Amid changes, local commercial real estate brokerages see growth potential

BY Sunday, November 11, 2018 08:09pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Changes involving a pair of West Michigan commercial real estate brokerages could signal future growth opportunities for the firms, sources say. 

While the circumstances around X Ventures’ sale to Bradley Co. and Martin Commercial Properties Inc. dropping its affiliation with CBRE Inc. are different, commercial real estate insiders believe that both examples offer up options for new growth. 

Van Martin COURTESY PHOTO

Van Martin, chairman and CEO of East Lansing-based Martin Commercial Properties, which had long operated as CBRE|Martin and maintains a Grand Rapids office, said the “amicable” split with Los Angeles-based CBRE allows his firm to pursue new markets, which had been restricted by a deal with the corporate office.

“We’re kind of excited about this. It really gives us more freedom and flexibility to operate unrestricted in any markets that we want to serve,” Martin said, adding that the firm could consider adding new offices around the region. “We view it as a great opportunity to build upon where we are.” 

It’s unclear whether CBRE might now seek to open its own corporate office in the West Michigan or the capital region to complement its existing metro-Detroit office in Southfield. At least one industry source expected that would be a likely outcome. 

A spokesperson for CBRE’s Midwest corporate office declined to comment on any future plans the firm might have for the region. 

Meanwhile, Grand Rapids-based X Ventures’ sale to South Bend-based Bradley Co. last month already has started to pay dividends, according to Chip Bowling. He cofounded X Ventures and serves as senior adviser and principal with the new firm, branded as Bradley Company | X Ventures. 

About a month after the deal was finalized, Bowling has seen a 20-percent spike in the types of business opportunities he can present to clients.

“It’s just because we have deals we weren’t (previously) sharing,” Bowling said of the surge of new deals. “When you bring the companies together, we’re now exposed to all these deals that we can take to our clients. It’s new opportunities our clients haven’t seen. It’s been a lot of fun.” 

To what extent the changes at brokerage offices are reflective of broader shifts in the market makes for a matter of debate. 

Generally speaking, most commercial real estate brokers contacted for this report tend to agree that work remains plentiful in the current West Michigan market. 

Large multinational firms like CBRE ending their affiliate programs will likely cause a shift to smaller, independent firms, Martin said, adding that despite its longtime corporate affiliation, the majority of his firm’s support systems and operations had always been independent. 

Whether it’s better to work with an independent brokerage or corporate-owned operation appears to come down to a matter of preference. 

Mike Murray, outgoing president of the Commercial Alliance of Realtors West Michigan (CARWM) trade group and a senior vice president in the Grand Rapids office of Colliers International Group Inc., said that moving from an affiliate to part of the larger Colliers corporate structure has helped the West Michigan market attract larger, out-of-state deals. 

“The attention we get from Colliers corporate is awesome. It’s elevated (the region),” Murray said. 

But even with the possibility of new players like a corporate CBRE office entering the market, brokers like Murray say West Michigan is far from over-brokered. 

“The biggest struggle in our industry is the talent and people,” Murray said, adding that growing a new office can be difficult given the all-commission nature of the business. “It’s so much learning by boots on the ground. A lot of it is personality driven.” 

Bowling agrees, noting that even though he’s felt a general cooling in deal velocity as new product has come online, the market remains active — akin to a roller coaster entering its slow down period. 

“I wouldn’t want to work in any other market. There’s enough work for everyone,” Bowling said, adding that core brokerages like Colliers and NAI Wisinski of West Michigan will continue to have a strong presence in the region. “I’d suspect those other guys are having a pretty good year, too.” 

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