Q&A: Seasoned real estate agent discusses move to new firm

Commercial real estate pro Jim West talks about recent decision to join Zenith Properties NW

Jim West

After nearly ten years of working with commercial clients through Coldwell Banker Commercial Jenkins & Associates, local real estate agent Jim West has moved to a new firm.

Earlier this month, West signed on with Zenith Properties NW, a Vancouver-based real estate firm founded by Vancouver area residents Denny and Johanna Miller.

In this Q&A, we asked West about his decision, the timing of the move and the challenges he faces after having worked with the same firm for so many years.

Q: What prompted your move to Zenith Properties NW?

West: Clark County has a very competitive commercial real estate industry. Three local firms had really been the market leaders for the past ten years: CBC-Jenkins, NBS and Eric Fuller, which doesn’t include a huge presence from Portland firms, and numerous independent local producers.

Over the past couple of years, I had seen some transition in the industry. Some was just general movement that happens with a strong economy, other specific events such as NBS having been sold to Colliers, and Eric Fuller deciding it was time to grow, seemed to precipitate some agents changing firms.

Having reached a stage in my business where I’d been achieving a fairly stable revenue stream, I continued to get this feeling that I should be thinking about the future and how best to grow my business. I even had a meeting about a year ago with the senior leadership of our company (CBC-Jenkins) and had some discussions along those lines.

Q: Who did you seek input from?

West: Real estate agents are for the most part independent contractors. Each is their own operating business. I decided to approach it as if I was starting from scratch, and review my business plan that I had put into motion in 2008 when I came into the industry. For that I went to Buck Heidrick of the Washington State Small Business Development Center and we worked for about six months, starting at the base of setting core values, to analyzing where my clients and customers were coming from, what my expense ratios margins and overhead were, and how that translated to the future.

During that time, I also sought input from several other agents who are in my network about strengths and weaknesses of their situations so that I felt I had a pretty broad perspective about the range of options. One of the people I reached out to was Denny Miller of Zenith Properties. Denny and I had been in a Business Networking International group together for about four years. He and his wife Johanna had created a great property management firm here in Clark County over the past seven or eight years. I had been fortunate to be their agent in finding their current office location. I‘d been impressed by how they built and ran the company, and had a good rapport with them from doing business together.

Q: Why was this the right time to move?

West: CBC has a great core group. They were always willing to answer questions, help me track down resources and share their vast experience.

Part of what I determined is there is no right or great time to move. There is always a lot of work, and some loose ends. I had intended to make the move near the end of 2016, but held over. The more I delayed it, the less fun and enthusiastic I was in my approach. My challenge was I had been at CBC for nine years, and felt a lot of appreciation and loyalty to them having helped me get started back in 2008. You may recall those were quite different times.

Recently I reached back out to Denny and Johanna, we held some discussions and created a framework we thought would be beneficial to both our companies and so the next step was to make the move.

Q: You’re moving to a firm that’s known for residential real estate. Does your arrival mean Zenith is putting more emphasis into commercial work?

West: They (Zenith) are more focused on residential, but we felt like the two of us working together would allow them to expand into some more commercial opportunities, whether that is multi-family or just some of their existing clients that have commercial needs.

We felt by working together there would be opportunities that would benefit both of us, in terms of Zenith being able to expand and have a greater presence in the commercial arena.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in being at a new firm for first time in nearly a decade?

West: I’ve only been at Zenith about two weeks. The team has been very welcoming and helpful. I know there will be some challenge with making sure I’ve communicated to all my clients and network that I’ve changed firms, and there are always logistics of vendors, new processes, procedures, etc.

However, I think the biggest challenge will be not having the resource of the CBC team right at my fingertips. Under almost any circumstance I felt I could find an answer to a question about a commercial real estate transaction, process or procedure by walking down the hall.

I’ve really benefited from the mentorship and support that Bob Bernhardt (CBC founder) has provided in more ways than I can count. Team meetings and listening to Mike Jenkins, Kelly Shea, Gordon Lewis and Steve Mack share their experiences and perspectives was invaluable. Suzy Clayton and her admin team have always been first-class.

The biggest challenge is me mentally leaning into that role of knowing I’m capable of making this step. I’ve always been pretty adept at adapting.