A twist on big deals

A flurry of M&A action is reshaping South Florida’s commercial real estate brokerage and third-party services landscape. The Colliers International brand has shrunk; the Avison Young name has risen rapidly; Texas tenant representation powerhouse Mohr Partners has opened its first office; and London-based Savills got a nice chunk of South Florida’s corporate tenant advisory market with the acquisition of New York-based Studley for $260 million. Most recently, global goliath DTZ cut a $2 billion deal to take over Cushman & Wakefield that will give it instant South Florida market share and brand recognition.  

The deals are a telltale of money pouring into commercial real estate, both in South Florida and across the nation. Transaction volume nationally is expected to rise 11 percent this year to $470 billion and hit $500 billion in 2016, according to the 2015 Urban Land Institute Consensus Forecast.

“There is just so much capital going into the industry right now, and growth in the service providers is just part of that,” says Steve Medwin, managing director of real estate brokerage and services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “The pie is bigger, so there is reason for real estate companies to get bigger.” 

The biggest recent deal is DTZ’s purchase of New York-based Cushman & Wakefield, which is well-known with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach Gardens. The bigger Chicago-based DTZ is a relative newbie here with about a half-dozen brokers in Boca Raton and Miami. The merged companies will carry the Cushman & Wakefield flag.  

DTZ generated $2.9 billion in revenue last year from its 260 offices in 50 countries. Cushman & Wakefield reported $2.1 billion in revenue from 259 offices in 60 countries. 

Once all the boom-time deal dust settles, you will likely see many firms focus on growing brokerage and client services in a market awash with the influx of institutional and foreign capital. 

“I think that we are looking to grow to about 10 brokers down here,” says Steven O’Hara, who recently launched the Boca Raton office of tenant-only advisory firm Mohr Partners. “The company is not as well-known down here as some others, so they are looking for opportunities to grow.” 

O’Hara says hiring a partner in Miami-Dade County, preferably with industrial expertise, is a top priority. 

Mohr’s slower, organic growth through strategic hiring runs counter to Avison Young’s warp-speed acquisition.   

The Toronto-based firm swooped into South Florida in 2012, picking up 30 Flagler Real Estate Services brokers and staffers, and more than 3 million square feet of property listings and management. 

Barely two years later, the company struck another watershed deal to acquire the region’s dominant Colliers International franchise, Abood Wood-Fay Real Estate Group, giving it an instantaneous boost of 70 brokers and support staffers, 1 million square feet of property management contracts and 15 million square feet of lucrative listings. 

“The fastest way to grow is to buy boutique companies that are privately owned,” says Pike Rowley, managing director of Avison Young in Florida. He says Avison Young targets real estate firms that add new services and practice expertise to its stable of offerings, not redundant ones, which can spur internal strife and broker turf wars. 

Rowley says that is why the Colliers acquisition was so appealing. “Most of my people focused on leasing and most of their people focused on sales,” he says. “When you combine the two, it becomes very complementary.” ?  

Freelance writer Darcie Lunsford is a former real estate editor of the South Florida Business Journal. She is the senior VP for leasing at Butters Group and is avoiding a conflict of interest in her column by not covering her own deals.

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