Eighteen months into the pandemic, we’re still seeing a residential real estate market that’s breaking records on many fronts. Interest rates remain at historic lows, but so does inventory — resulting in a marketplace where sellers are calling the shots and buyers are left scrambling to find a home and are often stuck in bidding wars. Affordable housing — already a major issue before the pandemic struck — has become even more of a critical need.
On the commercial side, construction remains busy, especially in the healthcare industry, but construction on both the commercial and residential sides continues to be affected by higher supply costs and struggles to find and secure materials.
If all of this wasn’t enough to contend with, the destruction and disruption of Hurricane Ida on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is expected to exacerbate both supply chain and housing inventory issues.
It’s no doubt a challenging time for the construction and real estate industries, which is why we are especially grateful this year to have 10 top industry professionals share with us not only how they’re facing they’re biggest challenges right now, but what excites them most about the future. There are always bright spots to be found and opportunities to be embraced. May we continue to do both into 2022.
Formed in 2003, Crescent Title, LLC is a full-service real estate title company handling both residential and commercial closings. With six offices across the Greater New Orleans area, and employing nearly 50 associates, it is the largest title company in the area. The company’s attorneys have helped developers create over 125 condominium regimes across the city. Crescent Title’s attorneys take pride in teaching hundreds of hours of continuing education credits to investors and real estate agents each year.
What are you most excited about for the coming year?Having rebuilt after Katrina, we know that getting back can be challenging. We also know that a crisis can bring opportunities. While Ida was no Katrina, the cleanup and rebuilding following this storm will bring more people to our city along with money to help in the reconstruction. We anticipate that with continued low interest rates, the housing market will continue to be strong and robust.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today?One of the major challenges to our industry is the increase in out-of-state real estate closers handling closings in Louisiana with a lack of knowledge of the unique and complex laws and obligations of the closing process. This can adversely affect the integrity of the public records. A second, and continuing challenge, involves wire fraud and the systematic attempt to cause purchasers to wire money to fraudsters.
VP of Business Development // DonahueFavret Contractors
DonahueFavret Contractors is a 42-year-old commercial general contractor serving the Gulf South. The company’s team of construction professionals excels at healthcare, hospitality/mixed-use, assisted living and educational projects. Recently the firm has had a robust backlog of healthcare projects totaling over $100 million, including a new, ground-up cancer center, wellness/sports center and ICU/operating room expansions. The company has also put in place more than 700 beds of skilled nursing/assisted living in the past five years, in addition to more than 1 million square feet of healthcare facilities.
What are you most excited about for the coming year? Over the years, our firm has become a distinguished general contractor in the region, and as a result we are leading more exciting new large-scale projects across the region. Some of our larger and long-term clients, particularly in healthcare, are in the process of expanding their facilities, so we’re seeing an increase in operations in that sector. Also, with the recent impacts of Hurricane Ida, we’re managing several disaster recovery projects, which gives us an opportunity to further rebuild our communities and make them more resilient.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Currently one of the biggest is construction material. From lead times to pricing, some of these challenges include securing lumber, managing volatile pricing, and delayed shipping of specific materials. In times like this, we have found that two things are extremely imperative: aligning yourself with clients and trade partners who are willing to achieve a project’s goals and maintaining transparent communication throughout all phases of a project. For example, our team had a recent project that built out 30 ICU beds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The entire project team — including the owner, architect, contractor and subcontractors — pulled together to complete this project 75% faster than under normal circumstances all thanks to a solutions-oriented, collaborative process.
Associate Broker/Partner// Athena Real Estate
Stacie Carubba is a New Orleans-area real estate broker with six years of experience. She is partner and associate broker at Athena Real Estate, a boutique brokerage in the city. Boasting over $40 million in sales, Carubba was recently named in the top 1% of professionals in her field by Marquis’ Who’s Who in America.
What are you most excited about for the coming year? I’m looking forward to expanding my role within the community during this difficult time right now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and in the midst of the pandemic. Real estate can be emotional and difficult in normal circumstances, and especially challenging in our current situation, so it’s important to me to continue to strengthen and establish deep and meaningful relationships that extend past the deal. As a local with deep roots in the community, I feel that I am more than just a real estate agent for many of my clients.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? The lack of inventory and availability of affordable housing is a huge challenge facing the industry. With interest rates at a historic low in the spring, the housing market was flooded with buyers. Coupled with changing needs and lifestyles due to COVID-19, buyer demand surpassed market supply and many listings were getting scooped up within hours of hitting the market, in most cases with multiple offers over asking price. Because of the competitive nature of the market, many properties and neighborhoods became unattainable for buyers. I think the lack of inventory will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future in the New Orleans metro area, especially since so many homes were damaged or destroyed due to Hurricane Ida as many families are displaced and looking for housing.
