By Eve Picker
Most people have some familiarity with the process of buying real estate, either through popular media or their own experiences purchasing a home. But when you enter the world of commercial property development and investment, there is a “lingua franca” that is unique to the real estate business. While there may be a justifiable need for this “secret language” between real estate professionals, investors, and developers, it can act as a barrier to increasing the pool of people, laymen and experts alike, who are involved in real estate development and investing.
If we make real estate development terminology accessible and understandable to the average investor, we’ll start to raise awareness about real estate development and how to make great and inclusive places. And we’ll help prosocial, environmentally conscious developments reach a more mainstream investor audience. It is much harder to explain a sustainable, inclusive vision for the future if sustainability advocates are not even speaking the same language as investors, This is a way to shift the focus from bottom line to triple bottom line.
Remember, it takes convincing a pretty diverse group of people to successfully push a sustainable project forward. Not only do the numbers have to make sense to lenders or investors, but local municipalities or counties must also be convinced. The ability to speak the same language as the people who determine whether or not your project proceeds is critical. No matter how financially beneficial the investment, or how sustainable the project, if you can’t sell it to local authorities your capital will evaporate with costly studies, complaints and revisions.
Sell the benefits of revitalization
Words like “displacement” and “gentrification” have entered the national conversation around housing development. In many places, chatter relating to these issues is driving the discussion, and almost always in a manner that portrays property development as incompatible with the goals of a more equitable and verdant society. When entering into a new community, developers must work to challenge this notion. The best way to do that is through education. Create a dialogue with the local community to alert them to the potential benefits of new commercial/residential spaces. Remember that dialogue goes two ways and that residents have a wealth of information to share about how developers and investors can make the project truly sustainable, in an economic or an environmental sense.
Triple bottom line
When making your case, hitting on the “triple bottom line” goals of sustainability, environmental stewardship, and economic justice will address many local concerns. There is an old adage in the sales community: “sell, not tell.” This truism should be adopted when selling anything, from an automobile to a development plan. Instead of just telling the community how your vision will hit these triple bottom goals, get into specifics. Sell them on the benefits of sustainable development, and how their day to day lives are likely to improve once construction begins.
This dialogue can also act as a phenomenal way to raise capital for a project. After all, you are reaching groups of people who understand the realities on the ground and have a vested interest in making sure that property lifts their neighborhood, rather than pulling it down. Combining your community outreach efforts with a crowdfunding campaign can help build up support among local residents and help get your project off the ground.
Historically, top-down efforts have not had much success in alleviating the housing problems we face today as a society. Conversely, grassroots, community-based projects have seen and continue to see success in cities across the country. If your goal is to create better communities, it is imperative that the community you wish to improve is kept in the loop, consulted, and shown respect.