Business

Hybrid Vigor!

Merging two TCI real estate companies brings out the best.

By Kathy Borsuk

Just as cross-breeding produces gorgeous and long-blooming orchids (see “Plants of Passion,” page 28), hybrids are typically stronger and more resilient than either of the “parents.” Such is the case with the merger of two long-standing Turks & Caicos real estate agencies.

In January 2013, two top TCI real estate companies merged.

In January 2013, Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty (TCSIR) merged with Tropical Paradise Realty (TPR). Today, 15 sales associates, along with management and support staff, work together under the TCSIR umbrella from Venture House in the heart of Grace Bay, Providenciales. The combined companies’ portfolio of property listings has expanded and diversified, and all involved have benefited from strengthening of the brand, especially their clients.

Joe Zahm is TCSIR’s President, while Richard Sankar held the same position at Tropical Paradise Realty, an agency he founded in 2007. Both are dynamic, outgoing personalities who have been working in the TCI real estate industry for the last two decades. Yet rather than a clash of titans, I sensed a strong synergy between the pair during a recent interview, enhanced by the steady presence of the other TCSIR Directors Karen Biker and Nina Siegenthaler, both long-time TCI residents, and Buddy Rego, a Bermuda-based partner.
Basically, the merger represents a carefully thought-out fusion of expertise and talents with the future firmly in mind. Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty has long dominated the high-end real estate market, with an average selling price of 84% above the Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association (TCREA) average in 2012. Tropical Paradise Realty, meanwhile, was known for listing a wide variety of properties, from upscale condos and villas through to family homes and commercial and land listings. Combining the two companies, who had long maintained a strong relationship and similar core values, seemed a wise move for a stable future.

Back to the roots
Getting to the place where such a merger is possible is the result of determination, planning, hard work and a dash of fate for all involved. Karen Biker recalls her first days in TCI, when Buddy Rego encouraged her to move from an established position in Bermuda to start the fledgling Turks & Caicos Realty in 1990. As the company’s only real estate agent, Karen had to handle everything from business administration to property management. (She was also one of the founders of TCREA.) Making the decision to purchase a Sotheby’s International Realty franchise in 2005 was a smart move that gave the agency a strong international presence and superb marketing support and education and training opportunities.
Meanwhile, after starting his TCI career as sales/general manager of Ocean Club, Providenciales’ first condominium resort, Joe Zahm teamed with Josephine Connolly (still partner and now government minister) in 1998 to create Connolly-Zahm Properties (CZP). It focused almost exclusively on the rapidly growing upscale condominium market, spearheading the marketing and sales of such well-known developments as Seven Stars, West Bay Club and Grace Bay Resorts. Joe recalls the heady days when hundreds of millions of dollars in sales took place on a short stretch of Grace Bay Beach. The area was so popular that some developments were able to sell spots on a pre-sales list and agents’ jobs often resembled order-takers.
After a decade of solid success, ever the prognosticator, Joe could sense the condo market slowing down in 2008, as prime sites were developed and the economic slow-down began. He realized it was not smart to specialize in a contracting market and that it would be hard to re-invent CZP as a full-service agency. So he decided to take seriously Buddy’s long-standing pitch to join with Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty, who listed a wider variety of upscale properties, and had the Sotheby’s International Realty network of global reach among the world’s most prestigious clientele.
Joe recalls that after this mid-2009 merger, it took about a year and a half to optimize the brand and “catch a little wind behind our backs.” The market was dreadful during this time, with annual MLS market sales of only $44 million in 2009, $58 million in 2010 and steady improvement into 2011 of $94 million. But in 2012, the high-end market sprang back and total MLS sales reached nearly $166 million with solid trends into 2013.

Another decision
It was during these difficult years, and with insight gained from a Sotheby’s International Realty leadership conference, that Joe and his partners realized that it would be difficult to sustain a high-end share as the market continued to evolve. Richard Sankar was a longtime friend and colleague whose agency, Tropical Paradise Realty, had been doing business with TCSIR for a long time. Joe recalls, “We’ve all known each other for years and were really comfortable on a business and personal level. We share a similar work ethic and value system and we felt that TPR’s strong and varied listing inventory would complement our higher end offerings. Richard and I discussed the idea of a merger years ago, and it seemed that the time was right!”
Because it was so amiable to all involved, the deal went through in less than three months and by January 2013, all the agents and support staff of Tropical Paradise Realty were ensconced in their new headquarters at Venture House.
So far, it has been a marriage made in heaven. To begin with, TCSIR’s product base has expanded significantly with inventory prices ranging from $30,000 to over $10 million. Current, completed and pending transactions show a healthier average price and increase in unit sales, creating a more sustainable level.
The variety of talent and skills among partners and agents is breathtaking as well, and each director enjoys being able to focus on their niche of expertise. Richard Sankar, who recently completed a Master’s Degree in Real Estate Development, now has the time for advanced sales analysis, fieldwork and the new-agent training that he savors. Nina Siegenthaler, a Florida and TCI-licensed agent, puts to work her extensive knowledge of market research to continue to build her $200 million resort/residential sales figure and focus on development of exclusive listings like the Grace Bay Club and Seven Stars Resort, as well as high-end villas. Karen Biker no longer has to micro-manage, but can do the selling and listing — client interaction — at which she is so skilled. Joe, still an active US attorney, is especially pleased at the depth of back-up the company now enjoys, which gives him more flexibility to strategize, shape and develop inventory pipeline and team-build.
There’s no doubt that the two companies had quite different corporate personalities. Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty was seen as rather formal, while I could always be assured of a good laugh when visiting Tropical Paradise Realty’s more laid-back office. Although the directors admitted that mixing the two cultures was a bit seismic at the beginning, over time it has blended into a strong team spirit. In fact, TCSIR is proud of the heady mix of nationalities, cultures and ages that now characterize the group, each bringing unique talents to best handle a wide range of clients, whose expectations are ever-rising.
And what did their colleagues in the competitive local real estate market think about the merger? Richard says, “I think whenever a major consolidation occurs, it can be perceived as a threat by competitors, but the reality is we are happy to lead and work with our industry partners and go out of our way to make sure co-brokerage deals are well-handled and brokers from other companies are informed and included in new listing opportunities.” Nina adds, “The better we do, the better the entire process. Competitors can see each other as trading partners, and information sharing is the key.”
Besides focusing on their exclusive and latest listings, ranging from The Residences at Grace Bay, Seven Stars Resort, West Bay Club, Lucayan Shores on Grand Turk and Sailrock South Caicos, TCSIR looks to exciting new developments on the horizon. These include the resurrection of West Caicos and Dellis Cay, and new opportunities on Grace Bay and in Turtle Cove. They also plan to expand community outreach and educational opportunities for their own and fledgling real estate agents. No doubt this new hybrid is ready to forge into the future in a stronger position than ever.

For more information and to view TCSIR’s listings, see ad on back cover or visit tcsothebysrealty.com.



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Hobbyist photographer and Assistant Director for Research & Development at the TCI Department of Environment & Coastal Resources Dr. Eric F. Salamanca took this rare photo of a Bahama Woodstar hummingbird enjoying the nectar of Moringa flowers.

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