Incentives, opportunity and late-cycle timing have prompted several top agents to switch firms in the past year.
Commercial real estate brokers are a bit like ballplayers — they rarely stay with the same team their entire careers anymore.
But of late, thanks to industry consolidation and a protracted bull market that’s stretched on for over seven years and counting, top agents are moving en masse and at a pace not seen for at least two decades.
At the same time, top-tier brokerage houses are pursuing talent as never before, with cash and other financial incentives that represent a new wrinkle in a business that has historically been dominated by commission-only remuneration.
Over the past 10 months in the Tampa area, a dozen top agents have gravitated to large, often international brokerages like Cushman & Wakefield, Colliers International, Avison Young and CBRE Group Inc.
In more than a few cases, the moves were spurred by the opportunity to advance one’s career, or to become part of a more established team or practice.
Some defections stemmed from offers of better commission splits. Other shifts came as a result of dissatisfaction with a former firm.
Unlike previous spurts of moves, however, today’s shifts are increasingly being prompted by well-heeled firms’ offers of cash or other economic incentives.
“It’s happening across the board as a result of industry consolidation especially at the top,” says Larry Richey, managing principal and Florida market leader for Cushman & Wakefield.
“For some, it means more access to institutional business, and for some it means better pay because they can negotiate a package as part of a move,” adds Richey, who oversees nine Cushman & Wakefield offices throughout Florida.
“We’ve been willing to do late in recent years, if we need to fill in gaps, and it’s been a common thing in the financial services industry for a long time. It’s becoming more prevalent in the commercial real estate industry, and it’s really changed the landscape in Florida over the past four years.”
Cushman & Wakefield’s Tampa operation has been the beneficiary of at least a handful of such moves — one that involved a national self-storage practice team of 16 agents and staff in multiple states.
The company has lured apartment specialists Michael Donaldson, Nicholas Meoli and Travis Prince and office agent Robin Bishop over the past year as well, from competitors such as Marcus & Millichap, Colliers and Bishop & Associates Inc.
Cushman & Wakefield hasn’t been alone in seeking — and landing — top talent, of course.
Colliers in the past year has lured industrial specialists Ryan Vaught and Robin Hurrell from JLL and retail broker Paul Fischetti from rival Newmark Knight Frank.
Avison Young convinced Allen Henderson, an office broker, to move over from JLL, and CBRE lured office brokers KC Tenukas, Ryan Reynolds and Barry Hanerfeld from Cushman & Wakefield and Marcus & Millichap Tampa office leader Ari Ravi to its retail practice.
CBRE officials declined to comment on the broker moves.
To be sure, a least some of the shifts have to do with movement within at the top of the various firms and new leadership’s desire to build their own team.
At Colliers, Tampa market leader Danny Rice joined that firm in May 2018. Tim Rivers was hired by JLL in October of that same year to lead the firm’s Florida operations, and CBRE tapped Mike DiBlasi in March to lead its Tampa office.
Each has been given wide latitude to add talent and the financial resources to bring in new blood.
Finances appear to increasingly be playing a role, thanks in large part to the robust health of the commercial real estate market in Tampa and elsewhere in Florida.
For many of the bigger brokerages, revenue and profit are up substantially, and in at least one case both top-line and bottom-line figures have doubled out of Tampa and globally since 2014.
That, in turn, has prompted merger and acquisition activity that hasn’t been seen in years.
Cushman & Wakefield, for instance, has grown both through organic recruiting and acquisitions of DTZ, Taylor & Mathis of Florida and others. Since 2014, the company’s Florida employment base has more than doubled, and its number of brokers in Florida has risen from 60 to 160 statewide.
“I’d say M&A activity has taken up the most of my time since 2014,” Richey says.
Vaught, who jumped from JLL to Colliers International last August together with Hurrell, says it’s no accident that brokers are moving after seven years of industry growth.
“Late in an economic cycle tends to be a point when there’s a lot of movement between brokerage shops,” Vaught says. “When times are good firms are better able to, for lack of a better term, buy brokers, because they have greater financial flexibility.”
For his part, Vaught says he is happy he joined Colliers.
“I used to wonder if it really mattered what name was on my business card,” he says. “But I’ve learned there’s actually a big difference between brokerage A and brokerage B and brokerage C. Colliers lets me be a cowboy, they let me do things that are going to help me and my clients run to their full potential.”
Vaught isn’t the only top agent who’s pleased with the shift they made.
Mike Mele, who led a national self-storage brokerage team at Marcus & Millichap, joined Cushman & Wakefield earlier this year along with 15 other brokers and staff.
“It’s been a better opportunity across the board,” Mele says of Cushman & Wakefield. “They have a long-term strategic plan, and we’re not having to battle against our own people in house — and that’s huge. And within the firm, we’re working with global relationships and larger players and up for bigger deals.
“Cushman allows us the ability to tap into structured debt and equity and be a part of $500 million and $1 billion deals,” Mele adds. “And it allows me to help build something that can go on after me.”
Richey notes that although a planned merger this fall between JLL and Holliday Fenoglio Fowler L.P. could prompt further agent movement, Cushman & Wakefield for its part is largely done reeling in talent — for now.
He and others say, too, that while financial remuneration can be helpful in luring talented agents, there’s a much more important factor that ultimately determines a good fit.
“What drives the decision of any broker to leave or join a new firm more than money is culture,” Richey says. “We always start with the question of whether we think a particular individual will be a good cultural fit with us, and whether they can help us in serving our clients best.
“We’re very fortunate to have batted 1,000 over the past four years.”