Students battle it out in real estate competition

Jody Serrano

Real estate graduate students from 16 universities across the country competed for cash prizes and top honors at the McCombs School of Business’ 10th annual Real Estate Challenge this week.

This year’s challenge attracted some of the most distinguished real estate students from programs across the nation, including the winners from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and attracted leading corporate sponsors. Glenn Lowenstein, a partner at the Lionstone Group real estate firm, said his firm sponsors the competition because the partners really believe in the Real Estate Finance and Investment Center at UT and want to offer graduate students a real-life experience.

“I’m an investor nationally, and I think this real estate center has the potential to become the best in the U.S.,” Lowenstein said. “We especially support it so the best real estate students from around the nation can come and compete.”

Lowenstein said his firm plans to continue sponsoring the competition in the future. Students in the challenge competed in teams of six and had four days to analyze a case sponsored by investment firm J.P. Morgan, identify the issues of the case and develop a solution. The teams then presented their findings in 20-minute PowerPoint presentations to a panel of real estate executives who judged them on analytics, judgment and clarity of presentation, Lowenstein said.

This year’s challenge included teams from Duke University, New York University, University of California at Los Angeles and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

Christina Griego, administrative associate in the Department of Finance, said every school has to be invited in order to participate in the conference. She said McCombs chose their team through a specific application process.

“The quality of the teams and the quality of the case is different from last year,” Griego said.
Business graduate student Brian Thomas competed for UT in the challenge and said it was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience and get exposure to industry leaders. Thomas said his team worked on it every hour they could and that deal structures, understanding of the other parties’ interest and understanding of the finance market were major components in the competition.

Although UNC-Chapel Hill took the grand prize, Thomas said all the teams brought different skill sets and perspectives to the case and that UNC deserved to win.

“I’m not disappointed,” Thomas said. “You can spend a lot of time reading a book, but the only way to really learn is to experience it.”