Orange County Business Journal

Commercial Real Estate Brokers on Roller Coaster of Change

Mergers and Acquisitions Squeezing Out Midsize Firms, Creating Churn Mark Mueller Sunday, March 31, 2013

Good luck contacting a commercial real estate broker or brokerage company executive in Orange County using a business card from 2005 or 2006.

There’s been a flurry of changes among area brokerages and their staff since the peak of the last real estate market, when the top commercial brokerages here worked on close to $20 billion worth of sales and leases annually.

A number of long-standing names in the area—such as Grubb & Ellis Co., Trammel Crow Co., O’Donnell/Atkins and Staubach Co. either shut their doors or got absorbed into other companies through mergers or acquisitions.

About a third of the brokerage offices listed in the Business Journal’s ranking of 2005 top brokerages aren’t on this week’s list, and nearly two-thirds of the top local officials listed there are no longer in charge of the same companies.

“Since 2005, there have been a lot of consolidation, mergers and companies going out of business,” said Barry Saywitz, president of Newport Beach-based tenant representation firm Saywitz Co.—one of the few companies and executives that have avoided the flux.

“I’m not sure if that makes me one of the smart ones or the dumb ones,” joked Saywitz, who said he looked at a potential sale of his company in 2006 and 2007 near the top of the last real estate cycle. But he said he doesn’t expect a deal for his company now, given the uncertainties of the current market.

“I don’t think there’s guys running around with bags of money anymore,” Saywitz said.

Change May Continue

More consolidation among brokerages may come in OC, according to Jeff Ingham, senior managing director for the Irvine office of Chicago-based brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle, which has been involved in a few of those deals.

In 2008, Jones Lang LaSalle paid $613 million for Dallas-based Staubach Co., at the time the country’s largest brokerage exclusively representing tenants in leases.

Jones Lang LaSalle paid an undisclosed amount last year to buy Irvine-based 360 Commercial Partners, a boutique brokerage that specializes in area industrial and office sales and leases. The deal filled a gap in JLL’s line of OC offerings while giving 360 Commercial access to a company with national presence.

Consolidation “has been the trend for the last five to 10 years, and I don’t think it’s going to subside,” Ingham said.

That trend has led to a steady shuffling of brokers among the area’s remaining offices, which have been adding staff since the worst of the last downturn, with several companies using the market flux to create a larger presence in OC.

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