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Real estate conference focuses on uncertainty, diversification and tech

conference attendeesUNC Kenan-Flagler’s Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate studies welcomed more than 480 real estate professionals from across the country to join in the annual real estate conference in Chapel Hill. It was a unique opportunity for students, faculty and alumni to connect while gaining insight into upcoming market trends from leading experts in the industry.

Over the course of the day, the conference featured keynote speaker Len O’Donnell, USAA Real Estate Company’s president and CEO, as well as Heitman Global Head of Research Mary Ludgin. Interactive panels on disruptive technologies and real estate capital markets occupied the afternoon.

Here are some of the themes and key takeaways from the event.

Managing uncertainty

While real estate is inherently cyclical, global economic and political uncertainty introduce layers of complexity that need to be contemplated when developing a sound strategy for remaining afloat during a downturn. Diversification of core assets with non-traditional investments can provide a defensive strategy in your portfolio. Assets such as senior housing, self-storage, medical office and student housing have proven to be effective alternatives delivering returns which have consistently outperformed expectations. While market fundamentals remain strong, focusing on defensive strategies are a key to maintaining stability over the long-term horizon.

Impact of disruptive technology

Changes in technology are a significant contributor to the evolution and growth of the real estate landscape. E-commerce is reinventing the way retail is perceived, introducing concepts such as mobile checkout and “click and collect,” which combines previously decoupled processes such as ordering, pick-ups and returns. In addition to retail, technology is transforming the industrial space using advances in robotics to increase efficiency in fulfillment networks across the country.

One of the most widely discussed and debated technology advancements on the horizon is the advent of autonomous vehicles. While there are potential benefits and a variety of glaring obstacles, real estate developers stand to gain from a potential reduction of future parking needs making parking lot management an easier topic to navigate when evaluating a site.

With representation from over 100 firms taking part in the discussions, the conference successfully fostered an environment of open dialogue among students and professionals from a variety of backgrounds.

By Areti Moustakis (MBA ’18)