then over time from referrals, especially it's gonna, you know, your referrals will kind of pick your market niche for you if you don't do it yourself. Right?

MATT: Correct. Yep, exactly. Yeah. So, I was at a sales training. This is back a few years. I was like a branding advertising seminar, like half day seminar. And what was this guy's name? He's a Denver guy. He has been, he's helped PepsiCo and Reebok. And like some of the largest brands in the world create a marketing and advertising strategy. And he was giving this seminar and he said, I'll never forget it. He said, you know, you're at a networking event and you know, you meet, he just said, ah, you meet a lot of like people that do wealth management, or like money management, most people, you walk up to somebody and you say, what do you do? Hi, my name is Matt. What do you, what do you do? Most people that are in wealth management will say, Oh, I'm a wealth manager. I help people manage their money.

MATT: Oh, great. That's awesome. I know 12 of those. And you know, I don't know who, yeah, probably, maybe everyone that I know is a potential customer of yours. Great. But what he said, he has this friend that is a wealth manager. And when you ask him, what do you do? He says, I help self-made millionaires manage their money. Boom, right then and there, I can think of five to 10 people that I personally know that are self-made millionaires that I can refer him to. It's like creating that distinct person in my mind that I know I can help, you know, send his way to help his business.

JON: It's just good branding. Yeah, exactly.

MATT: Exactly. So if you're selling homes or are you doing commercial real estate, it just goes back to that focus. It's like, you know, I represent companies with 20 to 200 employees that are in the downtown high rise buildings. That focused, like that's the key or I sell, I help I help people that are in, you know, 1 million to $5 million homes or I help people in Cherry Hills or, you know, yeah. That's kind of what it comes down to.

JON: Yeah. I think for new agents, real estate can almost seem too broad, you know, it's, it's just too big. Like your potential clients could be anyone looking to buy a house or in commercial, any business looking for some kind of space. So yeah, I, it seems like it would help a lot for new agents especially to whittle down who exactly do I want to work with.

MATT: Yeah, exactly. And the more you can like the more you can like embrace, you want to work with people you are going to enjoy working with. Yeah. You know, I encourage everyone listening to like, don't just, you know, I want to work with business owners to buy $5 million homes. What if you, what if that's an awful experience working with business owners; that might not be a great match, like find the community that you're really gonna love working with because everything's just going to flow that much better. That's, you know, it took me a little longer, a little later in my career to realize that piece of it, but ever since I did, you know, I have a rule that I don't work with people that I, you know, I'm not going to enjoy working with, or they're just not aligned with the core values of my company or my own core values.

JON: Yeah. Did you ever have to fire a client?

MATT: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Not very often. I've fired. So I've been in the business 18 years in total. I think I've fired two clients in that time. And one of them, it was somebody that just didn't trust that, you know, it, it was a, it was somebody that thought he could do everything better. That's great. Go do that better than it's fine. You know, we don't have to work together. The other one just couldn't make decisions just like couldn't commit, couldn't make decisions. So it's very rare.

JON: Yeah. Yeah. I think having having the, what am I trying to say, being decisive enough to say, Hey, I need to fire this client. That's going to make things work better. You know, maybe you're not the right person for them either. That's, that's a difficult decision to make.

MATT: Yeah. And it's like, how do you have that conversation? Yeah. It's like, you never want to burn a bridge either, but you know, sometimes it's kind of like you know, it's kinda like when you're dating and you guys grow apart or already married and, you know, just grow apart. At what point do you just say, you know, probably better, are we both going to be happier going in different directions? And it doesn't mean anything. There's nothing wrong, but you know, maybe it's time we do this.

JON: Exactly. Yeah. Got a truck backing up across the street and it's, it seems like it's trying to beep as much as possible. So apologies for that noise. So we recently had an episode all about commercial real estate, just the basics of commercial covering some recent trends. So specifically, how are things looking in Denver?

MATT: Things are, I think this is true for the entire country. Things are on edge. There are a subset of companies that I think a lot, a lot in the tech space and manufacturing, distribution space, a lot of companies that are thriving, they're doing, they're doing fine. And that's incredible. I love hearing those stories. And then there's a lot of companies that are not doing fine, very nervous, and not sure how they're going to make it through all this. Everyone's in a little bit of a wait and see mode. You know, what's going to happen this fall. What's going to happen over the next two years. What we're seeing in commercial real estate is not everyone, but the majority of companies are, you know, if they have to renew a lease or they have to make a decision which most, most of the time there's a deadline in commercial real estate. Cause there's a lease that's coming up to expire and you have to renew it or move. A lot of companies are just saying, you know what, I can I find a solution for the next 12 months until all of this plays out and I know where I'm going to be left, then I can make a long-term decision again. That's the biggest struggle right now. You know, when you take retail God, the restaurants that have opened again and only filling up 30% when they're barely making a profit at a hundred percent and they're only able to, because of social distancing, be 30% full right now, how long is that going to sustain? You know, I don't know.

