In youth, opportunity. In age, wisdom

Real estate veteran Bob Bernhardt and new part owner Mike Jenkins team up to grow Coldwell Banker Commercial agency

In 1972, Bob Bernhardt was a young real estate agent with the desire to grow dramatically the established Whitfield Brothers Real Estate firm he had become a partner in. Today, the tables have turned, and Coldwell Banker Commercial Bob Bernhardt Associates agent Michael Jenkins is looking to expand the business Bernhardt has built in the past 30 years.

"As companies grow and as leadership ages," said Bernhardt, "it takes new ideas and new enthusiasm, and that’s what Mike provides."

Bernhardt remains the designated broker, but ownership of the company is equally split. Additionally, the name of the company will change to Coldwell Banker Commercial Bernhardt-Jenkins Associates. Bernhardt, 68, said he sees in Jenkins, 36, the same desires he had at that age.

Bernhardt said the business likely would have grown more slowly if he continued as sole owner.

"You look at it from a different perspective when you are 68," said Bernhardt.

Jenkins agrees, and sees their partnership as a balancing act.

"With Bob’s conservativeness and my aggressiveness," said Jenkins, "it’s a good match to grow the company, yet have the balance of the two personalities."

New blood

Jenkins joined the company in 1993 following his graduation from Eastern Washington University. Jenkins expects to continue in his role as head of Coldwell’s investment division. It’s agreed that Jenkins eventually will assume full leadership and ownership of the company.

Not much is expected to change within the company immediately, as plans have evolved slowly over the past three to four years.

"I knew that we were going to have to have new enthusiasm to continue growing the company like we did," said Bernhardt. "Mike has slowly taken over a larger role in the running of the company, the forecasting of the things we are going to do and the goals we are going to head for."

While continued growth is expected, Jenkins does not foresee a tremendous amount of change.

"The only real change I see is on the letterhead," he said.

However, Jenkins envisions some aspect of a development division two to three years down the road, which he sees as a natural progression for the company.

Bernhardt doesn’t expect his role to change much either, and said bringing Jenkins into the fold shouldn’t be misconstrued as his transition into retirement.

"I don’t know that I would ever retire," he said. "I would have to have a place to go and a purpose when I get up in the morning. I enjoy this business. As long as I am healthy I will keep working."

Taking hold downtown

The timing of the name change was facilitated by the company’s move to a new location in downtown earlier this week. The business moved from its previous location on Mill Plain Boulevard between Main and Broadway streets down the road to the corner of East 15th and D streets. The building, previously a county elections office, had been vacant for two years.

"The success of the company has really prompted our move," said Jenkins.

Coldwell moved into their prior location in 1998 with eight agents and one staff member and have grown to 15 agents and 7 staff members. And Jenkins said there are a number of agents that want to join the company.

"We grew to the point that we had to continually utilize storage spaces and conference rooms as agents’ offices," said Bernhardt.

Coldwell adds about 2,000 square feet of space in its new location, to 5,700 square feet. Coldwell is leasing the new location from the Al Angelo Co., who agreed to gut and redo the interior to meet Coldwell’s specifications, as well as refurbish the exterior. Coldwell contributed $100,000 to the improvements, which totaled more than $300,000, said Bernhardt.

Coldwell had hoped to purchase its previous location and expand there, but the owners chose not to sell. Before deciding on their new location, the company looked at the entire county and the various population centers, but ultimately decided to stay downtown.

"This is the business hub," said Bernhardt. "And since we are a business, we needed to be downtown by the other professions."

Coldwell worked with an architect and a space planner to optimize their new office, which will give them room to grow into. But the added space is not likely to remain empty long.

"That’s why we moved," said Jenkins, "because of our potential for growth."

A bigger picture

And if business continues at the pace it has, there will be plenty for Bernhardt to do.

The company has grown every year since 1998, becoming one of the top Coldwell firms in the nation. The company ranked sixth among 430 Coldwell companies nationwide last year and expects to crack the top three within two years.

"The demand for product is still very high," said Jenkins. "We see 2006 as still very strong. Sellers are going to have a good time in the marketplace of recognizing high values in properties."

Bernhardt said businesses are moving from smaller leased spaces to larger leased spaces and with the low interest rates, others are recognizing the value in purchasing property and paying rent to themselves. The insatiable appetite for property to buy Coldwell’s biggest challenge, he said.

"We probably have 20 clients wanting to buy any piece of property that comes up that makes any sense," said Bernhardt. "There is unbalanced supply and demand. It’s a very nice problem to have. And we see that situation extending beyond 2006."

Additionally, the company sees continued demand and interest in downtown Vancouver, where they are involved in several projects.

"There is more energy downtown than I have seen in any five years together as a downtown businessman," said Bernhardt.

Coldwell recently worked to complete the sale of the site of the Copps auto dealership to Killian Pacific LLC and have seen "dramatic" interest in The Academy building they have listed. Jenkins said the company is in a position to be a major player in the leasing and sale of future development of those properties.

Coldwell Banker Commercial Bernhardt-Jenkins Associates began as Whitfield Brothers Real Estate in 1935, becoming Whitfield-Bernhardt Realtors in 1976, Coldwell Banker Whitfield-Bernhardt Realtors in 1996 and Coldwell Banker Commercial Bob Bernhardt Associates in 1998.