After Nevada’s economic downturn and resulting real estate crash had begun, Cindy Santilena, a Las Vegas commercial real estate lender for small businesses and entrepreneurs, was looking for a way to highlight herself and her company when working with other industry professionals during a struggling, competitive market.
She decided to pursue a CCIM, a prestigious certified commercial investment designation. With the financial support of her firm, TMC Financing, she finished the requirements just last year. Already, she and her company have gotten a return on their investment just from the referrals she’s received.
“It’s a very worthwhile endeavor,” said Santilena, TMC’s senior vice president of business development. “It helped me understand real estate in a broader sense. It helped me learn how to work with commercial broker partners better and understand what they’re going through so I can assist them to make transactions go smoothly.”
Santilena is one of a select group of elite commercial real estate experts, those who’ve earned the CCIM title. This exclusive club in Southern Nevada is only 68 people strong (out of roughly thousands of prospects). It consists of those who conduct transactions in the course of their work, primarily real estate brokers and lenders.
Dedicated Players Emerge
Because the requirements to earn the CCIM designation are challenging and extensive, necessitating a commitment of time, effort, money and, often, sacrifice, few choose to tackle and complete them.
The educational mandate is 120 hours, including four core courses and two online courses, each followed by an exam that must be passed. Together, the courses cost about $6,500 to $7,000 plus any travel expenses to take courses elsewhere.
“Just the caliber of the education makes it an exclusive club. Some relate it to getting an MBA in real estate or commercial real estate,” said Ryan Martin, CCIM, senior vice president of Colliers International, Las Vegas office, who specializes in office leasing and sales.
There’s more. CCIM candidates also must achieve a certain amount of commercial real estate transactions, which they then must detail in a portfolio they submit for review. If adequate, they then take a final comprehensive test at one of the two annual, national CCIM conventions.
“That’s where this particular organization sets itself apart from others,” added Martin, who obtained his CCIM in 2006. “You can’t just be somebody who spent some money and time. You have to have real world experience as part of it. It naturally kind of creates this barrier to entry that creates that elite status.”
The program typically takes someone an average of four years to finish, but some, like Adam Gregory, finish more quickly. This vice president of CommCap Advisors, a commercial mortgage banking firm, earned his CCIM in nine months in 2008.
“Being age 26 in the business, I needed all the help I could to show that I could compete with the guys already working for 20-plus years,” Gregory said. “People who know CCIM know it’s not just four letters after your name.”
Chris Richardson took 13 months to get his CCIM, finishing in 2012. Richardson is vice president of the Las Vegas commercial real estate company, The Equity Group, which focuses primarily on investment sales and retail leasing. He wanted to expand his knowledge and work at the level at which other CCIMs did.
“Once you reach that plateau and get that designation, it does feel like you’re in that club, like you’ve made it,” Richardson said.
To individuals outside the CCIM organization who are in the know, the designation holds weight, as they recognize designees have both knowledge and experience. “CCIM” creates a solid first impression, which often is relayed via an e-mail or website.
“Just having that CCIM behind my name gives me some instant credibility. It shows I’m doing what I can to educate myself and serve them the way they need to be served,” said Robin Civish, CCIM, Las Vegas-based senior associate with Voit Real Estate Services. Civish chose to obtain a CCIM when she was transitioning from property management to brokerage work and wanted to better understand the business. She received it in 2009.
Martin, too, says the credential gave him instant credibility and exposure even though he was a newbie to the industry, right out of college.
“I looked at this tool as something I could obtain through some experience and education and provide a little bit more credibility to myself being so young in the industry,” he said.
Because of the pedigree, clients often gravitate toward CCIMs to represent them.
“It definitely gives you an advantage,” Civish said. “When you have that experience, people are going to go to you before they go to the less experienced,” said Civish, the local CCIM chapter’s president-elect and member of the education and wine event committees.
The designation also opens doors to larger deals.
“With that elite status, you do somewhat command that sort of clientele,” Martin said. “You may be reviewed with other peers such as yourself, but you’re being invited to the table because automatically you’re viewed from the outside as one of these elites.”
CCIMs tend to refer among themselves and when they need an industry professional outside the region, they generally reach out to another CCIM. They enjoy working with one another, too. In one case, Las Vegas CCIM Cathy Jones found a CCIM broker in North Carolina with whom to co-list a property there. She felt comfortable working with him and was confident the market information he provided was accurate.
“When I’m working with a CCIM on a transaction, it tends to go much more smoothly than when I’m not. They’re professional in how they’re dealing with their clients, and they know what they’re doing,” said the owner/broker of Sun Commercial Real Estate Inc., a brokerage firm doing a variety of sales and leasing but whose niche is investment sales.
There’s an immediate bond between CCIMs, forged by the understanding of what each other has gone through to obtain the designation and what professional level they operate at. CCIMs know that other CCIMs are committed to the industry and uphold the highest ethics.
