New Online Course on Real Estate Investment Trusts Set to Launch Oct. 19

Jonathan Morris, a former executive at three publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REIT), is looking to fill a void he sees in the industry’s knowledge about REITs. 

Morris, a 30-year commercial real estate veteran, is launching the REIT Academy, a series of online courses slated to begin Oct. 19 offered through Georgetown University, where he has taught for the past 11 years, Commercial Observer has learned. He said the academy is aimed at enhancing levels of knowledge on the REIT structure in hopes that the sector can expand beyond the 180 REITs that currently trade on the New York Stock Exchange. 

“The target audience is working professionals up to board members,” said Morris, whose extensive REIT experience involved stints as director of acquisitions at Boston Properties and Charles E. Smith Residential Realty, before it merged with Archstone Communities. “There are a lot of people that could use this granular information about how REITs actually work and the many benefits that REITs have over a private fund to acquire assets.”

While the REIT industry is now a $1.5 trillion business, Morris stressed that the pace of launching new public REITs has slowed. He said that 100 were created between 1993 and 1994 alone, but has tapered off since. His program will also explore the private REIT market. 

The REIT Academy is partnering with the Institute for Portfolio Alternatives (IPA), which is promoting the program to its vast membership that includes privately owned REITs, registered investment advisors, fund sponsors and attorneys. IPA CEO Tony Chereso said he is particularly excited about members taking Morris’ “Executive REIT Masterclass” that details the investments from inception to their conversation as initial public offerings and beyond. 

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“Our charter here at IPA is not only advocacy, but data research and education,” said Chereso, who connected with Morris through a mutual friend. “It was interesting to hear his vision about this masterclass, because one of the things that we need to continue to do amongst folks that distribute our products — the retail broker, financial advisor — is provide them the tools and education they need to understand what they’re selling.”

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%name New Online Course on Real Estate Investment Trusts Set to Launch Oct. 19

Jonathan Morris, founder of the REIT Academy. Photo: Jonathan Morris

After executive roles at Boston Properties and Charles E. Smith, Morris worked on the private real estate side of the business as founder of LMH Realty Group, an affiliate of Lerner Enterprises, and managing director for capital markets at JLL. He returned to the REIT world in May 2019 for a nearly one-year stint as chief investment officer at Armada Hoffler Properties. 

Morris has created REIT courses at Georgetown for the Washington, D.C.-based school’s master of real estate graduate program as an adjunct professor since first arriving on campus in 2010. 

The “Executive REIT Masterclass” will kick off the 12-week REIT Academy program via Zoom for one evening per week for three hours. It will feature guest speakers in the industry talking about their experiences for one hour per class.

Other programs planned as part of the academy include an “Executive, Board Members & C-Suite Series” that delves into specific topics of interest to REIT professionals and related industries. It will also provide training sessions geared for specific companies as well as one-on-one coaching for executives.

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Morris said the classes will provide several REIT research reports to examine each week along with case studies. He also hopes to touch on many present-day topics of interest facing the commercial real estate industry, such as a greater push for more diversity on REIT boards and enacting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) platforms.

An advisory board for the REIT Academy is comprised of Morris; David Auerbach, an institutional trader at World Equity Group; Evan Hudson, partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; Hall Jones, senior vice president of business development at Four Springs Capital Markets; Alex Pettee, president, director of research and exchange traded funds at Hoya Capital Real Estate; Craig Smith, senior leasing manager at Crombie REIT; and Juliana Hess, a current Georgetown masters in real estate finance graduate student. 

Ultimately, Morris would like REIT board members to take classes in the program as a way to learn more about their industry. In addition to serving REIT professionals, Morris hopes the program can be beneficial to the entire commercial real estate industry

“We have investment bankers, attorneys, accountants and brokers who touch REITs on a daily basis and solicit business from them,” Morris said. “I think it would be helpful for the senior folks of those teams to take this class and to be able to better understand how their clients are structured, what their objectives are, why they are so low levered, what investors see in them and get to know what is behind the curtain.”

Andrew Coen can be reached at acoen@commercialobserver.com.

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