Arizona State University

Thanks to land donated to Arizona State University, Cassandra Savel got a scholarship to study in the Netherlands.

Okay, here’s the pitch: Donate real estate to Arizona State University and you, too, can help save Planet Earth.

That’s how it works, at least in a roundabout way, with one ASU student who benefitted from a gift to the university by getting an international perspective on the earth’s environmental problems while studying at a Dutch university.

Cassandra Savel, a native of Tucson, is graduating in December with a bachelor of science degree in sustainability.

She spent the spring 2019 semester at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands thanks to the Thelma G. Wolff International Scholarship, established after the sale of a donated vacation home in Pinetop-Lakeside, Ariz.

“I’m really interested in sustainable development and sustainable energy in addition to community impact and outreach,” Savel said. 

She’s already putting her expertise to work as an intern in the corporate social responsibility department of ON Semiconductor in Phoenix, hoping for full-time work there after graduation.

Not every gift of real estate to the university has such a direct personal impact on a student, but every gift helps.

The donations are actually handled through the ASU Foundation, a separate charitable entity that funnels its proceeds to the university itself.

Brad Grannis, real estate portfolio manager for the foundation, noted that without a donation of land there might not even have been an ASU.

The original 20 acres of pasture land for what then was called the Territorial Normal School was a gift in 1885 from George and Martha Wilson of Tempe. The school opened a year later.

Grannis began his stint with the foundation in 2015. Since then it has received two single-family homes, a vacation home, a condo, a family ranch, three tracts of vacant land totaling 445 acres, two warehouses and an office property.

Total proceeds for the university are difficult to quantify, Grannis said. “It would be in the millions of dollars but we don’t have an exact number.”

On occasion the properties are not outright gifts, but are sold to the foundation at a discounted price. 

The difference between the sale price and the appraisal counts as a gift in the eyes of the IRS.

That was the procedure with the warehouses. 

“One of them appraised for $3.125 million,” Grannis said. “We gave them $2 million. We improved the property, we fixed it up and we sold it and we made $1.5 million in profit in about a two-and-a-half-year hold.”

Part of Grannis’ job is figuring out when to sell the properties.

“Right now for the past several years everything has gone up,” he said. “If I can add value and get that money out quickly, I will do that.”

On the other hand, he said, during a down real estate cycle he probably try to generate income from the properties while waiting for a market rebound.

On occasion Grannis actually will look a gift horse in the mouth. 

“I’ve actually done some due diligence on some retail in Georgia,” he said. “I just didn’t know enough about the market and didn’t feel comfortable. They wanted some cash on top of it and we didn’t think it was the best use of our funds.”

The real estate market during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a mixed bag, he said.

 “Single-family residential has just gone crazy. It’s gone nowhere but up and we’ve got a lot of people coming in from areas where Phoenix looks a little more stable.”

The industrial market also is strong but “obviously hospitality and retail are taking a hit,” Grannis said.

Grannis said if someone doesn’t want to deal with a real estate sale during the pandemic there could be advantages in donating property.