JON: That's yeah. I really feel for the restaurants. I mean, they, like you say, they already operated on such thin margins that now this is just making this so much more difficult. And I think I, a huge swath of people are still too scared to go to them, you know? So yeah. Yeah. That's tough. Yeah. What you were saying about a lot of your, a lot of clients looking at, you know, short-term solutions, it's just such a weird time for so many reasons, but especially because nobody has any idea what things are gonna look like. I mean, six months ago, we didn't have any idea that this would happen. So exactly.

JON: After the break, we talk about some good that could come from the damage wrought by coronavirus.

JON: Have you always wanted to be in charge of your own schedule? Matt was inspired at a young age to take control of his time and pursue a career in real estate, and you can too. With The CE Shop’s mobile-friendly courses, you can complete your Pre-Licensing coursework from the comfort and safety of your home. Use promo code SHOPTALK for 25% off your online courses.

MATT: I think it's all about God, I was having coffee with a friend two days ago and if he's listening, he's plug your ears, but he's even older than, and he's an older guy. He told me he's been through five downturns in his career in Denver. And he actually did a study recently. He went back and like wrote down notes of like, what were the, what were the high level things that got me through each of the last five downturns? And he said, two things were pivotal every single time. One, he listened to what his mentors were saying or telling him. So he sought out you know, help from him, from mentors, from people that have been through it, ask them questions. He wasn't shy about that. And then two, he didn't he didn't, what's the right word.

MATT: He didn't make him not make himself a victim. Like he didn't just lay down and not do anything until it it all played out. He took action. He pivoted, he did whatever he needed to do to persevere because this is the time when people are made or broken. Right? You make it a break it through a time here. And even my company, we're working on things right now to diversify our revenue, to think about what's commercial real estate gonna look like after this, because certainly it's going to change. What can we create a, where do we think it's going? And what can we create around that to not only survive, but actually thrive in this new world we're gonna emerge into. Right. So yeah, I just thought that was such great advice. Absolutely. And a great reminder for like, Hey, this is the time to pivot, come up with a plan, take action around that plan and recreate yourself essentially.

JON: Yeah. I think taking action is especially a great piece of advice because a lot of people, especially with how uncertain and how frankly negative everything has been some people's reaction is just to sort of turn off which we know doesn't do much. Right. Especially in real estate, you've got to stay ahead of things.

MATT: Yeah, it's that fine balance between yeah. It's also a great time to just chill out, breathe, you know, work on yourself. You're like your, your inner peace or whatever. That's important too. And that doesn't mean lay on the couch and just do nothing all day. Yeah. That's the point just to do great. But you know, there's, there's another choice, you know, you can actually create some really cool things out of this.

JON: I was looking at I think it was on YouTube the other day and I saw all of these recommended videos for me. So many of them were a look back at blank and I was thinking, yeah, because they're not able to shoot anything else right now. You know, it's just kind of, all we can do is look back at things that were cool that happened a while ago and kind of reflect on them. But I thought that was really telling of kind of where Americans heads are at right now. I think a lot of people are taking the time to look back. And it sounds like that friend of yours seeing what works, you know, and how we can apply it to the future.

MATT: Right. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

JON: So as far as effects coming to commercial real estate, what do you think, what kinds of lasting effects do you think we'll see?

MATT: I think the office space market is going to be massively impacted. All these tech companies, all these, you know, the oil and gas industry, which is a large portion of downtown Denver. The tech industry, large portion, downtown Denver oil and gas is like, you know, that industry is just struggling on its own. The tech industry everyone's realized not just tech, but just everyone, we've realized, oh my gosh, we can actually be pretty efficient, remote working remotely. What all this is going to cause I think is a downsize, everyone's gonna probably after the dust settles and these next 12 months or so, everyone's gonna want to downsize their office because they're still gonna give employees the option to work from home because things get done still. That's great. And where people may be afraid to come into the office.

MATT: That's going to leave, I think a lot of vacant space. So, and I'm speaking specifically for office the office market. There's going to be a lot of space that we're going to have to repurpose, like what's what are we going to do with all this vacant space? I don't know if I don't know how bad, how big the vacancy going to get, or if it will be as big as or what am I trying to say? If the amount of vacancy if Denver's ever seen that before it gets into that wall, what are we going to do with the space? Do we convert it to apartments? Do we come up with some new concept to fill it up? We'll see. Right. But no.

