Pay It Forward: “Don’t Fall In Love With The Real Estate”

Pay It Forward: “Don’t Fall In Love With The Real Estate”

It’s extremely fulfilling to work for a mission-driven company that is creating housing in markets that desperately need it.

By Tasha Norman | February 23, 2023 at 05:15 PM

Sean Burton, Cityview, Los Angeles, CA.

Sean Burton has been with Cityview since 2003. Prior to joining Cityview, Sean was vice president of corporate business development and strategy at Warner Bros. Before that, he was an attorney in the real estate and corporate groups at O’Melveny & Myers, LLP and also served in the White House during the Clinton Administration.

Position: CEO.

Area of expertise or focus: Vertically integrated real estate investment management and development focused on workforce and attainable housing in high-growth markets in the Western U.S.

What has been your biggest challenge in your particular role? How have you overcome those obstacles?  The biggest challenge for me is how to strategically scale our business. The early stages of our company focused on building a strong team, creating systematic processes and procedures, and effectively executing on our business strategy. We’ve done that, and as a midsized firm, we are now focused on how to grow and continue scaling strategically.

In order to scale capital on pace with our deal flow, we continue to invest in institutional flagship funds and create large JV and platform relationships. While we are narrow in our focus on multifamily, we have a lot of depth in that focus. We are fully vertically integrated, including in-house development, construction management, entitlement, asset management and property management, and cover all areas of the multifamily spectrum – from development to value-add to core. A lot of investors feel like they need to choose whether to go with a core, value-add or development-focused firm, but we do it all in the multifamily markets we serve, which we believe allows us to develop deep block-by-block expertise and use our knowledge across product types to find and execute on good real estate deals.

What about your current role/position at the company are you most happy with?  It’s extremely fulfilling to work for a mission-driven company that is creating housing in markets that desperately need it while striving to deliver solid returns for investors.  We build and improve market-rate and workforce housing that makes a real difference for communities and do so in a way that provides lasting value for our investors.

My brother is a firefighter, and it’s meaningful to spend my days striving to drive the returns that create a safe and secure retirement for him and so many others through the public pension systems.

What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry?  The best piece of advice I received is that you don’t have to be all things to all people. We maintain a high level of expertise by being multifamily sharp shooters with a strong deal flow, and the key to our success is lining up what we provide with the right sources of capital. Our vertical integration allows us to be a one-stop-shop for all things multifamily in the Western U.S. while providing a deep and nuanced expertise that is hard to achieve without focused discipline.

Do you have any advice specifically for the next generation? I would advise the next generation to do the work, learn every aspect of the business, ask a lot of questions and read every document. Put your head down and immerse yourself in the work without worrying constantly about promoting yourself or the next step in your career.  People recognize great talent, and when you focus on doing the work well and driving results for the company and investors, opportunities will follow.

Would you advise any younger person to begin a career in CRE?  Absolutely, it’s a great career. In fact, my own son is pursuing a career in CRE and I am excited for him to embark on this journey. I enjoy the tangible nature of the business. It is a solid career that is meeting a real need and can be a very secure one if you stick to the fundamentals. People will always need a place to live, which makes multifamily an especially appealing product type and career path.

When I was starting out, I was advised to work for a public homebuilder, as land was plentiful in the suburbs, there was public funding, and it was easy to control costs with a one-size-fits-all product type. I chose instead to pursue the development and renovation of more complicated projects in cities where people want to live and work.  This work was more interesting, more challenging and more rewarding for me and is a business model with so much continued growth and opportunity.

Historically the multifamily space hasn’t been as innovative as some other asset classes, but there is a lot of room for creativity with new building techniques and technologies. For example, modular – which we used on our Union Flats project in Oakland – has the potential to bring projects to market faster and more affordably. There is a lot of opportunity for innovation in the value-add space as well. In our VIVE LA portfolio, we purchased a large number of smaller, undermanaged properties in a few key neighborhoods under one brand, which created more opportunities in the community and in our portfolio.