PresidentGCHP (Gulf Coast Housing Partnership)
GCHP is a mission-based regional real estate development company based in New Orleans that focuses on the production of affordable and mixed-income communities and complementary commercial and community space. GCHP was established in 2006 when the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina exposed the lack of affordable housing options in the Gulf Coast. Since then, the company has worked with 51 partners in 13 communities to develop or preserve more than 3,600 affordable homes and over 400,000 square feet of commercial facilities in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
What are you most excited about for the coming year?We are excited about the continued advancement of our healthcare and housing work that combines affordable housing with accessible healthcare and applying lessons learned from our resiliency demonstration venture in Lockport. We have a great team, we are passionate about what we do and we are excited about expanding our work throughout the region.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? It seems that the cost to construct and insure our developments is a forever challenge! Building the multilayered capital stack required to put units on the ground can take years, and it often feels like we are chasing our tails. Simply put, we need more resources to respond to the needs of the people we serve.
Commercial AdvisorStirling Properties
Stirling Properties is one of the most comprehensive, full-service commercial real estate companies in the country, specializing in advisory services, brokerage, asset and property management, development and redevelopment and investments over a wide array of property types. As a commercial advisor, Carly Plotkin’s primary focus is on tenant and landlord representation, with a strong concentration on the retail and hospitality markets. She has worked with national, regional and local clients in marketing, leasing and sales capacities on projects including The Julia at St. Charles, Canal Place and The Garage and was on the team that brought new-to-market national and regional tenants like True Food Kitchen to New Orleans and Citizens Bank to Metairie.
What are you most excited about for the coming year?I think we will see a renewed sense of hope and desire to support our local communities and businesses more so than ever before. Every new business opening is a mark of strength coming out of one of the biggest economic and health-related hardships in recent time. I am personally excited to be a part of a retail revitalization in the Gentilly-neighborhood along Chef Menteur Highway, as well as a grocery-anchored, ground-up development on the Northshore. Additionally, helping to represent local operators on expanding their businesses from online or commissary models to their own brick-and-mortar shops is incredibly rewarding.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? The continuous setbacks with COVID-related restrictions have been very challenging for all commercial businesses and storefronts. While many have been able to adapt their business model, others are still struggling. Whether a local, regional or national tenant, we as consumers need to continue to support the industry. Physical stores have evolved over the years, and will continue to do so. Our support will ensure they stay around for the long term.
CEO // Iris Development
Iris Development is active in new construction and substantial rehabilitation of mixed-income rental communities and affordable home ownership. Though delayed a few months by Hurricane Ida, the company is nearly finished with its Bywater development, which includes the construction of 70 apartments, 10 of which are permanently affordable, and 2,500 square feet of commercial space. Doucette touches every aspect of a project from deal sourcing to operations. He brings particular expertise to complex finance layering strategies, government relations, construction management and operational oversight.
What are you most excited about for the coming year? I’m super excited about the opportunity to restore the historic Dew Drop Inn in Central City back to its former uses as a music venue, hotel and bar. This former Green Book site that featured performances by the likes of Ray Charles, Little Richard and Etta James, as well as local greats like Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and Deacon John, means a lot to the music community, the city, and even our region. People have longed for its reopening for many years. I believe that its revival will bring great joy and a sense of triumph that is much needed in these difficult times.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? The biggest challenge right now is a confluence of problems brought on by the pandemic and now Hurricane Ida. Construction pricing and resources were already strained. That problem is exacerbated with the mass destruction from Ida in our region and as far away as New York that will leave us all competing for the same resources, which will increase prices and extend the time for recovering damaged properties. Less obviously, companies like ours will suffer the opportunity cost of rebuilding versus taking on new growth opportunities.
President/CEO // Gallo Mechanical
Celebrating 76 years in business, Gallo Mechanical’s footprint runs from Louisiana (New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette) to the Florida Gulf Coast and up toward the Carolinas. In the New Orleans region, projects include: The Four Seasons Hotel & Residence, Children’s Hospital, Superdome, New Orleans Convention Center Central Plant and Tulane National Primate Research Center. The company is also at work on Lafayette General Hospital and with Iredell Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.
What are you most excited about for the coming year? We have seen significant growth across our family of companies. For example, Construction and Service in each of our offices throughout the Southeast has added 100 people since May 1, 2021, and has created incredible opportunities for our team. We are also getting started on several New Orleans projects that include: Charity Hospital Redevelopment, Laitram Northshore Expansion, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Superdome and Xavier University, along with Isle of Capri Casino in Lake Charles, an Amazon facility in Baton Rouge, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, and several projects in Raleigh, North Carolina.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Some of the challenges we face are price escalation and availability of materials, over which we have no control. We choose to focus on what we can control: recruiting and retaining the best people in the business who, time and time again, regardless of the challenge, will deliver for our clients. During the toughest days of the pandemic, we stayed focused on our values: family, service and performance, knowing that if we continue to provide opportunity through growth and empower our employees, we are staying true to these values and setting up Gallo Mechanical to thrive for many decades to come.
