Features Mann Report

Bringing Women Owners into CRE

Clockwise from top left: Beth Azor, Sydney Phillips, DeLea Becker and Natsha Falconi

Even as commercial real estate tries to include more women, there are some secrets beneath the stats. Despite years of efforts and outreach, women occupy just 36.7% of the commercial real estate sector, accord- ing to a 2020 Commercial Real Estate Women’s (CREW) network survey.

The percentage of commercial real estate owned by women is so small that it’s even hard to verify, though 3% is a number being shared. Now, however, a group of women CRE professionals are investing in various categories of the industry and helping others learn how to do so to build sustainable wealth and a legacy for their own families and women overall.

It’s just a matter of informing women of what is possible, noted Sydney Phillips, a serial entrepreneur who is using her growing investments in CRE to allow her to invest in other industries.

“The risk level was so tempting to me. Tech startups are very high risk but very high rewards,” she observed. “I went into commercial real estate as stability and the portfolio for my wealth.”

Why aren’t more women doing it? A lack of knowledge and some misconceptions, including that a lot of money is needed to start.

“The reason they don’t is fear. They don’t see it,” said Beth Azor, president of Azor Advisory Services. “If they see it, they can be it.”

Often, it has taken family or colleagues to open their eyes. DeLea Becker, founder and Broker for Beck-Reit Commercial Real Estate and Beck-Reit Asset Management in Austin, Texas, came into ownership through Norman Reitmeyer, her contractor husband Russ Becker’s business partner.

“Norman taught Russ that you have a construction company to generate the returns to buy real estate,” she said. They acquired a building in East Austin though a partnership in 2006. The building became the corporate headquarters. In 2012, DeLea got her broker’s license, and the next year found a warehouse to lease even before she purchased it.

“I’m a control freak,” she said. “I try to buy things for the future. All of this is to be handed to my children.”

Nearly all of the women had some background or mentors in the industry — Phillips’ family were commercial real estate entrepreneurs. Azor started in the industry as an assistant at Florida-based Terranova Corp., and worked her way up to president. But it took encouragement from founder Stephen Bittel to cross over to the ownership side.

“He said, ‘I’m taking you to a bank and co-signing a loan, as long as you agree to save 20% of each commission going forward to an investment account,’”she recalled. “After that, I was in seven limited partnerships over the next 10 years.”

She then formed Azor Advisory Services while continuing to invest. Today, she owns five deals worth $80 million, after buying and selling properties.

Similarly, Natasha Falconi, president of Falconi Capital, became an investor in multifamily properties after a career as a CPA, working for a shopping center owner (eventually becoming president) and chairing a bank.

“I was looking at my next chapter, and saw I didn’t have any equity,” Falconi said, adding that it’s often ingrained that women must get a job and work for others. “I was an entrepreneur managing someone else’s business.”

She founded Falconi Capital in 2019, and is focused on multifamily in Hialeah, Florida and Miami. Using savings to buy her first properties, she then began doing syndications and finding others to invest with her. Her bank connections and knowledge have been helpful.

“I’ve been sitting on both sides of the table when they were having conversations about deals. Because I had that knowledge, I was able to navigate the process,” she said.

Now, the women are spreading the word about commercial real estate investments to others. Falconi has produced an investment guide. Others are speaking about the topic. Becker committed in 2022 to building two buildings a year with women and is working exclusively with women clients going forward. Through her Azor Academy, Azor runs in-person seminars to educate women about investing in CRE. All say that their efforts will create a solid basis for future generations — whether it’s their own children and grandchildren or for future generations of women.

“I lost my father really young, and it made me think about legacy from the time I was 14. Mine would certainly be freer women,” Phillips said. “With money comes freedom.”