Please share with us the best lessons learned or a surprising component of your unique journey.  I’ve learned there is no substitute for staying close to the real estate. The vertical integration of our firm, which allows us to oversee development, acquisitions, entitlement, construction management, asset management and property management, gives us a deep understanding of the multifamily space.  These in-house capabilities allow us to closely monitor the market and evolve our strategy quickly and effectively as residents’ wants and needs change.

Please share any particular initiatives that you are working on.  One of our recent internal initiatives that adds immense value for our team is Cityview’s Leadership Academy. We partner with a Harvard business professor to lead a curriculum that focuses on leadership, operational excellence and person development. Additional tailored third-party training is available to all team members, with a focus on developing critical thinking skills and navigating business challenges. We are in the knowledge business, and this training is helping to create the next generation of our firm’s leaders.

In your opinion, what takeaways did we learn from the COVID crisis?  Our team learned that there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and ensuring you stay on top of every aspect of the business that’s in your control. Throughout the pandemic, we reached out to every single one of our residents to keep them apprised of the new initiatives we were putting in place at our properties, as well as the ways we were keeping them safe while still providing the services they needed. We put programs in place for those who weren’t able to pay and proactively worked with residents to assist them through the process. As a result, we maintained a very strong collection rate.

What three words, phrases, statements or mantras would you use to describe your work mindset?  The three mantras that have always served me well are put in the work, always put your investors first and don’t fall in love with the real estate.

As a junior staffer at the White House, I learned that the best way to prove yourself was to stay focused and do the work.  That is advice that I have given my children as they are close to graduating from college and thinking about their first professional jobs and junior people I talk to who are in the early stages of their careers.  There is no substitute for staying focused and doing good work.  That is the best way to learn and prove yourself.  You are not going to move the up the ladder right away, so having the right expectation allows you to get the most out of those early training years and prove that you are someone people want to work alongside as you progress in your career.

During the Great Financial Crisis, I learned that if you always put your investors’ interests first, the company and the team will do just fine.  I am not afraid to have hard conversations and be transparent and up front with our investors.  Anytime in my career when I have had to have a tough investor conversation, I do so from a place that investors respect and appreciate because they know I am putting their interests first and that allows us to implement effective solutions and come out stronger.

From one of our smartest investors, I learned not to fall in love with the real estate.  This is something I learned early in my career as an acquisitions person and something I tell our team regularly.  You cannot fall in love with the real estate in a way that doesn’t allow you to look at the numbers and evaluate the deal objectively.  Things come up during negotiations and during due diligence and you constantly have to be reevaluating to make sure the deal makes sense and not allow emotions or inertia to otherwise drive you into a deal.

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Sarah Hunt

Senior Associate, Business Development & Capital Relations

Ms. Hunt joined Cityview in 2021 and is a Senior Associate on the Business Development & Capital Relations team.  She is primarily responsible for relationship management, investor communications, and marketing collateral.  Additionally, she works closely with internal functional teams on due diligence efforts and supports investor reporting and special projects.  She is also a member of Cityview’s Sustainability Committee focused on communication of ESG initiatives to investors.

Ms. Hunt has over six years of real estate investment, capital formation, and investor relations experience.  Prior to joining Cityview, she was an Associate with Chicago-based Magnolia Capital.  During her tenure, she worked on equity capital raises for numerous real estate investment vehicles.  Prior to Magnolia, Ms. Hunt was a Financial Analyst with LaSalle Investment Management where she oversaw the financial performance of assets with over $1 billion in value.

Ms. Hunt received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance, Investment, and Banking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ramtin Esfandiari

Director, Acquisitions

Ramtin Esfandiari joined Cityview in 2018 and is responsible for managing acquisitions, including sourcing, underwriting and closing multifamily development deals. Prior to joining Cityview, Ramtin was on the Acquisitions team at The Bascom Group where he underwrote over $9 billion in multifamily acquisitions across the U.S. and supported all aspects of the acquisition process. Ramtin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Irvine, and is an active member of Urban Land Institute.

