More advice from the women who rule Chicago's Capital Stack

More advice from the women who rule Chicago's Capital Stack

The women in the upper reaches of commercial real estate finance got where they are by seizing the opportunity when presented and using their leadership skills to move up the ranks. That's among the reasons we're excited to host Bisnow's The Real Estate Money Machine: Chicago's Capital Markets Power Brokers event, on Aug. 6, at the Trump International Hotel & Tower, starting at 7am. 

Among our panelists, Fifield Cos SVP Erin DiPaola (right, with Fifield EVP/COO Alan Schachtman and SVP Lindsey Senn) was always interested in buildings, construction and architecture as her father was a construction worker. When Erin made the leap to commercial real estate after a career in investment banking, she knew she wanted to be on the principal side making the money decisions and marrying her financial background with her interest in real estate. She got her break at Pearlmark (formerly Transwestern Investments) before moving to Fifield five years ago. Erin says her greatest professional achievement so far was securing the financing and closing on the E2 multifamily tower in Evanston. Her advice for young women breaking into the industry is to go to a larger real estate firm and get financial training before making the move to the development side. "Investment banking is a good training ground for financial analysis, and dealing with highly charged personalities and situations," Erin says. "The skill set is applicable across any industry."

Erin tells us that even with all the available money across the capital stack, investors are looking for specific deals that fit their risk and return parameters. For Fifield, level of detail is important when capitalizing projects and finding partners. Take the NEXT apartment tower at 347 W Chestnut as an example, she says. The financing for that project involved three banks, a mezz lender and an EB-5 partner. This gives Fifield more flexibility and control over development, lease-up, stabilization and hold periods, says Erin.

Panelist and Prudential Real Estate Investors executive director Collete English-Dixon's (pictured with Townsend Group senior adviser Asieh Mansour) advice for young women entering the industry is to find a good mentor who will help with forming relationships and remind them that career paths aren't linear. "They're more like a jungle gym," she says. Collete speaks from experience; she was ready to pursue a law degree before she fell into real estate. She has been a mentor for young women through her leadership involvement with CREW. Collete was CREW's Chicago chapter leader from 1996 to 2012 and served as national president in 2011. She says CREW paved the way for women in real estate and helped expand the talent pool.

Collete says there are significant amounts of equity and debt throughout the capital stack, including preferred equity, equity, senior loans and mezz debt. This is having an effect on pricing, especially in core markets and trickling into secondary markets. Whether interest rate hikes can curb this, Collete says, depends on how high rates would be raised but that may not be a bad thing as recent rate moves had no negative impact and moving interest rates may be a response to other things doing well in the market. At PREI, Collete says it's always been about finding the best real estate opportunities for clients. PREI clients are investing throughout the risk spectrum from core to value-add, and it's a matter of understanding markets and what makes a good piece of real estate.


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