By Paul Fiorilla
Last year was a good one for commercial real estate brokers. Respondents to the CPE-MHN Most Powerful Brokerage Firms survey, published in our June 2016 digital issues, indicated strong gains across virtually all performance metrics. Firms participated in $798 billion in investment sales, up from $707 billion in 2014, led by CBRE with $206 billion. Total leasing volume increased from 2.6 billion square feet in 2014 to 3 billion square feet last year. JLL topped the category with 1.1 billion square feet.
The increased deal flow could be seen in the head count, as surveyed firms employed 98,000 brokers, compared to 79,300 in 2014. The number of offices rose, as well, to 2,761 in 2015 from 2,641 in 2014. CBRE has the most brokers, at 70,000, while Colliers International’s 554 offices are tops in that category.
The question now is whether growth is cresting, at least on the sales side. Property values have started to level off after seven years of strong gains, and potential buyers are worried about paying record-high prices when the market is peaking. Consequently, first-quarter transaction activity in 2016 looks to be down from a year ago. However, the amount of capital seeking to invest in real estate remains high, so the slowdown may be temporary.
The dynamics are a bit different on the lease side of the equation. Absorption of commercial space has been much slower and steadier than pricing in the recovery, and lease activity is likely to continue to improve this year. Employment growth—particularly among the office-using segment—should translate into increased demand for commercial space. Meanwhile, growth in the prime renter age group and rising levels of worker participation should produce another banner year for household formations, which is good for multifamily.
The CPE-MHN ranking of the Most Powerful Brokerage Firms is a weighted formula based on a variety of factors (only a few of which are specified on this page), including firm performance in 2015 and over time, overall and based on more specific factors like investment sales and leasing activity. Total volume is important, but so is multi-year growth. And while some firms have a strong following in a property sector, others have demonstrated leadership in LEED buildings and services or other areas. The ranking represents what we feel is a logical balance between growth and market share.
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