Michael Bull, a 30-year commercial real estate veteran, sees the market turning around.
Atlanta-based Bull Realty, which he founded and owns, recently brokered two high-profile sales — a 2.5 acre site on Ponce de Leon Avenue that will make way for a luxury apartment tower and a 1.5 acre downtown spot that will house Georgia State University students.
Bull, 54, is licensed in nine states to help clients buy, sell and lease properties. He has a radio show on commercial real estate that airs in 10 cities.
Q: What’s the climate in commercial real estate now?
A: No one is afraid of catching a falling knife any longer. This is a slow recovery. Rents are starting to increase and occupancy is improving. Commercial real estate is a safe, risk-adjusted, reliable return.
We do everything commercial. We don’t sell houses or condos. We do sell busted subdivisions, where the bank had to foreclose and needs to sell the entire subdivision. We sell apartments, land, shopping centers, office and industrial properties.
Q: When did you know that conditions in the industry were deteriorating?
A: In 2008, we started to see the commercial market go south. A lot of people thought commercial was not going to get hit hard, but 2009 was terrible. Sales were down 90 percent across the country. Most real estate companies lost money and some companies closed and merged. Lenders weren’t lending, sellers weren’t selling unless they had to. 2009 was hard on us as well, however, we did make a profit. Then in 2010, we started doing well again.
We are a miles away from that now. We have a lot of growth. Everybody feels more comfortable.
We have seven straight quarters of positive absorption, more people moving into office spaces in Atlanta than those moving out. We have a bifurcated market, with some highly leased properties with credit tenants (large ones with good credit ratings) bringing record high prices. Then we have buildings with occupancy issues not doing well. Vacant buildings aren’t as attractive. So it’s a good time for users to consider buying vacant or partially vacant buildings.
Q: What type of revenue growth do you expect this year?
A: This year, we are looking at $7.5 million, up from $6.54 million last year.
Q: Who does your business focus on?
A: We assist institutional, corporate and private equity clients with leasing, consulting, acquisition and disposition services. Last year, 30 percent of our volume was retail, 30 percent healthcare, 21 percent was land.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have 45 people — 30 brokers, plus a support team of 15 employees. We have three offices, Midtown, Perimeter and north Georgia. We are looking to add six brokers per year.
Q: How long have you been in the commercial brokerage business and when did you start your own firm?
A: I have been in the business for 30 years. I started the firm 15 years ago. I was a successful investment broker looking a better for-sale marketing platform.
Q: Where are Atlanta’s hottest commercial real estate areas?
A: The office market is most active in the Perimeter, Buckhead and Midtown areas. If you look at retail, the closer in the properties, the better they are doing. Apartments, retail and multi-family closer in to the city are doing better.
Q: Is most of your business in Georgia, even though you are licensed in nine states?
A: Yes. However, 25 percent last year was outside the state of Georgia. We do big tracks of land, shopping centers, industrial, medical and regular office in other states.
Q: Do you own the entire company?
A: I own it myself, but have a partners’ plan where top producers can benefit. Top producers share in 20 percent of the profits of the firm each year, 20 percent of the profits should the firm be sold one day, and they are a large part of the succession plan.
Q: Do you build or own apartments?
A: No, we don’t build or buy real estate to compete with our clients.
Q: Has the level of excitement about a comeback in real estate been exaggerated?
A: This is the best time to buy commercial real estate I have seen in my career. Low interest rates, low prices for many properties and the beginning of a recovery, which is historically the best time in the cycle to buy.
Having said that, this is and will be a slow recovery. Commercial real estate is not a get-rich quick play. It’s a long-term reliable return, and benefits from positive leverage, inflation and the ability to increase value from better management.
Q: Wha’s your biggest challenge?
A: Finding good sales people to grow is one of our focuses for 2013.
Q: Tell me about your radio show.
A: We tape the one-hour show once a week. Guests are pre-planned and high profile from around the country. We’re on 10 different stations at different times. In Atlanta, it’s Saturday’s from 10 to 11 on 1190.
Q: Is the radio show a marketing tool?
A: It’s both a marketing tool for our services and listings, and a future profit center for us. We get paid by advertisers on the show. It’s a targeted resource for advertisers to reach the commercial real estate industry.
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MEET MICHAEL BULL
Job: Founder and president of commercial real estate brokerage, Bull Realty
Family: Married with two children
Education: Attended Georgia State University
Reading: “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber
Favorite quote: “There is only one constant in life — change.”