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Josh Graf

Wisconsin Real Estate Students Make Valuable Connections at Annual AFIRE Conference

by Josh Graf Wednesday, February 21, 2018

AFIRE Winter Conference 2018

The Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate (AFIRE) met in New York at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on February 7 and 8 for the 2018 Winter Conference. Over 300 AFIRE members and guests gathered to discuss the results of the 2018 Foreign Investment Survey and current state of international real estate investment markets.

Ed Casal, AFIRE Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, AVIVA Investors, welcomed the group conference and discussed the agenda for the day. Joe Walsh, faculty associate in the Department of Real Estate at UW-Madison, presented the survey results to the attendees. Walsh along with WSB students Grady Capobianco (MBA ’18), Nicholas Mussatti (MBA ’18), Julia Wu (MBA ’18), Jared Shoemaker (MBA ’19), and Douglas St. Onge (BBA ’19), collected and analyzed the data. The students’ efforts were rewarded with an opportunity to attend the conference.

Real estate undergrad students Douglas St. Onge said, “The environment at the AFIRE Conference was genuinely collaborative. Every member and speaker was there to share their insight on the international real estate environment, and a lot of great ideas were discussed in detail to the benefit of everyone in attendance.” While each student had a unique experience, they all agreed it was great to meet and learn from distinguished investors in international real estate in a professional environment.

Of the 300 people attending the 2018 AFIRE conference, the majority of them are C-suite level executives at commercial real estate companies from around the globe. A significant portion of the attendees were Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni who work in various cities including many in North America, Europe, and Asia. All of the students were thankful for the unique opportunity to hear directly from the professionals working in international commercial real estate.

The students were grateful that so many professionals and Wisconsin alumni sought them out to welcome them to the conference. Alumni and other attendees were happy to elaborate on their company’s role in the industry as well as their own within their respective company. In addition, the alumni shared insights about the industry and potential internship opportunities. Many alumni encouraged the students to use them as a resource as they searched for summer positions.

The AFIRE event is one of the occasions that makes an MBA education at the Wisconsin School of Business so valuable. The real estate courses and the professors that teach them are world class. Nonetheless, the alumni network, the James A Graaskamp Center’s connections to industry groups such as AFIRE, and the Wisconsin Real Estate programs reputation are the factors that differentiate it from the competition and make it a global leader in real estate education. The program gives students the complete real estate experience by providing the best education and many opportunities to meet industry professionals and further their career prospects. St. Onge made a similar point when he stated, “As a student, these conversations allowed me to gain an understanding of the real estate industry in a non-classroom setting. Classroom learning is undoubtedly valuable, but hearing more about the application of our curriculum from professionals with years of experience is a learning opportunity that can benefit everyone.”

Upon returning from the conference, Joe Walsh shared some of the main takeaways with the students in his Valuation of Real Estate courses. Specifically, he noted online shopping, autonomous cars, and artificial intelligence are expected to be the top three factors impacting real estate in the next 5 years. Over the next 5 to 15 years, that list changes to autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology. While cryptocurrencies are currently the main application of the blockchain, anything can be transferred over it as it is essentially a record of ownership. Walsh thinks the blockchain could simplify title records; a trend that could launch from less developed countries where the cost to transition to the blockchain is lower. On the flip side, he highlighted that foreign investors are most worried about political and interest rate risk. Few industry professionals believe high valuations are an issue and see strong fundamentals.