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What The American Rescue Plan Means For The Future Of Downtown Office Space



Chicago's busy downtown

Kenny Kane is the Chief Operating Officer at Firmspace

For many companies, the jury is still out on whether it’s worth it to return to the office in full force after widespread vaccination. Some have downsized thousands of square footage of commercial real estate for smaller spaces, taking the bet that remote work is here to stay. Others are already sending their workers back to the office, or plan to in September, which has emerged as the tentative return date for some fraction of the workforce.

Meanwhile, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan promises an economic lifeline to cities across the country. The future of downtown areas like Manhattan that have struggled during the pandemic hangs in the balance.

While remote work has certainly been a blessing to many, professionals still need offices and cities still need professionals. Here’s how the American Rescue Plan, combined with new workflows, can create downtown ecosystems that work for everyone.

Local Economies Rely On A Steady Flow Of Office Workers

We’ve read story after story of the restaurants, retail shops and countless other small businesses that shuttered during the pandemic. For those in downtown areas, the main blow was the absence of regular patrons: office workers.

Economists generally agree that city centers need an information-sector infrastructure to buoy local economies. As white-collar workers move through cities, they spend money on food, clothing, transportation and other services near their offices. Without that cash flow, small businesses aren’t the only part of the economy that suffers. City budgets lose critical tax dollars from corporate payrolls to fund essential services like schools and sanitation.

In New York City, commercial real estate makes up about half of the city’s property tax revenue. Government officials expect a $2.5 billion decline in the next fiscal year. Despite the mass exodus from America’s biggest metro areas to locales with more space and cheaper rents, however, urban populations are unlikely to change dramatically for the long term. A wave of young professionals will inevitably make its way to the cities as the pandemic fades, and that opens up a lot of room for opportunity.

The American Rescue Plan Can Strengthen Urban Ecosystems

The nearly $2-trillion-dollar stimulus package, now officially law, includes a number of provisions that can help cities. In addition to the funding intended to help individuals and their families bounce back from financial hardship during the pandemic, the plan provides funding for: 

• Public safety organizations, including firefighters and vaccine administrators.

• Transportation infrastructure, including transit agencies and airports.

• Broadband for schools and libraries.

• Housing aid and emergency rental assistance.

The plan also offers hope for small businesses across the country. Another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans are available, as well as a number of grants specifically for shuttered arts venues and restaurants. This wide-scale investment across city infrastructure serves as a welcoming backdrop as residents of the country’s cities return to work. 

Staggered Work Schedules Promise Less Crowded Commutes And Buildings

The gradual return to offices throughout this year probably won’t bring the workforce back to pre-pandemic rhythms. I think that’s a good thing. As companies embrace hybrid work models and phased returns, professionals may be able to avoid more stressful commutes to the office — or at least enjoy a more peaceful rush hour, which is key to employee well-being. Long commutes take a toll on workers’ overall health and productivity.

Large commercial office buildings, too, likely won’t see the same daily traffic that they did before the pandemic. Building managers may be able to coordinate with tenants to stagger in-office days, which means workers won’t have to worry about being exposed to the virus in crowded elevators and entryways.

Some urban planners hope that mixed-use real estate — the development of more affordable residential housing in commercial districts — could become more popular post-pandemic. This would allow workers to live closer to the office, alongside everything else they need, like grocery stores and pharmacies.

But the hybrid model and gradual return at least enable workers who do commute to save time by working from home once or twice per week.

Somewhere Between Full Remote And Full Office: The Best Outcome For Our Cities

All the people who need the office — for collaboration, technology, privacy or whatever the preference may be — will constitute the office worker population that our cities need to keep thriving. And their return won’t have to come at the cost of strained infrastructure and crowded spaces that worsen the spread of the virus. Hopefully, with the help of the stimulus package, commercial real estate leaders will be well-equipped to welcome urban professionals to an environment that makes them feel safe, supported and engaged.

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Real Estate

11 Predictions For Innovation In Commercial Real Estate



Photos of featured members.

The impact of Covid-19 has greatly been felt across the commercial real estate industry. Many businesses had to shut down, while others moved to working remotely. Few new businesses opened due to the uncertainty the pandemic brought. During this time, there was little need for buying or renting commercial buildings. However, as agents know, the impact of crises on real estate does not last forever.

