The Cushman & Wakefield Tampa office publishes a recurring feature on the women of the Tampa WIN chapter, their accomplishments and the tips and advice they have for other women in the commercial real estate field.
Here’s our interview with Victoria Marks, Senior Financial Analyst with Cushman & Wakefield’s Tampa-based Student Housing Capital Markets Groups.
Michelle & Nicole – How did you make your first dollar?
Victoria – I did a lot of babysitting growing up, but I would say my first job/”real” dollar was working as a summer camp counselor at Rollins College in my hometown of Winter Park, Florida. I taught sailing.
M&N – What ages were the kids?
V – The kids were very young – between six and ten years old. That was a nightmare because you can’t really teach them to sail, you just kind of take them sailing.
M&N – Did you ever lose someone overboard?
V – No, luckily we didn’t lose anybody overboard.
M&N – Did you work during high school?
V – Sports took up most of time throughout high school.
M&N – What sports did you play in high school?
V – I played golf and tennis, but that was mainly because I grew up with three brothers, so I got forced into those two sports. Once I was in middle school, I started to play volleyball and played all throughout high school. I actually won two State Championships, my junior and senior years of high school.
M&N – Where are you in the order of the four kids?
V – I am the youngest sibling.
M&N: [in unison] Ooff!
V – It was always very entertaining. Although I always seemed to get beat up, my brothers were very protective. Never a dull moment in the household, that’s for sure.
M&N – After high school, where did you go to college?
V – I went to Boston College.
Nicole –I went to BU (Boston University)!
V – Who doesn’t love Boston! I had a really good family friend growing up whose family moved to Boston when I was in middle school. I used to visit every summer and just fell in love with the city. I knew I wanted a change of pace after growing up in Florida – be in a big city, not drive a car around, etc. I really fell in love with BC, so I moved, put in my four years (which I loved) and graduated from BC…but ultimately, I couldn’t endure the winters.
M&N – What did you major in at school?
V – I majored in Finance and Marketing, and then did a minor in International Studies.
M&N – Wow! Were you able to do a double major in four years?
V – I was! I was fortunate enough to travel abroad over the summer of my Junior year earning credits towards my International Studies minor. I completed a program at the University of Manchester’s Business School in England. While I was over there, I also did an internship with a company called Emerson International, which has offices in Orlando and England. So after I finished up the program I stayed in Alderly Edge, England for five weeks and interned with them – it was a really awesome experience.
M&N – How and why did you land on finance?
V – I’ve always been good with numbers. Science, history, English were never my strong suits. I always knew I wanted to pursue a business major, and I chose finance over accounting in the end. My dad is in real estate – he primarily does retail – and he encouraged me to get my real estate license my sophomore year of college. I did some real estate internships and really liked it, so I decided to meld the two – real estate and finance together. On the other side, I also have always been a very creative person, so I pursued marketing as a second major. I actually did a creative design internship with Anthropologie at their flagship store on Newbury Street in Boston – I helped design and create (all by hand) their window and floor displays.
M&N – Now that you’ve been a professional for 5+ years, are there any classes that you feel impacted you and have helped you in your career?
V – Yeah, I would say the core finance and marketing courses gave me the fundamentals that I was able to build off of throughout my career. There’s not one specific course that really sticks out that taught me everything about my role, but I think majority of what I learned at Boston College helped build the skill set that I use today.
M&N – Other than the Emerson and Anthropologie internships, did you intern anywhere else?
V – I also interned with a smaller residential real estate firm in Boston, which was marketing and leasing off-campus apartments to students – so that’s how I first got into student housing.
M&N – When did you start working with Travis (Travis Prince, Executive Managing Director, Student Housing Capital Markets)?
V – Prior to graduating college, I applied to several different finance and marketing related jobs all over the U.S. with several different CRE firms. Colliers International in Tampa ended up reaching out to me directly to see if I would be interested in an open student housing financial analyst position in Tampa, so I took it and just hit the ground running.
M&N – How long have you been working with Travis?
V – A little over five years.
M&N – In your daily life, especially since your team is in such a niche market, what are you reading, listening to, looking at to stay on top of the market? How do you find out what the kids are doing and what they like?
