Jennifer Djurkovic | CEO | Djurkovic Investment Properties | Following a family legacy in CRE

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Jennifer Djurkovic, CEO of Djurkovic Investment Properties. In this episode, we learn about Jennifer’s career journey, starting out at The Real Deal magazine and building her network from there. She eventually connected with Bob Knackle who asked her, “Do you want to read about the ‘Rich and Powerful,’ or do you want to live it?” She later joined his team as an associate broker and stayed with the firm even after it was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield. Jennifer knew she had the entrepreneurial bug and would eventually start her own firm, inspired to go out on her own and never look back. Jennifer shared a wonderful story about her family and their early experience with real estate. She has a wealth of knowledge in the CRE industry in New York City and has always tapped into the pulse of the industry. She offered insights into what people really want from buildings and how building operators are responding, emphasizing the need for innovation to support new talent and retain current employees. In our closing speed round, Jennifer shared a touching and powerful story about the tremendous impact the pandemic has had on her family. We’re excited to share this podcast with you, so be sure to subscribe to TEN so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Jennifer to the show, I’m really glad you could be with us today. How are you?

JD: I’m great, yourself?

DA: I’m fantastic and I’m looking forward to our conversation. So let’s start with your journey. Tell us about your journey to your current position role, how did you get started in the business?

JD: So at a college, I worked at the Real Deal magazine, which is kind of the Bible of a commercial and a residential real estate here in New York City. And I worked closely with the publisher, Amir Korangy and I handled some of their notable events like the “City Within the City.” We did a huge event just covering the Highline. We had Michael Shamlon, who was the friends of the Highline, leader there and Cary Tamarkin, who is one of the biggest architects. So I handled some events in that regard and I really gained a huge network through the magazine and it was a great experience. We also branched out to South Miami, South Florida, excuse me and I gained a Miami network as well and one of my clients was actually Bob Knakal, he bought a huge marketing campaign for me and he set a line, “Do you want to read about ‘The Rich and Powerful’ or do you want to live it?” I was like, that is a great line I am working for you.

DA: I love it.

JD: And at the team, it was like the end of 2012. The Knakal team was the largest team in New York in terms of investment sales, it was a 14 person team. I was an associate broker, and I worked on notable transactions like 21 Penn Plaza, which was an office deal that we did. We actually represented the file organization and we sold that asset for 244 million to a financial giant, TIAA-CREF. So it was a great experience. They got acquired by Cushion and Wakefield, Bob and Paul sold their company for 100 million around the end of 2014, which is the height of the market. And I was there for several years after that, and then I kind of wanted to go off on my own and be my own commercial broker. So I worked at Eastern Consolidated for almost three years. Don Paris and Peter Hasselberg were power couple at that time. And I worked on a notable sale, I did 29th Street, which was an excel deal, 30 East 29th Street on the south side between Park and Madison. That was a hundred million dollar sale that we sold to Rockefeller Group, which they never built condos before. And that was their first right project and they hit it out of the Park I mean, those condos are selling like hot cakes actually toward the property recently. And it’s so nice to see, when you work on a land deal and then you walk past that block years later and a completely different transformation of that block. So it’s rewarding in that regard and then after that, they went under and kind of felt the heat around the corner and I got out right before they actually ended up going out of business and I did a short stint at Ariel Property Advisors. And I was there for about a year and it really inspired me to start my own business. I felt like I kind of knew the ways around the commercial market and I wanted to brand myself, start my own company and do it my way like Frank Sinatra says he’s .

DA: Well, good for you. You clearly had the entrepreneurial bug and it had been obviously growing over those years and you made it happen so that’s incredible. And and we have in common, I had the opportunity to have Bob Knakal on our program not long ago and what a great person and just an industry expert and I learned so much from that episode, so I’m sure you did as well and here you are today in competition with him.

JD: Not quite.

DA: Not quite. Let him think so.

JD: I think Bob sold 80 buildings last year, actually not last year, maybe two years right before COVID itself. He’s a legend and it was a complete honor to be on his team, I learned a lot.

DA: Amazing. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What helped you to be so successful? Skills mentors, likely colleagues, books, what do you attribute your success to?

