Values that Go Beyond Property

First Western Properties
Written by Stacey McCarthy

For 40 years, First Western Properties has been regarded as a successful retail-focused commercial real estate companies in the Pacific Northwest. First Western Properties is not only known for leasing key property developments such as the Village at Chambers Bay in University Place, Brewery Blocks in Tacoma, and Olympic Town Center in Gig Harbor, but also for the emphasis it has placed on fostering solid relationships with its clients.
For this company, its long-term success can be measured by the relationships it has created and its goal to see clients succeed.

The history behind First Western Properties began in 1979 with brothers George and Ralph Barber. George, who had been developing retail shopping centers in Seattle, WA for a number of years with Western Pacific Properties, wanted to branch out into development and thought it would be a natural fit to have Ralph, who had been in commercial real estate for two years, come on board and start building a brokerage team to support his efforts.

They began to build a small business in Lynnwood, WA by adding another broker and a receptionist to their team of two. After a couple of years in the business, Ralph and his wife Teree bought George out when he felt it was time to go back to his roots and concentrate on the development side of business.

Ralph, Teree and their small but solid team then expanded the business to a second office in Southcenter, WA and added some additional staff, including Dan Durr. When development opportunities began to somewhat diminish, they made the decision to close the Southcenter location and open a new location in Tacoma, WA with Dan Durr at the helm.

“I joined First Western Properties in 1986 with the idea that they had the right platform, the right brand, the right reputation to build a company on,” said Dan Durr, Co-founder. “So we spent time together and I took one office and then decided to come to Tacoma and start a company here. That was about 1988-89 and it has just been a joy ever since.”

With a Pacific Northwest focus, the company’s customers range from local boutique retailers and property owners all the way to institutional owners and national retailers. Part of the reason the firm has managed to become so successful in this region is because Seattle and Portland have gained so much attention, especially from the tech industry in the last decade, and the team is seeing more and more out-of-state investors and retailers expanding into the Northwest.

Indeed, companies like Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Microsoft are all headquartered in Seattle, making it the new Silicon Valley for engineering and computer professionals who have flocked to the region in search of job opportunities. This in turn has attracted other companies to the area to take advantage of the rich talent pool.

First Western Properties’ client list includes recognized brands like McDonalds, Subway, UPS, 7-Eleven, Wells Fargo, and many more. The company’s property management division currently manages over one million square feet of space, and the First Western Properties team has grown to around 50 people serving in roles such as brokers, property managers and accountants, many of whom have been with the company for decades.

“One of the strengths of First Western Properties is the longevity of our team,” said Josh Parnell, Vice President and Principal Broker. “We take a lot of pride in our consistency over a long period of time.”

Parnell went on to say that the business is a marathon and sprint all at once. “We have at least 25 percent of the firm that has been here over 20 years, and that is a huge compliment to our culture and we believe our clients see that and enjoy the environment at First Western Properties.”

Durr added that, “We had an idea of what we wanted this company to be. We started out very small – there was a receptionist, one agent and a rented office, and since that time we really had the opportunity to build a company based on the values, the integrity, and the desires of that team, to really build the company over time to what it is today.”

Those core values are as follows: Honoring God, family and community; Leading with respect and integrity; and Personal and professional excellence. By understanding what their values were right from the start, the team was able to attract the kind of people they wanted, and they feel very blessed that they were able to accomplish that.

Businesses are presented with more obstacles than others, and real estate is definitely one that has many – most of which are out of the control of the business owner. Fluctuating interest rates, political crises, dips in the economy, and environmental factors all can have an impact, but sometimes it’s how a business reacts to the ups and downs that determines its longevity.

“Each market shift creates opportunity,” said Parnell. “We strive to always find the opportunities for our clients. We are very blessed to be located in the Northwest with such dynamic employers, geography and real estate community.”

Some of the other challenges the firm has faced are neighborhoods that see development of commercial property in their area as a threat rather than an opportunity. To overcome these challenges, First Western Properties conducts extensive research on a given area, its residents and its business owners, and works hard to ensure that the communities in question know that First Western Properties has taken the time to understand the local strengths of each community.

“We pride ourselves on superior market knowledge, robust internal collaboration, hustle and building strong relationships throughout the shopping center community,” said Parnell. “Relationships are huge in all businesses but we find especially in commercial real estate where the opportunity for repeat business is everywhere. We’ve had some listings for over 20 years and it is all about the relationship and taking care of our clients.” Ultimately the company’s goal, according to its website, is to generate strong rents, stability and property performance through effective negotiations that best fits each landlord/owner’s vision for their investment.

First Western Properties’ current focus is primarily on growth. In 2018, the firm expanded its operations into Portland, Oregon as well as adding a Property Management division to better serve its clientele. The team is excited about the future of First Western Properties and growing its market share in the Northwest. To assist in achieving that, the company is constantly looking to expand its 35-member brokerage team.

For Durr, he feels confident in the team that has been built and secure in the knowledge that the future of the company is in good hands.

“You know, I think one of the things that’s a real blessing is to have the privilege of having an exit strategy, and we’ve [Ralph Barber and Dan Durr] been blessed with that,” said Durr. “We’ve been blessed with the people that now own the company that have the same vision, that have the same values, so I think looking forward our confidence is in those people. Really it boils down to the core values; if we check back in consistently with our core values, whatever happens in business, I’m very confident we’ll be successful.”

After 40 years of surviving the roller coaster ride that is the commercial real estate world, First Western Properties definitely possesses all the right ingredients for another 40 years of success.



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