Success in commercial real estate is all about being better than the competition.And there may be no retail broker in Arizona with more competitive success than Natalie Jaafar, senior associate with Capital Asset Management. As a softball player at Phoenix College, Jaafar led the team to back-to-back national championships, was a two-time All-American and was the Bears’ two-time offensive player of the year. 

AZRE sat down with Jaafar to talk competition and commercial real estate.

AZRE: How has your competitive sports background translated into success in commercial real estate?

Natalie Jaafar: It’s helped. When you’re performing at a collegiate level, you’re always expected to perform the best and you need a certain self-drive to get to that level in the first place. So, that competitive drive definitely translates into my work. I’m constantly expecting myself to hit my goals. I sit down every single year and I say, “This is my goal and I have to beat it.” And I have been able to beat it. So I expect a high level for myself, and it’s constantly wanting more. 

AZRE: What is a bigger adrenaline rush: winning a national championship or closing the biggest deal that you’ve ever made?

NJ: I don’t know, but probably right now I’d have to say it would be closing my biggest deal. You close a big deal and then you get to go on that extra vacation at the end of the year. It allows you to reward yourself and your family and that is awesome. 

AZRE: You specialize in retail and office space. How are those two sectors performing in Phoenix?

NJ: Retail is performing really, really well. Office, not so much. COVID kind of gave the office market a hit. People are still working from home. We’re just having companies say, “Hey, maybe we’ll do a hybrid schedule. Employees do not want to come back to the office.” So until the employers start making people come back to the office, I think it’s still going to struggle. On the flip side, retail vacancies are down to 4.7% and we are seeing historically low vacancy rates. We are struggling to find more space to lease for potential retailers. I’m literally leasing myself out of a job right now.

AZRE: What retail segments are driving the market?

NJ: Restaurants. You cannot find a second-generation restaurant. I have a few tenants who are coming back into the market saying, “Hey, we want to expand,” but we cannot find second-generation restaurants. We are having to look within our profile and I’m constantly emailing my property managers asking, “Hey, which restaurants are struggling? Which restaurants maybe want to get out of the business? Let’s work a deal before that space even becomes available.” Because as soon as that space becomes available, you’re going to have 10 proposals for the space. And we’re not talking mom-and-pops; we’re talking national tenants coming in for those spaces. It’s a huge struggle for mom-and-pops to get into the restaurant sector right now. Talk about flipping a switch. Just a couple of years ago with COVID, we didn’t know what the restaurant industry was going to look like. Now, we’ve seen a major shift.