If the mantra of selling real estate is “Location, Location, Location,” then the way to make it even more profitable, Greek-born U.S. property sales billionaire George Marcus has found is “Transparency, Transparency, Transparency.”
The California-based Marcus, who hails from the island of Euboea about 60 miles north of Athens, has become the king of private client transactions, those listings of generally under $10 billion, which make up the bulk of the U.S. real estate business.
His company, Marcus & Millichap, has more than 2,800 commercial properties for sale, ranging from a $50 million hotel on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, to a Memphis apartment building for $55,000.
It’s a dazzling array of offerings, more than any other American competitor offers. But listing is one thing, and selling is another, and the Marcus formula, developed years ago when he got started in a family business, to have his brokers share information and formalize the marketing process, works. Well.
In 2014, the company handled 7,667 transactions with a value of more than $33 billion. His success story was detailed in a feature by the Bloomberg news agency.
“They are the industry leader,” Mitchell Germain, a New York-based senior analyst with JMP Securities. “They have a database nobody else can replicate,” he told the news agency.
Marcus & Millichap’s revenue increased 28 percent in the first three months of 2015 as sales volume jumped 30 percent to $8.1 billion. He owns 55 percent of the company, which has almost quadrupled in value since its October 2013 initial public offering, outpacing bigger companies such as CBRE Group Inc. and Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
Marcus also created Essex Property Trust Inc., the West Coast’s biggest apartment landlord, which owns more than 50,000 units from Seattle to San Diego. He controls about 2.4 percent of the $15 billion real estate investment trust.
So how did Marcus do it in a business notorious for often-vicious competition? Marcus, who has a net fortune estimated at $1.9 billion – although he never shows up in wealth rankings – opened his first real estate business in 1971.
“Real estate was almost a fraternity club,” Marcus said in a June 2011 interview with the Palo Alto Weekly. “Your uncle or your father or someone in the community knew you and your family and you sat at some real estate office and they told you they want to sell this building or that building and you brought them some offers.”
THE GREEK WAY
Success keeps him busy. Asked about his current projects Marcus told The National Herald: “Oh my God. Lots and lots of different things.”
His companies are engaged in many aspects of the business and he is stating new ones. “I have terrific executives and it’s nice to be the Chairman … I’ve been extremely fortunate finding remarkable talented people.” He noted the leadership of the Essex Property Trust and added “that team has been together for 25, 30 years.”
He holds them to the standard of the ancient Greeks: “Excellence is doing it well continually, all the time,” he said.
Marcus said he is demanding of others because he makes tough demands on himself. Asked where that comes from, he mused, “That’s a good question. I was born into it or I grew into it. Maybe it’s Greek mother’s love – our fathers are the disciplinarians and providers, and our mothers want us to walk on water” – of course, that includes getting A’s and being presentable.
Make that A+ for Marcus, who always looks sharp.
THE RIGHT BUILDING BLOCKS
Marcus sought to get exclusive listings from sellers and he stuck to his guns about making the whole process of offering, explaining, listing and selling as transparent as it could be instead of the frequent mumbo jumbo that is often part of the business.
“Marcus & Millichap built a very good business really staying true to this idea that the most transparent market will get the best prices,” said Brandon Dobell, a research analyst and partner at investment bank William Blair & Co.
It was in 1976, N and a few years after he got started, that Marcus hired now Co-Chairman William Millichap as a salesperson, showing a penchant for picking the right people to pair with him in the venture.
“George has been so successful because he hired the right people and let them run his various businesses,” John A. Sobrato, a California real estate billionaire whose family-owned company developed more than 15 million square feet of properties in Silicon Valley, told Bloomberg.
Marcus showed imaginative flair as well in an otherwise pragmatic business that has busted as many people as it’s made rich, the difference lying in the choices and taking advantage of opportunities at the right moment, along with diversifying, diversifying, diversifying.
“Service, investment and building companies don’t line up,” Marcus said at the Urban Land Institute in 2013. “Any one sector can be hurt but not all at the same time. I’ve been in brokerage for 40 years and made money in every year but one,” an enviable track record in a boom-or-bust business.
It’s also made him a target for offers from the commercial property giants, said Germain, as at the same time a consolidation in the industry could challenge Marcus’ success and continued growth.
CBRE and brokerage Colliers International “both have businesses that compete with Marcus, they are just a lot smaller,” William Blair’s Dobell said. “There is a chance that they may look to build those up at some point.”
Marcus & Millichap could respond by acquiring smaller local competitors to bolster its national platform, which was part of their rationale for selling shares to the public, according to Germain.
Marcus, who is otherwise low-key, has another side. In 2014 he donated more than $3 million to the Democratic party, making him its eighth-largest contributor, Politico said. That got the attention of President Barack Obama, who was a guest at a party at Marcus’ Los Altos Hills house.
“For a public person, he is very private,” Phil Mahoney, who lives near Marcus and is an Executive Vice President at Santa Clara, California-based broker Newmark Cornish & Carey, told Bloomberg. “He and his wife Judy are significant philanthropists but they don’t want a lot of fanfare.”