JON: Yeah. I was surprised to hear that some of the biggest buildings being built right now in Denver they're just plowing ahead. I mean, they're going to still complete them and everything, which at that point that's so much money into those projects. They can't just stop, but it does make me wonder who is going to fill up those spaces. Right. Especially right now, you know?

MATT: Yeah, yeah. And you know, we're going to come out of it. For those that lived in Denver, back in the late eighties, which I did not, but being in commercial real estate just to learn the history of real estate everywhere like the office market, the downtown market, we were so heavily you know, oil and gas centric. It was the major industry in this city for many, many years. And when all that tanked in the late eighties, the downtown vacancy rate was 40%. Oh wow. Buildings, office buildings were offering 0% or $0 rates, just pay the operating expenses, which is like utilities and janitorial and property management and real estate taxes. You just pay the operating expenses and I'll give you the space for free. So basically it's the landlord saying, I'm not going to charge you anything, but will you cover my costs to own this building?

MATT: I don't think that's going to happen this round, this go round. But we came out of that. I know we're going to come out of this. It's just a matter of how much time is it going to take. And you know, it was one thing I can, and I don't know how many of your listeners are just in Denver or national. But one thing I know about Denver, I mean, people where the leaders are very intelligent about what do we want to create this city as? And how do we get there? The diversification of this city now, like all the different industries, all the companies that are, that want to be here, because this is where the workforce, the educated workforce is moving because everyone wants to be in Denver, therefore the companies come to attract and retain those employees. You know, that's what we have going for us. And, you know, I think it's true. It's going to have an impact on all of us, but I think Denver is, is potentially could come out of it quicker than most.

JON: Yeah. I agree with that. Yeah. And people keep talking about the recovery after all this, but it's, and it's a weird thing because I keep seeing comparisons between this and the Great Recession, but it's completely different. I mean, this is just caused by this virus and what this virus and the subsequent quarantine have done. Once that is under control, which hopefully isn't too far out, then it seems like things could go back to business as usual. Obviously there's a lot of lost income and that's going to have an effect.

MATT: Right? Yeah. I think we're just a society that we make decisions quicker because we have more access to information or access to technology. The cycles seem to be getting shorter and shorter because of all that one, one thing that I think when people get laid off, a lot of people, you know, consider, gosh, maybe I should start my own business becoming a real estate agent, you know, starting your own business. And so I, you know, I, I I'd wager that you know, you guys probably see an uptick in business, The CE Shop to get licensed and and stuff like that. Yeah. And so I think that could also be a saving grace to you, huge fan of people starting their own business, carving their own path. That's just, you know, the biggest supporter of that. And that could be our saving grace, maybe that's who, maybe new businesses that people start in the next two years, this is going to backfill all this vacant office space after that.

JON: That'd be the dream. Yeah. I read this article. And in the midst of all these negative articles, I found one positive one last week and they were talking about how the bubonic plague actually gave rise to the Renaissance and how people started to trust science more and trust the, the empirical data they had in front of them coming out of the Dark Ages. And I was like, wow, well, that's a great way to look at it. Like maybe we'll, we'll all kind of open up to the possibilities and, you know, trust in the actual facts more than just, Oh, I don't think that's how it is.

MATT: Right. Yeah. That would be, I mean, I'm sure, absolutely like the good that's going to come out of this. It's coming, you know, it's kind of like a, I mean, it really is not rock bottom or anything like that, but it's like, we're just crazy times, right. I hate to use the word uncertain cause there's never any certainty in life. We're just in crazy times, there's a lot of chaos and a lot of unanswered questions. There's gotta be good that comes out of this. Like what are, what are you going to create in the midst of this? That's how you keep control of your own destiny is what are you going to create out of this?

JON: Yeah, I think that's great. So you're also the host of Industry Alchemist, a podcast that just had The CE Shop founder Michael McAllister on. Can you talk a bit about that show?

MATT: Yeah, so being commercial real estate, on the outside looking in, it seems like residential real estate years ago became very good at adopting technology to make yourselves more efficient at working so you could take on more and more. Commercial real estate not so much. Like it's a, is still in my opinion, a lot in a lot of ways, it's a very archaic way of operating the way it's always done. So that's the way we're going to continue to do it. Since I left, you know, I was with a big national firm for the first 10 years of my career, left and started Column Commercial Partners eight and a half years ago, we are a, you know, entrepreneurial, smaller firm. We can try things we can make moves. We can do certain things that a big national firm can't because of the sheer size of that company.

