Skies were dreary outside, but inside a glassy conference room along the Edina flank of Interstate 494, members of the Minneapolis Real Estate Exchangors (MREE) this week engaged in exuberant attempts at dealmaking.
At the start of the twice-monthly meeting, members hoping to sell or buy commercial properties filled out "have/want" forms. Among the properties in play on Wednesday: A transmission shop in Andover. Property along Lake Mary. A home in Coral Gables, Fla. Fractional ownership in a million-dollar vacation home at Giants Ridge. A hotel in St. Croix Falls, Wis.
MREE, composed of real estate brokers and salespeople, insurance salespeople, lenders and title insurers, is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and remains the only commercial real estate exchange group that meets in person on a regular basis. That's despite the industry's increasing reliance on such modern technology as e-mail and social media, according to MREE President Neil Friedman.
"We're a throwback to the old days," he said.
Although inherently a networking organization, it's the "have/want" sessions that serve as the group's signature.
On Wednesday, each member was given two or three minutes to make his pitch. Then moderator James Bingham, a Red Wing-based commercial real estate syndicator and consultant, peppered the participants with questions and occasionally offered up a few tidbits of advice of his own. Others in the audience chimed in with ways to structure a deal, too. Leads and telephone numbers mixed freely.
Sometimes members represent an investor looking for a real estate opportunity, usually something that generates a bit of income.
The repartee between the members, many of whom are longtime associates and friends, was often quite amusing.
When asked what the owner of a 10 percent stake worth $100,000 in the Giants Ridge vacation home would accept to seal the deal, Bill Lykken, the developer/principal for the Residence Club at the complex near Biwabik, replied, "One-hundred thousand dollars cash money in my pocket."
"What else?" prodded Bingham.
"One-hundred thousand dollars wired to my account," Lykken deadpanned.
"People at the larger firms do this kind of stuff in-house, because they have the staff to do it," Friedman said. "We have a lot of people who are entrepreneurs, or from small- and medium-sized brokerages. This is really a way of connecting people."
By its very nature, real estate is a relationship game -- forming them, honing them and using them. "Any chance to network is a great opportunity for these folks," said Herb Tousley, director of the Shenehon Center for Real Estate at the University of St. Thomas. "That's how the development business works; it's all through personal relationships."
MREE is a chapter of the National Council of Exchangors, which has several dozen chapters across the country.
The number of members in the Minneapolis chapter has shrunk to about 80, down from about 160 in 2007 -- before the economic meltdown. But Friedman is optimistic the ranks will swell as the economy improves. "It's really a good time to get into the real estate business," he said.
"These groups are a way for people, mainly from smaller companies, and for investors who aren't institutional investors, to find each other," Tousley said.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752