Why Generalists Thrive in Commercial Real Estate: Does Your Broker Need to Be a Jack-of-All-Trades?

Why Generalists Thrive in Commercial Real Estate: Does Your Broker Need to Be a Jack-of-All-Trades?

Remember when Centene made the decision to lease 1 MSF of office space in the University Area, only to change their mind after the building was nearly completed? Regarding commercial real estate, one wrong move can spell disaster…and nobody wants to repeat Centene’s mistake. 

But making big real estate decisions is hard. And many leaders avoid the process by handing it down to managers, who, in turn, look to brokers who are experts in their markets.

However, hiring a commercial real estate broker can be challenging. 

For one thing, the real estate market is saturated with advisors, agents, brokers, and project managers, making it difficult to tell who’s a good fit for your specific needs.

Secondly, building solid relationships, instilling trust, and showing prospects that you value them is not just important; it’s essential. And it takes time. Rushing to engage an “expert” before determining if they have the soft skills needed for your big deal can lead to costly missteps.

And finally, the world of CRE before is very different now.

Once upon a time, commercial real estate brokers were the gatekeepers of all the juicy, insider information about the market. But those days are as outdated as a flip phone.

Thanks to modern listing services like CoStar and LoopNet, what used to be exclusive “insider information” is now as common as cat videos on the internet.

So, does this mean brokers no longer need to know the market? Not quite. While online real estate listing services provide valuable data, they still do not replace the nuanced understanding, strategic insight, deal-making prowess, and personal connections that knowledgeable brokers bring to the table. 

The value of a broker is no longer just about having information—it’s about interpreting, strategizing, and personalizing that information for their client’s unique needs so that leaders can make property decisions with confidence.

Few brokers are trained to help a client to plan their space needs strategicly by asking thoughtful questions or to negotiate on their client’s behalf to achieve a company’s over arching initiatives through real estate.

And while many brokers are specialists in their niche, few have those skills.

Now, let me share a little story. We recently partnered with BRDLand. Instead of assignments involving industrial, office, and land, this assignment involved developing lots for much-needed single-family homes for builders like Ryan and D.R. Horton. 

In the middle of a company meeting, one of our partners blurted out, “Well, if you’re like Culbertson, who is an expert at everything…” 

I was as flabbergasted as the cat who found himself in a bathtub. But my personal embarrassment aside, my partner unknowingly raised an important question: 

What if you hired a broker who isn’t a specialist in your property type? 

If, thanks to CoStar, there are few insider market secrets, are you better off with a broker who is a market expert but has no understanding of your company or culture, and was never trained to be a fierce advocate for the client in a tough negotiation…

…Or with a broker who is a fierce advocate, has market knowledge and experience, and useful social connections?

David Epstein, in his best-selling book “Range,” argues that generalists (people with diverse experiences and broad skill sets) often outperform specialists. 

Why? Because they have the ability to explore different fields before focusing on one, the ability to tackle problems without clear rules or feedback, and the power of interdisciplinary thinking.*

Now apply that to commercial real estate. A broker who isn’t exclusively an expert in your product can bring significant benefits, including:

  • Innovation. A broker with varied experiences brings fresh perspectives, leading to creative solutions.
  • Adaptability. In a dynamic market like real estate, a generalist who’s experienced various industries can adapt quickly to market shifts.
  • Holistic View. A broker with diverse experience can give you a more comprehensive view of the industry. They can connect the dots between unrelated trends or events, giving stakeholders a deeper understanding of the market and the opportunities available.
  • Interdisciplinary Learning. Breakthroughs often occur at the intersection of disciplines. A broker with a diverse background can bring these intersections into the real estate industry, opening up new opportunities other brokers would miss or ignore.

That’s what we believe at Cardinal Partners. Some fields, like golf or firefighting, offer recurring patterns or simpler rules for decision-making. 

But fields like real estate brokerage require the creativity and flexibility that only generalists can offer. It’s why we’ve become so good at what we do—and why my partner blurted praise during that meeting.

Working with generalist brokers like us can be a strategic move that sets your company apart in the competitive real estate market. And isn’t that something to consider?

P.S. One last thing… For the young broker who wants to take the long-term approach to real estate and who wants to know my story, buy my book Go For Broker, or call me. I may have the time to grab coffee with you and answer any questions you have.

Real estate transactions can be fraught with frustration and pitfalls.

Sometimes the hardest part turns out to be working with your broker, the person who is supposed to help you through the complexities. Veteran commercial real estate broker and client advisor John Culbertson discovered that brokers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of their clients. He realized there was a better way to advocate for clients and get the deal done.


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