Jonathan Anderson


Jonathan Anderson is the Controller of Cityview and provides leadership and oversight over the finance, accounting, and shared services departments.  Prior to joining the Cityview team, Jonathan worked at CIM Group where he held several finance and accounting roles during his tenure, most recently as head of private fund reporting and prior to that as director of SEC reporting for one of CIM Group’s publicly traded REITs.  Jonathan began his career in Ernst & Young’s assurance practice where he served both public and private clients in the real estate and asset management industries.  Jonathan graduated from the University of Southern California with both a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in real estate finance.

Tina O’ Brien

HR Director

Tina O’Brien, HR Director, is a senior national and state-certified HR Professional (SPHR, SHRM-SCP, PHRca), managing the HR team overseeing all aspects of Human Resources for both Cityview and its affiliate, Westhome. Her experience spans the spectrum of the HR field, including recruitment, employee relations, performance management, benefits, compliance and employee development. She joined Cityview in summer 2021 from a telecom technology firm in Van Nuys, and previously worked for a private real estate investment and property management company in Beverly Hills. Tina is an LA native and she’s committed to helping grow our vibrant, healthy corporate culture here at Cityview.

Noah Watts-Russell

Director Asset Management
Noah Watts-Russell is Director, Asset Management of Cityview. As Director of Asset Management, he oversees Cityview’s value-add portfolio and is responsible for establishing and driving the portfolio business plans to maximize performance and value. Prior to joining Cityview, Noah was an Associate in the Real Estate division at The Blackstone Group where he oversaw over $15bn in multifamily real estate (>70,000 units, covering market rate, affordable and rent-controlled) and worked on over $2bn in total sales and $1bn in refinancing. Prior to Blackstone, Noah managed the FP&A team at LivCor, Blackstone’s multifamily asset management company. Noah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Denise Katz

Director Asset Management

Denise Katz manages Cityview’s core and development assets across multiple investment vehicles and is responsible for maximizing the operational and financial performance of the assets.  Denise has over twelve years of experience in real estate. Prior to joining Cityview, Denise was Regional Vice President at CIM Group of a $2.4 billion portfolio in the Western US and Latin American markets. During her time at CIM, she managed end-to-end transitions of development projects, acquisitions, and dispositions of office, multifamily, retail, parking, condominium, and mixed-use projects. She holds a double major Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Psychology from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Steve Roberts

Director, Development and Construction
Steve Roberts is responsible for the development of several of Cityview’s ground-up multi-family assets, including due diligence, design, entitlement, permitting, construction, and market delivery. Prior to joining Cityview, Steve managed several nationally award-winning projects as Vice President of Development for Community Dynamics, a Santa Monica based developer of residential and mixed-use communities. Steve has built his career on creating exceptional communities that deliver high-quality housing to residents, first-rate design for neighbors and municipalities, as well as strong financial returns to investors. Steve holds a BA in Urban Studies and Planning from UCSD and earned an MBA and Master of Real Estate Development from the University of Southern California.

Anh Le

Director, Development

After 8 years in the construction industry managed complex multi-use development projects, Anh Le joined Cityview in 2018 as Director of Development. Le manages ground-up developments in Northern and Southern California and leads consultant teams through entitlement, design, permitting, budgeting, contracting, construction management and project turnover. She works closely with designers, neighborhood groups and Cityview’s in-house Asset Management team to deliver best-in-class multifamily projects. Prior to Cityview, Le worked as a project engineer and project manager at Cobalt Construction. Le holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Kyle Naye

Senior Director, Acquisitions

Kyle Naye is Senior Director, Acquisitions of Cityview.  As Senior Director of Acquisitions, he is responsible for managing acquisitions, including sourcing, underwriting, closing and developing comprehensive business plans for investors.  Naye primarily focuses on non-California markets across the Western U.S., including Seattle, Portland, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Dallas, and Austin.  In his role, Naye works closely with the Cityview team to manage and expand strategic acquisitions across the firm’s vertically integrated platform.

