In 2007, Patrick Dufour followed a college-inspired interest in real estate from work with a book and movie distributor into a job as an analyst with Apartment Realty Advisors (ARA) in Boca Raton.
Life was good. He was in his mid-twenties, had married his college sweetheart and was planting roots in a state where he’d enjoyed family vacations growing up and where he’d gone to school, in Gainesville.
Less than a year later, though, Dufour’s world turned upside down. Investment firm Lehman Bros. collapsed, and with it, Dufour’s salaried position did, too.
In the downsizing that followed, ARA threw Dufour a bone: He could remain with the company, but as a broker making commissions only, in Orlando.
Dufour felt conflicted. He had been drawn to ARA’s entrepreneurial culture and the opportunity to grow within the company. But brokerage seemed daunting — not to mention that few properties were trading.
Nevertheless, he moved forward. Initially Dufour considered a retail brokerage gig, or throwing his hat into the lending side of the business.
“Dumb luck” led him to settle on multifamily rental properties in and around Tampa and work with Kevin Judd, an ARA senior broker in Orlando. Dufour would need all the luck he could get, dumb or otherwise.
At the time, Tampa was considered less than an economic powerhouse, and apartment communities weren’t exactly attracting institutional capital from around the globe. But the move brought Dufour to his wife’s hometown, which had been among the couple’s primary goals.
Though he and Judd teamed up to treat the Tampa Orlando submarkets as a cohesive single market, business was slow at first.
“We did a lot of dialing for dollars, a lot of cold calling in the beginning,” says Dufour, 37.
An ARA relationship with lender CW Capital brought in some marketing, special servicer, real-estate owned and asset management business on apartments that were being foreclosed upon, but even there, challenges abounded.
“Debt was driving the value of every sale at the time,” he notes.
One of his early deals in 2009 set the stage for years of work that followed.
CW Capital had commenced foreclosure on a 78-unit, low-income apartment complex in Temple Terrace that was only about half occupied.
The property’s outstanding debt topped $900,000.
CW Capital was willing to sell at a courthouse auction, but only if a buyer was willing to put 10% down — and close on the complex the very next day.
Dufour and Judd somehow made it happen.
By 2014, commercial real estate had recovered. Tampa was beginning to be seen as a good place for investment, and apartments in central Florida had begun to emerge as a preferred product type — fueled by lowered home ownership rates, new amenity-laden inventory, in-migration to Florida, employment growth and other factors.
“Multifamily as an asset class and Central Florida as a location for investment have had a tremendous run that I don’t think anyone could have predicted, certainly I didn’t,” Dufour says. “It’s been the darling of a lot of the investment community, and with good reason.”
That same year, global brokerage giant Newmark Knight Frank (NKF) solidified its ownership of ARA and absorbed the firm.
As business grew, so did Dufour’s career. Today, he is vice chairman of the firm’s Multifamily Capital Markets’ team and leads five other brokers in a territory that stretches from. Jacksonville to Tampa.
Clients say Dufour’s demeanor and knowledge belies his age.
“Patrick is one of the premier investment sales specialists in Central Florida for Class A multifamily projects,” says Jim Street, an executive director of dispositions with PGIM Real Estate, an investment arm of insurer Prudential Financial.
“He has a very calm presence, he’s bright and knows his markets frontwards and backwards,” Street adds.
If Dufour was initially hesitant about NKF, his reluctance soon evaporated as he came to see that the larger parent embodied the same vision as the more entrepreneurial ARA.
“Newmark’s company culture, like ARA, is to focus on the long game,” Dufour says. “Their philosophy is effective brokerage is a marathon, not a sprint. If you focus on the client, they reason, then people remember that, and ultimately, real estate is a people business.
“It’s really about establishing credibility,” he adds. “We want to be a trusted advisor, folks who truly add value.”
Dufour has done just that, in some of the largest multifamily rental property sales in the Tampa Bay region in the past five years.
Last year, Dufour and his team was instrumental in selling the 18-story Aer apartments, in downtown St. Petersburg, to Houston-based Camden Property Trust for $126.3 million. Dufour had worked on the sale of the 330 Third St. South project for nearly seven years.
Last month, Newmark helped Miami-based Related Group sell the 21-story Icon Harbour Island, a 340-unit luxury project, to Texas-based Olympus Property for $131.5 million. That sale set a record for the region at $387,000 per unit.
And unlike his experience a decade ago, Dufour sees bright prospects ahead.
“We’ve seen overall capital influx continue to build,” he says. “Funds have more money now because they have done well. Early in the growth cycle multifamily made 15 percent to 25 percent of their investments, now it’s 25 percent to 50 percent,” he says.
“And at the same time, we’ve seen a greater acceptance of lower yields, especially as the multifamily space has become more institutionalized, because apartments are seen as a more stable investment.
“What’s nice here, too, is that Tampa is still regarded as a very affordable market.”
For instance, where many U.S. markets’ apartments have gross income to rent ratios of nearly 40%, Tampa Bay’s remains at an extremely healthy 24% — a figure that spurs investment interest.
Dufour also contends the foreseeable future remains as positive as the recent past.
“Most people don’t see the multifamily market here making any sort of about face anytime soon,” Dufour says. “But our role, first and foremost, is to stay at the forefront of educating our clients.”