Five Questions with Essex President Doug Imber
November 06, 2020

Welcome to “Five Questions,” a monthly series where Essex Realty Group, Inc. brokers share their observations and experiences gained while working in Chicago’s real estate world. This month we are getting to know Essex President Doug Imber.

Introduction: Douglas S. Imber is co-founder and president of Essex Realty Group, Inc. He has been involved in nearly $2 billion of investment real estate transactions throughout his 31-year career and has represented many of Chicago's most prominent real estate companies and institutions. In addition, Doug has been the general partner of more than 5,000 apartment units across the United States.

Doug has been honored numerous times as Chicago's top multi-family broker and is a regular speaker and writer regarding Chicago's investment real estate market.

Doug received his Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University and completed his Masters of Management from Northwestern University's J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, with concentrations in finance and real estate. Doug lives in Glencoe with his wife Lisa, a real estate attorney, where they raised their twins, Jacob and Arielle.

Q: Why were you interested in starting a career in real estate?

Doug: It is embarrassing but simple – I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my career. I majored in psychology and had worked in the field throughout college, but by the time I graduated I realized it wasn’t for me. What I did realize by the time I graduated though, was that I wanted to make money. Thankfully, I landed in the real estate industry, and saw the opportunity for growth, so I stuck with it.

Q: Tell me about some of the differences between being a broker today vs. being a broker 30 years ago?

Doug: The obvious answer is technology has changed how we spend our days. I used to spend about a third of my time just trying to track down information on sales comps so I could better understand the market. I would hear about a deal that had sold or that was on the market and I would call the buyer and seller for any information I could get. It wasn’t like you could just jump on CoStar and look up the transaction.

Marketing a property is completely different as well. Today we send 10,000 emails with the push of a button. When I was first starting out you had to stay late at the office because that was the only time the fax machine was free. You couldn’t use it during the day to send out your 50 marketing packages because the machine need to be free to receive offers.

Over time, I’ve noticed the amount of work we do face to face has declined. We used to meet face to face to talk about a deal and to present offers. Now everything moves much more quickly because you can simply email a marketing package and discuss the deal on the phone in real time. There were many times I would offer to mail an investor our marketing package and instead they would say just stop by our office. Those impromptu face to face meetings helped my getting to know people better.

But all businesses, brokerage included, has benefited from better access to information. So, I see the shift as a positive one.

Q: What are the most important lessons you would share with someone starting out as a broker today?

Doug: I would say first and foremost play the long game. You’re not going to retire from one sale. But you only get one reputation. The second thing I would tell people starting out is to learn to manage the highs and lows that come as part of this industry. These transactions are binary – you either get paid a fee or you make zero. You don’t get partial fees. This creates a lot of pressure and a lot of highs and lows. Try to stay grounded as best you can.

Q: Is there one transaction that sticks out that highlights how you overcame challenges?

Doug: Yes, surprisingly it was my very first deal. I was selling 52 units at 6110 N. Kenmore, and I desperately needed the fee. I was just starting out and this was my first deal so I didn’t have much in savings. The day before the closing the seller called me to say he was not going to close and instead was going to declare bankruptcy. I know that was hard for the seller, but it was also an incredibly painful experience for me. This was going to finally put some wind in my sails and instead I had just spent a few months working for free when I could least afford it. One of the hardest things for me was to get up and go to work the next day and get back on the horse. While I would not wish that painful experience on anybody, it did provide me with some valuable lessons and a strange confidence that I could overcome the adversities that exist in our industry.

Q: Describe one effect on the industry you see stem from the reaction to COVID-19?

Doug: COVID-19 and the economic dislocation it has created has been a catalyst for many owners who are later in their investing careers to decide to sell. As a result, it has also opened opportunities for buyers who may be early in their careers and who have a longer-term investment horizon. Over the next few years, I believe there will be a lot of opportunity for the younger brokers at Essex to connect with and serve the new younger breed of investors.

Since 1990, Essex Realty Group, Inc. has served Chicago's investment real estate market as a top multifamily brokerage firm. Contact us today to learn more about our recent multifamily and mixed-use property sales.