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Rockstars of Real Estate

Standout pros making it happen in Colorado's red-hot market


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Whether it’s commercial or residential real estate, there’s no question that Colorado has been on fire for the last several years. And it takes dedicated people from a variety of disciplines to make deals happen. 

So who are the professionals moving and shaking the state’s real estate industry?ColoradoBiz picked out eight top performers for a closer look: A lender who focuses on RiNo. An architecture firm responsible for Denver’s hottest hotels. A developer who’s among the largest property owners in the city. Commercial real estate brokers who are among the biggest players in the red-hot multifamily market. 

There’s also an innovative homebuilder whose focus is on sustainability, as well as Denver’s largest commercial real estate operation, which prides itself on providing clients with the most reliable information possible. 

Read on to learn about some of the rock stars of Colorado’s real estate scene. 

Lender:

 JOSH PEEBLES, PRESIDENT 

Josh Peebles, president of Collegiate Peaks Bank-River North, runs what may be the only bank in RiNo. 

“RiNo is one of the more aggressive neighborhoods in the city as far as urban planning and transportation,” Peebles says. “There are larger parcels, and the neighborhood is connected to downtown and the central business district. It was natural for people to gravitate this way.” 

Collegiate Peaks does a good portion of its business in RiNo, but it’s invested in projects across Denver. 

Peebles closed 52 new transactions totaling $66.3 million through November of last year and renewed 33 transactions totaling $36.2 million. In all, Peebles and the three lenders at the bank closed $148.8 million across 133 loans in 2018. 

Under Peebles’ leadership, Collegiate Peaks helps its clients understand their options and is flexible when it comes to negotiating the terms of their loans. 

“Banks are known to be dictators but that’s not who we are and what we like to do,” Peebles says. “I’m all about putting people first. We’re big on relationships and doing what we say we’re going to do. I try to add value to everyone I come into contact with. That’s at the forefront of what I do.” 

Commercial Developer:

 UNICO PROPERTIES 

Until the $710 million sale of a 27-building, 1.8 million-square foot portfolio of repositioned historic and newly constructed office assets in Denver and Seattle, Unico Properties was one of the largest property owners in Colorado. The company still retains a stake and operates and manages the portfolio on behalf of Broad Street Principal Investments LLC, an affiliate of Goldman Sachs. 

Among Unico’s achievements in 2018 was the completion of The Circa Building, a 96,000-square-foot LEED Platinum-certified mixed-use development at 1615 Platte Street, which was part of the sale to Broad Street. 

“The Circa Building is going to fit contextually on that street for decades to come,” Unico Vice President and Regional Director Austin Kane says. “We were looking for a way to contribute to a pocket of Denver in a way that feels authentic and real. That’s how we look at our investing activities for 2019 and beyond.” 

The company also renovated two historic buildings in Denver: The DC Building (formerly Denver Club) and Elephant Corral. Working with Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission, the company invested more than $10 million in The DC Building, including an amenity package with a chic bowling alley. 

At Elephant Corral, Unico upgraded the building’s energy efficiency to align with Denver’s commitment to sustainability and created a more inviting and functional gathering space in the building’s center courtyard. The goal of both renovations was to maintain the character of the historic buildings while creating modern office spaces that added value to the neighborhoods. 

“Our plan for the future is we are going to continue to look for value-add and core-plus opportunities on the Front Range for investment,” Kane says.

Architecture/Interior Design:

 JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE 

The success behind architecture firm Johnson Nathan Strohe comes from letting its work speak for itself. 

“The work that we’ve done is the most important reference for us,” Partner Nicole Nathan says. “It’s not just about the architecture but also about how the project performs.” 

Johnson Nathan Strohe is the firm behind some of Denver’s hottest hotels, including The Maven Hotel at Dairy Block, Halcyon-a Hotel in Cherry Creek, Moxy Denver Cherry Creek, The Crawford Hotel at Union Station and RiNo’s first hotel, the 50-room Ramble Hotel at 25th and Larimer streets. 

A few years ago, the firm went through a rebranding during which it changed its name from J.G. Johnson Architects to Johnson Nathan Strohe, recognizing the elevation of Nathan and Tobias Strohe to partners, and creating the tagline “Pragmatic Beauty.” 

“What we try to do is present ourselves as experts in our field based on the work we have done,” Nathan says. “Really, this whole concept of ‘pragmatic beauty’ is important to how we market ourselves.” 

Perhaps Johnson Nathan Strohe’s reputation for designing unique hotels is what landed it the job of building an L-shaped 233-room Hilton Garden Inn around the historic Hose Co. No. 1 at 1999 Chestnut St. just north of Union Station. 

But hotels aren’t the only thing the firm is working on. It’s also the architect behind the new City Park Golf Clubhouse, currently under construction. The design is timeless and streamlined, with brick, wood and glass strategically used to enhance the natural integration into the surrounding environment. 

“This is a firm that does a great job of creating something beautiful that works,” Nathan says. “We bring solutions to the table, and that’s something we’re really proud of.”  

Commercial Real Estate:

 SHANE OZMENT AND TERRANCE HUNT, BROKERS 

In Denver’s red-hot multifamily market, Newmark Knight Frank Vice Chairmen Terrance Hunt and Shane Ozment closed $1.537 billion in transactions in 2018. 

