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John Combs: Expanding During the Downturn

Orange County’s office market continues to soften in the wake of the pandemic, with vacancy rates climbing north of 14% last quarter, up 42 basis points year-over-year.

For many companies, work from home is here to stay.

That didn’t stop one of the region’s top property management firms from significantly expanding its foothold in 2022.

Irvine-based property management firm RiverRock Real Estate Group added 4 million square feet of new commercial real estate assignments last year, including office, retail and industrial buildings in California and Arizona. This totals 139 new projects for a total contract value of $65 million.

RiverRock, the largest firm among local companies that only handle third-party management, now counts a portfolio topping 40 million square feet, including 14 million square feet in Orange County.

It bucked labor retrenchment trends last year, too, hiring 39 people and bringing its headcount to 150 employees.

“Despire the challenges we faced, our team has achieved a great deal in 2022,” Principal John Combs said.

Combs, who founded RiverRock in 2003, got his real estate start at a Texas development company before deciding to move to California after visiting the state on vacation.

He joined O’Donnell Property Services when it was one of the largest property management firms in OC, and worked his way up to the CEO role before the company sold in 1995 to Insignia Financial Group Inc.

Combs led the U.S. property services division at Insignia after that sale, during which he oversaw the acquisition of about 30 companies that grew the company’s footprint to 300 million square feet.

In 2003, CBRE Group Inc. acquired Insignia in a deal valued around $415 million.
“I lost my job as part of that merger,” Combs said.

That setback ended up pushing Combs to start his own property management company.

“I had a goal of starting a union for property managers because I felt we didn’t have any rights, but I also didn’t want to go against clients,” Combs said. “So, I started RiverRock with the intention of creating a solid company for property managers to work for, that also provided customized property services.”

Last year, RiverRock employees donated 430 volunteer hours as part of the company’s ongoing initiative to give back to its markets.

It’s part of why the company has been named a Best Place to Work in Orange County by the Business Journal every year the firm has entered.

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