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Firm creates Comfort level to help private owners, family partnerships.

As REIT's and institutional investors continue to "mine" for trophy properties and high profile acquisitions, one Manhattan-based commercial real estate management and investment company is "striking gold" by paying attention to a largely forgotten segment of the marketplace--small to mid-sized private owners and family partnerships.

Ironically, while George Comfort & Sons has been working with such property owners virtually since its founding in 1919, business in this "below the radar screen" sector of the market "is getting busier and more intense than ever," according to Comfort president Peter S. Duncan.

Why? Because most private owners and family partnerships invariably reach a point in time when they seriously begin to evaluate the pros and cons of selling their properties. And this "exploration" is most likely to occur when market conditions are conducive, as they are now, for potentially strong financial windfalls.

"Inevitably, some partners want to sell near or at the top of the market, others want to hold on, still others would rather look for new management and flesh capital," notes Duncan. "In more and more cases, we're being asked to step in, or buy out certain partners, or take over management and/or provide flesh capital for needed leasing or renovations."

Still another reason is the growing expense and complexity of operating real estate in the face of rising taxes, energy, environmental and leasing costs.

"Many generational owners today are not adequately staffed or financially capitalized to address these issues," added Duncan. "In these cases, we're able to work with owners to augment entrepreneurial and long-term management strategies with modern business practices."

The Comfort executive admits that his firm has earned one important advantage based on its successful track record which spans 3 1/2 generations in the field--its ability to understand generational issues, such as children no longer interested in managing real estate and families eager to "monetize" their property holdings and diversity into other investments.

While most of his firm's "family" clients are owners of buildings or portfolios on the east and west coasts containing a minimum of 150,000 square feet and valued between $25 million to $500 million, the Comfort firm is willing and able to manage or acquire properties anywhere in the United States.

The following are representative examples of recent assignments carried out by George Comfort & Sons (GCS):

* When the founding partners of a prominent New York-based real estate company, Collins Tuttle, were dying, its principals came to GCS to take over their employees, management and business. They wanted a private, discreet company that they could trust to treat their employees, children's' investments and assets in the same quality way they would. Four years later, the partners died. GCS still manages the assets, employs many of its staff, and takes care of the children's holdings.

* In 2005, GCS acquired a real estate portfolio near Princeton, NJ, from the Fruscione family, which included 12 buildings developed over two decades. The father was looking to retire and children wanted to pursue other ventures.

* In Beverly Hills, CA, GCS recently bought an asset from a private non-real estate owner with the goal of repositioning its retail component and exploring its potential for additional development.

* In 2004, GCS bought 9W Office Center in Fort Lee, NJ, from a private partnership that didn't elect to invest the $7 million necessary to retenant a Class A office building after 15 years of ownership. GCS worked with the partnership and its lender to acquire the asset and invested the money to release the project.

* In Connecticut, GCS acquired the last office holdings of the FD Rich family, a major force shaping Stamford's office market over the last three decades. Their 600,000 square foot office park was about to experience some tenant rollover and was in need of new capital and energy. GCS has invested over $10 million in major renovations as it successfully repositions this property.

One of New York's oldest real estate firms, George Comfort & Sons specializes in acquisitions, asset and property management and brokerage, and offers full service leasing, construction and finance capabilities.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 5, 2006
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