UVA’s Center for Real Estate and the Built Environment (CREBE) continues to develop and strengthen its programmatic, engagement, and research opportunities for students, faculty, and alumni working and studying in the many areas connected to the subject.
And as CREBE prepares to welcome thought leaders in the real estate industry to Grounds when it hosts its inaugural, daylong Fall Conference on Nov. 11, 2022, we reached out to four UVA alumni to learn about their extensive range of experiences and to discuss the innovations they see changing the industry.
Madeline Jecklin (A&S ’15), who earned a degree in Sociology, serves as the Vice President of Operations at Weinstein Properties, a family business started by her grandfather more than 60 years ago. The firm owns and manages more than 20,000 apartments across Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Fellow Sociology major, Chase Minnifield (A&S ’10), chose the entrepreneurial route: CEO and Founder of EZ Turn. His proptech software company speeds up the unit-turnover process, provides digital inspections to increase transparency to ready units, and eases project management for teams and their vendors.
Comm School graduate Drew Sutton (McIntire ’10), a Partner at Southeast Apartment Investors, is involved in all aspects of the smaller-sized entrepreneurial firm focused on acquiring and developing Southeastern U.S. residential properties. His duties include performing due diligence on potential investment opportunities, overseeing development and construction activities, managing properties, as well as handling relationships with investors and joint venture partners.
Another Comm School alum, Madeline Wick (M.S. in Commerce ’11), a Senior Vice President at Almanac Realty Investors, guides the investment team, making private equity investments at the entity level to grow real estate companies. In her role, Wick oversees investment origination, analysis, underwriting, structuring, transaction execution, and investment management.
As these four alumni can attest, real estate continues to shape our lives literally and figuratively. In advance of CREBE’s Fall Conference, we asked Jecklin, Minnifield, Sutton, and Wick what led to their careers in real estate and to share their experiences and encouragement for continuing the conversation in support of the University’s Real Estate-related scholarly efforts.
Who or what most influenced the first years of your career?
Chase Minnifield: The early part of my career was shaped by my experience of creating a company. After playing in the NFL, I built a firm with the idea of providing staffing assistance to student housing apartments across the country to help effectively manage and complete unit turnover processes for properties. This experience on the ground gave me the idea to create a better process for this industry to manage its unit turnover needs. That’s how EZ Turn was born.
Madeline Wick: Mentorship has had the most profound impact on my early career. I am consistently amazed by how much of a “people business” real estate is. We always talk about how assets are only as good as the hands they are in and how important being a good partner is. I benefited immensely from guidance and learning directly from mentors and other partners/colleagues whom I held in high esteem. Establishing a strong sense of integrity is something many of my early mentors instilled in me that I still lean on day in and day out. Also, having mentors who believe in you and advocate for you can make all the difference in a career.
Drew Sutton: I have two answers for this one. Firstly, my parents, as they have been role models to me from an early age and into my business career. Both are entrepreneurs with significant experience in real estate. My mom has served as an executive in a family hotel business for nearly 40 years, and my dad has been involved in several successful businesses during his career, including the development of convenience stores and medical office space. They helped inspire my passion for real estate, and have been great sounding boards for me during my career.
Secondly, my business partner, Robert Deaton, has been an invaluable mentor to me in my current role. Robert founded Southeast Apartment Investors and brought me on as the second investment professional to help build the business. Since I joined, Robert has empowered me and helped me develop the confidence to take on new challenges and assume additional leadership responsibilities. Robert has an excellent business mind, and I have been fortunate to learn from him as we work together to grow our firm.
Madeline Jecklin: My early career was really shaped by fits and starts. I tried a lot of different things before I landed where I am today. From working as a Commercial Broker in Manhattan, selling warehouses in Brooklyn, to running an events/conference company alongside my older brother, so much of what shaped my early career was really trying different things until something stuck. I think that so many of us think that our careers will be straight lines, but ultimately, it is really the experiences prior to the straight line that prepare you and allow you to discover what it is you want to do.
Let’s talk about the industry. What’s the most intriguing change happening in the property market right now?
Madeline Jecklin: In the three years that I have been in the multifamily space, we have seen extreme rent growth, along with significant cap rate compression. Investor interest in multifamily has been through the roof, and the competition for Class A properties in cities with high population growth has been unprecedented. There has been so much market disruption from COVID and the uncertainty there, to moratoriums on evictions, and government programs that have stepped in with rental assistance—we have seen more change in the past few years than in the prior decade. Rising rents are making headlines, and as an owner manager, it can be difficult to toe the line between what is best for the business and what is best for our residents. With interest rates on the rise and the lending environment becoming less favorable, it will be interesting to see what kind of cooling off the multifamily industry might see.
