Real Estate & Retail

Halakar thinks small, deals big: Real estate services firm quickly finds its niche

August 15, 2005

Unlike the 500-pound hammerhead shark mounted on a wall in Todd Maurer's office, Halakar Real Estate intends to remain a small fish in the large pond of commercial real estate brokerages.

But the company launched by Maurer, 34, and Ralph Balber, 36, is already making a splash despite its brief, twoyear existence. While Halakar has carved out a niche in the downtown Class B office space market, it also commands enough respect to broker larger deals.

Halakar and Indianapolis-based Colliers Turley Martin Tucker are co-listing the former headquarters of Galyan's Trading Co. Inc. in Plainfield. The 100,000-square-foot building and 22-acre lot can be leased, or purchased for $8.5 million. The owner, locally based Premier Properties, sought the leasing agents to provide a "best-of-both-worlds approach," said David Zoba, Premier's president and chief operating officer.

Colliers has the resources and scope to market the property nationally; Halakar provides a homier, local flavor, Zoba said.

"We candidly think [Halakar] is small enough to give very personal, aggressive attention, and that's what we wanted," he said. "Finding an office user for a large building is a needle-in-the-haystack process, and these guys are really focused on finding that needle."

Halakar's clientele consists of tenants and landlords. Unlike many brokerages, however, it does not represent both during the same deal, in order to avoid conflicts of interest, Maurer said.

Devoting equal attention to clients, whether they are interested in 1,000 or 100,000 square feet, has enabled Halakar to double business every year, he said. Declining to be more specific, neither Maurer nor Balber would disclose revenue figures or details on the number of deals they have brokered, citing competitive concerns.

The company's portfolio includes 1.5 million square feet of space, most of which is downtown. Its crown jewel is the 36-story One Indiana Square tower at the corners of Pennsylvania and Ohio streets.

Maurer, the son of IBJ Corp. co-owner Michael S. Maurer, partnered with his father, IBJ Corp. co-owner Robert Schloss and Pittsburgh-based McKnight Group to buy the building in October 2001. Halakar is the leasing agent for the tower.

Since the purchase, One Indiana Square's occupancy rate has more than doubled, from 33 percent to about 70 percent. Local ownership, combined with new amenities, such as a fitness center and bistro, has helped create more interest in the building, Maurer said.

"It's pretty simple: We will do what it takes," he said. "We'll find a way to get it filled."

Halakar had to get creative to fill the smaller Jackson Square building on McCrea Street. The 12-story building that houses Ike & Jonesy's pub now is almost full after its occupancy rate plummeted to about 25 percent. Balber built the price of parking into the rent and offered tenants one space for every 1,000 square feet they leased.

Maurer has no qualms about crediting Balber-a 2003 member of IBJ's "Who's Who Behind the Scenes in Commercial Real Estate"-with the success of Halakar.

"I tell everybody that Ralph is the best real estate broker I've seen," he said. "We don't win all of the time. But we win our fair share."

Halakar, though, has struggled to fill Victoria Centre on East Washington Street, said Stan Evans, a part owner of the building. Evans, who also is president of Realty Advisors Inc., does not blame the firm for the building's woes, however.

Its occupancy rate has dipped under 50 percent, with the loss of its largest tenant, and no accompanying parking, said Evans, who recruited Halakar in October.

"I've been pleased with their hustle and wanting to at least get us in the game, and compete for the business," Evans said. "While the relationship hasn't born leases, I have high respect for [Balber] and Halakar."

Maurer, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, started his real estate career as a developer in 2000 when he founded Halakar Properties Inc. Nearly two years later, Balber convinced Maurer to join him at Meridian Real Estate. The two knew each other through family acquaintances.

In late 2003, it was Maurer who persuaded Balber to change jobs. The two left Meridian to start their own brokerage, Halakar Real Estate, which is a subsidiary of Halakar Properties.

Balber, also an IU graduate, began his career as a CPA at the former Arthur Andersen accounting firm in Chicago. He left in 1993 to launch Ralph & Terry's Inc., a corporation that owned and managed nine bagel shops in Ohio and Michigan. He joined Meridian in 2001 as director of new business development.

Halakar employs seven real estate brokers, including Jenna Barnett, who was brought in as senior vice president in May. She arrived from Carmen Commercial Real Estate Service in Carmel after its merger with Resource Commercial Real Estate.

Resource is a new company formed by Samuel F. Smith II, formerly of Meridian Real Estate.

Smith's firm already has 12 brokers, but the principals of Halakar are not worried about matching competitors pound for pound.

"We're not going to be the biggest real estate firm in Indianapolis," Balber said. "Our whole idea is you don't have to do every single big deal in the city."
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