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Close-Up: Marten Barry

NAI president views San Diego commercial real estate as solid investment

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When comparing the mid-1970s to today, San Diego's commercial real estate market has undergone much expansion and alteration. However, some things have remained the same, such as Marten Barry's presence in an industry where change is constant.

Photo: J. Kat Woronowicz Marten Barry is president of NAI San Diego.

"Every transaction is unique, which keeps it interesting," said Barry, who in his 30 years in San Diego has managed more than 1,000 commercial leases, completed more than 150 commercial sales and is currently president of NAI San Diego, an independently operated commercial brokerage and property management firm.

His interest in commercial real estate began in high school when his father, while living in San Francisco, entered the market after years of being a contractor.

"He said he wished he had got into it as a younger man because there was so much opportunity in the business," Barry said. "That comment stuck with me."

After graduating from the University of San Diego with a degree in economics, Barry chose to stay in San Diego and immediately immersed himself in commercial real estate.

"It had something to do with a 5 foot 10 inch blonde I met," Barry said, referring to his wife.

After working for Merrill Lynch Commercial Real Estate since 1981, he and other senior brokers acquired the San Diego office in 1990 and operated under the Lambert Smith Hampton name before changing to San Diego Commercial Real Estate Services in 1996.

Two years ago the company joined NAI Global, a managed network of independently operated firms with more than 300 offices, 3,500 brokers and nearly $35 billion in transactions worldwide in 2005. According to Barry, being a piece of a global network has its benefits.

"When one of your clients has a requirement in San Francisco you can talk to someone in (an NAI) San Francisco (office) that you know and trust."

Today the bulk of NAI San Diego's work involves investments, office/industrial sales, leasing and ownership in central San Diego County with investors or small businesses that need company space.

One of the properties the company handles is the Golden Valley Office Park in Mission Valley, a 69,000-square-foot office park, which the company owns making them one of the few brokerage firms to have its own building.

"They seem to have created quite a niche," in downtown San Diego and Mission Valley, said Jay Arnett, senior vice president of Burnham Real Estate's office brokerage services.

While all brokerage firms are NAI's competitors, the company doesn't seek out the institutional business that some larger commercial firms do, rather they work with smaller firms and individual investors.

"It just seems to evolve that way," Barry said, explaining that before joining NAI they didn't have the national network of offices that a larger institutional firm prefers when looking for commercial real estate services.

"We expect that as we grow our company we'll be doing more (institutional) business," he said.

Outside of NAI, Barry is involved in organizations such as the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties and the Downtown San Diego Partnership. The combination of NAI and organizational involvement, paired with 30 years in the industry, gives him insight into the current market.

"There's a lot of capital seeking real estate, so the demand is high for quality real estate," he said, adding that a strong demand still exists from owners/users, but there is an even stronger demand from individual investors looking to diversify.

"Investors are finding it difficult to obtain good property," he said, elaborating that good property is real estate that has a good return and is able to fill vacancies in a reasonable amount of time. Good properties are available mainly in Mission Valley, UTC, Highway 56 corridor and Del Mar Heights.

Looking to the future, he sees San Diego commercial real estate as a solid investment.

"It's tough to crystal ball but I think the increase in prices is leveling off," he said. "It's not a straight line from here to the next 20 years, but the trend I believe will be upwards."

After 30 years in the industry one might think he's had enough, but change is not in his future.

"I like the challenge of the transaction that needs an exclusive solution," he said, describing a current situation, yet to be solved, in which the owner of a property purchased and leased a property, which he understood to be 1.5 acres. However, upon viewing corrected records, the property was assessed at 0.5 acres, meaning the owner had paid for an extra acre and was leasing it as 1.5 acres.

Besides the odd transaction he also still enjoys dealing with the "cream of the crop of the business world."

"I really have no retirement plans," he commented.

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