Have you ever bought a house? Did you hire a real estate agent to help you navigate the competitive housing market? Often, getting professional assistance in your housing search can make the difference between finding your dream home and losing out to someone with an all-cash offer or better financing. So frustrating!
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District needs help with their real property needs too—that’s why they employ an entire division of real estate professionals. But they do so much more than the average real estate agent to help the district navigate the occasionally complex property issues surrounding many of their most high-profile projects.
“The Real Estate Division handles acquisition, management, and disposal of real property for the District’s civil works projects, military installation and construction projects, and work for other stakeholders and partners,” said Adam Olson, chief of Real Estate at the Sacramento District. “This means that whatever the district is doing with real property, we have a hand in it.”
The division’s realty specialists perform a wide range of activities in the district—from leasing and appraisal to negotiation with property owners to much more. And it’s not just for the Corps. Other federal agencies and military branches look to the Corps to find workspace and other vital properties.
The leasing team handles contracts for district field and satellite offices, as well as another crucial job: securing work and living space for military recruiters across the district’s territory, which covers parts of eight western states.
Raul Perez is a U.S. Air Force veteran, a realty specialist, and an expert on this process.
“We go out and find the space for our partner agency, whether that’s a military branch or other agencies within the Army or Department of Defense,” said Perez. “Then we have the partner agency rate it, we negotiate the lease, build it out, and the partner occupies it.”
“We take care of the whole process so the partner agency can carry out their mission more efficiently,” said Perez. “Usually, we’re able to deliver a space in under six months.”
Perez also noted that sometimes, personnel requirements change. In that case, the Corps helps renovate existing spaces to meet partner agency needs.
“Our branch also takes on a property management role, ensuring the space is safe and functional,” said Perez.
The Leasing Branch is new to the Sacramento District, although many employees, like Perez, have been with the Corps for years. That’s because the branch is part of a recent reorganization designed to streamline processes and better steward taxpayer dollars.
These changes, which took effect May 18, 2020, include:
- Establishment of the new Leasing Branch. Before, leasing specialists were lumped in with other realty specialists throughout the Real Estate Division. Their skill set is unique and their specialized work needed to be separately recognized, according to Olson.
- A new Regional Appraisal Center, which is located at the Sacramento District but serves the entire South Pacific Division. Before, appraisers were part of a technical services branch along with financial and administrative staff. Olson worked with other real estate offices and organized the appraisers into a dedicated appraisal center servicing the entire region to address gaps in staffing throughout SPD.
- New Northern and Southern Branches that provide real estate team support for civil works projects, military installation and construction projects, and work for other agencies within broad geographical regions to streamline decision-making and accountability while fostering regional expertise. The new structure also makes it easier for junior employees to learn from those with more experience, and to become well-rounded realty specialists with more career options in the future.
“The border between the two branches is somewhat fluid, just like the definitions of ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ California,” said Olson. “But this actually gives us a lot of flexibility to retask people as necessary to meet demands, and even support other districts when the need arises.”
“Taken as a whole, the new changes balance our workload, ensure steady activity throughout the year, help employees grow, and better serve stakeholders and partners,” said Olson.
Eric Roman, a lead appraiser at the Regional Appraisal Center, agrees.
“The RAC came about because we had districts that had more staff than others, and Sacramento had one of the larger staffs,” said Roman. “So it made sense to house the center here, and that gives us the ability to support specialized projects around the division much more easily.”
Appraisers make up a small community within the Corps—most districts only employ one or two – whereas the Sacramento District currently has four appraisers and is looking to add several more this year to meet the demands of an increased forecasted workload. It’s a very technical field that requires very specific experience and outside education, according to Roman.
“Now we can connect subject matter experts that specialize in various types of properties much more easily,” he said. “It allows the Corps to employ a consistent team in producing a higher quality product.”
Ultimately, the success of the district rides on the Real Estate Division, since none of the district’s projects happen without it.
“I’ve always felt an obligation to serve my country, whether in the military or as a civilian employee,” said Perez. “We work as a team, and my success is a reflection of the team itself.”