Women in Commercial Real Estate
Driving through San Antonio leaves no doubt the city’s commercial real estate scene is hot. Buildings and developments are literally on the rise, with construction cranes and equipment rapidly changing the city’s landscape.
Look beyond the hard hats and bulldozers and you’ll see how commercial real estate truly impacts the city. Commercial real estate has an economic impact of $35.8 billion each year, generating approximately one-seventh of the area’s economic output, according to the Real Estate Council of San Antonio.
The commercial real estate industry also employs 133,500 people in the San Antonio area. A growing number of those are talented women successfully carving their niche in this fast-paced, high-impact field. From analyzing the real estate market, providing legal expertise to put deals together — to guiding construction, these women are leaving their mark on San Antonio’s growing skyline.
Real estate attorney Smita Bhakta grew up in London, immigrating to Texas during law school, then making San Antonio home. “Commercial real estate is a friendly industry in San Antonio. It’s a small world. We all know each other, and we all cross paths frequently. Everybody’s extremely collegial,” she explains.
Bhakta has extensive experience in all types of complex commercial real estate transactions. Her role usually begins long before construction plans are drawn. “We’re involved throughout the life cycle of a real estate project in various aspects: advising clients on how you put it all together on paper, from acquisition contracts to purchasing the ‘dirt’, or purchasing an existing building.” she explains. “Different types of development agreements, declarations or easements, or other things that need to be in place to make the property work. We also draft leases for commercial tenants and shopping center leases — in short, really all of it.”
The mother of two credits her role as a mother in helping her success. “I think I’ve been successful in my legal career because I pay attention to details. I’ve worked my hardest every single day at everything I do. I don’t give up easily. But more than that, I think I probably define success in my own way. I’m a working mom, so at times I’ve made some tough choices and put my family ahead of my career, and I think I’m successful in life, not despite my commitment to my family, but because of it.”
Analyzing the commercial market and looking for ways to keep Transwestern in the forefront, Yesenia Dominguez has her finger on the pulse of commercial real estate in the Alamo City. But she had no idea what she was getting into was when she landed the temp job that launched her career.
“It really was serendipitous. I quickly learned that it’s everything that surrounds us that we don’t live in. All the buildings, the land, apartment complexes, retail shopping centers, the places that we eat, or shop, go to the doctor, and where we office,” she explains.
San Antonio is a hot market. “When you look at how much activity we have and how much is under construction, we’re in the top 10 markets for activity. We’re getting attention from other states, other markets, and other countries looking to invest here. We’re in the global spotlight right now.”
Dominguez will serve as president of Commercial Real Estate Women San Antonio (CREW) in 2020, the first Latina to fill the role in the organization’s 36 years in San Antonio. It’s a point of pride for Dominguez, but also reflects her dedication and service to the organization. She credits CREW for helping her career and encourages others to join industry organizations. “Get involved. Join one of the committees, volunteer, and give your time. You get to know people better and through that you develop relationships. That’s how you grow in your industry and are seen as a leader and a resource to your colleagues.”
With a list of projects that includes well-known San Antonio spots including Rackspace, the Rand Building, Pearl Stables plus hundreds of others, Metropolitan Contracting Company plays a role in shaping San Antonio. Chief Operating Officer Jane Feigenbaum sees the company’s role in musical terms.
“As general contractors, we are orchestra conductors. We don’t play a specific instrument ourselves, but we’ve got to bring all of these different players together and end up with a piece of music, as opposed to just a bunch of noise.”
Feigenbaum fell into her role, but considering that she’s logged more than 25 years in the construction industry working with Metropolitan, it suits her. “I enjoy the fast pace and almost
constant problem solving,” she explains. “We never build the same thing twice in commercial work. Everything is custom; nothing is production.”
While the industry is considered male-dominated, Feigenbaum hasn’t let that deter her. “I learned pretty early on that if you do your job well, nobody cares what your gender is. People are people and business is business, and we’re all here for the same purpose and to achieve a mutual goal. If you treat people fairly, behave ethically, work hard, and you know your stuff, then you will succeed.”
The letters behind Chelsy Houy’s name stand for Professional Engineer and Certified Flood Manager, making her someone that should be involved in commercial real estate projects early on, even before a site is purchased. “Getting engineers involved early, early, early in projects can help save time and headaches,” she explains. “We often find some very hairy challenges associated with the project.”
To address those challenges, Houy believes in focusing on the things that she can control. “As much as you may wish that the client didn’t have this piece of property, or didn’t want to put this use on this piece of property, you can’t control that. It’s your job to help them see their vision through, working in a positive light to do that, focusing on the things that you can control, and getting through the rest.”
Houy likes unraveling those challenges and finding solutions. “Each commercial project has its little things that I enjoy figuring out.”
It’s a skill that she feels women especially bring to the table. “I think we’re natural problem solvers and being in this industry, it benefits us, the teams, and the firms we work for. We have some abilities, like thinking big picture, and being able to communicate with people what they need — even though they might not ask for it. I find that working with other females in the industry, we usually tend to do more of that.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran