Sitting in her third-floor office, near the T-shaped intersection of Routes 1 and 24, commercial real estate agent Brittany Danahy laughs as she talks about the abundance of blue-and-white signs throughout Sussex County announcing a property as one of her listings.
People will be over in Seaford, she said, and she'll get a text saying they just saw another one of her signs.
"I do spend a lot of money on signs," said Danahy, with a shrug of the shoulders.
Danahy is the Sussex County broker for Newark-based DSM Commercial. She's been living in Sussex County for the past 13 years, representing DSM's southern Delaware interests for the past five.
This is a great demographic, Danahy said of Sussex County. There's always commercial real estate coming into the market, and there's a lot of interest from investors outside the county who would like to get into this market, she said.
"It's always busy," she said.
Danahy said she's been interested in commercial real estate since she was a teenager, when she was listening to a family friend discuss the finer points of a 1031 exchange, which she said is an exception in the Internal Revenue Service tax code that allows a swap of one investment property for another and postpones paying taxes on gains made through the transaction.
"I've always liked the art of the deal," she said. "I liked how the puzzle fits together through negotiating, and then having everyone come to an agreement."
Danahy was so confident she wanted to specialize in commercial real estate that right after graduating from high school, at 19, she earned her California real estate license at the University of San Diego's Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. Soon afterward, she began her career at California-based Grubb & Ellis.
She said she's never been interested in selling residential.
"Residential real estate is too emotional for me," she said.
Danahy made the move from Southern California to Southern Delaware because her husband, Kevin, is from Kent County and was a lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach for many years. The two met in San Diego while both were training for a triathlon.
Danahy said the two would come and visit the Cape Region during the summer and she always thought it was beautiful, but it was a bit of a culture shock when they moved here. She said that first winter was tough, but she quickly became a part of the community.
Southern California is nothing like Sussex, she said, and it took some time to acclimate to the slowed-down type of living. Still, it's a decision she doesn't question.
"I love the sense of community around here," she said. "My kids will grow up with a large, extended family of friends. This is the type of community where you have to spend an extra 10 minutes at the grocery store getting caught up with a lot of people."
Danahy said at the time she began her commercial real estate career in San Diego, she was a little fish in a huge ocean – well-established commercial realtors were everywhere. Here in Sussex County, she said, it's a smaller pool, and she hopes she's the person people turn to.
"Over time, tenants and retailers become friends," Danahy said. "You work with them so long, you develop strong relationships."
Danahy, who will turn 40 this year, and her husband have two children, 11-year-old McKenna and 9-year-old Shea, who are getting to an age where sports and other school activities fill the family's time. Danahy said she does the best she can to turn off the real estate side of her life at 6 p.m., but she admits it's a tough thing to do for a person who is used to getting her hustle on whenever it's called for.
"Sometimes you just have to put things second," she said. "It's hard to make that kind of change."
Danahy is a certified commercial investment member, which she admits doesn't mean a whole lot to the local property owner who might own one commercial spot and is looking to fill it before summer. But she said it's an important tool when out-of-state investors contact her. There are only three women in Delaware with CCIM certification, she said.
As any realtor worth her salt can do, Danahy easily accesses per-square-foot costs of commercial real estate on the highway, in downtown Rehoboth and Lewes, and other parts of Sussex County from the depths of her memory.
She also qualifies those numbers by saying commercial spaces hit the market in different stages, from a cold, dark shell – cement floor and lines run – to a vanilla shell – drywall, handicap accessibility and drop ceilings.
Then, Danahy said, there's the fit out and whether it's a first-generation space, which means brand new, and the tenant and property owner figure out how the costs will be split, or a second-generation space, which could be as simple as a few cosmetic changes and something new is open.
Danahy said when she moved here over a decade ago, the commercial real estate industry was still very seasonal. Most restaurants were still closing up through the winter, she said.
Noting the obvious, Danahy said that's changing and gave two prime examples.
First, she said she used to have to push her way into conversations about commercial real estate at annual national CCIM conferences. Now, she said, other realtors find out she's from Sussex County, and they want to do business.
Then, she said, nothing characterizes the continuing evolution of commercial real estate in the Cape Region better than a recent meeting between two clients.
The Spanish-speaking lessee was communicating to the Mandarin-speaking property owner through a translator about a space along the Boardwalk in Rehoboth, she said, describing the scene that unfolded around the conference table in her office.
"It took a little longer than normal, but the details were worked out and the lease was signed," Danahy said.