As the world begins to return to normal, workers are going back to the office and businesses are beginning to open. The demand for commercial real estate is growing, and with this growth come new possibilities for innovation. Below, 11 members of Forbes Real Estate Council predict how the commercial real estate landscape will react to the effects of the global pandemic.

1. Increasing Demand For Multifunctional Spaces

The pandemic accelerated trends already in play such as working from home. As companies allow employees to continue to work virtually in some capacity, developers will need to ensure interior spaces include aesthetic, yet highly functional pockets conducive for work. Advanced digital capabilities, privacy and adaptability for recreational use in non-working hours will define the new home office. – Mary Cook, Mary Cook

2. Heightening Need For Sustainable Buildings

The construction and operation of buildings account for nearly 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions, so innovative real estate leaders will invest in energy-saving designs and healthier materials. With governments at every level implementing stricter sustainability regulations, projects that don’t prioritize this will lose value as they become obsolete, uninsurable and unable to be occupied. – Andy Cohen,


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3. Evolving Definitions For Real Estate

There will be a convergence of commercial and residential real estate (i.e., a modern take on timeshares), which will force us to get more specific about what commercial means. As we merge living, playing and working—along with how we own and invest—the marketplace will require iterative and inventive definitions that account for evolving ways of operating the future of living and the economic progress to which it adheres. – Alex Allison, D. Alexander

4. Prioritizing Proximity To Work And Home

More live, work and play communities are being developed. People are valuing their quality of life and time more. Proximity to work and play, especially in a walkable community, is more appealing as it minimizes travel time and expenses. – Catherine Kuo, Elite Homes | Christie’s International Real Estate

5. Converting Unused Office Spaces

With the significant decrease in demand for office space due to work-from-home and the digital economy in general coupled with the significant shortage in housing, I predict underutilized office space will be converted into condos. Kill two birds with one stone. – Nick Ron, House Buyers of America

6. Rising Real Estate Automation

AI will continue to reduce operating expenses at both the property level and the corporate level. The role of the commercial broker, appraiser and others will be reduced significantly over time. Almost everything will become automated like it did with banking, lending and other industries. – Ken McElroy, MC Companies

7. Increasing Need For Technology Solutions

Real estate is long overdue for innovation through legal tech. With the volume of business transactions in real estate, technology shall be built to centralize and automate case management, especially when it comes to foreclosures. AI can help predict foreclosure timelines based on previous cases, thus leading to more efficiency. – Saurabh Shah, InstaLend

8. Redesigning Housing Developments

Housing design (both single-family rentals and multifamily) as a result of Covid-19 and work-from-home optionality will be the greatest point of innovation in the real estate industry. Developers and owners who will use even a one-day-a-week work-from-home schedule will begin to think differently about the layout of their house. Time spent in the home will shift from the bedroom and dining rooms to an at-home office. – Paul Monsen, GSP

9. Combining Data With Relational Information

Access to real estate data, information and knowledge will continue to improve because of technology. The wisdom of combining the data, information and knowledge with the appropriate experience and relationships will always be controlled by real estate professionals. Real estate professionals should always focus on relationships above all. – Richard Lackey, City Commercial Real Estate, Inc.

10. Growing Number Of Commercial Real Estate Portals

We will start to see more portals that carry properties in much the same way as the MLS does for the residential sector. This is important for national clients and clients expanding across markets. There will be more cooperation in this space as we see the need to service both owners and prospects. – Nancy Kowalik, Nancy Kowalik Real Estate Group

11. Shifting Focus To Consumer-Centric Technology

The rise of consumer-centric technology will be a key trend for innovation as real estate owners look to provide better experiences in their spaces. Whether in multifamily or office, the end-user is a consumer with a set of expectations for the places they spend money and time. Innovations that help meet and exceed those technologies will help real estate owners stay ahead of the pack as CRE becomes more consumer-driven. – Benjamin Pleat, Cobu

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Real Estate

Using The Entrepreneurial Operating System To Navigate Through Uncertain Times



Businesswoman presenting, co-workers clapping

Ali Jamal is the Owner and CEO of Stablegold Hospitality, a real estate investment company.

