How Fredericksburg has changed during your time here?: I am lucky enough to have been born and raised here, so I have witnessed the impressive growth rate firsthand. During that time, corridors like State Route 3 have transformed from a one-traffic light road lined with farmland into congested highways bustling with commerce, large subdivisions and, unfortunately, traffic.
I dislike the traffic as much as the next guy, but at the same time I am proud that so many people continue to choose my hometown as the place they want to work and raise their families. Properly managing the growth is a big challenge but certainly a good problem to have.
Education/training: I am proud to have attended Montfort Academy for grade school, then Chancellor High School. I hold a B.S. in environmental science from Virginia Tech.
Previous jobs: I was once a world class busboy at Outback Steakhouse on both the east and west coast[s]. I’ve worked on construction sites, assisting the people who know what they are doing in building houses as a grunt laborer. I delivered candy and flowers, sent by parents to lonely freshman at Virginia Tech. I also held the very important and prestigious job of ensuring all of the printers at the computer labs on campus were full of paper.
I’ve owned a landscaping company, and was a part owner and general manager of a green waste recycling center. And as awful as some of these jobs sound to me now, I am very grateful to have had them, as I learned a lot at each of them and still had fun working hard.
Why did you decide on a career in real estate: It’s one of those stories where it choose me. At the time, I had no idea about anything related to commercial real estate. The owners of Virginia Properties, Donn and Donna Hart, who are great, lifelong family friends, for some reason saw something in me and suggested that with their tutelage that I could be good at it.
They were kind, generous and patient during my five years with them as they taught me about the business. I must have asked them thousands of questions, and probably made just as many mistakes, but they stuck with me.
I am forever grateful that they introduced me to and taught me about such an interesting and rewarding business. I have absolutely no idea what I would be doing today if they hadn’t of seen something in me, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be commercial real estate, and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoy real estate.
Why you wanted to stay in Fredericksburg: It’s funny because I distinctly recall both high school and college friends who couldn’t understand why I would willingly choose to go back to my hometown to start the next chapter of my life rather than some big city. I couldn’t understand how I could choose to live anywhere else. Fredericksburg had everything I could have wanted: my friends and family were here, I knew the people, I knew the area, and with the growth potential there wasn’t a better place to start a business.
The other part I love about Fredericksburg so much is that I’m halfway between the national and state capitals, a short drive from either the mountains or the beach, as well as major sporting events. And despite all of the growth, there still remains a strong sense of community here and I didn’t want to leave that behind.
What is the market like right now in Fredericksburg: Overall, it’s good, certainly not great. I began my career just as the market was falling off of the cliff (brilliant, I know) so I missed the good ’ole days as my colleagues refer to them, but it has been steadily improving. There is a lot of activity, but the progress from step one to step two is relatively slow with most buyers or tenants making these large financial decisions cautiously.
Despite the activity, there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the activity in terms of product type, location or price point. However, all of the vacancy rates are slowly but surely declining in all product classes.
The landlord concessions are still there, but becoming less generous since not much new product has been added to the inventory in the last few years. There is increased interest in new construction projects, which is very encouraging as it means more jobs, opportunity and tax revenues.
For the last few years, there have been many people smarter than I who have been suggesting that things would be slightly improving as the recession officially ended. Then, as we transition from 2014 into 2015, the pace would increasingly pick up. I believe we are seeing signs of this coming to fruition.
The investment sector has been the exception to the above, though, as it has been red-hot for the past few years. For good product, the availability of money is there and it’s cheap, offering investors a good, stable return with continued growth potential.
The challenge for the investor is that there is considerably more demand than there is supply, yet if you look in the right places, there is still plenty of opportunity out there.
What does Coldwell Banker Elite specialize in?: Coldwell Banker Elite, as a company, is one of the few full-service real estate firms in the area and both our residential and commercial divisions are the largest locally. As a whole, we take excellent care of both residential and commercial clients who are buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants as well as property owners who trust us to professionally manage their real estate holdings.
Our residential division has consistently been the top franchise in the state and our commercial division was the number-one producing office in the state last year as well.
We are fortunate to have fantastic leadership through the owners in Kevin and Kate Breen, as well as exceptional sales agents, staff and managers who truly care about their clients and the work that they do.
Having such a large presence in both the residential and commercial property types really gives us an advantage in being able to see the entire real estate landscape as well as being able to assist with any real estate need.
I recently heard one of the executives from The Community Bank of The Chesapeake say that they were big enough to handle any need yet still small enough to want to I really feel that sums up who we are as a company.
What corridors do you expect to see growth in downtown: The William Street corridor has certainly seen a very impressive revitalization in the last five or so years with great restaurant additions as well as projects like Amelia Square and the Virginia Partners Bank building.
We will continue to see other fantastic additions to the corridor such as the Wack’s Liberty Place mixed-use development and Park View. These projects are really giving us all, as well as our visitors, more reasons to enjoy our historic downtown.
I know the folks at the city are focusing on and working very hard at improving the other main entry points into the city on Lafayette Boulevard and Princess Anne Street. They have a great vision so within the next five to 10 years, I think we’ll have the benefit of a revitalization there like we’ve seen and enjoyed on William Street.
What real estate advice could everyone use: Real estate is a fantastic investment tool to build wealth as well as passive income. When considering both the annual returns, the power of leveraging your capital and the tax benefits, it can be one of the best investment vehicles when managed properly. However, it’s just as easy to have the once-performing asset bleed you dry when the market isn’t going your way.
Just about anyone can buy, sell, lease or maybe even develop a project on their own; however, like many things, it’s always best to work with experts: from the real estate agents and the property managers to the attorneys, accountants, lenders and insurance agents. They do it every day and are very well-equipped to provide the proper advice and guidance to ensure you are maximizing the investment potential and best protect you from undue liability.
Also, a business owner’s largest expense on their profit and loss statement is their occupancy cost, second only to perhaps payroll. So ensure your occupancy costs are in line with your industry standards and are manageable inside of your budget, over the entire lease term, in good times and in not so good times.
Hobbies: I love to play golf (which for me generally means looking for a golf ball in the woods), following my beloved Chicago Bears, traveling, tackling home improvement projects, and taking my car to the racetrack, as well as just about anything involving family time.
Favorite movie: These days it seems to be Lego Movies and Toy Stories but I still love the gangster movies like the Godfather’s and Goodfellas.
Something people don’t know about you: Greg Hiebert and Susan Spears taught me in Leadership Fredericksburg that I should be vulnerable so here goes:
I’m deathly afraid of spiders. About every other month, I jump out of bed, screaming like a school girl, swatting at imaginary spiders and in the process, breaking anything that happens to get in my way. My wife loves that! But one day I’m going to get that spider.
In college I had a ponytail and an eyebrow ring. Before entering the working world, before getting a big boy haircut, I entertained my friends by turning it into perhaps one of the best mullets of all time. It was hideous, but still a wold class mullet.
I’m so tone deaf that a priest came up to me after Mass one day, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “You know, Ben, you don’t have to sing at church anymore.” The parishioners at St. Mary’s unfortunately know that didn’t stop me. Believe it or not, I dance worse than I sing, but still give it a shot, too. My dad, Regis, has the dancing shoes in the family—be sure to check out his moves at UMW’s “Dancing With the Stars” this October.
—As told to Lindley Estes