Friday, April 27, 2012

Wisconsin Students Compete in Boston

Only a month after being in Boston for the spring REC trip, a team of four MBA students, comprised of two first years (myself and Andrew Boespflug) and two second years (Chad  Broderick and Tess Gruenstein), traveled back to Boston last week for the second round of MIT’s “The Case”.  This competition required each team to propose a site plan and supporting financial analysis for a real-life development site.  This is only the third year that The Case has been running, but the competition has gained a lot of traction in a short period of time; 29 teams registered to participate this year.  This is the Graaskamp Center’s debut at this particular competition.
The case began in mid February, when the participating teams (consisting of a maximum four members) received that case electronically on a Friday at 8am.  Materials included the development scenario, site details and history, and hundreds of pages of supporting documentation.  This particular site had already been through an RFP round back in 2007, and so the original RFP and all the actual submissions were provided as well.  Receiving this amount of information all at once was quite overwhelming, and we had only 6 days to get through the material and develop a plan that satisfied all requirements while generating attractive returns for the interested parties.  We got to work immediately and wrote off any other obligations over the next 6 days…it was clear we were going to need all the time we could get.
This year’s development site was located in San Francisco, and as a native to the area I was very familiar with the completely underutilized plot of prime bayside property.  The site (16 acres of land a pier space just south of AT&T park) is a flat infill location owned by the city that is currently used for parking.  The original RFP, and the stipulations of our case study, called for the developer to create a vibrant, mixed-used project that would serve as a gateway between the downtown/SOMA districts and the developing Mission Bay neighborhood.
The site had two key requirements: a 5 acre park built at the developer’s expense, and at least 2,000 parking spaces available for the Giant’s to use for game days, which would be rented at $100/mo/stall (below market).  These two requirements immediately put the participants at a disadvantage, and we had to make the absolute best use of our developable space in order to maximize returns.  In addition, this area of land is not subject to any zoning restrictions, so the sky was the limit in terms of proposed development.
After 6 days of complete focus and work, our team submitted a proposed mixed use project consisting of 650 residential units, a 200 room hotel, and 175,000 sqft of retail space while delivering the 5 acre park and 2,400 parking spaces.  Market research for the site was limited to free, public information in order to keep a level playing field, and reports from Skanska and Costar/PPR Group were provided as preliminary sources of data.
The hard construction costs provided from Skanska were quite explicit, so there wasn’t much room for variation with these inputs unless we found another free source that had more favorable estimates.  However, this still left capital structure, construction timing, absorption rates, rental rates, efficiency ratios, vacancy rates, interest rates, terminal cap rates….I think you get the idea.  All these inputs had a great impact on what was feasible to build and what expected return could be generated.
We used a top down approach to get an idea of what would be the highest and best use of the land in terms of property type.  We then used absorption and density information to get a sense of how much we could actually build on this land and bring to stabilization within a reasonable amount of time.
Once we arrived at what we determined to be a feasible (albeit slightly aggressive with regards to certain assumptions) site development plan, we calculated the returns for the entire project to be 12%.  We knew this was low (should be closer to 20% given the risk profile), but given the constraints of the site (parking, green space) we felt this was sufficient.  Altering our assumptions to be even more aggressive would increase returns, but we felt that this could cause the proposal to lose credibility in its legitimacy.
We received the good news in March that we were one of 12 teams selected to proceed to the next round of the competition.  These 12 teams were broken out into 3 groups of 4, and each group assigned a room and panel of industry professionals that served as judges for each team in that group.  The teams presented separately in front of only the judges.  We, unfortunately, were selected to go first in our group, which is a tough position to be in given the complexity of the case. 
Although our presentation went smoothly and we fielded the Q&A in appropriate fashion, we ultimately were not selected to proceed to the final round of 3 teams.  During the Q&A the judges expressed that the return of 12% was just too low, and we feel that this is something that ended up holding us back.  Also, as we later found out, none of the teams that went first in their group were selected to go to the next round.
We were, however, able to watch the final three presentations, which were held at the Federal Reserve building.  The final three teams all had impressive and polished presentations, with expected returns all 20%+.  Given the market research that we had performed, the site plans proposed by the teams seemed to be extremely aggressive.  This provided a great learning experience for us, in that sometimes it is the bottom line that truly matters, and how you get there is next in priority.  This is true in many areas of business, not just real estate, and we were able to get a first hand sense of this following the competition.
The case competition was a great experience for our team. While it was disappointing not to make the finals, it was encouraging to see that we were not far off from the top teams in the competition.  We were able to take away some great insights from the judges and from watching the other teams, and have accumulated these thoughts in writing to be referenced during our next case competition endeavor.

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Wisconsin Real Estate and Economic Outlook Conference

Building A Housing Policy That Works.

This year’s Economic Outlook Conference will be held on June 1st, 2012 at the Fluno Center in Madison, WI. With budget battles looming and the presidential election already in full swing, 2012 is sure to have monumental implications for housing policy. Unfortunately, developing and advancing bipartisan solutions to fix the nation’s ongoing housing challenges have proven difficult in today’s highly polarized political environment. But housing is not only a basic human need—it is also a critical element of our economy. Now more than ever is the time to take a fresh look at this issue.

This conference will present varied perspectives and analysis on current issues while stimulating ideas on how to spur the housing market and get the U.S. economy back on track for solid growth. Those involved include experts from the public and private sectors who are involved in government, business, and academia—all of them are on the front lines of housing market research, policy, and practice.

Featured speakers for the event include:

Karl “Chip” Case: Chip is the Co-Founder of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Wellesley College. He is author or co author of five books, and is renowned for his contributions to the economics of housing and public policy.

Lawrence Yun: Lawrence Yun is the Chief Economist & Senior Vice President of Research for the National Association of Realtors®. He has been listed among the top 10 economic forecasters in the country, and has been named among the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

Please click here for the conference agenda and more information. To attend, you can register online here.