Introducing our Real Estate Analysis and Delivery Practice Leader: Natalie Sutherland
Natalie leads the firm’s Real Estate Analysis and Delivery practice, where she helps clients identify unseen opportunities and creatively leverage their assets. While she brings an extensive career in real estate to her work at U3 Advisors, she knows she’s never finished learning what’s next – for her industry, her clients, and the communities where she works.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR U3 ADVISORS, AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN THERE?
I joined U3 four years ago, and have been working on a variety of projects for different types of clients. My work ranges from very early stage planning and strategy, to evaluating market conditions, existing real estate assets, and potential opportunities for clients to expand or diversify their real estate to fulfill their missions. We help [our clients] improve the performance of their real estate, and do so with the input of stakeholders at their institutions and in their communities.
HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT U3?
My love for the built environment began as an undergraduate. I studied civil engineering and really focused on the structural details of concrete and steel, the components that go into building a building. When I graduated, I worked as an engineer for a large construction management company, where I took those very detailed pieces of the building structure and applied it on a larger scale to actually constructing a building – not just on paper or on a computer – but in real life, and I managed that process from design through completion. Sometimes I worked on the construction of an entire building, sometimes my projects were interior renovations and fit outs.
Through those years in construction, I learned about the literal nuts and bolts of building – but I wasn’t engaged in planning and pre-development, the stages prior to construction when many decisions involving the built environment were made. I became interested in urban planning because it encompasses a broader view of the built environment. Urban planning includes building and construction and development, but it also considers transportation and parks and all of the pieces that tie neighborhoods together. I decided to go to graduate school for urban planning where I studied different disciplines and how they tie together in the built environment.
By the second year of graduate school, I had really honed in on real estate finance which combines my interest in the built environment and my numbers-oriented brain. That’s where I found my niche, and U3 Advisors fit that niche perfectly.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST PROJECTS YOU WORKED ON?
When I started in our New York office, my first big project was for Montefiore Health System, based in the Bronx. They had been acquiring hospitals over the course of several years in upstate New York, as well as the Bronx, and we were hired, along with an architecture firm to do a master planning exercise. I worked with the client to help them understand their existing real estate portfolio. I built a database that their real estate department could utilize to manage existing assets – I think they had close to 13 million square feet of real estate in their portfolio. The real estate database tied into the master plan. Working with the architects, we made recommendations for the existing real estate based on the needs of the healthcare system. It was a very interesting project. I learned about the world of medicine, how hospitals are run and how they engage with their communities.
DO YOU FEEL THE CLIENT MIX CHANGING IN ANY WAY? OR WHAT CLIENTS ARE ASKING YOU FOR?
In my four years I’ve worked on so many different projects with so many different challenges and reasons for why clients are coming to us. I’m certainly not doing the same thing every day. [laughs]
I’ve recently been having conversations with my colleagues about the rapidly changing environment we work in, including costs and inflation that are just skyrocketing. How does that impact development? We help our clients partner with developers and build projects. The costs associated with those projects are hard to predict right now. So we have to think about alternative structures or alternative opportunities for our clients. That’s the value we bring: we don’t produce cookie-cutter solutions. We have to be creative. We always have been and we will continue to be because of our changing environment.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PROJECT IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS?
I can’t say I have a favorite project. They’re all good experiences and they all have their challenges. I enjoy working on projects from initial stages – whatever that may include – through completion . For example, through my work with the Terrapin Development Company, where I’ve been involved in three or four projects now, I’m fully integrated into the work we do in College Park, Maryland.I’ve built connections and become ingrained in the real estate process.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE EARLIER IN THEIR CAREER ABOUT WHAT U3 IS LIKE TO WORK FOR? WHAT GIVES YOU A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE VERSUS ANOTHER FIRM IN THE SECTOR?
One of the things I appreciated about U3 before I even joined the company was my interview process. I met with at least half the firm [laughs]. So I got a really good sense of who I was going to be working with, and just generally, what the company was like over a span of a few weeks. We are very inclusive and communicative. Initially, I was nervous about the pandemic and moving from an in-person workplace to this remote [work from home] world. I never imagined at this point in my career that I’d be working from home, and I was unsure about that, but I’ve been very pleased with how everything worked out. The ease of the transition is indicative of the culture we already had before the pandemic – we didn’t flip a switch and suddenly change into a different company. How we’re built and how we communicate to make sure we stay connected made it possible to transition into this remote world fairly seamlessly.