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CHICAGO-A recent study by FLP Advisory Group found that many in commercial real estate predict stagnant hires and salary increases in the face of the economic downturn this year. The Chicago-based company’s 2009 Industry Hiring Trends Forecast and Compensation Survey showed that most of its 225 real estate executive respondents believe the US will see a decrease in demand for talent, with 49% expecting a smaller total workforce size.

However, other executives say they plan to continue hiring in the coming months, to take advantage of talent forced onto the job market by widespread downsizing and layoffs.

Robert Bagguley, Transwestern’s Midwest president, has been with the company for nearly a decade and, in better economic times, oversaw its growth in the region from 26 to more than 300 employees. During that time, the company instituted an internship program for promising college students, many of whom were offered full-time jobs upon completion. Bagguley says Transwestern has decided to put the program on hiatus in light of the economic contraction, but plans to evaluate ways to continue growth as qualified individuals become available to join the firm.

“What we will do is look at our competition and the successful free agents that may be looking at our platform as a viable alternative to where they are today,” Bagguley says. “We don’t see layoffs or downsizing, but we are going to be a lot more opportunistic in the next 12 to 15 months and a little more selective in terms of hires.” However, he says there are ambitions within the company for future growth.

Transwestern expanded into Minneapolis/St. Paul last year and is watching for opportunities to extend its reach into Indianapolis and St. Louis.

“There are local players that are very strong in their own markets. It could well be that this marketplace will create consolidation, and there could be an opportunity that affords itself in that market,” Bagguley says. “As people downsize, we’re going to look and see whether they can add to our organization. We’re going to keep our eyes open, because although somebody might not fit into a particular company, they may fit well into our program because of how we structure.”

Mark Rose, CEO of Canadian-based Avison Young, shares other commercial real estate executives’ view of the rough economy as a chance to capitalize upon talent that’s on the market as a result of other companies’ downsizing.

“We’re in a down period, but I believe great companies do not contract in a time like this; they take advantage of opportunities,” Rose says. “We would rather be the company that’s growing and acquiring at the bottom of the cycle as opposed to most others who engaged in growth and recruiting at the top of the cycle.” Avison Young just opened its first US office in Chicago and has plans to expand further into Europe and Asia.

Similarly, FLP’s survey showed that a majority of respondents match that optimism in terms of overseas expansion and opportunities. The advisory group’s study showed that 21% of real estate executives responding believed their companies would increase headcount in Asia. The survey also showed a belief that firms are looking to position themselves for renewed focus in Europe. Turning back to domestic concerns, the study went on to reflect an expectation by executives that base salaries will not experience growth and bonuses will decrease.

Bagguley concurs with these findings, and says he expects his firm and most others in the industry to remain mostly flat in terms of compensation. “Transwestern will follow the rest of the industry, without big salary increases or bigger bonuses, but I don’t see shrinking,” he says. “We’re predominantly a commission-based operation, and what we’ve seen is that those who can procure and execute business are going to remain successful. There are going to be fewer opportunities, as people are seeing how long this down cycle is going to last and less buildings are trading now because of unavailability of debt, but the brightest brokers will still find a way to maintain success.”

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