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Commercial brokers use legal expertise to close deals


Three commercial brokers for CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial, Carole Tillotson, Dan Connolly and Jim Hodge, have traded court documents for abstracts and are using their legal experience to better facilitate transactions.

“Although attorneys have occasionally entered the commercial real estate brokerage field, this is the first time that I’m aware of three attorneys in the Des Moines market being a part of a commercial real estate sales team at one time,” said Feisal Sayeed, senior vice president and managing director of CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial.

Sayeed said employing three attorneys as sales associates benefits the company.

“They bring that attorney thought-process to the table,” he said “They have an advantage because they know what they can negotiate in to and out of a transaction.”

Rick Tollakson, president and chief operating officer of Hubbell Realty Co., said brokers with legal experience have an edge when it comes to negotiating deals.

“When you have that legal experience you know how to get through the stumbling blocks,” he said. “It allows them to understand the process, to anticipate problems and to speed up transactions.”

Tillotson, who spent seven years as a bond attorney, said she provides legal experience in tax, regulatory and compliance issues, which is well-suited for structuring larger real estate transactions. She said making the transition from attorney to broker two years ago was natural.

“Commercial real estate is law-related,” Tillotson said. “When you think of skills we attained in law school like analytical skills, how to negotiate a contract, advocacy skills and law of property, they all work in our day-to-day lives as brokers.

“My role is one of an advisor as a broker, just as I was when I was a lawyer. I make it clear that I’m not giving them legal advice, but with my legal experience hopefully I can help a client steer clear of problem before it arises.”

Connolly, a specialized real estate attorney who is “winding down” his law practice, has focused on real estate transactions and land-use issues over the years. He has also managed a portfolio of commercial property and said his experience enables him to foresee potential problems.

“I am able to suggest to the client that they might want to seek legal counsel on a certain issue vs. someone who might not have that view of the document or situation,” said Connolly, who joined the company last April.

Hodge, the company’s newest attorney-turned-broker, said his legal experience helps him close deals faster. Hodge began his legal career in private practice and gained experience in the financial arena where he spent 10 years as an estate-planning specialist.

“It helps expedite closure, which is what we work for,” Hodge said. “How many deals have died at the closing table? Hopefully you’re better able to guide them through the maze.”  Connolly concurs.

“The advantage is you can offer some insight to rescue a deal that is quickly falling off the table and might not close,” he said. “Incorporating the wording that is agreeable to both parties on the spot is crucial to the flow of the deal.”  

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