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Real Estate Trends Conference Speaker

Author: Sarah Murphy

Keynote speakers tackled some of today’s most pressing real estate and business topics at the 2023 VCU Real Estate Trends Conference (RETC) on Thursday, October 12 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in downtown Richmond, Va. Hosted by the VCU Kornblau Real Estate Program, the conference welcomed another year of record attendance: more than 1,700 real estate professionals joined from across the Commonwealth.

The three-quarter-day conference began at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast, networking and exhibition booths from nearly 100 partnering sponsors. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from two keynote speakers, David Bitner and Heather E. McGowan, as well as attend one of three breakout lunch sessions. 

Naomi E. Boyd, Ph.D., dean of VCU Business, greeted attendees and shared details about the new VCU Business strategic plan, Bridge 2028. The plan is centered around transformative student experiences and impactful research.

“Our theme this year is disruption,” said Boyd. “How is disruptive technology impacting the way we live and work, and what does that mean for students? How can emerging technologies lead to a start-up culture here in the greater Richmond area? How can we as a Business school continue to have a societal impact in Richmond?”

Holly Eve, vice president of real estate development at the Better Housing Coalition and president of the VCU Kornblau Real Estate Circle of Excellence, shared opening remarks and introduced representatives from the conference Presenting Sponsor (CoStar Group) and Legacy Sponsor (Virginia Housing): Isabel Walbauer, associate research consultant from CoStar Group and undergraduate alumna of VCU Business; Corey Durant, vice president of research, CoStar Group; Monique Johnson, legacy sponsor from Virginia Housing and alumna of the VCU Ph.D. program.

Where is the Knight on the White Horse?

Real estate keynote David Bitner, executive managing director of global research at Newmark Group, took the stage first at the RETC. At Newmark, Bitner is responsible for the strategic vision and execution of research initiatives, focusing on thought leadership that leverages the firm’s data-driven market intelligence with an emphasis on capital markets. 

“What does it mean for the markets when interest rates go from zero to 5.5%?” was the opening question Bitner posed before diving into a somewhat somber outlook of the debt capital markets (DCM). The dramatic interest rate increases seen by the U.S. in recent years have contributed to major macroeconomic changes, such as a decrease in debt origination and a decline in the number of active lenders. 

“When things get bad, people stop and wait,” said Bitner. “They wait to see if the thing that’s bad goes away. I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”

Bitner outlined how the DCM is preparing to face record maturities, especially given the vast number of loans extended in 2023. This payment deferral will likely create a stacking effect that could amount to upwards of 1.2 trillion dollars, according to Bitner.

“This is going to be a great challenge for the market, and you’re not going to be able to kick the can forever,” said Bitner. “By far, the most likely outcome is that these rates stay higher, these problems remain, and the market will be digesting a lot more stress than it’s had to deal with in a long time. The last time we had this potential distress, it was right before the Fed cut rates to zero and dumped money into the economy. That is precisely the knight on the white horse that isn’t coming this time.”

For now, Bitner recommends trying to take risk off the table where possible.

“We don’t know exactly what is going to happen,” said Bitner. “Take some risk off the table now because there are very clear reasons to believe that not all of this will just miraculously disappear.”

Culture as Your Company’s North Star

Keynote speaker Heather E. McGowan is a strategic consultant, Amazon best-selling author and LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Influencer on Lifelong Learning & The Future of Work. She helps leaders prepare their people and organizations for the post-pandemic world of work.

McGowan covered five major areas in her talk: perspective, mindset, culture, approach and behaviors. She argues that coming out of the pandemic, companies have moved from the “Consumer Era” of the mid-1900s to a “Human Value Era,” focused on developing people and continuous learning as the best hedge against consistent uncertainty and change.

“Instead of hiring people for past skills and experiences, you need to be looking to hire people based on their passion, their purpose, their values, their curiosity, their desire to increase their human potential, thereby increasing the company’s capacity to respond to both the known and the unknown,” said McGowan.

When it comes to behavior, McGowan argues that too many of today’s employees are driven to be productive by fear. This needs to shift so that effectiveness is built through inspiration, with a focus on building resilience and connecting to purpose to becoming self-propelled.

“We are totally out of balance when it comes to behaviors,” said McGowan. “We are on all the time. Statistically, based on how long I’ve been talking, you have probably touched your phone 17 or 18 times. You have continuously disrupted potential.”

McGowan cites Dr. Sven Hanson’s proven method of increasing resilience through prioritizing sleep, focusing on fulfillment, improving bounce, scheduling relaxation, and practicing focus.

Artificial Intelligence, Economic Development and Green Practices

RETC attendees had the option to join one of three lunch breakout sessions, each of which featured panels of experts from across real estate and partner industries.

In “Richmond vs. the World,” economic development leaders from across the Richmond region discussed their collaboration, recent successes and overall outlook on the region’s growth. Panel participants were Garrett Hart, director, Chesterfield Economic Development; Anthony Romanello, executive director, Henrico Economic Development Authority; Leonard Sledge, director, Department of Economic Development, City of Richmond; and Brandon Turner, director, Hanover County Economic Development. The panel was moderated by Angela Oakes, vice president of strategy at the Greater Richmond Partnership.

Artificial intelligence and its convergence with real estate today was the topic in a second breakout session. The panel of participants included Michael Cleary, vice president and head of data & digital platforms, Allianz; Jamie Leachman, senior managing director, Co-Head Washington, DC Office, JLL; David Walton, CIO, Drucker + Falk. The panel was moderated by E. Duffy Myrtetus, member at Eckert Seamans.

The third breakout session addressed green business and development practices and their impact on real estate. The panel was made up of Andy Brownstein, attorney, GreeneHurlocker; Erich Fritz, business development leader and clean energy expert, Dominion Energy; and Michael Hallmark, founding partner, Future Cities. Diane Linderman, managing director at VHB, served as panel moderator.

Save the Date for 2024

The 2024 VCU Real Estate Trends Conference will take place on October 10, 2024. Conference sponsor registration will begin soon on the Trends Conference website; general registration will open in Spring 2024.

To learn about the Kornblau School of Real Estate at VCU, visit the program website. To learn more about VCU Business, visit

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