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Phrases we've come to love, loathe

Breakout sessions at real estate conferences can be great learning tools for journalists. Sure, the message occasionally gets lost in the methods speakers employ, such as the dreaded pointer with the red dot, or the PowerPoint slides featuring an endless parade of technical definitions. “Slide 41 shows the installation of the ESFR sprinkler system…” Most frustrating of all are the mumblers, the panelists whose insightful remarks are understood only by those audience members who read lips.

Still, I wouldn't trade my three-a-day sessions at conferences for anything. It's a great way to stay connected to the industry, and the panel discussions help reaffirm — or challenge — what I know about trends taking shape in the marketplace. Mixed in with the technical jargon and alphabet soup of acronyms are buzzwords or phrases that can be revealing about the state of the industry. Here is my list of some of the most entertaining, and occasionally oddball, phrases that became common parlance in 2001:

“Keep your powder dry” — This expression, my personal favorite, dates back to the muzzle-loading rifles of the 18th century that used black powder. The phrase was definitely in vogue at commercial real estate conferences during the fourth quarter of 2001, from NAREIT to NAIOP. The translation: rather than become trigger-happy and shoot their load of available capital prematurely in a risky lending environment, lenders and commercial mortgage brokers are advised to keep their powder dry for the right opportunity to come along. Presumably, patience equals dry powder. But billionaire financier Sam Zell argues that the capital markets are all wet for being so conservative. Zell believes there has been an overreaction in the capital markets stemming from the tragic events of Sept. 11.

“V-shaped recovery” — Heading into 2001, the conventional wisdom was that the national economy was in for a “soft landing.” But that phrase quickly disappeared when it became clear even before Sept. 11 that the fall would be much harder than originally anticipated. Pundits then spoke of a V-shaped recovery, a sharp economic dip followed by an equally rapid rebound. Now, there's talk of a potential “U-shaped recovery,” a longer period of sustained decline followed by a gradual upswing. What letter will the economists dream up next? I vote for the letter “R,” which stands for the “rubber band recovery.” We'll bend as a nation, but we won't break.

“Core-investment strategy” — When used with the word “not,” this is a great euphemism. When a lender says, “I'm sorry but that deal is not part of our core-investment strategy,” what he really means to say is: “We have no interest in lending on office product in Silicon Valley or hotels virtually anywhere.” Employing the core-investment strategy phrase in that context is a polite way to reject a borrower while avoiding a potentially nutty deal.

“Echo Boomers” — I just knew that when the Census figures started rolling in, we'd have a new demographic buzzword. And here it is: Echo Boomers, also known as Gen Y or Bridgers, born between 1977 and 1994. This generation, some 72 million strong, is comprised of the sons and daughters of the Baby Boomers. This group is now entering the work force and will play a significant factor in urban life in the years to come. By the way, our story on the rise of urban living, authored by Ben Johnson, appears on page 54. It's amusing to think that I was at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, and my son, 10, is apparently at the tail end of the Echo Boomers.

Here are a few honorable mentions on this year's list: “take care of your best assets, your tenants” (does it take a recession for landlords to care?); “technology adoption curve” (translation: real estate professionals are technophobics).

Happy New Year to you all!

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