Real-world development challenge

Durham Commons

Site plan for “Durham Commons” from the winning team

One of the UNC Real Estate Club’s most anticipated events is the annual First-Year Real Estate Case Competition. Each year club leaders write an introductory case narrative that challenges first-year students to create a development plan that offers holistic solutions to a given set of constraints.

Students are divided up into teams of five to six members who have an equal level of prior real estate experience. In less than a week each team creates a development program, a supporting pro forma and financial analysis, and a 20-minute presentation to share their recommendation with a panel of judges, who are practicing real estate industry professionals.

 The mission of the 2016 competition was to transform a 15-acre lot in Durham, North Carolina, into its highest and best use.  The property was located just south of Highway 147, across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the American Tobacco Campus. Among the restrictions was a caveat to include at least 55 affordable senior housing units.

Teams combined their creativity with financial feasibility considerations to create an optimal site plan proposal. “I found the case competition an excellent opportunity to apply all the real estate fundamentals we have learned throughout the fall,” says Mark Robinson (MBA ’18). “It has been a great talking point in every internship interview that I’ve had.”

After all teams presented their development proposals to the judges, three teams of finalists were asked to present again in a winner-take-all showdown.

The Real Estate Club was very fortunate to assemble an experienced and diverse group of judges, including Dave Bookhout (BSBA’06, MBA’15), development director, AvalonBay Communities; Meredith Daye, director of development, Durham Housing Authority; John Florian, president, The Florian Companies; Michael Lemanski (MBA ’04), director, Development Finance Initiative; Lee Perry (BA’00, MBA ’06), development director, East West Partners; and Anthony Scott, CEO, Durham Housing Authority.

After the conclusion of the final presentations, competition participants, judges and volunteers met for a much-anticipated Happy Hour and networking session at Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery where the winners were announced.

The winning team included Robert Smith, Hunter Weaver, Mark Robinson, Spencer Wright, Zach Spencer and George Cavelius, all MBA Class of 2018. Their winning proposal, “Durham Commons,” was a mixed-use development featuring multi-family residential buildings with ground-floor retail, a boutique hotel, a creative food hall with walkability to the American Tobacco Campus and, of course, ample parking!

As someone who is a career-switcher – transitioning into the world of real estate – I found great value in the process.  The ability to work outside of our comfort zones andreceive constructive feedback from industry experts are rare and appreciated opportunities.

The exposure to the various aspects of real estate development, coupled with the experience of working as part of a project team served as a jump-start into the second semester’s formal real estate coursework.  Although no official prizes were awarded, being a member of the winning team granted us bragging rights for the rest of the year and the confidence that we can successfully pursue a career in real estate.

Kudos to each of the competing teams for their outstanding work and to the UNC Real Estate Club leadership for managing a tremendously successful case competition.

By George A. Cavelius (MBA ’18)