May 2006

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Developer: Be Flexible,
Global and Political

   Being a master technician won't be good enough to compete in the rapidly changing world of corporate and commercial real estate, said Luis Belmonte, the closing session speaker at the Spring 2006 IAMC Professional Forum in San Diego.
   Only those professionals who are flexible, global and political in their thinking will rise to the top, said Belmonte, principal of Seven Hills Properties and noted expert on global real estate deal-making.
   Belmonte shared from his many career experiences as IAMC wrapped up its four-day conference at the Hotel del Coronado.
   "Flexible entitlement ought to be the mantra of every real estate deal you do," Belmonte said. "Before you sign any deal, make sure that you secure options to expand, options to contract and options to renew. If you get an option, you win. If you give an option, you lose. Never forget that."
   Belmonte also urged his audience to secure sublet rights on any office lease they secure. "Think of yourself as a spec landlord," he said. "The faster you lease a building, the more money you make."
   On the issue of globalization, he said, "Companies don't have nationalities any more. I closed several major transactions with Flextronics, for example, before I ever realized that the company was headquartered in Singapore."
   Belmonte cautioned against protectionist legislation, saying that "the logic of the trading economy will overwhelm the protectionist nonsense" such as the recent furor in the U.S. Congress over the Bush administration's approval of the Dubai Ports World deal.
   "The world is becoming one in terms of trade," he said. "The sooner we recognize that here in the U.S., the better."
   For those who regularly conduct business in other states and countries, Belmonte encouraged them to learn the local laws, customs and political ties to gain an edge over their competition.
   "Always remember that the developer speaks a different language than the politician," he said. "To be successful, you must learn to sublimate your ego. You must choose between your dignity and the dollars. As long as you don't care who gets the credit for the deal, you can get a lot of deals done. Besides, the only esteem worth having is self-esteem, and the only legitimate source of pride is that which comes from self accomplishment. If you're the type that needs a pat on the back for doing your job, you'd better seek another line of work."
   The key to getting what you want from government agencies, Belmonte said, is to play the game by their rules. "You have to understand that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution no longer protects private property rights," he said. "Never close escrow on a building before you have a certificate of occupancy. You can always walk away from the deal until you own the land."
   He also advised attendees to be prepared to "pay to play" when dealing with politicians. "If you are unwilling to make political contributions, you are not in the game," he said. "You must also be willing to step into the fray and tamp down the opposition. Don't let one 'no' vote turn into several 'no' votes."

Ron Starner

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