"REIT Mafia' helps firms gain toehold with institutions

Few outside of REIT circles know it, but there is a small cadre of firms that are vital to REITs if they want to be included in institutional portfolios.

During the National Real Estate Investment Trusts' REITWorld Conference Nov. 13-15 in San Francisco, some speakers dubbed the group, which includes a research firm and seasoned real estate investment trust money managers, the “REIT Mafia.”

These firms help to shape the REIT landscape, giving informal advice about everything from structure to governance.

Before Blackstone Group LP took Brixmor Property Group Inc. public as a REIT, Jonathan D. Gray, global head of real estate at Blackstone, spent a lot of time with members of that group, said Robert Steers, co-founder of Cohen & Steers Inc. Cohen & Steers created the first REIT mutual fund in 1984, and the firm is a member of the elite group.

Brixmor is the new name of Australian REIT Centro Properties Group Inc., which Blackstone took private in 2011.

“The governing structure had little or no relationship with Blackstone executives' original thinking,” Mr. Steers said, speaking on a panel at the REITWorld conference.

“It's our job to observe the market and figure out what works and what doesn't,” he said.

The group includes “people with money and influence who can shape what a (REIT's) governance and balance sheet looks like ... not by being activists but collaborative,” Mr. Steers said.

This article originally appeared in the November 25, 2013 print issue as, ""REIT Mafia' helps firms gain toehold with institutions".