JD: Could I go back in time a little bit with my family. So my dad and his brothers, they immigrated from Croatia, they moved to the Bronx, it was around 1969. And that’s when the twin towers were being built, Trump’s on the scene, the city was in distress. So my dad was an elevator operator, his brothers were supers and there was Bronx landlord that saw something in them. They worked hard and they knew the buildings inside and out. And he said, why don’t you buy some buildings with me? In undesirable areas like Northern Manhattan at that time, the Bronx, dicey areas and you could buy a building for like $90,000 then. So they pulled their money in and limited resources and they bought buildings together with this Bronx landlord kind of gave them a shot. And I was always taught that, seizing an opportunity it’s not your income, it’s what you do with it. And I think that real estate has a very romantic side to it in terms of the American dream and immigrants coming here. Sometimes when you’re, you could be a professor in other countries like Croatia or an engineer, and then when you come here it means absolutely nothing, you have to kind of start from scratch. You’re kind of like, I’m an engineer but I’m cleaning. Like, it doesn’t make any sense. So I feel like real estate kind of gives them that opportunity to get back on top and in the race.

DA: Amazing, that’s a great story and a very personal story. Thank you for sharing that. That’s-

JD: And another thing is I speak Serbo-Croatian and a lot of the supers are of that dissent or they’re from Monte Negro. So I get into buildings pretty quickly ’cause I speak the language.

DA: Your secret weapon.

JD: A little bit of an edge leg up.

DA: Amazing, your secret weapon, right?

JD: Exactly.

DA: Love it. Jennifer there’s a lot of commentary around the return to workplace and some extreme opinions being expressed often confrontational, sometimes polarizing. We believe right now is the time to live and work in the world as it is right now. And we believe that the industry and the employers, the occupants really can’t continue to projecting to a date in the future when we will return to normal, i.e pre COVID. But we really need to live in a world that we call now the new normal And it’s not a post COVID world, it’s a world with COVID. And I’m just wondering from your perspective and your lens through the investment world, what do you think that means for the commercial real estate industry? How could building still continue to be important to businesses and people?

JD: Sure. I think it was a very tough period right when the pandemic happened, COVID-19. Buildings were commercial, buildings especially were being emptied out all over the US and it was a huge shock I mean, landlords, they still have to pay their mortgages. And some of these tenants were just leaving in the middle of the night and a lot of the employees, they don’t want to be in the office, especially at that time. So, in terms of just the dollar volume, Manhattan alone has 463.8% of square feet inventory in the city. So that dropped the dollar, I think the full market office value dropped at 20.6 billion citywide in 2020. I mean, if that’s on an impact to commercial real estate, I don’t know what is, I mean, we also pay the bills in terms of the landlords, I mean, for the city because most of the tax revenue comes from commercial buildings. And also other, transfer taxes but the bulk of it is through the commercial industry. So something has to give and just the vacancy is at an all time law and it’s very concerning for the owners. Now these owners really don’t want to let go of these buildings. I was a good broker and I try on some of these big office buildings that had 60% vacancy some of the older buildings and they don’t want to let them go. And a lot of the buyers are approaching these owners with a steep discount. And they’re kind of, the market is very uncertain right now, and they don’t want to just give these buildings away at a steep discount. But also some of these buyers are, they might be thinking that they’re getting a bargain or they might be, kind of catching a falling knife as they say, because of the uncertainty.

DA: Right, and also from what you’re seeing then they’re not that the inventory of buildings for sale has increased and the buyers are looking for those steep deals and so there’s not really a match being made here, I’m assuming.

JD: No, it isn’t at all just because of the uncertainty right now. And the transactions are low as you know, they can see as well and everyone’s kind of just waiting to see what’s going to happen. And a lot of these build, 90% of buildings in New York City are over 20 years old. There’s a joke in commercial real estate that if you have an office building that’s from the 80s, it’s considered a new building, especially the buildings in financial district they’re old.

DA: And so are you seeing any reinvestment or are you seeing any of those owners they’re determined to stick through this. Are they investing? How are they looking at their properties in terms of responding to the way that the market has changed?

JD: A lot of owners are trying to do a facelift, as they said, do some upgrades on some coming areas with the lobbies and trying to do a facelift, but it’s not working. A lot of these tenants are demanding, open spaces, natural light, collaborative spaces. Also concierge companies that would offer programs some type of community that these tenants could be involved in. If you’re going to take these tenants out of their home-

DA: You’ve got to work hard. 