Drew Sutton: There are several interesting things happening in real estate right now, such as rising interest rates and their impact on home affordability and commercial property valuations, but the most interesting thing to me is the rise of remote work and its impact on the office market. It is clear that remote work is here to stay post-COVID, as office vacancy rates remain well above pre-pandemic levels. Many large employers are shrinking their real estate footprints as they look to cut costs and provide more flexibility to their employees. I am curious to see how office space gets repurposed in the coming years, particularly in urban areas. The increasing prevalence of remote work also presents residential property developers with opportunities and challenges as well, as we need to create spaces, both within units and in building common areas, that are conducive to remote work.
Chase Minnifield: The most intriguing thing I see is the change from paper processes to software-based processes—especially software focused on automation, particularly AI and data use throughout the real estate industry. These key points are focused in real estate technology because they are allowing for more efficient operations, better decision making, and increased NOI [net operating income]. With EZ Turn, we focus on collecting data at the ground level of operations to help corporate teams make better decisions on where to allocate money and resources.
Madeline Wick: Beyond the volatility and noise from the macro environment right now, I’m interested in and passionate about how sustainability intersects with real estate. As we know, real estate and the built environment is the largest contributor to carbon emissions. At the same time, construction is an industry that should be a candidate for disruptive innovation—our means and methods are largely the same as they were decades ago. We’re all consistently talking about impact and ESG, but how does that translate into the everyday investment and operating decisions we are making? The questions around future-proofing assets, driving change, making an impact, and so forth against the practical backdrop of our industry are really compelling to me. I am excited to see how this all plays out and what role real estate investors can play in driving positive change.
Why is service to UVA important to you, and what can young alumni do to help support excellence in Real Estate at UVA?
Madeline Wick: Service to and a sense of community with UVA are important to me–I feel that I have accomplished what I have accomplished because people have taken a chance on me. I didn’t know that real estate would be one of my passions. I kind of fell into it and then “got the bug.” I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to get without a ton of help and a ton of wisdom from others. I always look to pay that forward. Finally, UVA is a really special community, and Real Estate is fun and special too. I’m so excited to see the intersection of these communities and to be a small part of it. I think young alumni can make a massive contribution to these endeavors because they can make all of it relatable and expose current students or brand new alums to the breadth and depth of the world of real estate. It’s not one path or one occupation or one role—real estate is complex and interesting, and it touches all of our lives in multiple ways.
Chase Minnifield: Service to UVA is extremely important to me because the UVA community has been so helpful and supportive in my journey while in school and after graduating. I believe it’s important to continue to work together and help each other in the UVA ecosystem. Young alumni can help make Real Estate at UVA excellent by supporting it through participation at events or in LinkedIn groups! The more participation and the more times we can connect with one another, the better we become, as iron sharpens iron.
Madeline Jecklin: Some of the most important people in my life and my closest friends to this day are people I met during my time at UVA. Without those student/alumni connections, my view of the world and what was possible out of a career would not be nearly as broad. Seeing what my fellow alums have accomplished since 2015 is so exciting. Being able make current students aware of the options that are out there beyond some of the more traditional career paths is a big part of why I feel strongly about giving back. I encourage all young alumni to think outside of the box and consider avenues for their careers that might not be the obvious ones. By exploring avenues that play to your strengths, you will be able to find a place in the industry where you can truly add value. Real estate has so many facets, from property management to design and determining how a space will be used, investment strategy, data and analytics, the resident experience—just to name a few. With so many options, the possibilities are fairly limitless.
Drew Sutton: I am so thankful for the opportunities and experiences that UVA afforded me, so I am thrilled to give back and return the favor in some small way. I am excited to be involved with the Center for Real Estate, and hope to encourage current and future UVA students to consider careers in real estate and the built environment. I think the best way alumni can contribute is by staying connected and sharing their knowledge and talents with the community. There are numerous opportunities for this, including visiting classes, sitting on career panels, and mentoring students interested in real estate. Real estate is a dynamic field, and highlighting the exciting opportunities that it has to offer will help build awareness and strengthen Real Estate at UVA.