Cresa: Not Afraid to Take Sides

How a premier occupier-centric real estate firm collaborates to put clients first

If anyone entered the courtroom with a legal team that represented both sides, or played for a coach who advised a team rival, it would raise concerns, to say the least.  

Most industries systematically prevent or avoid conflicts of interests, but real estate differs in that respect. The majority of real estate firms represent both the occupier and the landlord, buyer and seller. With this as the norm, Cresa stands out as the ‘occupier’s champion,’ having picked a side right from the start. 

“We’re the premier corporate real estate services provider solely focused on the occupier,” says Blake St. Onge, principal at the Cresa Portland office. “And that’s been clear from the very beginning, nearly 30 years ago.” 

The impact of this line in the sand reverberates throughout the growing organization, from how its teams freely collaborate to the creativity of its solutions and the nature of the work itself. 

“We’re all just working together to help occupiers. It makes everything easier when the entire organization shares one overarching goal that’s simple to understand, instead of trying to be all things to all people,” adds Sean Heaton, principal at the Cresa Portland office.

The average real estate brokerage firm houses teams with rival priorities, for example, a landlord agency leasing team, a landlord property management team, and an occupier representation team. Cresa’s unique approach eliminates these inherent conflicts of interest, clearing a path for the high level of collaboration and trust needed to construct innovative, client-centric solutions.

“It’s completely different here. We don’t have opposing forces under the same roof,” he continues. “What that translates to is a company culture where we all work together. We’re able to share information and ideas freely without worrying.”


Meeting in Cresa's Portland office

This collaborative, multidisciplinary approach shines through in its creative problem solving. While recently auditing a client’s lease documents, Cresa simultaneously advised the company to digitize the portfolio, streamlining the ability to manage, and be proactive on lease critical dates, which in turn led to engagement on lease negotiations and project management support for the organization.  

When another client was evaluating a large headquarter project with various facets, Cresa provided a holistic workplace and creative real estate strategy. It started with visioning sessions, growth programming, efficiency modeling and location strategy, before navigating the real estate negotiation process and, finally, managing the construction, furniture, data/IT and move condition of the two-year engagement.  Certainly, a different model than simply negotiating a transaction.

Serving landlords implies a set of priorities characterized by closing deals and maximizing lease profits. Occupiers, on the other hand, lean on real estate, and their advisors, as a strategic business solution partner.

“We’re dealing with people and their companies (not simply buildings): entrepreneurs trying to grow their business; mid-cap and regional companies; and fortune 500s, among many others. We’re dealing with the organizations and how to recruit and retain talent, while helping them use real estate as a tool for their business” St. Onge notes. “We’re supporting a company’s workplace strategy, not just negotiating a deal.”

Because it cares solely for occupiers’ wellbeing, Cresa adheres to a fiduciary responsibility when developing appropriate solutions, even if that means rightsizing or disposing of underutilized assets. Often the answer is to reorganize for operational efficiency or adopt fewer locations while still achieving growth. 

“It’s not always, ‘I’m growing, so I need to increase my real estate footprint.’ Do you need to grow, or can you become more efficient with what you have?” Heaton explains. “We understand their operational strategic goals and match real estate to those goals.”

Thanks to that approach, client relationships span years – from designing spaces to negotiating growth plans to handling mergers & acquisitions. Often, real estate construction is the final step in a much longer strategy and design journey. Clients also bring in Cresa for specific tasks, such as project management, move management or lease auditing, to name a few, or to partner with third parties.  

In addition to its occupier commitment, the corporate real estate firm removes friction on all fronts: between its service teams, across its global offices and within its organizational structure as a private company. 

In 2017, its network of more than 80 independent offices across the U.S. merged so that Cresa could operate as a single entity, providing clients with support that extends across state and country lines while expanding its spectrum of services. 

A key addition – and driver of real estate-oriented strategies – is Cresa’s consulting team, introduced during the firm’s evolution. It analyzes real estate’s impact on a company from all angles. For example, the team will analyze how an office space and location support talent acquisition within, say, a hyper competitive tech market.

“Our in-house consulting team offers the whole myriad of traditional consulting services,” explains St. Onge. “Typically, brokers are fixated on negotiating deals and getting out. Consulting lets us go deeper: design, supply chain analysis, talent retention. Bringing this holistic insight to the clients elevates the conversation.”

If picking a side lets Cresa collaborate freely, develop more creative solutions and better serve clients, why are dual-sided organizations still the norm? 

The difference stems from yet another conflict of interest that Cresa avoids: the tension that exists between shareholder and client. Its status as a private company means that its fiduciary responsibility to clients remains safe from the opposing obligation to maximize profits for shareholders. Public companies compelled to prioritize profits target the straight-forward deals that come by partnering with landlords. Shifting solely to the occupier side, where growth is not necessarily what is best, could prove unpopular to shareholders. 

In Portland, Cresa’s truly frictionless team continues cultivating steady, sustainable growth at home and abroad by building business solutions, not real estate deals, dedicated solely to occupiers and their business goals. 

This article originally appeared in Oregon Business Magazine. See it here.