Placing third in the UBC Sauder International Real Estate Case Competition
In November 2019, I and four other students from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration (SHA) took part in the UBC Sauder International Real Estate Case Competition held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The event took the place of the annual Cornell International Real Estate Case Competition, which had to be canceled for 2019.
The UBC Sauder competition followed the structure guidelines and standards of the Cornell event, with the specifics of the case released to the student teams on November 7. We then had five days to analyze the real estate situation for our case and prepare our presentation, which included investment recommendations. Despite weather handicaps that prevented two of our members from attending the presentation, the Cornell team won third place out of the fifteen competing universities.
The road to our success was a true learning experience crammed into a very short amount of time.
Research: Market fundamentals, demographics, regulatory laws
Our team consisted of Uma Patel ’20, Sam Hogin ’20, Tim Bergin ’21, Carol Wang ’21, and myself. Once we received our case, we raced to Statler Library after class to run through the information, outline a game plan for the next few days, and delegate tasks. The case presented a re-development opportunity for a rental building near Pike Place Market, Seattle. While the case suggested a 425-unit condominium building, it left room for creativity in the building’s layout.
We quickly immersed ourselves in market fundamentals, demographics, regulatory laws, and plausible physical layouts. We utilized our extensive research to inform assumptions for every metric from rent-per-square-foot to weekly parking lot occupancy rates, which we incorporated into our five different modeling scenarios. After many hours spent in Statler Room 453, phone calls to Faculty Advisor Daniel Lebret, and trips to the Regent Lounge for ice cream sandwich breaks, we were prepared to tell a compelling story about the highest and best use of the building.
Pursing a bolder approach: A mix-use building
Taking all of our research into account, we collectively opted to pursue the bolder, alternative approach of a mixed-use building. In addition to the case’s recommended condo units, our proposal included one floor of experiential fitness (e.g. Soul Cycle, Peloton) on the ground level and two floors of medical office space on the floors directly above.
Our building’s condo units targeted a statistically underserved demographic of 45- to 64-year-olds typically ready to downsize. We incorporated the experiential fitness component as an added amenity to the residents and a complement to the health-conscious theme of our building.
Finally, unique from all other performing teams, we included medical offices in the building as a way to hedge against market cyclicality, as condos are luxury goods that are more vulnerable in the event of an economic slowdown, while medical offices are extremely resilient and inelastic. We concluded that the inherent synergies in our building, in which residents benefit from the convenience of having their doctor appointments under one roof and medical office tenants benefit from the immediate and recurring customer demand, maximized the use of every square foot of the building.
The event: Rising above our airport mishap
We set off in two separate cohorts en route to Vancouver. While Tim, Carol and I landed as planned, Uma and Sam found themselves stranded in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport due to hazardous weather. With less than a 24 hours’ notice before the competition, it dawned on us that only the three who had successfully arrived would be able to present the team’s work. Communicating via spotty airport WIFI, we managed to work together to debug a model, wrap up a PowerPoint deck, and prepare a cogent presentation for the event that following morning.
The morning of November 12, the abbreviated Cornell team entered UBC for the preliminary round of presentations. Teams were expected to make a 15-minute presentation of their analysis to a panel of judges composed of distinguished senior real estate professionals and to subsequently field the
panel’s questions during a 20-minute question-and-answer session. Teams were judged not only on their investment pitches, their approach to the problem, and their presentation skills, but also on their ability to think on their feet and thoroughly answer the judges’ probing questions.
Out of 15 teams competing, our Cornell team, along with four others, progressed to the final round. Tim covered the market research, Carol demystified the financial analysis, and I unraveled the development proposal. We divided and conquered the judges’ questions about challenges with the mixed-use layout, construction timeline, affordability of the condominium units, and physical logistics regarding medical offices, ultimately winning third place and a $C 5,000 prize.
The aftermath: Dinner at the Top of Vancouver
After four sleepless days of slaving over market research reports, excel models, and a 94-slide PowerPoint deck, the three of us who made it to Vancouver were able to explore the city before our flight back to New York. Carol, who grew up in Vancouver, took Tim and I to the tower that has come to distinguish the Vancouver skyline: Harbour Centre Vancouver. At 553 feet above the city streets, we dined at the Top of Vancouver, the building’s revolving restaurant that completes one revolution every hour to offer an unobstructed, panoramic view of the city and its surrounding mountains and oceans.
Despite the airport debacle, my team mate Uma Patel reflects fondly on the experience. “The case competition was one of my defining experiences at Cornell,” she says. “It gave us a chance to put five minds together to develop a pitch using knowledge from all our classes and then present to real-life investors.”