The Digger

decheser The DiggerTwo years ago, a major premonition rattled and shook Peter DeCheser.

Ten years into an escalating career with Massey Knakal, Mr. DeCheser, then a senior director of sales, began noticing faint but definitive signs of a financial backlash on the horizon.

First, an investment group he was representing suddenly pulled out of the market in the midst of an aggressive buying spree, just as the group was closing in on a building in the Financial District. Shortly after that, a privately held firm pulled out of a deal—again, totally out of the blue.

The last straw came in October 2007. An investor had deposited more than $1 million on a development site on the Fulton Street Corridor. But when he failed to secure financing for the deal, the investor drew back, defaulting on the contract and subsequently forgoing his deposit.

“I literally had an epiphany,” recalled Mr. DeCheser of the trio of deals that shattered before his eyes during the summer and fall of 2007, a year before the crises came. “Metaphorically, I looked out the window and I saw the storm on the horizon, and it frightened me.”

The series of episodes, all seemingly isolated, convinced Mr. DeCheser to reassess his career, both from a personal and a financial standpoint. Less than a year later, he accepted a job as managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle’s growing New York offices.

“For me, leaving Massey Knakal was a personal decision,” said Mr. DeCheser, 48, during an interview in the Jones Lang office he seized last April. “First of all, it was for my own personal growth, but also to be able to provide my clients with what they’re going to need during this tumultuous time that I’d seen coming.”

The decision paid off, as Mr. DeCheser has settled into a role that, lately, has largely been centered on providing real estate services to building owners still unwilling to buy or sell property. Instead, they have committed to increasing their tenant rolls and revamping their buildings.

Currently, Mr. DeCheser said, his team is servicing an estimated 200 building owners who control more than 40 million square feet in Manhattan, providing them everything from tenant rep services and building management teams to building upgrades and project development. What he hasn’t seen much of in his short time at Jones Lang is building sales.

“There is financing available,” said Mr. DeCheser, before reversing his position and going on to describe the unwillingness of many banks to loan in this economy. “And I hate myself for saying that because it’s just not true.”

But don’t call him Mister Doom and Gloom just because of his minor preoccupation with the current economic malaise. Armed with an upbeat, chatty disposition, Mr. DeCheser has sold more than 120 buildings in his career and has provided analysis for an additional 600, mostly in the downtown Manhattan market. He is now working on several building deals in the Financial District and Tribeca that he said would likely close near the end of the year.