Mergers and acquisitions in the brokerage sector continue to occur, but with a more focused aim, and are not forecast to reach the high water marks seen in previous years.
Data from intelligence firm Thomson Reuters on real estate mergers and acquisitions, encompassing both residential and commercial firms of all sizes, found significant year-to-date drop-off compared to last year. (The firm does not specifically track commercial brokerage M&A activity.) Year-to-date in 2016, just 35 deals closed, totaling $105 million.
In 2015, 52 deals totaling $4.0 billion occurred. In 2014, 74 mergers and acquisitions took place, totaling about $2.4 billion. Mergers and acquisitions in the sector peaked in 2006, with approximately 37 deals valued at $8.7 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.
A spokesman for global consulting firm Deloitte noted that “we haven’t seen much volume in this space.”
Compared to the past few years, deals made in 2016 were also of a smaller size, signaling a turn toward smaller acquisitions.
Although brokerage mergers and acquisitions will most likely not beat the rates seen in the previous two years, anecdotally analysts say they are seeing evidence of larger commercial brokerage firms quietly purchasing family-owned and privately-held companies. It’s one strategy for expanding their brand reach to secondary and tertiary markets.
“There's no question that the rate of large-scale M&A has slowed down. However, this doesn't mean that the era of commercial real estate mergers is over,” says Solomon Poretsky, vice president of organizational development with commercial real estate services firm SVN International Corp. “A steady undercurrent of small-scale M&As is continuing to happen. Independent brokerages, successful practices operating under a residential flag and the like are all realizing that aligning with a strong national or global brand is in their best interest.”
Smaller family firms are on the radar of big brokerage players and these companies are willing to pay substantial amounts for the smaller brands, according to Josh Harris, Ph.D., director of the Dr. P. Phillips Institute for Research and Education in Real Estate at the University of Central Florida.
“There may not be much left to do for big combination deals, but we could see a full-out war to get smaller family firms,” Harris says. “These buyouts are an exit strategy for those who have built up their local real estate firms and are getting up in age. As part of the deal they often get to remain on the payroll of the company that bought them in a manager role. In this field it is expensive to train from new, so this also gives the buying firm the benefit of hiring experienced talent.”
As one example of big firms battling for market share, Harris cites Avison Young, which has entered Florida through strategic acquisitions. Colliers International has also expanded in Florida this year, acquiring offices to mark a presence in the central and northeast parts of the state. The firm is also expanding in New York, including in Long Island, and has purchased a West Michigan office.