MATT: So we consider one of our big differentiators is we're active disruptors in the commercial real estate space. One way of doing that is I got, you know, we've gotten the industry to start adopting - this is going to sound crazy - but just recently e-sign. Electronic signing leases instead of printing off original copies. Uand everyone's four copies, everyone signs with ink and gets it notarized and all that stuff, craziness. But are you going to do with that paper, you know, stick in the file and never use look at it again. Right. So you've gotten four in 2018 and we got four national landlords to accept e-sign for our clients. And now a lot of the big brokerage firms have started to take that on as well. And it's becoming just the, I don't know about outside of Denver. But certainly in Denver it's starting to become more of the norm for e-signing. And I'm sure like working remote and quarantine has helped with that as well.

MATT: But my other side hustle called office chief office, It's a technology that I created to make a portion of the commercial real estate transaction smoother, quicker, more efficient. So I consider myself a disruptive entrepreneur in commercial real estate. And I'm inspired by hearing stories of other disruptive entrepreneurs like Michael with The CE Shop. He took something many years ago. He took something that only happens in a classroom with pencil and paper on a sheet and a teacher standing in front of you. He put it online, The CE Shop you know, online education. You guys have been doing this forever. And the conversation I got into him with him on the Industry Alchemist podcast episode is about the fact that, you know, there's probably a lot of companies coming to him saying, Hey, how did you do this? How do you do that? You guys can actually be a positive influence on education as a whole is potentially facing being online completely. You guys have been doing it since 2005, right?

JON: Yep.

MATT: I love hearing just stories about how other entrepreneurs are pushing against the norm in a new industry and having an impact moving the industry forward, moving our lives forward. So that's what I'm an Alchemist is somebody that, you know, the alchemy is the process of turning like any substance into gold. And so Industry Alchemist is like, just, that's how we came up with the name who's, who's doing what to like basically do that in their own industry. Right.


That's great. That's a good concept. And going back to the, the current situation with the pandemic and everything, it is interesting to see those kinds of companies who just were already doing their thing, but now they're just in such a great opportunity, you know, to grow from all this. I mean, look at Zoom and how they've grown through it. We're talking on Zoom right now. It's, it's just crazy how, how big some of these companies have gotten cause they're in the right place at the right time.

MATT: One of my episodes on the podcast is Byron Walker, who's the CEO of a company called Survival Frog. He sells survival gear. It's an e-commerce businesses. He's basically sell survival gear and information to, you know, people that are into that. When, I guess when Trump took office like back a few years ago, all this survivalist, the like, Oh my gosh, the world's ending calmed down. And so his sales plummeted, right? Well now in the midst of all this all this everyone's like freaking out going, Oh my gosh, is the world ending? His sales have spiked. Since he faced this two to three years ago, he had to make a big shifts in his company, big, big decisions in a very short period of time so his company could survive, which he did. And basically he said that was the best thing that ever could have happened to his business because the, the level of efficiency that his company runs now is like, it's crazy compared to what it used to be. So a time like this, that's what he talked about on the podcast is, you know, everyone is freaking out right now, be decisive, make decisions quickly that you think, or know need to be made and you're going to come out of this and it could potentially be the best thing that ever happened. You never know. Listen to that store in that podcast. It was just so cool.

JON: Wow. That's a great message. I mean, it is, this is a nice time to take stock and potentially trim the fat out of your business.

MATT: Yeah, yeah. Or your life, I mean, like everything correlates, right. So why do I need to have this 6,000 square foot home or, or is the 750 square foot apartment that I'm sitting in right now enough for me, right? Yeah.

JON: Yeah. Okay. So my last question is one I ask of all of my guests and it's, if you could go back to the beginning of your career and change one thing, what would it be?

MATT: Change one thing. I would say some of the things I've adopted in these last five or so years discoveries that I've had about myself and how I work the best and like this concept of like trying to harness the, the flow, trying to harness flow state. And part of this is only working with people or doing things that I enjoy doing. You know, some of these lessons I've learned implement those much earlier that it was probably what I would say. So a couple, you know, about, yeah, three, four or five years ago, I realized, gosh, there are certain things that I love doing in my business. There's certain things that I'm really good at doing in my business. Then there are things that I'm terrible at, or that I do not enjoy doing. There are people that are a part of my team, or it could be a part of my team that really enjoy doing those things or are really good at those things that I hate. Right. so just focus on what I'm good at or what I enjoy and let other team members take on those other things, it just creates this flow. And like, I don't know, it's just so much more of a free, peaceful, effective way of operating. Had I had I harnessed that 10, 15 years ago. Wow. You know,

JON: It takes time to learn those lessons though.

MATT: It does. Yup. Wow.

JON: Yeah. That's a great answer. All right, Matt. Well, thank you for joining me. This was a great chat.

MATT: Thank you very much. It was a lot of fun and I'll look forward to hearing the episode.

JON: That’s it for this episode of Shop Talk, thanks for listening! If you enjoyed the show, you can subscribe to us and leave a review on your podcast player of choice. Shop Talk is a production of The CE Shop.