December 17, 2013 | Rob

As published by Diana Barr, St. Louis Business Journal, December 13, 2013:

As your organization’s needs change, you’re likely to need a commercial real estate firm to help you lease new space or buy a property.

Laclede Group is evaluating its options to either renew its headquarters lease or move, and Ellen Theroff, vice president of governance and standards, is overseeing that process.

Before issuing a request for proposal, Theroff said, executives met one on one with four or five commercial real estate firms, ultimately picking The Koman Group. “For us, it was a matter of choosing from a lot of really good options,” she said. “We were looking for someone who would listen to and help us address our needs.”

Find a firm that can handle all your options, she said. “We wanted a firm that could help us assess and really choose the best path in light of all of our needs.”

Try to identify a prospective commercial real estate firm’s “sweet spot,” Theroff said. Ask open-ended questions and gauge the answer: “What would be your recommended first steps if we say we want to build?” for example.

Have prospective firms include their compensation structure in their RFP responses. Theroff said to allow as much as four months to analyze proposals and select a firm.

Doug Schukar, president and CEO of USA Mortgage, said that in choosing a commercial real estate firm, he’s most interested in negotiation skills. The company, which uses Hilliker Corp., has grown to 15 branches, with 12 of those in St. Louis, and seeks certain mandates in each lease, such as a build-out allowance. “We’re looking to use our template for each lease,” he said.

To accommodate its growth, USA Mortgage needs a commercial real estate firm that knows the various markets and “different pockets we want to get into,” Schukar said.

Start with a face-to-face meeting with prospective commercial real estate firms to go over your goals, and then “follow your gut,” he said. “Some firms just want the path of least resistance; make sure they’re not just selling to you.”

Judy Berkowitz, executive director of Kids In The Middle, said to begin your search for a commercial real estate firm by getting referrals. The nonprofit, which works with children and families going through divorce, began the year by moving to a larger leased space in Maplewood.

Berkowitz said the organization worked with Green Street Real Estate Ventures after it was recommended by a board member. Without a referral, be sure to ask for references, she said.

In talking to prospective firms, get a feel for whether the broker will spend the time to understand your needs, and ask about time constraints, areas of expertise and fees, she said. Get other people in your organization involved in the process, Berkowitz said, and carefully read the brokerage agreement.

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