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NEW YORK CITY-Retail specialist Faris Lee Investments has branched out from its Southern California base and opened a Midtown office at 711 Third Ave. here. Heading up the New York City office is 23-year industry veteran Richard Berlinghof, who has been named a principal of Faris Lee.

Richard Walter, president of Irvine, CA-based Faris Lee, tells GlobeSt.com that Berlinghof was “a perfect fit” to lead the NY office. In fact, Walter says, Faris Lee had done quite a bit of business with Berlinghof during his years as a director at Merrill Lynch, where he was responsible for national originations of fixed and floating rate commercial real estate loans, managing a team that closed between $2 billion and $5 billion annually. Faris Lee’s Irvine-based senior management has been involved in more than $20 billion in transactions, with expertise in disposition and acquisition strategies, 1031 exchanges, asset positioning and valuation, marketing, debt and equity structuring and execution.

“For us, to be present here is where the financial action is,” Walter says. “We’re able to capitalize on a number of relationships that we’ve developed over the years, and to actually be present so we can knock on the doors and react more quickly.”

He adds that clients now consider this speediness a paramount requirement. “Maybe the execution of a transaction takes a certain amount of time and has a life of its own,” says Walter. “But to start doing the reconnaissance is something that people are asking for quickly. Whether it’s a lender or somebody doing a note sale, it seems that these deals are moving a lot quicker. We want to be on the end of that market where we can offer a lot of upfront intelligence and then be involved in the transaction.”

An East Coast presence allows Faris Lee to be “where the properties are that we want to get involved with, but also to be near a lot of the players who are not represented on the West Coast,” Walter says. “Especially now, when many people have pulled back from West Coast operations.”

However, an expansion of operations doesn’t mean a scattering of focus, Walter points out. “We’re going to stay specialized in retail,” he says. “We know the players, we know the tenants and we know the strategies.” Moreover, “we think it’s a strategic advantage as well. A lot of people right now view retail as a negative. We can offer guidance and show where there’s a great path to exit a deal or get involved with one, and not have the entire industry perceived as some of kind of toxic waste.”

The retail challenges–or opportunities–don’t differ all that much between the eastern and western US, Walter says. “You find interesting pockets of retail all around the US,” he says. For example, in some tertiary markets you’re more likely to find “overbuilding where the retail preceded the housing” and the housing boom then proceeded to collapse.

Year to date, Faris Lee has executed some three dozen deals, including 23 transactions in the first quarter, Walter says. He says that the New York office, currently staffed by a team of five including Berlinghof, is projected to grow to about 10 or 15 employees, and Faris Lee will seek to pick up market share here with both transactions and loan sales. “There’s going to be a lot of dysfunction at the property level, and we think we can add a lot of value,” says Walter. “Ultimately, what everybody wants to know about buying a loan is where’s the exit, and that’s our expertise.”

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