Valbridge Property Advisors Competes Against Top Commercial Real Estate Firms
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
Just two years ago, there were three major national commercial property appraisal firms competing for those large retail accounts or industrial or governmental, where a single account could have multiple properties or even hundreds of properties.
The new kid on the block – Valbridge Property Advisors, which has an office on Woodmere Boulevard in Montgomery – now competes with the likes of CB Richard Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield and Integra Realty Resources.
That local office now has the resources of 66 other offices and 650-plus employees for the company that was formed in March 2013. Being a part of Valbridge and one of its founders, John E. “Josh” Hall III has resources that he lacked with his former firm. Hall, senior managing director for Valbridge, said that he now appraises some commercial properties such as sewer systems and parking decks that “I probably would not have taken on” before Valbridge was formed. The difference now is that he has access to data that was too expensive to buy for his former firm and access to experts in the Valbridge network. He can not only consult with an expert, but also bring the appraiser on board to help with a project.
He has 11 appraisers on staff and three of them, including Hall, have the professional designation of MAI – and that’s a big deal in their circles. Each Valbridge office is headed by a shareholder who has the MAI designation. He said that only five percent of appraisers have the MAI designation.
“I’m a shareholder, so obviously I want to maintain my quality, and there are certain standards you have to meet to be part of Valbridge,” said Hall, who along with his partner Harry Stakely, bought the 55-year-old appraisal firm from founder Kirby Smith.
Hall said that one of the key areas for Valbridge is litigation support – expert witnesses – because of the company’s national brand. The firm charges from $150 an hour to $300 hour if an appraiser with the MAI designation testifies. The types of cases are tax appeals; property assessment appeals; valuations for financial institutions; bankruptcies; partnership dissolution; and divorce.
“We are a full-service evaluation and commercial appraisal firm,” Hall said, stressing that the firm offers independent advice. “People think of the typical appraisal as a 50-page, hard-bound report with just a value, but we’ll give, buy, sell or hold investment advice,” he said. “We’ll also take a look at a property and try to ascertain the demand – what is there demand for?”
Not all companies offer that same type of advice, according to Hall. “We’re not influenced by the buyers or the sellers or the brokers, whereas some of the other companies have broker divisions.” Valbridge does not have a broker division.
Valbridge was formed when firms without an affiliation with a national group met in Boston in early 2011. It took another two years, but 40-plus firms combined to create Valbridge. “We were told that there was definitely room” for a fourth national appraisal firm, Hall said. “We were also told by many banks that there is definitely a need in this country for one more national firm.”
The company was awarded a U.S. Postal Service contract and has a national contract with AT&T as well as regional contracts, Hall said. Because of its nationwide reach, Valbridge competes for portfolio evaluations.
Hall’s territory is Alabama and Northwest Florida. His goal is adding an office in Panama City, Florida, by either buying a firm or building a firm. First he has to find an appraiser with the MAI designation to run the office. He would like to eventually open an office in Huntsville.