Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Norm Miller

Monday, March 10, 2014

Norm Miller, PhD, is a professor of real estate through USD’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate and the USD School of Business Administration. Miller, who has three degrees from Ohio State University, is a well-respected expert in the real estate business, particularly sustainable real estate. His book, “Commercial Real Estate Analysis and Investment” is a leading graduate level textbook on the subject. In September, he’ll receive a University Professorship, the top honor available to a USD faculty member. Inside USD asked Miller about current market trends, how he got started and advice for students considering a real estate career.

Real estate is one way to measure the economy (local, state, national). Assess the current market and do you have thoughts on possible real estate trends for 2014?

We think of the real estate market in segments. There is the single family housing market, multifamily market and office, industrial, retail, hotels and other specialized types. They are not all in sync but housing will continue to rebound at a slower pace, rents will be increasing in most other segments and values will increase so long as interest rates don’t increase too much.

Where did your interest in real estate develop?

I wanted to become an architectural engineer, but I started taking some business courses. My adviser pointed out that I had taken every possible real estate and urban course (economics, sociology, planning, public finance) and I might as well be a real estate major. I met mentors after I became the President of the real estate society. One of my mentors helped me buy my first investment with several of my buddies, since none of us had any money. We even needed to borrow the equity. I put that first deal together and a few more for myself, and later I was able to pay off all my college loans and buy a house and car. Real estate accelerated everything.

You’re an expert in sustainable real estate and you’ve connected with USD faculty and staff colleagues who also have sustainability expertise. How have these interdisciplinary resources added to your knowledge?

Real estate is an integrative subject since you need to know about so many different topics. Sustainable real estate takes it one step further. It forces you to examine not only energy generation and conservation, but also generating less waste and pollution and providing more productive environments in which to live and work. Design, financing, operations, management and regulation or incentives all matter as well as keeping up on the latest technology. To do this, I stay in touch with colleagues from all over the world as well as locally. We all feed each other with new ideas and knowledge.

What kind of sustainable practices do you maintain at home and in your everyday life?

Nothing special, except perhaps that I was one of the first to own a TESLA S which I charge up off-peak. I drive quietly and without emitting any greenhouse gases as I fly by the noisy gas guzzlers. We try to do less harm in how we live, recycle and grow some of our own food and not eat red meat or processed foods, but we are not too extreme.

What advice do you give USD real estate students about a career in the real estate business or a specific niche?

First, be sure you learn how the market works, not just descriptions and rules. Second, get a mentor. Be a good financial analysis and become an expert in something. Stay engaged in what is going on so you are conversant with professionals. Consider using media like so you can follow stories on state-of-the-art trends. Lastly, buy and keep a copy of my commercial real estate book (shameless plug)!

As a new University Professorship recipient, what research are you doing now or preparing to do?

I’ve been working on workplace trends and the implications for the office market, sustainable real estate trends and watching the latest technologies evolve like batteries. Batteries, if improved, will transform society, how we live and work. I plan to write a book on sustainable real estate, do some speaking, and continue to improve our journal as a resource for others, see

Given your workload and need to stay current, how do you spend your time away from academics?

I enjoy sailing when I get the chance. My wife and I take at least one major trip each year where I am not speaking. For example, in June we will go to Kyoto, Japan and we will visit Buddhist temples and learn about Japanese culture and sustainability practices. In San Diego, we have several magnets deserving of attention; a dog, a granddaughter nearby plus one on the way, lots of yard and house chores but we also love walking on the beach, doing photography and supporting the local arts.

– Ryan T. Blystone

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