Until about a month ago, Matthew Sokolowski was an investment sales broker working at CBRE in Tampa.
He was on the capital markets team and doing well. The future was bright.
But then, just shy of three years on the job, he walked away.
While the 30-year-old was in a position to have a long — and likely lucrative — career at one of the largest commercial real estate brokerages in the country, it wasn’t enough. Sokolowski wanted more. And he wasn’t about to wait around.
Sokolowski left the firm Sept. 8 to launch SokoCRE, a multifamily development firm.
“I certainly acknowledge that there's risks involved, especially in today's market. I mean, I think the biggest headwinds are the costs,” he says.
“I think the way to overcome them, and to try and overcome any kind of fear, is really just being very thorough from the beginning, in terms of site selection, in terms of research. And being very conservative upfront. I think that'll allow me to kind of hedge any of that risk.”
Tampa-based SokoCRE, he says, will focus on meeting the ever-growing demand for multifamily housing in the state, especially in the suburban market. He says the firm’s mission will be delivering high-quality communities while providing “risk adjusted returns to all my investors.”
Sokolowski says he has raised "in excess of $15 million to date."
That money has gone toward the purchase of a 20-acre parcel of land just outside of Lakewood Ranch near the Mall at University Town Center, where he plans to build a 400-unit complex. The property is under contract and he is currently working through the permitting and design phase, with plans to close the deal in December 2024 and hold a groundbreaking January 2025.
The idea to focus on luxury, garden-style suburban apartments was borne out of the fact that it is the one segment of the multifamily market that “you can still get to pencil, you can still get the yields you want,” Sokolowski says.
Higher density developments, like high rises or even eight or nine story buildings with a smaller footprint, says Sokolowski, are getting “exponentially more expensive and, therefore, nearly impossible to build right now” because of interest rate environment and costs.
“And the reality is, there's still a really outsized demand for apartments in Florida,” he says. “I think that void has to get filled. And I think that's really the path to getting there.”
While Sokolowski’s most recent experience has been in the sale of multifamily properties his background is mostly in capital financing.
A Tampa native, he attended the University of South Florida and studied finance.
After graduating in 2017, he went to work as an associate at the commercial real estate valuation and consulting company Capright, where he specialized in financial analysis and creating reports for lenders. He started as an intern while at USF and then worked as an associate until May 2018.
In 2018, he went to work in Orlando for Northmarq as an investment analyst. In that role, he helped place more than $750 million in debt and $200 million in private equity.
Sokolowski says those experiences gave him a real, fundamental understanding of how equity and debt work in the multifamily sector as well as how loans and partnerships are structured. But moving to CBRE rounded that knowledge off and prepared him for the next step.
He joined the firm in October 2020. He was hired as a senior investment analyst and was later promoted to a multifamily investment sales broker. In the latter role, he mostly focused on land development, working with developers looking to sell their properties.
According to CBRE, he assisted in the sale of more than $2.7 billion in assets after joining the firm.
Being on that side of the transaction gave Sokolowski an opportunity to get close to developers and landowners, allowing him to pepper them with questions in order to learn about the business.
That experience, he says, “gave me the bug for it.”
“From there, I just kind of continued to dive in on it and really wrap my arms around exactly what these developers do from beginning to end. I, especially with where we are today in the market, think there's a huge opportunity there and I don't want to miss it.”
SokoCRE officially launched in late September shortly after Sokolowski left CBRE. He’s launched the company’s website and began working on the early stages of the apartment project near Lakewood Ranch.
There are a number of other properties he’s keeping an eye on, he says, and the focus is on simultaneously raising money and finding triple A sites for development. While he’s not disclosing revenue projections, he hopes to have as many as 10 employees by the end of next year.
“Ultimately, the goal is to become fully integrated, to provide the development services but to also have a management arm and a construction arm,” Sokolowski says.
“The beauty, I think, of being a developer is that you can run a really lean shop. … Much of it is about outsourcing and being the quarterback. But the biggest companies in the country, they offer it all. They keep it all in house.”