Lessons from 40 Years in Commercial Real Estate

Smart Buying is Key

In the realm of commercial real estate, your success hinges on what you buy. The initial choice of property is where you make your money. Even the best manager can't salvage a poor property choice, while a great property can thrive despite mediocre management. Being a savvy shopper, identifying true opportunities, and distinguishing them from pitfalls is crucial. If you’re unsure, it’s better to wait and learn than to rush in blindly.

Timing Matters

The age-old advice to “buy low and sell high” is especially relevant in real estate. Market conditions play a significant role. Aim to purchase when others are selling and sell when demand peaks. Conrad Hilton’s experience during the Great Depression underscores this point. He lost his hotels but learned that buying distressed properties during economic downturns can lead to significant gains. The late 1980s Savings & Loan crisis also saw fortunes made by those who waited for the right moment to buy at rock-bottom prices.

Mastering Due Diligence

Thorough due diligence is non-negotiable. Benjamin Franklin's words, “Diligence is the mother of good luck,” hold true in real estate. Skipping detailed checks is like a pilot ignoring a pre-flight inspection – it might work out occasionally, but it often leads to failure. Ensuring you understand every aspect of a property before buying is essential for long-term success.

Fixing Up for Profit

Don’t shy away from properties that need a little TLC. Cosmetic issues can be easily and quickly resolved, often leading to significant discounts on the purchase price. These fixes, such as painting or new signage, can transform a property’s appeal and value. However, be cautious of properties with deeper, structural problems, which are much harder to address.

Focus on Sales and Costs

To thrive in commercial real estate, your focus must be on increasing revenue and reducing expenses. This dual approach is the cornerstone of profitability. Every decision should aim to boost sales and cut costs, ensuring you maximize the potential of your investments.


Our experience spans various types of commercial real estate, but the principles remain constant. Smart purchasing, diligent research, effective management, and strategic timing are the pillars of success. By adhering to these guidelines, you can navigate the complexities of commercial real estate and achieve lasting success.

Frank Rolfe has been an active self-storage investor for around two decades, with self-storage units in many states throughout the U.S. His nuts and bolts knowledge of what makes for a successful self-storage facility has led to a three-decade career without a single failed property.