When thinking about real estate, many might assume that it’s primarily a tangible financial instrument; a tool of speculation. That wealth building comes before the physical structure that underlies the investment. After all, this is what the loudest voices in the field today seem to say. People are drawn into the industry at the siren’s call of “financial freedom”, strong returns, and robust tax advantages. From the institutional level to the hustler buying rental properties with very little money down, words like cash flow, passive income, and hard asset are thrown around as casually as wobbly footballs at a Saturday afternoon tailgate.
But this way of thinking would be wrong. Real estate, above all else, is about the structures that make up our built environment, and how we as people interact with them. It’s the industry that’s responsible for shaping how and where we spend upwards of 90% of our time. Because these are places where people live, places where people work, and places where people choose to spend their time and hard earned dollars, developers and practitioners of the built environment have a profound responsibility to create the kinds of places that are worthy of us spending nearly the entirety of our lives within them.
With this as our guiding imperative, it’s time to flip the notion of what real estate has traditionally been viewed as on its head. This doesn’t mean money or returns should be eradicated, because they can’t (nor shouldn’t be), but they can no longer be our north stars. We must reevaluate what success in real estate means. It’s not just about dollars. It’s about impact.
We must focus on creating the best possible homes, businesses, places, and experiences first and foremost, and try to decentralize this quality to as many communities as possible. Everything else will follow. Indeed, everything else must. For any project to be considered truly successful in real estate, it must meet, or attempt in good faith to meet, the following thresholds: