More than 450 attend fourth annual REW Women’s Forum

By Jonathan Pappas

The most powerful women in New York City real estate joined together last Wednesday for Real Estate Weekly’s fourth annual Women’s Forum. The event drew over 450 men and women in the field for a day of discussion and networking that featured keynotes and timely panel sessions from some of the most influential female leaders in the industry. While the forum touched on a number of subjects, all speakers appeared to agree on one thing: the real estate industry, long set in its practices and traditions, is finally opening up to change.

“There is a great trend happening right now,” said Purnima Kapur, Executive Director of NYC Planning, during her morning keynote. “The real estate industry in New York is diversifying and making its economic base larger than it has ever been. As we look across the city, there are more opportunities to create live, work and play neighborhoods in all of the boroughs.”

Diane Ramirez

Diane Ramirez

While there were many highlights of the day, the audience received a dose of some of the top trends shaping the future of the real estate industry, including the growing interest in using technology and social media.

During the Technological Innovators in Real Estate session (moderated by our own Holly Dutton), panelists agreed that while commercial real estate, one of the oldest industries in the U.S., has lagged behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption and innovation, more brokers are beginning to embrace it.

Panelist Suzanne Carlson, Principal at NBBJ, noted that her firm is developing its own proprietary software platforms so NBBJ clients and brokers will not only have easy access to data that understands buildings, but also provides rankings of individual neighborhoods. Using GIS data, neighborhoods can be rated by the various amenities they have, such as gyms, coffee shops and parks, quite a useful tool for those meeting with clients and prospects.

Using software programs like SalesForce have also helped firms become leaner in the office and assisted in lowering their carbon footprint.

“Salesforce saves us so much time on the lease process,” said fellow panelist Jodi Berman, Director, Residential Leasing at Stonehenge Management. “Our agents can send lease paperwork electronically back to the office so it can be handled by one person instead of passed around 12 people. We also use the Google Suite including Drive and Docs. We can share and work with the same documents in real time and most importantly these programs make us fully mobile. They save us a ton of time so we can focus on making more deals and doing more follow up.”

Panelist Diane Danielson, Chief Operating Officer of Sperry Van Ness International Corporation added: “Changing demographics have also impacted technology use and the way we work. We require all our software to be in the cloud and device agnostic, meaning that it can be accessed from a phone, tablet or laptop. The new generation of workers coming in want to be able to work from anywhere which saves us time and administrative costs. It also allows our brokerage offices to reduce overhead and enables our brokers to spend more time with their clients and prospects.”

During The New Green session, panelists seemed to agree that one of the challenges the industry is facing is that the sustainability discussion isn’t as lively as it was several years ago and that the conversation today is really about continuing to educate people and reminding ourselves that we need to be responsible for our own energy consumption.

“Green benchmarking is not a new discussion for Class A buildings,” said Lauren Brust, Director of Commercial Building Energy Services at Steven Winter Associates. “However, Class B and C is a very different argument. These buildings don’t provide full HVAC and have clientele leasing at a much lower price point. The idea of making investment in these types of buildings is a hard sell because owners don’t want to invest capital. It’s really about incentivizing tenants to lower their carbon footprint. Tenant behavior is the wave of the future.”

On the residential side, one idea that seems to be gaining popularity is the notion of putting responsibility directly in the hands of tenants by providing them with the technology to control their own energy output. For example, with the click of your phone app, you can turn off your air conditioners or adjust the temperature in your home remotely.

“The energy all day was terrific,” said Carol Rosenthal, Partner at Fried Frank and moderator of The Future Is Better Than You Think session whose panelists gave a snapshot of what is trending on numerous levels, including retailers in the online era, TAMI office users, micro units and the luxury market. During one of the day’s most dynamic discussions, Eileen Spinola, Senior Vice President of REBNY, and Diane Ramirez, Chief Executive Officer of Halstead Property, reflected on lessons learned early in their careers and how mentorship has really evolved over the years.

“Finding the right mentor is like dating in a way,” said Ramirez. “It’s all about communication and feeling a connection with that person. Building the relationship should happen slowly and organically. Trust, honesty, good communication and being able to learn and grow from that person are the top qualities to look for in a mentor.”

Perhaps Wendy Maitland, president of sales at TOWN Residential, summed up the theme of the day best during her Five Things to Do to Command the Seat at the Head of the Table panel.
“Enjoy yourself and love what you do,” said Maitland. “Be emotionally connected to your audience by using your head, your heart and your gut. If you’re having fun, people around you will be engaged because nothing is more magnetic than someone who is passionate about their work.”

Jonathan Pappas is on twitter at @JPappasPR

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