As the global pandemic completely rattles everything that we hold familiar, disheveling the way we work, live, learn, play, travel and even breathe, anyone responsible for the well-being of others is being forced to get their feet planted firmly on this shaky ground and figure out next steps, quickly. As the CEO of Stablegold Hospitality, a multimillion-dollar real estate investment firm, I’m in the same boat with thousands of business leaders who admit that showing leadership this past year, compared to any other year since the inception of their company, has given us a run for our money.

Years ago, my company implemented a business model called the Entrepreneurial Operating System, founded by Gino Wickman, which is broken down into six components: data, vision, people, issues, process and traction. Throughout the pandemic, however, as a leader I found the first three aspects to be fundamental in helping us navigate these turbulent waters. Throughout this year and next, I recommend that all leaders, duty-bound to the success of their company’s financial position and people, focus on adopting these three core aspects into their own leadership strategy. Here’s how and why. 


While carrying out all the responsibility that comes with a leadership role, it becomes tempting to delegate the analysis of performance metrics to one of our direct reports. I call this deafening the data and am admittedly guilty of it from time to time. Ever since the pandemic showed the world its nasty strength, bringing the tourism industry to its knees, I had to ensure I didn’t make the same mistake.

One of the key tools I found useful to complete every quarter was a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis. That’s because, within weeks, the landscape that our hotels once operated in had completely turned upside down. Many customers lost their jobs and could not pay for their stay, and a flood of investors entered the Class C/D property market, now realizing the need for affordable housing was going to be greater than ever before. Doing this analysis on a regular basis forced me to face the current situation, follow its trends and stay a few steps ahead with a strategy to stay on top of the competition and understand what accommodations need to be made in the new climate.

In our case, for example, we put a stronger focus on acquisition, aggressively looking for appropriate real estate deals and closing on them as soon as possible. We also provided free or deeply discounted accommodation, for a limited time, to our loyal customers who truly hit rock bottom.


Trivia time! Apart from being some of the greatest visionary leaders of our time, what do Nelson Mandela, Ray Dalio and Elon Musk all have in common? When faced with imminent threats, they didn’t simply drop their heads in their hands. They were guided by an unshakeable vision for a brighter future and had an uncanny ability to influence others into putting their fears aside and adopting that vision. 

History reveals that economic downturns are inevitable. More importantly, it also teaches us they don’t last forever. Now is the time to get those visionary goggles on and garner at least a fraction of the confidence, trust and respect that great visionary leaders have achieved.

Every week, I spend approximately 15% of my time analyzing our data, especially our SWOT analysis, strategizing how we’re going to overcome any downward trends or threats, and then executing those thoughts by creating tasks that are delegated to my management team. Another 10% of my time is spent on communication, a check-in if necessary, to rally my team around that vision.


Unemployment rates sky-rocketed due to Covid-19, which, although unfortunate, brings a silver lining to business leaders who need to build an army that will help drive the company’s mission to its post-crisis future.

The people component of the EOS model refers to hiring the right talent and designating them to the right seats. Our current market is flooded with candidates who have relevant skills and experience. What makes them the “right” people, however, is whether they genuinely buy in to your vision and the company’s sense of purpose. In times like these, we need staff who are strong-minded and determined to fulfill the company’s mission. Their willingness to do so can be determined in a number of ways: research their extra-curricular activities and interests, evaluate their response to behavioral questions such as “How did you resolve a particular problem at your last job?” and assess their aptitude for change management. 

Thanks to a larger supply of candidates, we should also find it easier to target the right industry for recruitment. Lately, for example, I’ve found it much easier to find individuals who previously worked in the tourism industry, have experience working in the same property class and who are also a cultural fit for the organization. I rarely ever found all three traits in one candidate before.

I’ve also learned that when these candidates do exist, they’ll get snatched up in a New York minute. It’s so important to pay special attention to the people aspect of the EOS model while there’s great talent out there, just waiting to be hired.