V – What I find so interesting, since we are such a niche market, is that for universities, it’s really about following the schools and seeing what’s going on with them day in and day out. One thing that I really enjoy and find super informative are Google Alerts. Those things flood your inbox like crazy but they are super helpful cause they really send you everything that you need to know on a daily basis.
M&N – Since you work in a niche market, give us the elevator speech about what you do.
V – We work as investment sales brokers for off-campus student housing that is privately owned – not owned by a university. We work with buyers and sellers on both sides; the disposition and acquisition of off campus student housing assets. I find many people don’t understand the underlying differences between student housing and conventional multifamily. The easiest way to think about it is that student housing caters specifically to students and their leases run on the academic calendar following a University’s academic year – typically August through July. A good example to differentiate the two is, if you are a student and wanted to live in a two-bedroom apartment, you would sign a lease for one of the bedrooms in the two-bedroom unit.
On the flip side for conventional multifamily, if you are a young professional who wanted to sign a lease for a two-bedroom apartment, they would require you to sign the lease for the full two-bedroom apartment – not the single bedroom. Student housing is leased by the bed, while normal multifamily is leased by the unit. There are many other differentials, but I find this is the easiest way to explain the difference to someone who is new to the industry.
M&N – What are some challenges faced in the industry?
V – I think the hardest hurdle, specifically for owners in the Student Housing industry, is a property’s occupancy. Students will lease rooms to move in for the start of the academic year in August, therefore you never really see students coming in mid-semester to sign leases. This means the occupancy the property has in August (the start of Fall semester) is typically carried throughout the rest of the year. For example, if you are only able to lease up to 50 percent by August, then you will typically hold that occupancy through July, which results in such a hit-or-miss market that truly changes every year based on different market factors. It’s different for multifamily because you get people coming in all throughout the year, so your occupancy constantly ebbs and flows, while student housing you are locked in until August.
M&N – There’s so many differences between student housing and traditional multifamily! What’s the hot Student Housing market right now?
V – That’s the one question we hear so often! It’s not the easiest one to answer since it really depends on what the investor’s investment strategy is. But overall, I would say many of the larger, southeast Universities – especially the SEC schools – are where we find the most significant and consistent interest. Universities like Auburn University (Auburn, AL), University of Georgia (Athens, GA) and the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL) just to name a few.
M&N – How do you juggle your work and your personal life?
V – I was actually just talking about this topic! Urban Land Institute (ULI) started a mentor-mentee program that places six young professionals with an experienced industry leader. The other week we were talking about work/life balance. Everyone seemed to agree that when we first jumped into our respective industries out of college, we felt the need to have to prove ourselves and be “on” 24/7. I feel that I’ve put in a ton of work to get where I am, have the skills that I have developed, and be able to add irreplaceable value to the position that I’m currently in. Now that I feel I’ve reached this level (not that there aren’t more levels to be reached), it’s about learning how to pull back a little bit and get a good grip of maintaining a new work/life balance. Knowing when to be able to shut off and enjoy it, but then also check back in and make sure you’re not letting any balls drop; that’s the one struggle I’ve been recently working on.
M&N – Seems like the hardest part is setting boundaries.
V – Definitely, one of my biggest hurdles — working for a broker whose job is 24/7. I feel, as direct support to them, my job eventually morphs into 24/7 as well. But that’s where boundaries come into play, and over the course of five years you learn how and when to appropriately set them. With that said, I genuinely love what I do. Some people may not like checking or responding to emails outside of the typical 9-5, but I do because I always want to know what’s going on and be available for clients to create/maintain that working relationship.
M&N – How do you manage expectations with your clients?
V – Again, that’s another tricky boundary. Because our business is so competitive, clients have the authority and ability to look to another brokerage team to carry out an assignment. That being said, we want to make sure that we add unique value and we over-deliver and exceed their expectations. If a client wants something done, we pretty much do whatever it takes to deliver it.
About the Interviewers:
Michelle McMurray is an analyst for the Tampa Bay markets with Cushman & Wakefied’s Florida Research Team. She is also the co-author of the Millennials on Millennials (MOM) blog. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemccre.