The Classic Property Development Skills You Need in a Modern Development World

July 1, 2015


A large portion of my work now focuses on hotel real estate development, whereby I am working with hotel owners, developers and operators to bring to life the vision that they have for a particular project. It is great work, which I love because of the opportunity to help clients create something new.


In reflecting on the last couple of decades though, I am amazed at the changes that have occurred and how technology has changed the way I work. BUT, on further reflection I am amazed at how some of the basics still have not!


Imagine it’s 1985, and your pager goes off. Amazed by this cutting-edge technology, you hurry to a payphone and ring your clients to set up a meeting. From there, you dash to the office where you switch on your gigantic desktop computer and double-check the notes you’ve written in Wordperfect 2.0 then send a fax to confirm. Everything looks good. You stuff some papers into a brown combination briefcase, fire up the maroon VN Commodore, and speed off toward the sunset. It’s a great day to be in hotel real estate development, you think to yourself.


Oh, how things have changed.


If you want to work in the hotel real estate development game in 2015, you’ll obviously need to trade that pager for a smartphone, and swap that gigantic PC for a paper-thin laptop or tablet. (The clunky briefcase and maroon Commodore probably won’t play, either—unless you’re specifically going for that retro look, in which case, go for it!)


There are, however, a number of things that haven’t changed. In today’s ultra-fast and hyper-connected world, there are still some classic skills that help you be successful.


1. A fertile imagination


The ability to see opportunities before others do will never go out of style. Anybody can say that a development project does or does not have promise after the fact; just like anybody can look at a sports almanac from the past year and tell you the winning horses. It’s the ability to pick a winner up front that matters. In hotel real estate development, this comes from imagination. Successful developers and operators are looking to be ahead of the curve. A talented professional therefore is aware of many different locations and concepts, and knows what’s trending upwards or downwards  - and imagination will always see new and profitable ways to connect people with opportunities.


2. A love for dealing with challenges


Another thing that will never change about hotel real estate development is the bumpy, challenging course on which the race is run. (Anyone who has ever been involved in hotel development and openings will be sagely nodding their heads at this point).  In fact, anyone who likes steady, predictable, monotonous outcomes will find endless frustration in this industry—especially in the 21st century. If, on the other hand, you love a challenge, then you’ve got one of the intangible qualities that make you a great asset to your client. It’s true that the smallest bumps in the road can lead to significant changes in direction; but a creative mind will always find a creative solution.


3. An extensive network


When things move this fast, it’s not a simple question of finding locations and appointing an operator run the property. The consummate advisor links people with ideas, and connects concepts with capital. To do that, a wide and established network is needed because there are times when you just need to know the right person to call. And if you don’t know the right person then you have to be able to call someone who does! It’s that simple. Success in this industry demands a network of connections that can be activated quickly to achieve results.


4. An understanding of the difference between developer and operator (and can negotiate around them)


If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that the objectives of a hotel real estate developer and those of a hotel operator rarely exist in perfect harmony. Whilst your job may be to assist one side or the other, your role is not to blindly take one side or the other, but discover what you can do to bring them together for their mutual benefit. Experience helps you to understand and anticipate what the critical issues of these two parties might be. A certain amount of confidence inspires you to highlight possible roadblocks in advance, and offer up dissent with similar confidence and professionalism.


5. Loads of patience and a willingness to take risks for reward


Psychologists often use the term “delayed gratification”, which implies the resistance of immediate satisfaction and the willingness to wait for a later reward.. The term can apply to almost any worthwhile pursuit, such as sport, academia or entrepreneurial success—and hotel real estate development is absolutely no different. Most projects in this industry are long haul—so if you have a short attention span, or if you’re hoping for quick results, you’re probably in the wrong game. If you’re willing to plant seeds though and carefully nourish them to maturity, you might just have the discipline to shine in the high-stakes game of 21st century hotel real estate development.


The cars, clothes and computers may look a lot different today than they did 30 years ago—but the fundamentals of hotel real estate development are the same. In fact, in a sea of hotel real estate professionals seeking to differentiate themselves, the fundamentals are more important now than ever.



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