Executive Spotlight: Noel Liston, Darwin Realty & Development

No matter what sector of the real estate market you work in, anticipating the next question – before the client has to ask – is a surefire recipe for success.
Noel Liston

Noel Liston

No matter what sector of the real estate market you work in, anticipating the next question – before the client has to ask – is a surefire recipe for success.

In the greater Chicago area, Noel Liston, Principal at Darwin Realty & Development, has built his business by doing just that. While Darwin draws its name from the legendary English naturalist’s “survival of the fittest” theory, Liston’s approach might be better billed “survival of the best prepared.”

“Ultimately, being able to understand the purchasers underwriting process and their due diligence requirements, and being able to anticipate for them what challenges and questions they would have during underwriting, and their approval process, and essentially knowing them so well as to be able to think for them, is critical in moving deals from concept to close,” Liston said.

Liston spoke to CPE about some of his recent transactions and commercial/industrial trends in the Midwest.

CPE: Tell us about the build-to-suit for lease transaction you’ve worked on for Weber-Stephen products in Huntsville?

Liston: This was probably the most unique transaction I have been involved with in the last several years. The project commenced in January 2014 and revolved around a 75-acre parcel of land in Huntley which, at the time, was not zoned or annexed into the Village of Huntley. This 75-acre parcel would eventually be the site for a 757,000 square-foot new facility, expandable to 1,100,000 square feet, for Weber-Stephen Products to occupy by January 2015.

From January 2014 – May 2014, we had successfully negotiated over 13 legal documents pertaining to the acquisition of the land, development, and the Lease Agreement between the tenant and the developer and landlord, Duke Realty. Negotiations with the Village of Huntley for annexation of the property and development concessions were part of the process, as was negotiating the relocation of fiber optics that crossed the site with AT&T.

CPE: You were involved in a 2013 sale, of the Fox River Business Center, that was named “Excellence for Broker Transaction of the Year, Industrial Investment” by your area NAIOP chapter for 2014. Off-market sales obviously have special challenges. Any shareable tips or tricks you can share as to what it took to make that deal successful?

Liston: The sale of the Fox River Business Center (1 million square feet, portfolio sale) was successful for two reasons: Extensive market knowledge and knowledge of the specific product type within the Fox River Business Center and how that product would best function in the overall submarket and understanding the purchaser’s underwriting process and due diligence requirements.


Simply put, I needed to be on the same page as the purchaser, DCT Industrial, in every phase of the transaction such that I could anticipate their challenges and questions associated with underwriting and approval prior to DCT asking me to do so.
CPE: What are your goals as a commercial broker, and what type of clients do you primarily represent?

Liston: My goal as a commercial broker is to always represent my client’s best interests by being able to efficiently navigate them through current market conditions.  This includes being a sounding board for my clients and contributing meaningful analysis they can rely on long after the transaction’s been consummated. I have represented landlords, tenants, buyers and sellers of industrial real estate for 20 years.  My clients include some of the largest property owners, REITs, insurance companies and developers as well as privately held entrepreneurs.

CPE How is the industrial, manufacturing and office market currently looking in the greater Chicago area? Any particular trends you can identify?

The industrial market in the greater Chicagoland area has been on somewhat of a roll for the past 24 months with some of the lowest vacancy rates in 10+ years.  Well located, Class A product that is fully-leased is extremely attractive on the investment side of the business right now.  Buyers and owners of industrial real estate have once again ventured into value-add acquisitions and ground up speculative development.  Currently there is a noticeable shortage of available, functional, Class A and B buildings available for sale as well as an extremely sparse land inventory for infill development.

CPE: What keeps you engaged and enjoying the work after 20 years?

Liston: I have had the pleasure of working with and training several young brokers here at Darwin Realty.  Working with individuals who have just entered the industry has been extremely rewarding for me.  Over the past five years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with and training three young brokers here at Darwin, which renews my excitement and passion for the industry.  I feed off their energy and excitement for the business.

CPE: How do you spend your time when you’re not at the office?

Liston: I have four young children that I spend almost all of my time with when I’m not working.  Trying to be a positive influence in each of their lives is the most challenging but rewarding job I’ve ever had.