JD: Have to make it worth it. And they are in the driver’s seat, let me tell you because they are running the show right now.

DA: Right, the power that-

JD: Yes employers they’re trying to recruit new talent, keep the same talent because it’s very easy to get a different job, better benefits, paid more, and a lot of these employers are tiptoeing around, we can’t say it’s not flexible because they’ll go somewhere else. So, that’s putting a big strain on the employers and also the building owners because what do the users want? You got to look to the users and then these companies are racking their brain, brainstorming how can we get them back to the office? Because that’s what they want. There’s a whole phenomenon with quiet quitters where employees, they’re doing the bare minimum. And I don’t care what anyone says, when you’re in the office and you’re around your colleagues and the best ideas come from collaboration.

DA: Yeah no, I agree. And actually this is a great segue to our next question, which really talks about the people and you talked about listening to the people and recognizing what the people want. We think the pandemic certainly has accelerated what was already happening in terms of a recalibration of the market to recognize that buildings are really places for people. The old build it and they will come, really doesn’t fly and people are the real asset, not the building. And we certainly learned that as buildings emptied out in March of 2020, not much of an asset when nobody’s in them. So as a result, we believe that tenant experience, workplace experience as fast becoming the new differentiator and is really now driving real estate decisions, perhaps even more so than those historical determinants as it’s location in class. People are looking at their building and not just the physicality, but wanting to know what else do we get. And so you touched on a few items, but I’m just curious what you think building operators will be looking to in the future in terms of how they deliver great customer experience, great tenant experience, how will they define that now and what might be coming down the road in the future?

JD: I think innovation is huge. I think that they, listen, buildings are important because it creates ton of an identity and in terms of who comes in. So if you see all these upgrades, the new talent comes in and they look around and they see, do I belong here? What’s this company’s personality? Are these employees comfortable here? And it’s a culture in terms of how the office spaces are laid out. And for current to retain new talent and also to keep the current employees it’s a whole, I can’t explain, I mean, I think it just really comes down to the upgrades, I have to say. Just the layout in general. I’ll give you a good example on Tishman Speye, great developer, they developed a building called the Spiral in Hudson Yards. And Bjarke Bundgaard Ingels is a Danish architech and he designed the project and they hit it out of the Park. I mean, Rooftop has a happy hour restaurant that has sweeping views of the city. Every floor is connected to an outdoor space. They have collaborative rooms, they have rooms that have quiet nooks. So if you don’t want to be collaborating and you kind of want to just meet deadlines, you have that option too. Employees want to feel like they have the option to reach their whole potential in terms of the quiet nooks, the collaborative, and also just having natural light and air is huge especially, we went through that whole pandemic, they want ventilated properties.

DA: Yeah, I think you spoke about flexibility in terms of where people work, but I think they want that same flexibility in terms of the different spaces within the building when they work.

JD: Exactly.

DA: When they do come to the building, you’re right. At one point they might want to be out on a patio at one point they might want that quiet room at one point they might want that collaborative space or co-working space. And I think it poses many challenges and many opportunities. And I think the more innovative and the more creative building operators can be and then helping to create a way in which their occupants, their customers can now interact with all these new spaces, I think it’s going to be key.

JD: Yeah, and also drives productivity.

DA: Absolutely. Okay, Jennifer, let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.

JD: Sure.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

DA: We are back with Jennifer Djurkovic CEO of Djurkovic Investment Properties. Again, I’m really glad you could be with us today. Living through a pandemic has been so challenging for so many people, but it’s also providing an opportunity from our perspective to be better, do better and build something better, we can no longer use COVID as an excuse. So I’m wondering if you can share any details about your business or some part of your business that is now being reimagined to reflect the reality of where we are today.

JD: So I think, well, Zoom was a huge, I never used Zoom before the pandemic, I love going into landlord’s offices but I think in terms of hitting volume, it was great. I mean, and also connecting with people overseas and so that gave me a huge advantage there in terms of hitting volume and connecting with those clients.

DA: Amazing, thank you. Our closing speed around is an opportunity to get to know you a little bit better on a personal level. So I’m curious if you can share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life.

JD: So my father actually passed away from COVID.

DA: I’m sorry.

