8 January 2015

Cornell International Real Estate Competition

November 2014:  University of Sydney students Jenny Huang, Andrew Peters, Max Rigby, Khosrow Kyanian, Angus Gibbs and Annie Feng travelled to New York City to compete in the Cornell International Real Estate Competition (CIREC) 2014. “Anything is possible” would become the perfect summary for what proved to be a whirlwind experience.

In the STUVAC week of semester two 2014, my team, Abercrombie Advisory, travelled to New York City to compete in the globally renowned real estate finance competition. The competition invited top finance and real estate undergraduates from leading universities across the globe, including Cornell University, New York University and the University of Cambridge.

Before diving into the highlights, readers may be wondering ‘what is real estate finance?’ Just like buying a share from the stock market, investors invest into property - it is simply another asset class comparable to your equities and bonds. The special thing about this asset class is that you can actually see it, touch it, be in it and ‘feel’ its value. This is what makes it “real”.

Buying or investing in property does not simply mean buying a home. It also includes commercial real estate such as offices. Investors are also not simply buyers, but can enter the investment by being financers to property managers. Equities may dominate the headlines but property assets are actually the biggest asset class in the market.

This versatility is just one of the many complicating factors when preparing for the competition. All case studies are based on a real life transaction that a judge – sourced from many large international investment firms such as Blackstone, Silverstein Properties, Moody’s Investors Service and Brookfield Properties, had executed. In each case we acted as strategic advisors to an investor trying to make a decision on how to execute a transaction.

Our team was selected over more than 20 other teams from the University of Sydney Business School. Winning against tough competition and case experience made us think we were well prepared and exposed to all the potential cases.

How optimistic we were. The case was by far one of the most complicated cases in the competition’s history, involving competing options for a single block of land, a construction project, waterfall ownership structure and numerous stakeholders.

Time management is always a struggle in case competitions, no more so than when there are competing priorities of final exam study and the temptation to enjoy New York. In the final hours before submission, six of us were cramped in one hotel room, scrambling to finish the presentation: stressed, fatigued and running on pure adrenaline.

The morning of presentation day was brutal. With only around 3 hours of sleep each, we were the first group to present in our heat, and up against host university, Cornell, and past competition winners, University of Connecticut. Despite our nerves and feeling unprepared, we delivered a strong, cohesive and perfectly timed presentation, hitting the time limit of 15 minutes on the dot.

‘”A” for timing’ was the first response from the judges.

It was the first time that any Australian university had been invited to compete in CIREC and we certainly made an impression. The judges for our heat had taken the longest and found it most difficult to identify a finalist. While University of Connecticut were the finalist from our heat, we were thrilled to learn that we had come second in a heat of such tough competition.

CIREC in New York is an amazing opportunity to gain almost real-life experience in advising real estate transactions - from conducting the research and valuation to preparing the pitch or ‘story’ for a recommendation, under strict time pressures.

The week was a tough balancing act, but we still managed to enjoy New York, including Halloween, and form friendships with competitors from across the global. These connections have given us invaluable insight into putting the University of Sydney Business School in good stead of entering the finals in future year. We hope this opportunity will also lead to future encounters in a professional context.

We hope that CIREC 2014 will mark the beginning of many new opportunities within the University of Sydney Business School, such as a new Sydney University Real Estate Society.

Real estate is a fast growing and highly dynamic asset class but still remains a mystery to most undergraduates. The team is currently working on establishing a society and initiatives to increase the profile of real estate finance within the Business School. So (quite literally), watch this space!

Annie Feng
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

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