Hunt and Ozment lead the brokerage’s Institutional Multifamily Team and are consistently among Denver’s top-producing multifamily brokers. Hunt has been involved in the disposition of more than 400 multifamily assets with a total volume of more than $13 billion in his 25-year commercial real estate career. Ozment has handled more than 300 multifamily assets with a total volume of more than $9.3 billion during his 17-year commercial real estate career. 

Hunt and Ozment count some of the biggest names in multifamily real estate as their clients, including Aimco, Alliance Residential and Trammell Crow. 

Becoming a specialist is among the best pieces of advice Hunt and Ozment both say they’ve ever received. 

Ozment recalls a meeting he had with the late Sherman Miller, a longtime fixture in Denver’s commercial real estate community, who told him that it was critical to choose a discipline and make sure the company believes in him. 

“He told me to make sure that they really value you and you value what they’re going to do in the future,” Ozment says. 

CBRE

 With 2017 sales volume of $3.16 billion and a total of 25.8 million square feet of sales and leases brokered, CBRE is the largest commercial real estate brokerage in the region. 

CBRE is consistently at the top of commercial firms in all the major market categories — office, industrial, retail and multifamily. But CBRE’s success is less about sheer volume than it is about the education it provides clients. 

“The shift I’ve seen in the last couple of years is that we focus less on being a commercial real estate service provider and more on being an information service provider,” CBRE Mountain States Senior Managing Director Pete Schippits says. “Being bigger is only better if you can bring it down to the client’s level. We’ve done a good job with that because of our investment in technology and how we’re capturing information.” 

CBRE has more than 1,000 employees in five offices and on site in clients’ offices across Colorado. One of the ways it distinguishes itself from the other big commercial operations is to drill down to niche areas so its clients don’t have to seek help elsewhere. 

“Our service delivery to our clients is unmatched,” Schippits says. “We don’t give them the opportunity to say that we can’t do this and go look for someone else who can.” 

Developer/Builder Residential:

 THRIVE HOME BUILDERS

For more than 25 years, Thrive Home Builders’ innovation has kept it building homes that are as environmentally friendly as possible. 

Founded as Greentree Builders in 1992 by Gene Myers, the company trademarked the term Eco-Built and gave its buyers guaranteed heating bills for their homes. Today, the company, which completed homes valued at $104.6 million in 2017, also offers solar as a standard, a decision it made during the midst of the recession. 

“We gave it away,” Myers told Professional Builder after winning the magazine’s 2017 Builder of the Year award. “It was our concession, but we knew [buyers] couldn’t get [standard solar] anywhere else. So we felt like that was the strong product differentiation we needed to survive.”

In addition to the Professional Builder award, the company has won an unprecedented eight Grand Awards for Housing Innovation from the Department of Energy over the last six years. 

In 1999, Greentree reinvented itself, changing its name to New Town Builders and putting an emphasis on urban development in walkable mixed-use communities with a variety of home styles. It changed its name to Thrive Home Builders in 2015 when its focus became indoor air quality and creating healthy homes.

“The name Thrive Home Builders underscores our commitment to innovate the next frontier in home building, building well-crafted ‘healthy homes’ that promote our owners’ wellness,” Myers told Denver Real Estate Watch at the time of the name change.

Residential SalesAgent:

 KAREN BERNARDI

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

As the leader of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s No. 1 team in Colorado, Karen Bernardi prides herself on the personal service and attention to detail she provides to her clients.

Coldwell Banker’s top-producing team, the Bernardi Group, has closed more than $500 million in real estate deals over the last three years, with Bernardi seeing a large number of referrals and repeat clients. In 2018, the team completed 129 transactions with a total sales volume of $128.6 million.

Bernardi says that sticking it out when things get tough is the key to her success. 

“I developed a good work ethic and schedule early on,” she says. “And I’ve always put the customers first. Selling a lot and doing a lot of transactions ensures that I am taking care of my customers. Because I’m not acting out of desperation, I never put my needs in front of the customer’s.”

Bernardi believes strongly in giving back to the community and is involved in a number of charities throughout Boulder County, including Humane Society of Boulder Valley, The Emergency Family Assistance Association, The Children’s Hospital, Hospice of Boulder and The Boulder Philharmonic. 

Residential Brokerage:

 RE/MAX MASTERS MILLENNIUM

Greenwood Village-based RE/MAX Masters Millennium has been the top-producing office in the residential real estate behemoth’s network for five consecutive years. 

The office’s 118 agents do about $1 billion in real estate sales annually. The company’s office, where it does its closings, includes an event center that seats 60 and includes multiple televisions, a fireplace and comfortable couches. Agents and support staff answer their own phones rather than leaving it to a voice-operating system.

RE/MAX Masters Millennium also has a full-service team that includes transaction coordinators, on-site lenders, movers and full-time handymen to help move the home-buying or selling process along smoothly.

The company also has invested in technology to give its agents even more tools to serve their clients. Its branded property search app Homendo makes it easy for clients to search for homes but still turn to agents to help with the buying and selling process.

“Our Realtors have three big advantages,” RE/MAX Masters Millennium broker/owner Jim Wanzeck told Above | The RE/MAX Magazine. “The first one is the brand, the second one is the company, and the third and most important one is their integrity and the way they treat people — because that’s what people are going to remember.”

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Margaret Jackson

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at myjackson7@gmail.com.

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