Rick Scarola speaks in front of a classroom of students.

Rick Scarola: Practical application of real estate knowledge

Since graduating from the University of Florida in 1982, Rick Scarola (BSBA ’82) has combined his educational background in business and passion for engineering into a career path in real estate. For 23 years, Covenant Capital Group, which Scarola co-founded and serves as managing partner, has focused on buying older apartment communities in great locations, then heavily renovating the units and selling them for a profit on behalf of investors.

His decades of experience set him up to provide a real-world learning opportunity for students in the Nathan S. Collier Master of Science in Real Estate. As a former student in the Collier Master of Science in Real Estate program as well as watching his own son go through the program, Scarola noted that while students were gaining critical knowledge in the classrooms of faculty like David Ling and Wayne Archer, they could use more experience in applying the insights in a real-world setting.

Rick Scarola speaks sitting at a conference table with a group of students listening. With that in mind, Scarola approached Ling about the idea of a course in partnership with Covenant Capital where students would have the opportunity to evaluate a real apartment complex for possible investment.

“I wanted to help the students understand how the information they received in the classroom could be used in practical ways,” Scarola explained. “It felt like this would be a good way to challenge them with a real asset, and not just read about that experience in a book.”

Ling agreed, and the class launched in 2014. In the 10 years since, graduate real estate students have worked with Scarola’s business for a hands-on experience essential to setting them up for their own career success.

As part of the course, Scarola’s team first meets with the students to give them an overview of Covenant Capital’s fund and investor expectations. As a value-add fund, students learn that they must target a property with an established cash flow but find a way to increase it over time, such as through renovations which can command an increase in rent. Scarola will then take the students to one of Covenant Capital’s current renovation sites, providing tips on the various steps they go through to see a project from beginning to end.

Leaving the site is when the real work begins for the students. Over the course of a couple of months, the students are asked to choose an area meaningful to them and find a project to pitch to Covenant Capital as an investment property. Groups present their ideas and reasoning to Scarola and Covenant Capital Vice President Brian Lott (BSBA ’08, MSRE ’10), who then selects and offers cash prizes to the first, second and third place pitches.

“I always tell the students, you have to be useful to your organization,” Scarola said. “If they want to join this business, they have to learn to be productive and provide value. This class can help them do that.”

As for Scarola, giving back to his alma mater through this course fulfills a personal drive to educate the next generation of real estate professionals.

“I want to help these young people be better when they get out of school,” he said. “When I was in school, there were people like me giving back, and I surely benefitted from their help. Their knowledge beyond the classroom was a true gift.”

Rick Scarola speaks sitting at a conference table with a group of students listening.