Imported Knowledge

Most successful commercial real estate professionals working in the U.S. had the good fortune of formal education before venturing into this challenging industry. We learned about the business at the university level and through specialized designation programs. Practical, on-the-job experience also played an instrumental role.

Our real estate counterparts in some overseas markets may not be as fortunate; opportunities abound, but professional training is in short supply. Foreign governments and universities are compelled to import U.S. real estate professionals to teach our commercial practices.

So far, we've done a fine job, but there's room for improvement and modification, specifically the content we teach and the instructional process itself.

The American and Canadian commercial real estate model is based on theories, formulas, ethical practices and case histories that are proven to work in North America. We need to adapt some of our course content and best practices to work abroad because cross-border real estate transactions are becoming increasingly more commonplace. Given the weight real estate carries in today's global economic equation, the timing is right.

Tony Horrell, CEO of European capital markets for property-investment firm Jones Lang LaSalle, says that up to half the world's wealth today is invested in real estate. A lot of that capital is flowing into overseas markets that a decade ago — or even less in some cases — was off limits to domestic investors.

Eager to learn

As a part-time instructor, I've met the challenge of teaching foreign nationals commercial real estate courses developed by the CCIM Institute as part of a curriculum designed to deliver the core knowledge required in brokerage and investment today. The real estate professionals I've taught in Poland and Russia displayed intelligence, enthusiasm and a desire to learn how we practice real estate.

Since 1999, CCIM Institute has partnered with governments, universities and regulatory boards to host courses. In 2006 alone, CCIM Institute has scheduled 31 challenging five-day courses that will be held in six countries. Without question, there's a growing demand for commercial real estate education in many foreign countries. Visit emerging markets and you'll see why.

The economies of some nations in Asia and Europe are expanding today at a torrid pace, with growth on par with the boomtown cycles of early and late 20th century America.

Lots of available capital fuels these burgeoning investment markets, and investors are staking claims in these attractive economic frontiers. Government officials and universities are looking to the West for help.

Refining the curriculum

For our education to really work, we have to tailor course content so that our overseas colleagues can apply best practices to meet the laws and customs established in their respective countries.

Factors that we take for granted when analyzing a property — virtually any involving taxation, for example — don't exist in some emerging nations. And if they do, they are vastly different from how taxation is described in our body of knowledge.

We need to create a common terminology and methodology that makes sense when counting dollars and cents, as well as rubles and yen. We need to learn how the real estate industry works in other nations and adapt our curriculum to create best practices for overseas practitioners. Course content needs to be translated so that “capitalization rate” is generally understood as “the rate used in converting future income to present value.” We can't leave too much room for interpretation.

The delivery method used to educate students abroad is equally as important. One successful model features two instructors who use visual tools like PowerPoint and work in a classroom large enough so that students can work in teams. Features we take for granted, like a consistent electrical power supply or a working overhead projector, have to be guaranteed for programs to be successful.

Like any business venture, the sponsors need to make a profit, or at least break even. That means courses must be marketed effectively to guarantee a sufficient class size, and tuition must cover instructor compensation, room rent and other costs. Let's remember that providing education is a business.

From a global perspective, these are exciting times in the commercial real estate industry. The core knowledge commonly accepted here can work anywhere in the world. We just need to make sure we do more than just translate words and present theories.

Steven R. Price is the 2006 president of CCIM Institute, which confers the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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