JD:Yeah, early on. Thank you so much. And that destroyed my family at first and we didn’t know what was happening we couldn’t even go into the hospitals and my dad was very healthy, 73 years old, very active, I mean, he would walk faster than me I wouldn’t even be able to keep up with him on the street. So, for three weeks, I mean, I was listening to Frank Sinatra drinking scotch for breakfast, and dad wouldn’t want this for me and I feel that he gave up so much to move to this country, sponsored a lot of people to America to live that American dream that he did, that he accomplished. So I have such a need to justify that sacrifice, my brothers and sisters do too. So we’re just trying to make him proud we are his legacy.

DA: Oh, thank you, that’s amazing thank you for sharing that. That’s amazing and it’s so sad. And as I mentioned earlier about the impact of COVID on so many and you’ve experienced that firsthand.

JD: Yeah, I have, some family friends and my brother in-law lost his friend that was only 38 years old, a healthy as well. So, it was definitely a very difficult emotional time. But I’m happy that when the vaccine came out, it was just such a breath of fresh air, no pun intended and I just really urge everyone to get vaccinated. So we’re really fully back.

DA: Amazing, thank you. What travel destination do you miss most?

JD:  Probably Croatia, I haven’t been since actually college. So that’s definitely, I haven’t been to Europe since. I’ve been to Miami, I haven’t traveled much. I’ve been to Miami for work, I was selling some land down there, I was working on a huge assemblage. So yeah, soon.

DA: Got it.

JD: That’s definitely on my list.

DA: All right, and anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

JD: Dubai.

DA: Dubai, okay. Another travel destination.

JD: Yes, i heard that there’s so many cranes, construction is at an all time high there and actually Dubai was a very safe place to go during COVID. It was very safe, it was very clean. They followed all the protocols so, they’re a very fishing country and I would love to learn more about their culture and also the real estate.

DA: Right, excellent. What is your favorite technology that is new to your life? You may have already given us that answer earlier, but your favorite technology?

JD: Probably actually, drone.

DA: Okay.

JD: Yeah, some of the land deals that I’ve been doing that’s not in New York. I hired drone companies to kind of do an aerial and also highlight some of the landmarks in the area and I kind of make it, since licensing, I can use James Bond background music, I wish. But i put some music and I target acquired. I try to make it like very James Bond mini movies to excite investors to invest outside of just in other states.

DA: Very cool. And what is your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

JD: In person.

DA: In person?

JD: Yes, I think that that’s when you really have a connection with your clients and also again, to collaborate. And I think that’s when you reach your full potential when you aren’t just in an office by yourself I think it’s very important to interact with, because that’s when the best ideas are born, right?

DA: Absolutely, absolutely. Jennifer, I want to thank you so much for joining us today on the program, it’s been a great conversation. New York is my favorite North American city, so all to speak about New York I just love. I’ll be in New York in the middle of October for the Pretech conference, perhaps we can connect then. And I just look forward to this being the first of many conversations to come. So thanks for joining us.

JD: Of course, I’m so excited to keep the conversation going and is there, if I could say one thing.

DA: Yes, of course.

JD: Eric Adams I think is doing such an excellent job. All my clients love him, he’s big in the real estate industry and I know that he’s very close with the new governor Hochul and I think they’re going to really bring unity to the city. And what’s better than that, a governor and a mayor getting along, and especially with fighting crime, they’re putting a $5 million surveillance program in underground in the subway. And I think they’ve really been on top of it, slowly but surely I think that, we’re number one for a reason.

DA: Amazing.

JD: Most resilient city in the world, so I’m excited .

DA: Absolutely. Great, well thanks for sharing that and again, thanks for coming on the program and we’ll see you soon, take care now.

JD: Bye, have a great day.

DA: You too, bye now. I want to thank Jennifer Djurkovic for joining me on this episode of TEN, and for continuing the global conversation around buildings, being part of a robust ecosystem, helping to build great companies, and that they’re vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teens. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms and we’ll continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to TEM for more conversations with leading CRA industry professionals and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace. We love hearing from you. So if you enjoyed this episode of TEN, please share your rating and review us through your preferred podcast provider.

If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live, thank you.

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Season 3 / Episode 20 / 22:20
In this episode, Rita explains that access to local amenities is becoming more of a driving factor in real estate decisions, causing smart landlords to become more attentive to tenant needs, and respond with appropriate programming. With a “client-first” mentality, her firm has maintained a consistent approach throughout the pandemic in responding to the evolving needs of its customers.

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