In human terms, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unmitigated tragedy. In commercial real estate, it has brought challenges no living SIOR has seen before. For those commercial real estate veterans whose careers span several decades, it has also created the opportunity—and perhaps the need—to look a bit more closely at how, or even whether, they want their careers to continue.
As the pandemic wreaks havoc on our mental and physical health, it is also quietly reshaping how Americans will face retirement and old age in the years to come.
And they are certainly far from alone. “Actually, planning for this major life transition is quite a task, and that's during normal times,” writes Rhonda Kemmis, owner and lead trainer at Elite Leadership Consulting, in her article, “Retirement and the coronavirus: Advice for deciding whether to stay or go.”
“Making concrete retirement decisions during a worldwide pandemic may be better described as unnerving.”
“Retirement shouldn't just be a numbers game, and it's important to focus on what you really want,” adds author Jim Akin. “If your job has you stressed out and [made you] miserable, retiring a year ahead of your longstanding target date could be a great decision, even if it costs your retirement fund a few thousand dollars. Conversely, if you love your job and wonder what you'd do all day without it, it could be wise to work past your retirement date until you come up with a plan on how to fill your time.
Fortunately for many SIORs, this is not an “all or nothing” decision process, and they are at a decided advantage compared to many of their fellow Americans. In a number of professions, you either work or you don’t—there is no third option. In some cases, there is not even that choice; when you reach a certain age, you are required to retire—or you are viewed by employers and/or co-workers as “too old” to do the job well anymore.
And while sociologists will tell you that attitudes towards aging are changing in the U.S. (after all, we did recently elect a 78-year-old President!), there is no doubt that experienced, successful commercial real estate brokers (read: SIORs) have much more control over who they work for or with, what they do with their working hours, and how much they work compared to those in many other professions.
Tim V. Tran, SIOR, president of The Ivy Group in Fremont, Calif., agrees. “I would imagine some employees who are not providing any more useful knowledge to a company could be laid off because of a [COVID-19] lockdown, and those jobs just disappear,” he says. “We don’t really see that because our field just has so much flexibility. Even if you work for a bigger company, they do not want you to leave because they know the economy will come back—and so will your clients, and deals.”
Tran, who is nowhere near retirement age himself, has nonetheless spoken with a number of SIORs who are, and even for those seriously considering retirement, they have a broad range of options.
“Some SIORs who have been in real estate 30 or 40 years do not really understand or care about Zoom or online meetings—although most do,” Tran continues. “But some just can’t pivot; they look at the ‘clock,’ say ‘I’m 70, I’ve made my money; let’s have some new players deal in the field.”
Other agents, he adds, are no longer able to do the kind of volume and make the kind of commissions they used to, so they’re going back to being employees.
And then there’s consulting. “I’ve seen quite a few veteran brokers say they’ve made their mark and they want to retire, but the issue a lot of them run into is they can’t completely retire because they have a lot of clients that want to work with them,” says Tran. In such cases, he shares, they may become selective and only work with their oldest clients.
This has its advantages, he says. “They’re not spending any dollars in marketing, they’re not going to events,” he notes. “One guy here said, ‘I want to retire to Texas, where my grandkids are, but there are people here who want to work with me. It’s hard to drop the ball.’”
Jack Britvan, SIOR, president of Commercial Realty Services of Long Island, Inc., in Jericho, N.Y., has had to deal with precisely those kinds of issues. While he had already been contemplating what the next phase of his career would look like when COVID-19 hit, it definitely impacted those plans. “COVID-19 had an impact—without a doubt,” he shares. “You start thinking about your own mortality.”
Pre-COVID-19, he notes, you were busy working on the deals you’re “churning,” the adrenaline was pumping, and you were busy all day long. There was precious little time to think about other issues. These days, he says, it’s not all about deal-making. “Most of these days it’s my 501(c)(3) (Voices for Truth and Humanity),” he says.
Once COVID-19 struck, Britvan explains, “All of a sudden you were home, you put on Netflix, you were binge watching,” he recalls. “We went ahead, started going through the office at home, put out files, and threw out stuff. We came up to the retirement papers—where our investment funds were, etc.—and realized eventually we were going to have to look at this, so we might as well do it now.” So, he updated his finances and other factors, and solidified his plan.
“I have a game plan,” he shares, and that plan includes incorporating the best of several options many SIORs are fortunate to have on the table. “Other than brokerage, I do consulting, and apartments, and I have a management company that pretty much runs on its own,” says Britvan. “In brokerage, I’m a little selective anyway on the deals I run. I do not want to work with people who are either unethical, or who really just want to chase deals. I’ve been fortunate in business. So, I spoke with my wife about timing, and we’re going down to look at houses in Florida.”
Britvan says he will never stop working, but things will definitely change. “If I move to Florida, I might do consulting,” he says. “I’ve spoken with a couple of people I’ve represented for 20, 30, even 40 years, who’ve said, ‘When retirement comes, would you fly back? As long as you’ll be in business, we’ll always use you.’”
Britvan’s flexibility is a good example of the advantages successful SIORs have when reviewing their options after decades as a real estate professional. But assuming the decisions may not necessarily be based on finances, what other factors should they consider?
For some, work is a passion. If you love what you do, keep doing it.
In Tergesen’s article, she cites George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, who says that a growing number of his clients “are re-evaluating what’s important in their lives” and adapting their plans accordingly.
She writes: “To prompt clients to clarify their goals, Mr. Kinder asks three questions: What would you do if you had all the time and money in the world? How would you live if you knew you had only five to 10 years left? And what would you most regret if you died tomorrow?”
Kemmis sums it up even more succinctly: “For some, work is a passion. If you love what you do, keep doing it.”
This article was sponsored by the SIOR Foundation - Promoting and sponsoring initiatives that educate, enhance, and expand the commercial real estate community. The SIOR Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-forprofit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the law.
Jack Britvan, SIOR
Tim Tran, SIOR