When Jim Boback was bidding to handle the leasing of a large office complex in the Fort Myers area 18 months ago, the only reason he lost the deal to a competitor was because the property owners wanted brand-name recognition.
Fort Myers-based Boback Commercial Group successfully managed through the downturn just fine without an affiliation with a larger entity such as CBRE or Cushman & Wakefield. What's more, his firm's property management arm now manages more than 1 million square feet of commercial space in the region. Until 2009, Boback had affiliated with ReMax Commercial. “I don't think I won any major business under that brand,” he says.
But Boback says he hated losing that office deal. “I wasn't going to miss an opportunity just because of a name,” he swore.
Fortunately, California-based commercial real estate firm iCore Global was expanding into Florida last year. Boback seized the opportunity to form a new commercial real estate business in partnership with iCore that will cover Sarasota to Marco Island on the Gulf Coast and across to Palm Beach County. San Jose, Calif.-based iCore has 115 offices serving 267 cities across 47 countries, including Tampa and Orlando.
Boback's move is indicative of the recovery in commercial real estate as firms reposition themselves for more prosperous economic times. Most firms hunkered down during the real estate downturn and weren't considering expansion, but as the economy recovers they are scouting opportunities throughout the state. “Florida's a growth state,” Boback says.
Boback is keeping the terms of the deal private, but he says iCore has a minority interest in the new brokerage company, iCore Global-Fort Myers. Boback, 59, is the executive managing partner and broker of the new firm.
Meanwhile, the deal allows Boback to retain full and separate ownership of his property management company, Boback Commercial Group. “We were looking for a substantial organization and to maintain local independence,” says Boback, who notes that other national firms wanted him to include his property management business in any deal. “It's a profit center,” he says. “We can continue to grow that business.”
Boback says he's had discussions with brokers in West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, Naples and other locations in South Florida to join iCore as an affiliate office or as equity partners. What's more, Boback agents who are successful can earn options to buy stock in the company. “We have a partnership track plan,” he says.
Jim Boback, executive managing partner and broker with iCore Global-Fort Myers, has worked in Southwest Florida's real estate market for 33 years, so he has some perspective on the market. Consider Boback's forecast for various commercial property types:
- Vacant land: “The next spike in the market is going to be in land,” Boback says. There's particular interest in land for industrial and retail uses. “Land is in vogue again.”
- Retail: “Retail has great velocity,” says Boback. Restaurants are particularly active in the market. Companies that pulled out of the area during the downturn are returning. “All those folks have put their plans back on the front burner.”
- Industrial: Warehouses are filling up with tenants, particularly those tied to the recovering housing sector. “A lot of the flex space is filling up,” says Boback, referring to space that combines warehouse with some offices. Even some of the hardest-hit areas like Lehigh Acres are seeing renewed interest from tenants.
- Office: Office space remains the laggard. “It's weak, but improving,” Boback says.
- Rents: Rents for commercial space are rising, particularly for industrial space. Boback says rents in that sector are getting close to the point where developers could justify new construction.