For Steve Berry, commercial real estate is not enough. One of Fort Worth’s busiest Realtors has added residential transactions to his portfolio.
“Residential is really strong in Fort Worth, and I wanted to play a role in its ongoing success,” says Berry, 55, keeping busy since joining Williams Trew’s Camp Bowie Boulevard office in September.
Berry still handles commercial deals as a partner with Pine Room Partners and Vintage Capital Partners, both of Fort Worth, but joining Williams Trew sees the industry veteran expand his horizons. The move follows a career highlighted by managing more than $140 million in deals and development efforts, including multifamily ventures, senior housing and student housing projects near Texas Christian University, as well as commercial transactions in hotel, industrial, retail and office sectors.
His latest employer speaks highly of someone who grew up in many of the Fort Worth neighborhoods he now markets.
“His experience working on complex real estate transactions representing both buyers and sellers, plus his passion for Fort Worth and deep roots in the city, will bode well for his clients,” said Martha Williams, co-founder of Williams Trew residential and real estate brokerage firm, a division of Ebby Halliday Real Estate Inc.
Boding well for Fort Worth has been Berry’s volunteerism on several boards, including the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), Streams & Valleys Inc., Trinity Improvement Association and Region C Water Planning Group.
Berry sat down with the Fort Worth Business Press to discuss his new career move, past accomplishments and the future of Fort Worth real estate.
First of all, congratulations on the new job. Have you gotten a sense of what serving Williams Trew and its customers entails?
I come from a commercial real estate background, the last 30 years on the commercial side of the business. I’ve worn a variety of hats: broker, asset manager, investment manager of all kinds of commercial product types.
In the last several years, prices in commercial properties have really gotten high and they have priced out of a lot of smaller investors. The investor market is looking for a little higher return than you can get in the market. Consequently, it’s difficult finding deals. It’s competitive. It takes a long time to close.
My move to residential was based on the fact that it’s a lot shorter transaction time from properties going under contract to close. There are more homes out there on the market than there are commercial properties, and being from Fort Worth and having a pretty good network of family, friends and professional contacts made it an attractive opportunity to come here.
With respect to Williams Trew, it is the largest residential real estate company in Fort Worth, with 95 agents in two offices, very well-connected agents that have access to a lot of homes. Based on reputation and the high degree of professionals, it was a no-brainer.
How did you connect with the firm?
I starting researching residential opportunities. It resulted from conversations with mentors on the commercial side. When I made my decision [to pursue residential real estate employment], I reached out to Williams Trew and initiated a conversation with them, which resulted in an opportunity to come work over here in pretty short order.
At the end of the day, Williams Trew was the best thing for me.
Did anything from the residential side surprise you? Anything unexpected, considering your commercial background?
There are some nuances to residential that are a little different from the commercial world, more so on the contract side. There is a little more altitude on the commercial side. That’s probably the most notable thing.
Sounds like the move sent you back to your books.
Yes, the great thing about Williams Trew is that the parent company is Ebby Halliday. It acquired them [Williams Trew] two years ago. Ebby is the largest residential independently owned company in the area and they have a first-rate training program for newer agents, so you go through a pretty extensive training program: Ebby School.
Yes, you learn a lot, like the process of conducting a real estate transaction from start to finish. The process is very similar [to commercial transactions]. I’ve been negotiating commercial real estate transactions for 30 years.
Do you focus on specific pockets of town, or do you serve clients from all Fort Worth neighborhoods?
I actually am focusing on the area codes that I am familiar with, which would be 76107, 76109 76116 and am also getting familiar with the other neighborhoods like those in Aledo, those with better school districts. I’m learning about those neighborhoods.
School ratings play a huge role in residential, as I’m sure you know well.
That’s a big factor to Aledo. And with Walsh Ranch [residential community] coming online, they’re building additional schools and will continue to make that a very busy area.
Virtually everywhere you look, new homes are under construction and new neighborhoods are cropping up around new schools. Fort Worth real estate is just really strong.
For what reasons, in your estimation?
The diversified economy, cost of living, no state income tax — all of the things that you read about in terms of economic factors that bring people to this market, a market that never really dipped too much. People continued to move to North Texas, and because of the fact that we were more diversified, did not experience major dips and swings in the market, etc. On the commercial side, we did experience a lot of pricing downturn, particularly properties that were leveraged. We got through that without too much negative impact.
Aside from quality school districts, what amenities or neighborhoods are prospective homeowners primarily seeking?
They like parks. Access to shopping, commercial districts are important.
Like those in River District and Clearfork, for example?
Especially compared to most parts of the country. Where does Fort Worth stand real estate-wise?
In terms of the housing market, what I see is that 2016 was very much on pace with last year. I don’t know the final numbers, but in 2017 it appears to be starting on pace with 2016. There is a lower supply – inventory of homes – out there, so it’s hard to find product prices have been increasing. There’s 18 percent year over year in median sale prices in Tarrant County this year  compared to September of last year (18 percent compared to median sales between years).
Williams Trew has lot of off-market listings, so in a very light supply market, the ability to find product out there that hasn’t hit the market is a great benefit.
You’re a Fort Worth native. Does that give you a certain insight that other real-estate agents might lack?
It certainly helps. I think being from Fort Worth, certainly with the relationships I’ve formed over the years, is an added benefit, with neighborhoods, with the cultural amenities, with different developments that have occurred over the years.
Even though I’m ramping up and am fully committed to the residential side of the business, I am still doing commercial transactions.
Let’s discuss your brother, Mike Berry. As president of Hillwood Properties, he’s obviously immersed in real estate. Do you and he chat regularly about the local industry or even trade tips on transactions and available properties?
We’re both in the industry and are both very close. We talk a couple times a week, so yes, we talk about real estate and new developments. We don’t dive into specific transactional things, just a broad brush type of conversation.
Did he spur your interest in real estate growing up?
When I graduated from college, he was in the real estate business in Dallas and Fort Worth, working for [oil tycoon] Ray Hunt with Woodbine [Development Corp.]. So when I graduated and moved back to Fort Worth in 1984, the real estate market was vibrant. He was having a lot of fun, so it was certainly on the plate. But I didn’t make a decision to get into real estate because of him but certainly had an awareness of it.
Are prospective homebuyers seeking things they haven’t in the past?
It isn’t necessarily new, but they’re looking for an open floor plan. It is more appealing for families to congregate together, so a kitchen open-ended to a family room is certainly appealing from a floor plan standpoint. You see a lot of money spent on master suites with a nice master bedroom, bathroom and a lot of money spent on kitchens because I think, typically, when you spend money on a master bed and bath, you get a lot of that back when you sell the house.
Are homeowners holding on longer to their houses before selling these days?
I’ve not necessarily seen a dramatic change along those lines in terms of how long people are holding onto their homes before they put them on the market. It’s a seller’s market right now. Prices are high and inventory is low.
What’s in store in Fort Worth real estate for the coming year?
I think it’s going to continue to move in an upward trajectory. This market is a very distinct market, with tremendous growth in North Texas and the benefits of that in any community in North Texas are great. I think this area is going to continue to bring in people, which will create demand for homes and you’ll see more housing come out of that growth. You’ll see it in prosperous areas in North Dallas, certainly see it at Walsh Ranch. You’re seeing the development off of Chisholm Trail Parkway. You’ll continue to see more homes being built.
What does Steve Berry do in his time off, assuming you have such time?
I’m an exercise nut. I do combo cross fit yoga, ride a bike. Pretty much any outdoor activity that revolves around exercise.