On New Year’s Day in 2002, Hermen Rodriguez and Ike Ojala walked into the space that would become HFF’s office in Miami and had a goal: Become the best office team in the state of Florida. Having worked together since 1991, the duo rolled up their sleeves and got to work building a business for this new office they only way they knew how: They knocked on doors.
“We started out by telling people valuable information – what the financing and the debt looks like for certain properties,” explained Rodriguez, who has more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate brokerage. “We communicated how we know what metrics investors look at to buy property, how we are tireless supporters of the great state of Florida and how growth is coming and how they should be investing their dollars in South Florida. We got a couple of opportunities and hit those out of the park.”
It wasn’t easy, but those opportunities demonstrated the team’s capabilities and enabled them to grow the business. They focused on service, helping investors grow their portfolios and bringing in more from a debt and equity perspective to the markets. Since then, they have weathered every market type, something the team attributes to their willingness to embrace technology and new trends.
“We look at everything when it comes to a commercial property, including how the building is designed and built; how tenants function and what they need out of their space; how cities grow; and how new transportation fits in,” Rodriguez explained.
“We always ask ourselves where the commercial property will sit today, where it will sit in five years and what are the new things that capital is looking for,” Ojala, who has more than 23 years of commercial real estate brokerage experience, continued. “We have to stay on the cutting edge of what developers and investors are looking at. We are in an information society. People have to work in an office. It has to be redesigned, and you cannot get stuck thinking it has to be that way because it was 10 years ago.”
Rodriguez, who is originally from South Florida and a graduate of the University of Florida, and Ojala, who is originally from Finland but came to Florida to attend both the University of Miami for his undergraduate degree and Florida International University for his MBA, met at Appraisal and Real Estate Economics Associates (AREEA), the preeminent Miami commercial real estate appraisal and consulting firm at the time.
Now it’s 2019 and an exciting time for the Miami office sector. According to Rodriguez and Ojala, rental rates are at an all-time high. There is a new office submarket emerging, Wynwood, which is a creative hub for South Florida and caters to creative office users, and selective and needed new supply is coming online. Additionally, the demand for capital is at an all-time high at a time when Florida is growing immensely.
“The Florida business climate along with the great weather and general environment attracts new businesses and residents every day, and that has had a burgeoning effect on our office market,” Rodriguez said. “It’s essential that we are properly staffed to meet those needs.”
After 28 years together and about $15 billion in sales under their collective belt, the Rodriguez-Ojala team is expanding to include a third office specialist, Matthew McCormack.
McCormack comes to the team with 10 years of experience in commercial real estate, including the last three working in HFF’s Miami office as a real estate associate who was primarily responsible for originating and executing debt and equity assignments on the capital markets team.
“Since I have experience not only in capital markets but also in acquisitions, I am able to analyze the entire capital stack from both the principal and debt side,” McCormack said. “I hope to take that experience to help not only expand our dynamic office investment advisory team but, ultimately, further develop our deep capital relationships.”
This kind of mindset is going to be invaluable to the expanded Miami office team. Prior to working at HFF, he was with Crocker Partners, a large Boca Raton-based office investor and developer, for many years, so he brings that perspective and experience to the mix.
According to McCormack, real estate always intrigued him while he was growing up in South Florida and he was lucky to find that his college, Villanova University, had just started a real estate program through the DiLella Center for Real Estate. He enrolled in the program, and, after interacting with industry professionals and learning more about the business side of commercial real estate, he knew that’s what he wanted to do with his life. Going back home to South Florida to make his mark in the profession was never a question.
“South Florida is one of the most dynamic markets in the country and it appeals to a vast number of companies and individuals,” he said. “The quality of life – coupled with pro-business/low tax environment – makes South Florida an easy choice for creation, expansion or relocation of a company. Moreover, tenants are actively seeking out space that aligns with their brand and vision, as they feel it is imperative to attract and retain talent. This is driving some tenants to new creative office or transit hubs, like the new Wynwood district or Miami Central, the first transit-integrated office project of its kind in South Florida. Furthermore, the region has seen very little office development this cycle, and there is pent-up demand for new CBD product, like 888 Brickell Plaza in Brickell and The Main Las Olas in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, both under construction today.”
McCormack believes office space has never seen a more interesting time, as technology, social trends and design shapes how one interacts with colleagues, clients and their employers. This means that office owners are reimagining and retooling office buildings to entice tenants.
“That evolution is producing a hyper focus among the investing community right now, and that creates the need for an advisor to help investors navigate those changes,” McCormack explained. “That need is why I chose to specialize in office.”
Danny Finkle, who is co-head of the Miami office and oversees investment advisory at the office, is excited about the new dynamic that McCormack brings to the team and explained that his goal is to always grow the Miami investment advisory teams organically by adding new and fresh dimensions in not only the office’s approach to existing teams but to the business.
“Matt has a unique skill set and comprehension of the office market in South Florida,” Finkle noted. “He brings tremendous value to our team and clients. He represents the essence of our team-oriented culture in that he is highly collaborative, fun to work with and a terrific professional.”
With a new team member in place and the office market currently performing well, though not without its challenges, the team has a new goal: Continue to serve the capital markets execution needs of small, medium and large investors throughout the entire state of Florida.
“We now have the size and experience to make sure that both private and institutional investors can count on getting the very best service for all their capital needs,” Rodriguez said.
By HFF Digital Content/PR Specialist Kimberly Steele