SOLD! Preparation, then the Pitch

Posted on January 4, 2017
Alice Jackson

Location, location, location! That’s the historic expression defining property value, but USA business students are learning that investing in real estate isn’t always that simple.

To close out the fall semester in December, leading business professionals in the Mobile community quizzed students in a real estate finance and investment class at USA’s Mitchell of College of Business, asking them to defend their buy or sell recommendations on actual properties in the area.

Dr. Reid Cummings, assistant professor of finance and real estate and director of USA’s Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, divided the students into five teams, then gave each team information on five different properties, along with a set of investor criteria.

“Their assignment was to analyze each property and make recommendations as to which property, or properties, that they, acting as commercial investment property brokers, would recommend to investors,” said Cummings. “The students didn’t know exactly who the investor team members would be. I only told them they would be market-area professionals whose names they frequently see on signs and in the newspapers.”

Senior finance major Jake Arcuri called the presentation “an experience that was both challenging and rewarding.”

“Our team was forced to become experts on the subject matter in order to convince the experts that we had done our research,” he said. “The most surprising part of this project was my team’s ability to come together in a relativity short and busy period of time and put together a presentation worthy of convincing this group of professionals to pursue our recommended investment. It gave me insight as to what professionals are looking for when considering a potential investment.”

Cummings deliberately designed the final exam to make the students feel like business professionals, including the pressure and stress, “to simulate how things really work ‘out there’ beyond the classroom.” He said he wanted them to realize and expect anything can happen, and to be nimble enough to react when it does.

For weeks, Cummings ramped up the challenges by introducing new elements to the simulation, including software glitches, mistakes in the information and interest rate changes, all intended to make the students see how often situations and information changes in the investment world.

“The real point of the exercise wasn’t the analysis, although I wanted them to know how to do that,” Cummings said. “I wanted them to experience the art that is the presentation and the persuasion of their ideas in a logical, coherent fashion to a group of sophisticated investors whom they have never met.”

The teams were expected to work together, relying on logic as well as their creativity to put together presentations. When the big day arrived, some teams had even prepared customized handouts for the investment professionals.

Those professionals included Bill Barnhill, Shannon Barnes, Gavin Bender, Sr., Tony Brown, Marl Cummings III, Ruffin Graham, Nathan Handmacher, Jeremy Milling, James Saad and Cameron Weavil. The group asked probing questions, including a couple that left some of the student teams without immediate responses. However, the students quickly redeemed themselves by saying they would research the question and provide the answer as quickly as possible, something often heard in professional presentations.

Nathan Handmacher of Stirling Properties in Mobile said he wished there had been a similar opportunity when he was in school.

“The most interesting thing about the presentation was seeing which investment the students gravitated to and why,” Handmacher said. “No two seasoned real estate professionals view deals in the same manner, and the same was true of the students. I enjoyed listening to the justifications for each group’s recommended investment.”

Gavin Bender, president of the Bender Real Estate Group of Mobile, called the presentation a very encouraging experience.

“It was very interesting to see the level of analytical sophistication these students had gained through their studies and their ability to present the information in a professional manner,” he said.

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