To clarify, I’m not stating that the other three components of the EOS model — issues, process and traction — should be ignored. They’ve helped me organize and add structure to my company by leaps and bounds. I’ve found that the three aspects discussed above, however, are critical to execute during times like these. If your business has survived the pandemic thus far, you’ve probably already started putting them into practice. I believe prioritizing them and intentionally practicing them in your day-to-day operations, however, will propel your business to succeed far beyond what your competitors are hoping for.

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Real Estate

How To Launch An Entrepreneurial And Investing Career When You’re Young



Saving for properties

Canadian Entrepreneur with Global Invest, on a mission to help people invest in real estate to create generational wealth.

The best time to start entrepreneurship and investment is when you are still young because the longer your financial investments will be operating, the more substantially your savings account will grow. I receive many queries from young people who want to set up an entrepreneurial project and invest in real estate. I strongly encourage them to do so. Despite your young age, you can learn how to save and invest your money to yield additional income. Here’s how.

Save Money

You might be wondering right now how to save money without a salary or with minimal income. It is possible! Here are two smart ways to build up a savings account and generate returns. 

1. Tap into your own pocket money: If you are still a student or under the care of your parents, you may receive a monthly allowance from your parents or student financial aid. If this is the case, I advise you to start saving based on your available cash, at least $100 per month, in an individual savings account. The IRA is suitable for you at this point as it is tax-free.

2. Look for a student job: To save sufficiently for your investment project, search for a part-time job that will provide additional income you can direct toward savings. You will want to build up considerable savings as a first step in order to achieve a return on your future investment.

Build Your Business Online

In order to start a business and invest at a young age, you must recognize that the internet has created a global village where everything can happen with just a click. Indeed, the web is full of opportunities that should not be neglected. 

1. Build your own website: As a student or young professional, building up a substantial savings account can be quite difficult. One strategy I recommend is creating a website where you can offer your services. The internet is a massive customer niche where possibilities abound, from e-commerce to offering consulting services to writing sponsored blog content and more.

2. Brand yourself on social networks: Social networks have significantly reshaped the business world. It is difficult to succeed without creating a recognizable brand across social networks, especially if you want to start a business and investing career at a young age. In this respect, I advise creating Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts and even a YouTube channel. These accounts can significantly help you boost your eventual rate of return.

Invest In Real Estate

Once you have saved enough money through your business and savings plans, make your money work for you. Investing in rental property is one of the best ways to diversify your monthly income.

1. Invest with REITs: A real estate investment trust, or REIT, is a great stepping stone to entrepreneurship and investment for young people. Also sometimes referred to as real estate paper, this type of investment offers excellent possibilities in terms of rental management, especially if you are a student and school takes up most of your time. The REIT you invest with will handle all the leasing, renovation work, rent deductions, etc., and interest rates generally vary between 5% and 9% depending on the type of REIT chosen. 

2. Explore real estate crowdfunding: Crowdfunding is another interesting approach for young people who lack the required funds to obtain a mortgage and represents a supportive financing method for real estate projects. It plays the same role as a banking institution as it provides money to start your real estate project. The annual rate of return on this type of funding ranges from 8% to 10% depending on the size of the investment.

3. Purchase a parking space: It is wise to start out small and work your way up. For example, you can start by buying a simple property such as a parking space, something that may be much more attainable for young entrepreneurs. By starting on a small scale and planning for the short term, you can minimize your risk.

Improve Your Skills Through Training 

In order to achieve long-term investing success, you need to be an expert in your field. For example, if you intend to invest in rental property, I recommend taking a property investment course in order to build a good investor profile. You need to know how to invest in order to make the most profitable investments. Constant training provides a number of advantages, including:

• Staying competitive.

• Increasing your profitability.

• Acquiring new knowledge.

• Keeping up to date on industry trends.

• Increasing your credibility and building customer loyalty.

As I like to say: In rental investing, what you don’t know can cost you a lot in terms of money, opportunities and strategy. So, it’s important to keep training. Indeed, investing in real estate at a young age and improving your skills over time is an excellent strategy for those who aim to become rich faster, take an early retirement and live on generous retirement savings generated by your real estate investments. 

The information provided here is not investment, tax, or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only community for executives in the real estate industry. Do I qualify?

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