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Property firms merge into giant

Two independent property management firms have merged to create one of the three biggest companies of that type in Aspen – and the only one of the big three that isn’t part of a chain.

Longtime company owners Chuck Frias and Tim Clark merged their businesses – Frias Properties of Aspen and Aspen Classic Properties – earlier this summer. They are equal partners in the new venture, which kept the Frias Properties name.

Frias said he could no longer run his property management and real estate sales company alone due to growth since he bought it in January 1988. He was seeking the right partner and approached Clark, a friendly competitor who had owned and operated his own firm for eight years.

Clark said his company had grown to a size equal to Frias’ due to mergers and acquisitions over the years.

The merger worked well because it helps them compete more effectively in an industry that has been dominated by consolidations. Both partners said it was important for them to keep operating as an independent company.

“The other companies keep getting gobbled up,” said Frias. “We’re one of the few big guys that are locally owned and operated.” Impressive statistics The other big property management firms in Aspen are Coates, Reid and Waldron, which is now owned by Resort Quest, and Aspen Lodging Co., part of the Vail-based East-West Properties conglomerate.

Another big company is The Gant, which has always been part of Destination Resorts. Unlike the other firms, its properties are in one large complex.

The merger gives the new Frias Properties more than 250 rental units under its management umbrella in Aspen, according to Clark. Those properties range from large, single-family homes to studio condominiums. They also manage the Independence Square Hotel.

Frias said the merger should push the firm’s gross real estate sales over $60 million annually, making it one of the top five firms in Aspen for gross sales.

He also anticipates the firm will top $10 million in gross sales of rental units in 2001.

Clark said he believes the local control of their firm benefits their clients. He noted that both he and Frias have a hands-on management style.

“Being independent and not publicly held allows us to be better in touch and in communication with our customers,” he said.

In addition, Frias noted, their firm is the only one among the largest property managers whose profits remain totally within the Roaring Fork Valley.

The merged firms combined have 60 employees in property management and about 80 total, including real estate brokers, according to Clark. Frias said no employees were laid off due to the merger. Everyone retained their tenure and the two firms melded the best of their benefits, he said.

Like every business in Aspen, finding and retaining good workers is one of the biggest challenges.

“I lose more sleep over that than anything else,” said Frias.

The firm keeps nearly all its employees year-round, though it doesn’t necessarily need them all that time. It’s the only way to ensure that they keep a reliable staff, he said. Eyeing growth Frias, 47, and Clark, a 36-year-old Aspen native, believe they can add to their firm’s rental pool and rent what they have more frequently despite drastic changes in trends in Aspen over the last decade.

Owners are using their second homes more often and are renting less, according to Frias. The strong economy has also provided less incentive for owners to rent out their units, he said. They want to use the units when they can and don’t need the rental income.

Clark said they hope to offer homeowners increased incentives to get those units into the rental pool.

The challenge in renting units is convincing potential customers that Aspen actually offers affordable units. Renting “economy” units has become more difficult over the years.

“I can put people in units for the same as anywhere else, and they’re better,” said Frias. “People just think of Aspen and luxury. That works against us.”

Frias and Clark anticipate a beefed-up marketing effort to help change that perception. In addition to an in-house sales and marketing team, they also hired R.J. Gallagher of Gallagher-Sharp West as a consultant.


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