Prior to joining Cityview, Naye was a vice president of originations at PGIM Real Estate, where he provided transactions and underwriting oversight for core-plus and high-yield debt vehicles. He also held a prior role at PGIM managing the underwriting, investment committee preparation and closing of $992 million in multifamily, retail and office assets across the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. At earlier stages of his career, Naye was a senior associate of acquisitions at Clarion Partners, senior real estate analyst at Northmarq and an officer in the United States Navy.

Zory Grigoryan

Director, Development

As Director of Development, Zory Grigoryan is responsible for the full cycle development of several of Cityview’s projects, which includes managing the due diligence, underwriting, entitlement, design engineering, construction processes and turnover to asset management. Prior to joining Cityview, Grigoryan worked for Oakmont Capital as a Project Manager overseeing the development and construction of several multifamily projects. Prior to that, he worked at Cobalt Construction as a Project Manager on the construction of numerous mixed use and multifamily projects. During his career, Grigoryan has been responsible for the development, preconstruction and construction of over 1,500 units.

Grigoryan holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Construction Management from the California State University of Northridge, where he was the top ranked graduate of his year. During his time at Cobalt Construction, Grigoryan was also selected as distinguished alumni by the CSUN department faculty and appointed as ambassador for alumni recruitment by CSUN construction management department’s board of governors committee.

Chris Brown

Director, Capital Relations

Chris Brown is responsible for capital raising and investor relations at Cityview. Chris has over seven years of real estate investment and capital raising experience. Prior to joining Cityview, he was a member of the Fund Advisory team at JLL working on equity capital raises for private real estate investment vehicles. Prior to JLL, Chris worked on the Portfolio Management team at Clarion Partners and the Asset Management team at LaSalle Investment Management. Chris graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s Degrees in Finance and Real Estate. He is a general securities representative.

Dana Gomez-Gayne

Vice President and Associate General Counsel

Dana Gomez-Gayne manages the legal aspects of all project-related matters, including acquisition, development, management and disposition, and advises Cityview on corporate formation and maintenance, insurance, risk management and other legal matters. She was previously an Associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP where she represented a variety of clients in real estate, project development and finance transactions. Gomez-Gayne also has a background in fundraising development and worked at Teach For America raising philanthropic funds from regional and national corporations and foundations. She is a graduate of Pomona College and Pepperdine University School of Law.

Rob Lester

Managing Director, Business Development & Capital Relations
Rob Lester is responsible for business development and capital formation efforts for the Firm’s investment platforms, developing strategic growth initiatives, and creating long-term relationships with investors and partners. He has nearly 25 years of investment banking and private capital formation experience. Prior to joining Cityview, he was Managing Director with Macquarie Capital, and a Managing Principal with Blackstone. ​

Con Howe

Managing Director

Con Howe leads Cityview’s partnerships to finance, assemble and entitle land for development in the greater Los Angeles area. With over 40 years of experience in planning, entitlements and development, he assists all Cityview funds with acquisitions and development strategies. Prior to coming to Cityview he was the Director of Planning for the City of Los Angeles responsible for the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance and zoning to encourage infill housing. Previously he was the Executive Director of the New York City Planning Department.

Shane Robinson


Shane Robinson is responsible for managing all aspects of Cityview’s stabilized, value add and new development assets. With more than 22 years of experience managing multifamily assets, he is a seasoned real estate professional experienced in a range of investment strategies that drive growth and efficiency for investors.

Prior to this role, Shane held pivotal positions at various organizations in the real estate industry. As Vice President of Property Management at Westhome, Robinson played a vital role in implementing the operational infrastructure that facilitated market expansion.

During his tenure at Sunrise Management, his leadership established and solidified the company’s operational foothold in new markets, contributing to the growth and success of the firm. His early asset management career was at GHP Management, where he specialized in lease-ups and effectively managed a substantial core portfolio of over 5,000 units.

