Realty Firms Team Expand Market Reach


    GRAND RAPIDS — AJS Realty of Grand Rapids and Woodland Realty of Holland were just acquired by one of the state’s largest real estate brokerages — Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors of Traverse City, which has 40 offices throughout northern and western Michigan that specialize in high-end residential and vacation/second home properties.

    Last week, the AJS office on

    Cascade Road

    and the three Coldwell Banker Schmidt offices in Grand Rapids began working together under the banner of Coldwell Banker AJS-Schmidt Realtors. At the same time, the nine Woodland Realty offices in Grand Haven, Muskegon, Zeeland, Fennville, Saugatuck, Holland, Hart and Whitehall, as well as Woodland’s commercial operation in Holland, combined with Coldwell to become Coldwell Banker Woodland-Schmidt Realtors. Prior to the merger, Coldwell Banker Schmidt didn’t have a presence in the market Woodland Realty covered.

    Coldwell Banker Schmidt’s remaining 27 offices in Newaygo and Oceana counties, Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula will remain known as Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors.

    Prior to the merger, AJS had a sales staff of about 36 and Woodland a staff of about 130. The newly combined company has 675 sales associates, making it the second largest residential real estate operation in the state. Collectively, the blended companies did $1.6 billion in sales in 2005, representing 8,800 closings.

    Jeff Schreur, CEO of AJS Realty, Jack Bouman, CEO of Woodland Realty, and Ken Schmidt, CEO of Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors, have known one another for years. Schreur said Coldwell Banker Schmidt originally broached the subject of a potential merger with AJS and Woodland, and the three firms had been discussing the possibility over several years.

    Schreur said each company brings to the table attributes that make the combined company stronger. In his estimation, one of the immediate benefits to consumers will be greater exposure for people selling properties and greater choices for those looking to buy property.

    The Schmidt organization had been very strong from Traverse City down the shoreline, Schreur said, and Woodland Realty had developed a great reputation along the shoreline, from the Saugatuck-Holland area northward to Muskegon and up to Ludington.

    “Coldwell Banker Schmidt had three offices in Grand Rapids, but they really liked the AJS office because of the upscale home market that we capture here, and that’s like the market they’re used to operating in,” Schreur said. “In our case, they also liked our relocation department and the way we’re working it. With their Coldwell Banker network, that’s just going to strengthen the whole relocation part of our business in Grand Rapids.”

    Coldwell Banker Schmidt is a fourth-generation, family-owned company. Ken Schmidt said the merger was advantageous because it was “with two strong, well-established companies” with management teams that were interested in staying in place.

    “I don’t think anybody in our industry could have more respect for the owners and the leaders of those two companies,” Schmidt said. “AJS’s and Woodland’s culture and ethics are extremely high; they are both 25-year-old businesses that are very, very well respected in the real estate community, as well as among consumers.”

    Schmidt said the high level of leadership in both companies is reflected in the fact that AJS’s Pat Vredevoogd, who is a partner in the firm, is a former president of the Michigan Association of Realtors and incoming president of the National Association of Realtors, a post she’ll take over in two months. Similarly, Woodland Realty partner Jeff Young is current treasurer of the Michigan Association of Realtors and will be president elect of that organization next year.

    “We just couldn’t have higher regard for their ownership, leadership, quality of their sales associates, and their per-person productivity,” Schmidt added. “The resources they have will certainly complement and improve what we have.”  

    According to Schreur, all three companies were operating very well but were convinced they could operate better combined. Their blending brings a wealth of additional resources to both AJS and Woodland Realty, he said.

    “Coldwell Banker has been a leader in the use of technology for many years, so this has taken our technology to a whole other level,” Schreur remarked. “The way we can serve our clients and customers now with all the technological advantages is fabulous. It gives us a lot of access to collateral material that only a large organization can provide. It gives us a lot of buying power for advertising, too. It’s just a real exciting move because we are better able to serve our clients and customers, and it’s good for our sales associates.”

    Those are just the kinds of resources that will help Woodland Realty maintain its leadership in its markets, Bouman said. 

    “This is the best move to enable us to continue to thrive and to offer consumers in the area the greatest selection of properties and the best service in marketing and selling their properties. It gives us great stability as we move forward.” 

    According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s state profile for Michigan for summer 2006, the state’s housing markets reflect economic woes. Sales of existing homes have been weak, declining 8.8 percent from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2006. Single-family home permits declined 35.2 percent in first quarter 2006, compared to a year ago, while home permits nationwide grew 1.9 percent, according to the FDIC.

    Home price appreciation in Michigan slowed to 2.9 percent in the first quarter of the year, representing the slowest price appreciation rate in the nation. The agency noted that rates of appreciation for nearly all southeast Michigan metropolitan statistical areas also lagged behind the state average. In fact, the expanding inventory of homes for sale in southeast Michigan is putting downward pressure on prices and increasing the time required to sell properties.

    Those percentages don’t dampen Schreur’s enthusiasm for what’s ahead.

    “We have had five years of increased sales in a row,” he pointed out. “At the end of this year, it’s still going to be the third-highest resale of existing homes ever on a national basis. We also have historically low interest rates going. People ride through these ups and downs, but the big picture is still a strong, strong real estate market.”    

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