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Real-estate team tops rivals from Cornell, USC and the Wharton School

One month after shocking the sports world, it may be time for the men’s basketball team to yield the limelight.

The hoopsters made history by beating Duke in the NCAA tournament. But a team of real-estate students pushed aside a slew of heavyweight competitors—including squads from Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and the University of Southern California—to win the recent Villanova Real Estate Challenge.

Eden Abraham ’12, Erika Kretschmann ’12, Allie Zamfir ’13 and Lucy Zhang ’13 major in finance and minor in real estate through the Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh (ire@l) program.

They took the first-place prize of $6,000 at the Challenge, which has been sponsored the past three years by the Daniel M. DiLella Center for Real Estate at Villanova University’s School of Business.

“This was a great day,” said Stephen F. Thode, who directs the ire@l program as well as the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies. “It’s nice to knock off two Ivy League schools [Cornell and Penn] in one day.”

The Challenge invited undergraduates from the nation’s top real-estate programs to take part in a week-long real-estate development competition.

A mix of complementary uses

Teams had from 8 a.m. Monday to 4 p.m. Thursday to prepare a 20-minute presentation describing their plan to develop a real-life commercial property. They were not allowed to consult with faculty members or real-estate professionals or to use information from subscription-based websites.

On Friday morning, the teams gave presentations to a panel of half a dozen judges, including executives from leading commercial real-estate firms. In the afternoon, the finalists presented before 25 judges.

This year’s contest featured a 65-acre plot of open land in Whippany, N.J., that is part of a larger property containing wetlands and offices. Teams were required to create a development plan yielding a minimum 18-percent internal rate of return.

The Lehigh team determined that the best plan for the property would be a mix of three uses—multi-family housing, an extended-stay hotel and retail space in the form of a neighborhood-style shopping center.

“The biggest challenge,” says Kretschmann, “was driving demand for each part of the mix internally. We determined that the demand for services by homeowners and the existing businesses [on the remainder of the property] would drive the need for the shopping center.”

“We also decided,” says Abraham, “that the existing offices would want the hotel for clients who visit.”

Accounting for every contingency

Another consideration, says Abraham, was that multi-family housing is currently “the strongest and most stable real-estate asset class now.”

The team’s attention to detail impressed one judge.

“The Lehigh team provided comprehensive lists of every potential problem matching every piece of their proposal,” Alan J. Heavens, real-estate writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote in a column titled “Real estate matters of the commercial variety.”

“They got my vote without a moment’s hesitation. I’ve seen too many empty lots marked with rotting advertising signs because no one had the sense to consider what might go wrong.”

The Lehigh team members had not worked together before the Villanova Challenge. But their chemistry was unmistakable, says Thode.

“Our curriculum emphasizes teamwork,” says Thode. “That’s because successful real-estate development is a team effort involving designers, builders, architects, lawyers, financial people and environmental experts.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Allie Zamfir, Erika Kretschmann, Lucy Zhang and Eden Abraham won the $6,000 first prize for their proposal to develop a New Jersey property with a mix of complementary uses.
“This was a great day. It’s nice to knock off two Ivy League schools in one day.”—Stephen F. Thode, director of the ire@l program and the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies.
A strategic choice of minor

Some of the schools competing in the Villanova Challenge offer a real-estate major, says Stephen Thode, but Lehigh has opted to keep its program as a minor.

“Real estate encompasses design, construction, finance, the environment and much more,” says Thode. “We want to replicate that with the ire@l program by welcoming students from all three undergraduate colleges.

“If students take the real-estate program in parallel with their major, they will develop a strong appreciation for the roles performed by the other players in real estate.”

The ire@l program receives generous support from alumni and friends, says Thode, and invites them to speak at Lehigh.

The winners of the Villanova Challenge plan to pursue careers in real estate or finance.

Kretschmann, who has worked two summers for a real-estate developer, will graduate next month and go to work as an investment banking analyst for Barclay’s Capital, where she interned last summer.

Abraham hopes to go into real-estate finance after finishing his degree next fall. Zamfir, who is a double-major in marketing, will work this summer as an investment analyst for Prudential real-estate investors in Madison, N.J. Zhang will spend part of the summer with the Lehigh study abroad program in Belgium.

On May 1, the ire@l program will conclude its yearlong Real-Estate Practitioners Competition in Baker Hall when six teams of seniors give multimedia presentations of their studies of warehouse-distribution facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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