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San Francisco Business Times: With downturn changing to upturn, hiring does, too

With Downturn Changing to Upturn, Hiring Does, Too

Commercial real estate firms, encouraged by a hot technology sector, are hiring as they jockey for position in the wake of the high-profile bankruptcy of Grubb & Ellis.

“We’re in a happy place,” said Matt Slepin, a managing partner at Terra Search Partners, a San Francisco-based real estate executive recruiter. “We had a very strong first quarter.”

San Francisco’s 25 largest commercial brokers now employ 498 professionals, according to San Francisco Business Times research. That total — which excludes Grubb & Ellis — was up 8.5 percent from last year, when the big 25 had 459 brokers.

That’s some grounds for optimism. To go into a commission-only business “you’ve got to have faith in the market and the company you’re with,” said Jeffrey Mishkin, first vice president and regional manager for Marcus & Millichap.

But a lot of the recent hiring is “rearranging the chairs” in the industry, and doesn’t necessarily represent an “injection of new talent into the marketplace,” said Tom Martindale, regional manager at TRI Commercial.

A year ago, 141 brokers worked for Grubb & Ellis and Cornish & Carey in San Francisco and the East Bay. Now, in the wake of Grubb & Ellis’ Feb. 20 bankruptcy filing and acquisition by Cornish & Carey parent BGC Partners, the future of that brokerage force remains unclear. Representatives of BGC did not respond to requests for comment.

On April 12, the Grubb & Ellis website listed 18 professional employees in San Francisco. Two years ago that office employed 36 professionals.

Meanwhile, competitors have attracted talent from the BGC stable. Avison Young, a Canadian real estate company, announced the hiring of former Cornish & Carey executive Nick Slonek to head up a new San Francisco office. And Colliers International tapped 13 former Grubb & Ellis brokers to work in Sacramento, San Jose and Redwood City.

Developers in the game

Developers, investors and builders have also begun high-level hiring, headhunters report. RETS Associates received 89 job orders in California in the first quarter of 2012, up 27 percent from the quarterly average of 70 over the previous two years, according to principal Kent Elliott. RETS filled 14 development jobs in 2011, up from only one in 2010.

In the last nine months, San Francisco-based developer MacFarlane Partners added eight people to its professional staff, said President Greg Vilkin. “We pay more now,” he said. “People are scarce that have the skill set we need.”

Bay Area firms are looking for higher-level finance professionals and property managers, said Elliott of RETS Associates. Private real estate companies are hiring development accountants, real estate investment trusts are seeking project managers and real estate investors are looking for vice presidents and analysts with one to three years of experience, a degree from a “Top 20 university” and strong Argus real estate software skills.

In San Francisco, 15 of the 25 largest brokerages grew during the past 12 months, while two shrank and employment at six was unchanged. Cassidy Turley hired 85 new professional and support employees in the Bay Area since the beginning of 2011, including 25 in San Francisco, Bollozos said.

Swinerton, a builder, is “already busy hiring,” said President Jeff Hoopes. Swinerton expects to add 150 positions this year to its existing managerial and administrative work force of about 1,000. That work force shrank 25 percent to 30 percent during the recession.

Jones Lang LaSalle “continued to grow through the down cycle” as it sought to build up its platform in such areas as construction and capital markets, said Elizabeth Hearle, the real estate services firm’s northwest regional manager. Now Hearle feels “a general sense of optimism in our region” and says that “tenants and landlords are thinking that there are some capital projects that it’s time to do.”

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