NAI Wisinski pleased with results of merger

February 7, 2012
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It was about a year ago when commercial real estate firms NAI West Michigan and The Wisinski Group began serious and lengthy discussions about merging. Roughly six months later, after the details were ironed out, the firms came together and opened NAI Wisinski of West Michigan early last summer.

“We’re pleased. We’re happy,” said Jim Decker, a partner and president of NAI Wisinski. “And the economy has come back some.”

The worries that surround the merging of two former competitors into a new entity sometimes don’t fully surface until the union is completed and it’s too late to undo what has been done. Chief among those potential concerns is whether the respective sales teams, which competed against each other for listings and sales for many years, could actually put aside previous feelings and work together for everyone’s benefit. Decker said they were able to do that from Day One.

“The core of our business is our sales group. I worried about that and I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Our people have supported (the merger) and had a sense that the kind of company we wanted to put together was needed.”

Doug Taatjes, also a partner at NAI Wisinski, said both sales teams handled transactions in the same manner prior to the merger, and having that key aspect in place made the consolidation easier to accomplish.

“The real experience has been better than we expected,” Taatjes said.

Taatjes, who went through a previous merger when he united his firm with another to form NAI WM in 2006, pointed to Stu Kingma and Jim Badaluco, two longtime and successful brokers with The Wisinski Group, as examples of agents from the “other” company that got onboard immediately. “You go right down the line and it’s been very good,” he said of the sales staff.

What gave both companies a decent inkling that the merger would come together without any major hitches is the staffs from both firms have a history of being involved in the industry outside of their jobs. For instance, many have volunteered to serve on the Commercial Alliance of Realtors of West Michigan board, while Rod Alderink, Stanley Wisinski, Kingma and Taatjes have been CAR presidents. Another NAI Wisinski partner, Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, is the group’s current president, and Hillary Taatjes-Woznik, an office and retail specialist, has put together a plan to raise the awareness of CAR.

“We really believe in our people being involved in CAR,” said Decker.

Both Decker and Taatjes said the merger was necessary because the nature of the commercial real estate industry has changed and is continuing to change. They both felt the day of the independent agent is slipping away, and that going solo today can be very tough, as cooperation and the sharing of information among members of a sales team has not only become vital, but also mandatory.

“Our people have embraced that from both companies,” said Decker.

In the past, agents would cold call potential commercial customers regarding listed properties. But now the sales transaction has somewhat reversed itself; most potential buyers look into listings on their own. They’re likely to go to the CAR website, carwm.com, to find a general description of a building they may be interested in.

Then they can visit a building and use their mobile devices to scan the QR codes the company posts at available properties. Once the codes are scanned, potential buyers instantly have pages of photos and information regarding a site without having to speak to anyone at the firm about a property. Not that long ago, agents kept all that information to themselves and would only make it available on a sales call.

“If they happen to go to a building that we have listed, they can get full information on a building through the QR codes,” said Taatjes of interested buyers. “Most folks want to analyze a property before they even talk to us.”

NAI Wisinski has been affiliated with NAI Global, which provides real estate services worldwide, and C-III Capital Partners LLC recently completed its acquisition of NAI Global. C-III Capital Partners reported that NAI Global would continue its operations as usual. The local firm was pleased with the transaction.

“This transaction encompasses the fundamental belief of providing countless resources and opportunities for our clients, allowing them to achieve more,” said Decker.

As for the local real estate economy, Taatjes said the comeback began after Labor Day and picked up steam during the year’s last quarter. “It’s come alive. There is a new vibrancy and new confidence — and that ‘C’ word is vital,” he said.

Year-end sales and sales-volume numbers from CAR back up Taatjes’ enthusiastic claim.

CAR reported that sales of industrial, office and retail properties in 2011 rose by 29 percent from 2010 and last year’s sales volume bettered the previous year’s by 23 percent. The industrial property class led the way with sales growing by 49 percent and sales volume going up by a nearly identical 48 percent.

“I just sense a new confidence level in people wanting to do things,” said Taatjes, who has worked in the local market since 1979. “People are just more confident and are doing things. Our under-contract book is strong for the middle of winter.”

Decker said he spoke with some friends who told him their clients are starting to make money again and have some excess capital set aside. “But they’re cautious and reluctant to do big hiring,” he said.

Taatjes said the office market should follow in the footsteps of the industrial sector and make the next big gain. Then, after office advances, he said retail will move under the commercial real estate spotlight. “Residential-housing manufacturing follows that,” said Decker.

“I think businesses in West Michigan are making money. People are hiring,” said Taatjes. “I think we’ll have a continuation of what we saw in the last quarter.”

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