Southern Nevada’s CCIMs are part of a local chapter. This approximately 200-member group encompasses designees—those with a CCIM; candidates—those working toward a CCIM; other brokers and lenders who aren’t pursuing a CCIM; and those to whom a CCIM doesn’t apply as they don’t conduct transactions in their work.
Along with lenders and brokers, the local group encompasses bankers, leasing professionals, investment counselors, asset managers, appraisers, corporate real estate executives, property managers, developers, institutional investors, attorneys and other associated professionals.
The local chapter is under the umbrella of the national CCIM Institute but operates independently of it. This U.S. network consists of about 5,000 designees; the global network, about 13,000. Designees have access to this expansive network through the directory—”Find a Professional”—and MailBridge, a global intranet.
Some local CCIMs, like Martin, even have done deals on referrals from outside America. While serving as president of the local chapter in 2012, he met someone from Taiwan at the local convention, in Nevada that year, whose family owned a 100,000-plus-square-foot building in Las Vegas. The tenant was looking to either renew or vacate and potentially move outside the market. Martin and the client were able to secure the tenant for another five years.
“It was one of the largest real estate transactions in Nevada, frankly, in terms of size and employment (800 workers) and an important transaction in that particular time and down market,” Martin said. “It all stemmed from a relationship through CCIM.”
Local CCIMs want their chapter to be, not only successful, but also superior. The nation’s chapters compete against other markets of their size for the President’s Cup, the ultimate honor. Winning chapters are chosen for the work they’ve done over the year and new programs they’ve instituted. Last year, the chapter took second place and the three preceding years, first place.
“I think some of the other chapters were getting tired of Southern Nevada,” said Martin, who is a past president (under him, the chapter took first place) and currently a director and designation promotion committee co-chair.
As the current chapter president, Jones is benefitting from interacting nationally as well as locally.
“There is a lot going on at the national CCIM Institute level and a lot of opportunities to grow my business further if I can get more active and involved at that higher level,” she said.
Supporting the president are the directors and committees. Only designees can fill the chapter’s board and certain committee chair positions, giving them the opportunity to become further involved and solidify their network. Through these roles, CCIMs also develop solid friendships and working relationships.
“The fact the chapter is not only growing, but thriving, is a testament to the people here,” said Santilena, a director on the education and wine event committees.
The CCIM chapter recognizes and rewards its designees, recently implementing new ways to do so. Candidates are pinned when they become CCIMs. Some mixers are devoted to designees and sponsors, companies that have sponsored one or more CCIMs or the chapter. Designees’ recent transactions are highlighted in the bi-monthly newsletter and at the luncheons. New designees receive swag, such as shirts and other merchandise containing the CCIM logo.
“We’re trying to promote the current designees to the best of our ability and the transactions they’re doing,” said Gregory, a director and designation promotion committee co-chair.
The Southern Nevada chapter is active with monthly luncheons and other events, like its annual poker tournament and wine tasting soiree. The educational luncheons have evolved from one speaker to a multi-guest panel, and topics are ones members care about. Recent panels have focused on land, multi-family residential, retail and healthcare.
“We like to hear from the experts in the different product types because the market is always changing. I like to keep the topics relevant to the current trends in our community,” said Phillip Dunning, CCIM, a director and programs committee chair. Dunning is a senior associate with Colliers International’s Las Vegas office.
With continuing education a focus of the chapter, core and additional classes, oftentimes in the form of webinars, are provided and at a discount for designees. Some recent classes include Understanding Argus, Disposition Analysis and Financial Analysis Using Excel.
“If you want to serve your clients, you need to use every tool available,” Civish said. “The CCIM tools and courses make you a better broker.”
CCIMs also have available to them an array of tools to help them do their jobs. A favorite is Site To Do Business, a resource for commercial real estate data, including location knowledge, market information and trends, which encompasses mapping, demographics, analytical and other business tools—templates, marketing materials, spreadsheets and more. Some of what’s offered is available only to designees via access through the “For Designees Only” tab on the national CCIM Institute website.
“Some people will join just to have access to that technology,” said Richardson, a designation promotion committee member.
Most, if not all, local CCIMs recommend others pursue the designation and join the club. As Santilena said, “It’s hard to see why you wouldn’t do it.”
Martin echoes the sentiment. “I would absolutely encourage anyone who sees commercial real estate as their career to definitely consider it, whether it’s to just take the 101 class or go all the way and get your designation,” Martin said. “There are a lot of perks. There are a lot of benefits. There is a lot of respect and acknowledgement that comes with it when you have those credentials. I definitely think it’s worth the time invested to go get it.”
Richardson, perhaps, sums it up best. “I like being in the club,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to talk that lingo. It’s nice to be able to feel that sense of accomplishment.”