(Photo above: Steve Toomey and Erich Schultz | Photo by Krystal Marie Collins)
Twenty years ago, Erich Schultz, SIOR and Steve Toomey, CCIM shared a vision to establish a new kind of commercial real estate services firm in Central Oregon. Working for Bend based real estate firms in the 1990’s, the duo identified a need for a higher level of service in the industry.
“We recognized the void in Bend’s commercial brokerage industry, but rather than lament about it, we joined forces and committed to do something about it,” said Toomey.
Since founding Compass Commercial Real Estate Services in 1996, Schultz and Toomey say the secret to their success is in the company’s client focused core values and a company wide dedication to foster client relationships by exceeding expectations. The mission is echoed throughout the Compass Commercial website which proudly emphasizes, “Clients are the heart of our business.”
Schultz and Toomey have witnessed the remarkable evolution of the Central Oregon landscape — from sagebrush acreage to landmark shopping centers. They recall Bend’s historic building endeavors like some might list books they’ve read. Schultz contributed to the preliminary feasibility study in 1993 that laid the foundation for the Old Mill District, and over the years, played a role in significant developments including Brooks Resources’ projects at College Park and Century Washington Center, where the new OSU-Cascades campus is under construction. They’ve also represented Colorado Terrace and Westside Village (former home of Ray’s Food Place) and recently developed and leased Neff Place on the east side of town to tenants including Jackson’s Corner and Café Yumm!
Remembering the Westside Village project, Toomey admits to drawing up site plans on a napkin over beers. “We just thought there should be a development there — and we envisioned some sort of grocery market,” he said. “I think being able to recognize opportunities and see something that no one else sees and then converting that dream to reality is another characteristic that makes a real estate broker or developer successful.”
One such example of this is the team’s involvement in two lots currently being developed along Industrial Way. Schultz and his team represent the listing of Crane Shed Commons, a 50,000 square foot office development breaking ground this year and Toomey brokered the sale of the neighboring lot which is soon to become a Springhill Suites hotel.
When asked about current issues in Central Oregon real estate, Schultz and Toomey concur that the OSU-Cascades four-year campus expansion and the mounting housing crisis are among the hottest topics.
Schultz is an advocate for the new OSU-Cascades campus. He says it will provide extended educational opportunities aimed at producing a more qualified pool of employees to meet the needs of local traded sector industries. He urges those who aren’t convinced of the benefits the school will bring to get involved and learn more about the long term vision.
Excessive traffic, a shortage in living space and parking, are all local concerns which Schultz says could be addressed by evaluating other successful analogous cities that have faced similar changes and challenges.
Toomey shares similar housing concerns, with or without the university build. “Housing affects everyone’s quality of life. Greater density as a result of the city not being able to expand the urban growth boundary as outlined in the original proposal to the state means differences in transportation, costs and housing,” he said. He is particularly concerned for those who are without a place to live and is addressing this in his personal time working with local shelter, The Shepherd’s House.
During the years, the company has gained valuable insights including the impact a housing boom can have on the regional economy. “Brokers outside our market couldn’t understand how sales were happening at such high prices in 2005-06,” Schultz said in reference to the time.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Schultz recounts a Warren Buffet quote to clarify key take aways from the cycle: “When people are fearful be greedy, when people are greedy be fearful.” The statement captures a contrarian methodology that he hopes to apply during future market bubbles, even though he suggests that practicing this line of thinking will take incredible amounts of discipline.
“Brokers are deal junkies and the need to fill that fix doesn’t correspond to the cyclical nature of the industry,” he explained.
Amidst the downturn, Toomey says Compass Commercial was well positioned to survive. “Ultimately, it was our lender contacts, our strong property management department and a conservative, long term vision which allowed us to weather the storm.”
He says they didn’t have to lay anyone off which was a huge advantage because when the market righted itself, Compass didn’t have to rebuild. Still, Toomey ponders in hindsight, “2009 would have been a good year for a sabbatical.”
Over the years, changes in technology have continued to influence the way the business of real estate is conducted. Reminiscing about the earlier days, using fax machines and mailing documents, Schultz and Toomey highlight the firm’s commitment to adopt new technology for greater efficiency and productivity, while not abandoning the value of personal interaction.
Improving customer service is an annual goal. Surveys are sent out to clients to see if the company is meeting their expectations and if not, to understand how they can improve. A recent survey of their business operations prompted a closer look at how to harness technology to deliver greater client value. Schultz and Toomey say it is a continual effort to find the right balance between in-person relationship building and digital efficiency.
Advances in technology also present new challenges for the team to consider. Schultz explained that in the time it used to take for lawyers to draft a contract, the client could easily change their mind. “That lapse in time just isn’t available anymore in the world of email, cell phones, PDFs and DocuSign.”
Toomey cautioned (perhaps in jest), that with new technology comes new threats, suggesting that instant communication could have been a contributor to the market crash. “Brokering a deal using today’s technological advances, investors have less time to think through their options.”
Still, the benefits of technology and connectivity has helped the team gain access to a vast network of opportunities. Today, Schultz says that as much as 15 percent of Compass Commercial’s sales volume occurs outside of the region (as far as Alabama and Oklahoma) and those transactions came to fruition through greater access to industry networks via the Internet.
As Central Oregon is somewhat removed from larger cities in proximity, Schultz says they continually monitor what the state-of-the-art is in commercial real estate and encourage the team to attend conferences and conventions to stay abreast of industry trends. It’s just one example of how the leadership team goes above and beyond to foster a culture that values team development and education.
Brokers and property managers continue to educate themselves in their practice, earning top industry credentials such as the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors designation, accreditation from the Institute of Real Estate Management, Certified Commercial Investment Membership and others. MBAs and professional designations are qualifications that demonstrate the continual investment Compass staff put into their career and company.
They also hire to their culture. “As a business oriented in relationships, finding the right people to join the team has been crucial to our success,” said Toomey. “We look for qualifications, but we also look to hire new team members that are a solid fit within our culture,” said Toomey. He references the team in its current incarnation as a kind of “brilliance by accident” which led to the cohesive and enjoyable vibe their work place emits. “No one is sequestered in their offices, and we all share a lot of laughter and support.”
Regardless of impending market fluctuations, Compass Commercial says its solid foundation rooted in client relationships “gives them the flexibility to adapt by remaining focused on providing clients with solutions incorporating the highest industry standards. With this vision at its core, Compass Commercial is poised to help clients navigate any storm.”
When asked about plans for the next 20 years, Toomey quips that he’ll let us know when he returns from his sabbatical.