Coldwell Banker Elite Realtors shut its network of South Jersey offices Monday, idling nearly 100 agents plus their support staff.
The Elite agency "discontinued operations" at its Mullica Hill headquarters and residential real estate offices in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties, confirmed David Siroty, spokesman for Coldwell Banker Real Estate L.L.C in Parsippany, N.J., which licenses the Coldwell Banker name and network to local operators.
Elite owner Michael D'Ottavi did not return calls. The parent company would not comment on reasons for the shutdown.
Brokers who profited as home demand rose in the easy-money Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies lost business when the mortgage markets froze in 2008. Falling prices, tighter credit, and rising foreclosures cut profit margins and forced realty layoffs and shutdowns, though the industry has recently stabilized.
A Philadelphia-based Coldwell Banker agency has moved to pick up the Elite agency's remains. Coldwell Banker Preferred agency chief Regina Coia met with Elite brokers at her firm's Haddonfield office. "We have reached out to them to assist," spokeswoman Roni Boyles told me.
Broker Sharon Fisher, formerly at the Elite office in Mount Laurel, told me she and other "top producers" were invited to join Preferred.
Preferred also agreed to take over home sales left incomplete when Elite shut its doors. "We are working with Coldwell Banker Elite to transfer all responsibility for Coldwell Banker Elite transactions to Coldwell Banker Preferred," Siroty told me.
While Coldwell Banker Elite was independently owned, Coldwell Banker Preferred, which has about 600 sales and support staff at nine offices in the Philadelphia area, and some other Coldwell Banker franchises are owned by Realogy L.L.C., which calls itself the nation's owner-operator of residential real estate brokerages.
Realogy also owns Coldwell Banker Real Estate, the franchisor. Realogy is owned by New York-based buyout investor Apollo Global Management, whose partners include 76ers owner Joshua Harris.
Pills out, funds in
It's a buyers' market for commercial real estate, especially in the suburbs.
Vanguard Group has agreed to buy the 87-acre, 500,00-square-foot former Wyeth Pharmaceuticals complex in East Whiteland Township, just across a railroad spur from the mutual fund giant's Tredyffrin Township headquarters, confirms Vanguard spokesman John Woerth. Pfizer Inc. shut the site after buying Wyeth in 2009.
Vanguard plans to use the old Wyeth office buildings "to consolidate crew" from other offices, Woerth told me. Vanguard employs around 10,000 in Chester County, where it is the largest private employer, mostly at its headquarters complex and at rented sites in eastern Tredyffrin and elsewhere.
Woerth said Vanguard owns 12 buildings and leases 13 others in the area. He declined to confirm the $40 million price tag commercial real estate sources have placed on the sale. Vanguard is still doing its due diligence on the property before finalizing the deal.
The move raises questions about Vanguard's plans for the dairy farm it owns east of Route 100 in Uwchlan Township, by the Downingtown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where the company had earlier planned to expand. Vanguard will "continue to own [the] Uwchlan property with no plans to develop at this time," says Woerth.
It's a convenient time for companies that plan to be around a long time to buy properties, since there are so many on the market.
National real estate companies such as Radnor-based Liberty Property Trust, Philadelphia-based Brandywine Realty Trust, and Edison, N.J.-based Mack-Cali Realty Corp. have all been looking to sell suburban office buildings, notes Jason M. Wolf, principal at Wolf Commercial Real Estate, Voorhees.
Tredyffrin Township has been considering liberalizing its office zoning code to encourage renovations and new tenants for its office corridor along U.S. 202 between King of Prussia and Malvern.
Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @PhillyJoeD.