Melissa B. Delgado

VP, Asset Management
Melissa Delgado is responsible for overseeing Cityview’s asset management and portfolio operations. Prior to joining Cityview, Melissa was a Senior Director at TruAmerica Multifamily LLC where she was responsible for achieving the investment objectives of an $800 million portfolio. Earlier in her career, Melissa was an asset manager for Kennedy Wilson’s Southern California portfolio. Prior to that, she was a Vice President and Head of Marketing at Kepler Capital Markets, an investment bank in New York. ​

Devang Shah

Managing Director, Acquisitions

Devang Shah is co-head of Cityview’s acquisitions activities on the West Coast. He has 25 years of experience in real estate investment, development, design, construction and asset management. Previously, Devang was the principal of Marketcents Inc., an independent project management firm, serving as an owner’s representative to investment firms, builders and developers. Prior to that, he worked was Vice-President at RCLCo, LLC, a national independent real estate consulting firm. ​

Adam Perry

Senior Vice President, Development and Construction

Adam Perry oversees all aspects of the commercial real estate development process from acquisition due diligence and entitlement processing through design budgeting, contracting, construction management, closeout and turnover. Prior to joining Cityview, Adam worked at CIM group as an Associate Vice President of Development overseeing ground up retail, office and mixed-use developments. ​

Adam holds a BA Degree in Political Science and History from UCLA and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Matthew Falley

General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer
Matt Falley oversees and directs the company’s legal affairs and is the firm’s Chief Compliance Officer. Matt was previously a partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, where he represented numerous clients in the real estate industry, including Cityview. Matt holds a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where he was a member of “California Law Review” and Order of the Coif.​

Tony Cardoza

Managing Director, Acquisitions
Tony Cardoza is responsible for Cityview’s acquisition activities throughout the West Coast. He has 21 years of experience in real estate investment and management. Previously, Tony ran the investment group for Real Estate Capital Partners in the Western U.S., which developed and acquired over 5,000 multifamily units. Prior to that, he worked for Prometheus Real Estate Group in a land and multifamily acquisitions role on the West Coast. Tony holds a B.A. in Economics from Middlebury College and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.​

Jennifer Halvas

Managing Director, Investor Relations
Jennifer Halvas leads the firm’s investor relations team, where she is responsible for maintaining relationships with the investor community, bolstering infrastructure for new and existing investors and helping to develop investment strategies and initiatives. She has been instrumental in securing capital needs for several Cityview funds across a broad base of institutional investors, insurance companies, foundations and endowments, family offices and high-net-worth investors. A 12-year veteran of Cityview, she uses her deep institutional knowledge to create value for investors and the communities in which Cityview works.
She was previously at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where she represented a variety of clients in real estate, project development and finance transactions. Jennifer holds a B.A. with honors from the University of Southern California and a JD from Vanderbilt Law School.

Damian Gancman

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer

Damian Gancman oversees the operations of Cityview and its investments while supporting the strategic growth of its finance, acquisition, asset management and property management functions. An 18-year veteran of the firm, Damian is also a partner at Cityview and a member of its investment committee. As CFO, he helped build out Cityview’s best-in-class finance department, including the implementation of strategic process, accounting, reporting and technology improvements that enhance the investor experience.

In addition to his role at Cityview, Damian is a guest lecturer for the University of Southern California’s Master of Real Estate Development program and is a key contributor to the Cityview Leadership Academy. Damian earned a master’s degree in real estate development from the University of Southern California and a dual bachelor’s degree in business administration and psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sean Burton

Chief Executive Officer

Sean Burton has been with Cityview since 2003. Prior to joining Cityview, Sean was vice president of corporate business development and strategy at Warner Bros. Before that, he was an attorney in the real estate and corporate groups at O’Melveny & Myers, LLP and also served in the White House during the Clinton Administration. In 2022, Burton was appointed by President Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the federal nominee on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors, which oversees Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports. He also serves as co-chair of the Los Angeles Coalition, a coalition of business leaders for the economy and jobs in LA. From 2013 to 2021, Sean served as President of the Board of Airport Commissioners which oversees the LAX and Van Nuys airports. Sean holds a B.A. from the University of California, Irvine and a JD from New York University School of Law.