By Christian Hetrick
USC students were a new team this year at a global real estate contest that attracts schools from Sweden to New Zealand.
It turns out they were the best team, too.
In the first year USC competed at the annual Cornell International Real Estate Competition, the team took first place out of 17 schools. The six-person group – composed of undergraduates from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, USC Marshall School of Business and USC School of Architecture – won a $10,000 prize.
The prestigious competition tasks teams with analyzing a commercial real estate transaction, recommending whether to pursue the deal and presenting their proposal to a panel of judges who are real estate executives. Contestants get five days to examine a case study before making their pitch in New York City.
The winning team included three USC Price School students pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development within The Wilbur H. Smith III Department of Real Estate Development: Laurence Mark Tarquinio (‘24), Rohan Sunkureddi (‘24) and Wen-Hsin Kuo (‘24), who is also studying Cognitive Science at the USC Dornsife College. Moksh Rajput (‘24), a co-team leader, and Connor Gill (‘24) are Business Administration and Real Estate Finance students at USC Marshall. Co-team leader Nicholas Gaw (‘23) is at the USC School of Architecture.
USC Price students wanted to demonstrate their real estate expertise
“We wanted to prove that USC has a really strong real estate program,” Kuo said. “We put in so much work and I think everyone can say that we did the best that we could. We were really proud to showcase that when it came to the day of the competition.”
As newcomers to the contest – now in its 14th year – the USC team could have been at a disadvantage. Much of the competition included returning teams. For other schools, the event is the culmination of a dedicated class or capstone project, Tarquinio said.
The USC students prepared by watching online videos of previous competitions, studying how teams presented, the questions they received and the kinds of case studies assigned. Price School students said they also relied on what they learned in class and through internships.
“I think the one thing that benefited us is that we all knew each other quite well,” Sunkureddi said. “There was that level of cohesion going into the competition, which made working with each other a lot easier.”
New York’s pandemic-era real estate challenges provided a real-world test
This year, teams played the role of advising a private equity fund on whether to invest in a mixed-use property in Brooklyn during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York City was locked down. Among other things, their recommendations had to factor in market conditions, leasing structures and expected financial returns. The case study was based on an actual real estate deal completed by one of the judges, though names and other details were changed.
How did the first-time competitors walk away with the top prize?
“I think what we presented was closest to what actually happened in real life,” Tarquinio said. “We also underwrote way more scenarios than any other team.”
“But I think the number one thing that set us apart was we had a really well-done presentation,” he added.
Second place went to Georgetown University and third to the University of British Columbia – Sauder School of Business.
USC team judged the best by executives from major real estate and investment firms
The Cornell competition attracts some of the top real estate programs in the world and is judged by executives at major firms in the real estate and investment industries, such as Blackstone, KKR and the Bank of China. Previous winners have gone on to work at top firms, Tarquinio said.
“It’s a pretty competitive event. It’s something to be proud of,” said USC Marshall Assistant Professor Marco Giacoletti, who was the team’s faculty advisor. He noted that the real estate programs at both USC Price School and USC Marshall have been adapting their curriculum to meet the needs of the industry. “These case study competitions represent an opportunity for students to confront themselves with real world problems.”
The winning USC team was so focused on proving themselves at the competition that some of them forgot about the $10,000 prize – until organizers presented them a giant check, Tarquinio said.
“We genuinely just wanted to win,” Tarquinio said. “But don’t get me wrong, the cash prize was pretty nice.”