Vice-President and an Associate Broker of Engel & Voelkers New Orleans And 2021 President of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors (NOMAR)
After working as a realtor since the mid-1990s, Anne Comarda started her own real estate company with her sister, Joyce Delery, in 2011. The company grew and in 2016 added a partner, Marty Brantley, and the three became the franchise owners of Engel & Voelkers, an international luxury real estate company serving Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Engel & Voelkers has two offices, one on Magazine Street and one on Martin Behrman Avenue. Comarda also serves as this year’s president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors (NOMAR), the voice of real estate for the region.
What are you most excited about for the coming year?This year we are introducing a larger MLS (multiple listing service), which encompasses the NOMAR area as well as the Baton Rouge Association, Central Louisiana’s Association, and the Bayou Board of Realtors. The new company, called ROAM, will bring a greater value with more expansive access to information and more tools to enhance the capabilities of our members at no increase to member cost.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today?The biggest issue I see in the coming year in real estate in the New Orleans area is inventory. It is a delicate balance between the number of buyers and the available houses. The low interest rates have put more buyers into the market and those looking to move who already have homes are cautious about listing their homes for fear that they won’t find a house to suit their needs. I also see the continued growth of smaller boutique brokerages. Agents want to have more control of their business and get larger percentages of commissions, but they don’t want to give up the atmosphere of camaraderie and the security of having a broker who has their back.
More recently, Ida brought somewhat different challenges from Katrina as there was more wind damage than flooding. Inspections and accurate disclosures are essential. Renovations, especially roof age, will now be dated from “Ida.
Founder and PrincipalFormwork Design and Development
Formwork Design and Development is an integrated real estate development company focused on mixed-use and urban infill projects, primarily in the Greater New Orleans region. Its work includes mixed-use buildings in the French Quarter and Warehouse District, the redevelopment of the former Brown’s Dairy site, and several housing- and hospitality-focused projects.
What are you most excited about for the coming year?Formwork is developing a shared workspace in a historic warehouse along the Lafitte Greenway. We conceived this project almost like a hotel, in that we strive to create a unique sense of place and a high level of service. We also recently completed an affordable housing development in partnership with a shared-housing provider. By providing a higher level of service, we’ve removed much of the friction from living with roommates and delivered much-needed housing to our community, without public subsidy.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Cost. We’re getting hit from all sides in a way that increases the price of space, especially housing, and puts downward pressure on investment and innovation.
COVID-19 disrupted the supply chain, caused material cost increases, and led to a general increase in subcontractor costs. A tight labor market, a shortage of skilled workers and the rebuilding demands created by Hurricane Ida further exacerbate this challenge.
Policy also plays a role in in development costs. Given the cost to build, the resources in our region and the demand for additional supply — especially across most sectors of the housing market — supportive policy is critical to the viability of new projects. Measures such as the timely issuances of permits, coordination across agencies and land use policies that encourage housing creation can meaningfully reduce the cost of development.
Chair // Vieux Carre Commission (VCC)VP // Gulf Coast Bank
Mamie Gasperecz is proud to continue her tenure as the first female chair of the Vieux Carre Commission, an 85-year-old agency responsible for oversight of the historic preservation of the French Quarter. The VCC was written into the Louisiana State Constitution in 1936 and charged with preserving and protecting the invaluable historic architectural heritage of the French Quarter. The commission advises and guides the process to ensure that the historic fabric of the Quarter is maintained to the highest standards of the National Historic Landmarks District. She is also the current president of the VCC Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded to specifically support and further the preservation efforts of the VCC.
What are you most excited about for the coming year? In recent years, the foundation has taken on big projects like the Design Guidelines and the Vieux Carre Virtual Library (digitizing all the VCC’s paper files to save them from natural disasters and make them more accessible to the public.) This resource was one of the only city websites that was unaffected by the cyber attack and Hurricane Ida. The foundation also works directly with engagement and education of residents, property owners and caretakers. Since the VCC is a city agency that ensures the permitting of new building projects, outreach and education is important work.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? The 2019 cyber attack on City Hall and COVID protocols drastically changed the manner in which the VCC conducts its public meetings — literally propelling us into the 21st century. Our virtual meetings have ensured the continued engagement of residents, property owners (local and out-of-town), and those who work in the French Quarter, and have allowed us to continue our important work.