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Giants of Aspen real estate merge

ASPEN – A mega-merger has once again drastically altered the playing field in the Aspen-area real estate market.

Two firms that have consistently been in the top three in gross sales in the upper Roaring Fork Valley in recent years announced their merger Wednesday. Morris and Fyrwald Sotheby’s International Realty combined with Chaffin Light Real Estate. The new firm will be known as Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty.

The merger pairs two companies that are a good fit with one another, according to Craig Morris, a partner in Morris and Fyrwald.

“We are two very similar companies – similar philosophies, similar business strategies,” he said.

By merging, they can pursue such mutual goals as getting the best possible management team in place and undertaking “extraordinary marketing,” he said.

Mark Overstreet will run the merged real estate firm as president or CEO, a position similar to what he held at Chaffin Light. Morris, along with his longtime business partner Ernie Fyrwald, will be on the merged firm’s management board as well as Andrew Light and Garrett Reuss, from the former Chaffin Light firm.

The two companies came together to form a new company, Light said.

“No money exchanged hands,” he said.

The move continues a massive shake-out in the upper-valley real estate business. While there were once five firms duking it out for dominance, now there are two. Mason Morse Real Estate merged in November with Coldwell Banker The Aspen Brokers. Coates, Reid and Waldron essentially disbanded, and its Snowmass Village operation was purchased by Joshua and Co.

The latest merger follows Morris and Fyrwald’s rise to the top of the market in less than 12 years. The company was created in October 2000. It obtained the lucrative Sotheby’s franchise three years ago and became the leader in the Aspen and Snowmass Village market. In 2011 Morris and Fyrwald had $525 million in gross sales, Morris said. Chaffin Light had about $300 million in gross sales last year, he said. That was greater than Mason Morse or Coldwell Banker The Aspen Brokers individually, but combined they had more than $445 million in gross sales.

Jim Light, a partner since 1978 in the firm that evolved into Chaffin Light, said the merger with Morris and Fyrwald would have been sought even if there weren’t tough times for the real estate industry after the recession. It simply made sense for both firms, he said.

“The phrase I’ve used over the last two of three years was the strong are going to get stronger,” Light said.

He and Chaffin have regularly followed the growth path. After purchasing Snowmass Real Estate Co. in 1978, they acquired a firm in Basalt more than a decade ago and then bought Carol Ann Jacobson Realty in Aspen. The various firms were branded under the Chaffin Light name seven years ago. Light said he and Chaffin kept looking for merger opportunities, as did Morris and Fyrwald.

Morris said officials of the two firms first discussed the possibility of a merger four years ago, prior to the recession. The Mason Morse merger with the Coldwell Banker franchise in Aspen had no bearing on the move, he said.

The merger creates a firm with eight offices and 110 sales associates. Chaffin Light is particularly big in Snowmass Village and Basalt and also has an office in Aspen. Morris and Fyrwald’s flagship office is in Aspen. It also has an office at the Aspen Glen golf community. All eight offices of the combined firm will remain open, Morris said. New signs, business cards and letterhead will begin appearing Thursday.

In addition, the Sotheby’s franchise exposes the Aspen firms’ listings to nearly 12,000 sales associates in roughly 580 offices in 42 countries.

Morris said operating the past three years with the Sotheby’s franchise has exceeded his expectations. It’s the best marketing tool possible, especially in one of the top resort markets in the world, he said.

Andrew Light said there is no immediate plan to reduce the number of sales associates or support staff. He said one of the big pushes by the new firm will be digital marketing.

A reduced number of real estate firms potentially means fewer employment opportunities for real estate agents. It could mean fewer advertising dollars spent in The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News, both of which relied heavily on ads from both Morris and Fyrwald and Chaffin Light.

As for competition, no other firms come close to matching Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty or Coldwell Banker Mason Morse in sales. That doesn’t necessarily mean the smaller firms will be snuffed.

“This is still a business about relationships, so anyone can compete,” Morris said.

Michael Adams, co-owner of B.J. Adams and Co., said the smaller, boutique firm isn’t intimidated by doing business in a market dominated by two big firms.

“We feel that when we compete, it’s pretty much a level playing field,” Adams said.

B.J. Adams and Co. started in 1992, so it has 20 years of name recognition and service in its favor. The firm has nine sales associates. It will continue to concentrate on staying small and offering top-notch service, Adams said. He believes that is a good business model, as is going the merger route and growing.

“We’ve always focused on being great, not being big,” Adams said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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