(Photo: REUTERS/Alex Gallardo)
The commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield recently hired two men who specialize in dealing with faith-based non-profit institutions. The firm recruited Eric Knowles, who will serve as Senior Director and will oversee the company's Religious Facilities Group, and Rob Fletcher, who will also aid in this department.
Knowles has worked in real estate for 27 years and has spent 14 of them years working with churches.
"When you serve church clients, their unique property types along with their unique situations, you have to have a certain amount of tolerance, patients, and you have to be willing to put the client's interests first and foremost," Knowles told The Christian Post. "A lot of our business is honestly counseling church leadership on how to make well informed decisions regarding their facilities."
Cushman & Wakefield focuses on provided services to its real estate brokers so they can serve their clients with competency and a service that makes the competition pale in comparison, according to Knowles, who decided to work with the company based on these traits.
Knowles identifies himself as an evangelical Christian and believes that his position in real estate is a calling. He approaches it delicately and to him it is more than just business.
"If you approach this business without a heart, you probably could make a lot of money, but because every single property we handle is different, every assignment we take requires considerably more energy and effort than if you were to sell two identical office buildings," said Knowles. "So when you work in traditional commercial real estate you have comparable properties to choose from when establishing values, but when you establish values with churches, there are no two alike."
Knowles works with a great deal of foreclosed church properties due to the current economic conditions. The overall goal with these facilities is to generate the highest possible value in the shortest amount of time. This is a niche market, however, Knowles states that it is not one most real estate agents interested in making a profit "have at the top of their list."
While working as a volunteer board member for a local rescue mission, Knowles first noticed the needs for non-profit organizations.
"By virtue of volunteering for a non-profit, I believe the Lord opened my eyes to the needs of churches and how church leadership was not being adequately served," said Knowles. "Quite often pastors turned to the real estate agent that they happened to golf with or that's on the board that specializes in residential or commercial buildings and have never sold a church before."
Knowles stated that church properties are often mishandled by unqualified agents who undervalue them or keep them on the market too long due to their lack of understanding of pricing.
"They need to deal with a professional who has experience with this unique property type," said Knowles. "And to do anything other than that is in my opinion a disservice to themselves and to their congregation."
Pastors can also benefit from choosing an agent of the same faith. By understanding the mission statement of a church, an agent can better serve the client, according to Knowles.
Cushman & Wakefield works with most of the major Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist, Methodists, Episcopal and the Lutheran Church.
"The [major denominations] is where our relationships [with churches] start, and then we get referred into the local churches often," said Knowles. And even though the company deals with major facilities with a 27 million dollar value, the average churches bought and sold in southern CA. are about 10,000 square feet and cost around $3 million.
Cushman & Wakefield is also the only major real estate firm that has a head of religious facilities, making it a unique company that can serve the Christian community.
"Most competent commercial real estate agents want nothing to do with the church," said Knowles. "And the reason is because they're an absolute pain to most agents that don't understand them."
Dealing with churches often involves helping them to receive financing, and an average transaction can span across years, especially with a non-profit looking to sell a property and purchase another. Most commercial agents do not receive their commission until after the transaction is finished, making dealing with church properties quite unattractive to most agents.
However, quick profit does not motivate Knowles, which is why he is able to work so efficiently with churches.
"It's my personal belief that ultimately the Lord takes care of us and we're to do the right thing and to serve this constituency, and [when we] do so, we get taken care of," said Knowles.