By Griffin Swartzell

Commercial real estate wasn’t in Tyson Liese’s plans. After this Highlands Ranch native earned dual bachelor’s degrees in business communication and philosophy from UCCS, he aimed to attend graduate school and study law or public policy. But when he looked at the numbers, his plans changed.

“Looking at having $200K in student loan debt just didn’t seem very appealing before I had a job,” he said.

Instead, he looked for interim work. His father, John, had been in real estate for 14 years at that point, so he took advantage of that resource and started from the bottom. Working at Keller Williams Clients’ Choice Realty, he found a passion for commercial real estate.

Today, he’s a real estate broker there, and what was initially a bridge gig has become a career. Most recently, he’s helped Greeley, Colorado-based WeldWerks Brewing Company expand into the Springs.

“Getting in touch with them and having them tell me that they picked Colorado Springs over Denver because they felt like it was a cooler place to be, that’s when it crystallized in my mind how impactful commercial real estate can be,” he said.

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What’s it like in commercial real estate during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We [recently] crossed the first hurdle of April 1 — meaning that that’s when rent was due for a lot of these business owners. Leading up to that, there was a lot of worry that, obviously, business owners weren’t going to be able to afford to pay rent. And that really just depends on landlords’ positions, on whether or not they can afford to have an entire strip mall of tenants not paying rent for that given month. So at that point, it was really trying to figure out communication-wise, what was it going to look like? And there’s a lot of unknown in how it was going to be handled.

I think what I’ve been seeing, essentially, is that with a lot of economic relief resources that are being made available, there’s not a lot of rent forgiveness going on for commercial tenants. Landlords are kind of expecting that most of their tenants are coming up with rent. So I think that that’s kind of working out well. And then you do have some industries right now that are actually thriving. You have a lot of construction industries, and they will do a lot of work still. Actually, I was able to help a roofing company get a space last month, so that was good, but you still have tenants looking for commercial space right now — kind of a new need for temporary space, whether it be for storing goods that are coming in for medical use or for food, and stuff like that. …

All in all, I’d say that right now, everyone’s just trying to figure out ways to make sure that they don’t fall behind on mortgages or rents. Beyond that, it’s hard to really imagine what the commercial real estate world is going to look like two months from now. It’s just trying to figure out where the collateral damage is from trying to provide funds to people and who needs to catch up on what. …

I will say that I was on a webinar with Southern Colorado Commercial Brokers [recently], where we had people from the [Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC] and other economic organizations that were saying that what they’re expecting for Colorado Springs is for it to bounce back economically pretty quickly. We do have developments continuing with Victory Ridge Center, with In-N-Out Burger and some of those other major developments going on. The big companies, they’re able to weather the storm and continue operations with construction — so the indicators, as of right now, are still looking very positive for Colorado Springs.

But obviously that could change depending on how this virus continues. If it ceases [economic activity] for a couple more months, we’re probably looking at something a lot different. But for right now, I think the general consensus is that there’s a lot of optimism economically.

Talk about what you do day to day.

What I specialize in is working with small business owners. I found a real niche in tenant representation because there seems to be a very underserved community there. It isn’t as lucrative as big commercial real estate investment transactions and whatnot. What I’ve seen in a lot of small business owners that are going to take out their first lease, or maybe even their first purchase, is that they’re not aware of negotiations available to them and what terms usually look like, so a lot of them get taken advantage of. So I found a real need to serve that community to make sure that they’re represented and that they know the deal that is available to them, and to negotiate on their behalf.

What are some things you have to explain in terms of basic education for your clients?

The biggest thing is financial reviews. Most business owners are struggling to figure out how to start their business and really haven’t gone down the proper channels [to set] up proper financials. … When they need to qualify for a loan or apply for a lease, they haven’t really [put together] a profit and loss statement or a personal financial statement. [I do a lot of work] educating them on how to fill that out properly so that when someone asks for it, they can provide a good representation of what their company is, so they can get qualified for [whatever services they need]. And in addition to that … a lot of them don’t really have a concept of how much it costs to do tenant improvement projects, as [well as] to fund the rent with triple net payments [where the tenant agrees to pay property expenses such as real estate taxes, building insurance and maintenance] and all that sort of thing. So that’s a big part of education as well.

I’ve just really found a passion [for] helping them figure that out. If they go about it unrepresented and they’re hit with an extra $50,000 [cost] to make a space right to use, that’s something that might not be doable for them. They might be struggling to try and make that work on top of paying for rent. [I’m] trying to really help them get into a position to succeed and not be in a situation where, when a pandemic hits, they’re immediately unable to pay rent and they lose everything that they’ve been working towards.

How did you discover this is something you feel passionate about?

My dad got me into real estate five years ago, right when I graduated from UCCS. … I was looking for something to do on the way towards grad school, so he pulled me in. I started with commercial real estate, right out of the gate. And how I discovered this little section of commercial real estate is through networking, [through] a lot of relationship development that I like to do to generate new business. Talking with a lot of these small businesses and attending a lot of networking events is where I came to find that they’re really uneducated on the process. And then it led me to find out that the system is kind of rigged against them with how business is done in commercial real estate.

Was there a crystallizing moment where you realized this would be your career?

Actually, yeah, carving out this niche and being able to help small business owners particularly [got me invested in this field]. [The way that] commercial real estate impacts the community as a whole gave me the ability to help local people of the community while continuing to really expand Colorado Springs and its presence as a community in the country. It’s been really neat to be kind of a part of the transition from Colorado Springs being an undesirable place to be to being the No. 1 most desirable place to be in all the United States.

What goals do you have professionally?

The main goal is to move into more of an investor role than a salesperson role. Obviously when you move into an investor role, you actually own property, [and] you can impact small business owners in a much stronger way where you can provide a space to them that they would like … and you can really make it your own.

I’ll be honest, there’s definitely a little bit of a credibility hit when you are in a salesperson role. The consumer is always going to wonder whether or not you’re looking out for your own best interest or theirs. It’s interesting how I have realized that that’s not my favorite part about being in commercial real estate, [being in] that salesperson type of role. [I’d rather be] much more of a consultant. So my goal within the next five years is to transition into much more of an investor and perhaps a teacher type of position within real estate so I can continue to help people without that kind of sales incentive behind it.