Chad Firsel created and managed the investment services practice at Baum Realty Inc. and also created and served as managing director of NAI Hiffman’s investment services group. Today, Firsel is president and founder of Quantum Real Estate Advisors Inc., a firm he started in 2010. Illinois Real Estate Journal recently spoke to Firsel about the reason he decided to establish his own business and about his career in commercial real estate.
Illinois Real Estate Journal: How did you get your start in commercial real estate?
Chad Firsel: When I was in college, I worked for a home builder. I was an assistant superintendent for 164 singlefamily detached homes in Lindenhurst. We had another 180 single-family detached homes in Gurnee and then we had 28 single-family custom homes we were building in Northbrook. What I learned through the experience is that I really wanted to be in a business-to-business environment versus business-to-consumer. I always had an affinity for real estate since I was very young. After the experience of being a developer/contractor, I realized I wanted to be in the capital markets end. So I interviewed with a bunch of brokerages and here I am 15 years later. I started Quantum in January of 2010 and it’s just been a great field for me. I really love it.
IREJ: Why did you decide to start your own firm?
Firsel: There was a lot of movement in terms of people and companies, and I like control. I like to control my environment. I had a lot of success at NAI Hiffman and I had a lot of success at Baum Realty Group. They’re great outfits, but ultimately there were partners in different divisions and a lot of different people I had to answer to. I felt it could be more efficient and I felt that I could serve my clients in a better capacity when I’m focusing much of my efforts outward more than focusing those efforts inward or toward the company. So for me it was just a choice. It was more of a personal choice where I felt I could have more efficiency serving my clients.
IREJ: How long have you worked in real estate?
Firsel: When I was 12, I worked at my father’s real estate law firm. I really started my career in 1998 and before that I had various jobs in real estate. I moved out west after college for two years and I built singlefamily homes, so if you count my hardcore superintendent work, it would be 20 years.
IREJ: Did working at your father’s law firm spark an interest in commercial real estate?
Firsel: Yeah, I realized I wanted to be in real estate but I also realized at a very young age that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. When I was 13 or 14 years old, it appeared to me that all they did was read all day and I wanted to be in the action. I wanted to be on the phone and I wanted to be in meetings.
IREJ: What do you enjoy most about commercial real estate?
Firsel: I enjoy the nuance of each deal and the people involved in the deal. I also enjoy the hunt. I like to find listings, I like to find the buyers and I like not knowing what’s around the corner and being surprised.
IREJ: Why do you think you’ve been so successful during your career?
Firsel: I think it’s passion. I really do think it’s passion. A lot of people could work hard. A lot of people could work smart. A lot of people know how to hustle, and I do all that, but I think the ultimate reason for my success is that I have a burning passion for what I do. I’m very blessed in the sense that I’ve really never worked a day in my life. When I start having to work, I’ll find a new career and a new path. So to me, it’s just sort of ingrained and it’s something I’m very passionate about. That passion then leads to hustle, but first and foremost I think it’s just about a deep burning passion.
IREJ: When did you realize you had what it takes to be successful?
Firsel: I don’t know if there was an “a ha” moment. I think a successful closing of a transaction perpetuates confidence, which perpetuates an aura and a reputation. I think I try to be better than the day before. Being successful is a very subjective term. So for me, success is happiness. Success is a good reputation and being true to your values. I think I try to improve on that every day and I think success for me isn’t a point in time, it’s a journey.
IREJ: What are some of the more challenging parts of working in commercial real estate?
Firsel: I think the most challenging part of commercial real estate, like any other business, is trying to appease all parties involved in a transaction. Everyone views the world differently. Everyone grows up with subjectivity and everyone grows up with different values. I think the hardest thing is to bring all that together. That is the biggest challenge. I think it’s true of any business. It’s not that hard to understand an A, B or C location. It’s really not that hard to understand an A, B, C building, credit, tenant, etc. That to me is more science, not art. I believe the hardest part of the deal is the art. It’s the art of negotiating with different people so that everybody is happy. That’s really the hardest thing and it’s very frustrating.
IREJ: What kind of personality traits do you have that have helped you to succeed?
Firsel: I think I’m very forthright. People could view it as a weakness, but I’m very forthright with my opinions. I think another trait is that I’m very hard working and I’m very accountable. Those are traits of mine that I treasure. If something goes wrong, I’m the first to apologize and do what I can to make it right. I’m also willing to suffer the consequences if I make a mistake. I think the other trait is that I’m extremely organized. I have no emails in my inbox at the end of the day. Every day they’re filed in the appropriate folder.
IREJ: What advice would you have for people new to this business?
Firsel: Don’t give up. Just keep plowing ahead. The second thing is don’t get too high and don’t get too low. To a certain degree, you need to get low so you can feel the disappointment and you need to get high so you can celebrate the success of a deal. That’s probably the two things I would tell young guys – keep plowing ahead, keep believing in what you’re doing and don’t get too emotional.
IREJ: How has the business changed over the years?
Firsel: I think commercial real estate is now an accepted class of investment. When I started out, the allocations from pension funds or pension fund advisory firms and life companies, their percentage as it relates to the overall investment were 5 to 9 percent. Today those percentages could be 9 to 15 percent allocations or higher. So I think there is more money in the business. When there’s more money, there are more people. I think it’s become significantly more crowded and more competitive because of the amount of service providers or developers. Conversely, you have a shrinking economy with a lower manufacturing base. You also have consolidation of retailers, so you have fewer tenants. In a nutshell, I would say there is more money chasing deals, more competition and not necessarily a lot of expansion.
IREJ: What would you say has been your greatest success?
Firsel: My wife, Hope, and two kids, Hudson and Trey. I married well and I’ve got two great kids. That’s the most successful thing that brings me the most joy. I love the challenge of fatherhood.