Gregg Williams remembers his first job in the world of distressed real estate: He repositioned three Los Angeles homes during the Great Recession to restore their financial footing.
Williams’ work with the houses laid the groundwork for what would become a major business that works with Class A office towers and other properties in financial trouble.
Williams founded Newport Beach-based Trident Pacific Real Estate Group about 15 years ago and he is what is known as a receiver. Courts appoint receivers to reposition distressed properties to later sell on behalf of creditors or prepare foreclosure for the real estate owned, or REO, arm of a creditor.
The receivership business is picking up again as properties face financial difficulties because of rising interest rates, an uncertain economy and the tight capital markets.
“Our job is to try to come in, stabilize the asset and add as much value as we can,” Williams said. “If we do that, then that’s a benefit to both borrowers and lenders.”
The receivership business, while unsung, is important for properties that fall on hard times. But, as Williams tells it, the role of receiver is less grim reaper and more saving grace for lenders, owners and courts.
Despite its necessity in the multitrillion-dollar U.S. real estate industry, the vast majority of the receivership business is handled by a few dozen firms. That’s a far cry from the deal-making side where thousands of brokers compete for buying, selling and leasing space.
Williams’ peers say they respect his work ethic and acknowledge he’s one of the biggest names in the business.
Jeff Pitcher, director and attorney in Fennemore’s real estate practice group in Phoenix, said he met Williams at a conference in 2009 after Williams introduced himself and took an interest in Pitcher’s practice. Pitcher admired Williams’ ambition and agreed to introduce him to clients, a decision Pitcher said he doesn’t regret.
“Gregg is one of the hardest working people I know,” Pitcher said. “He will always return my calls but is frank when needed about the directions that should be taken. He has an incredible memory for details — not only details about each property he manages but details about the people he knows.”
Williams got his start in the business after getting laid off in fall 2007, at age 32.
He had worked for a Newport Beach land developer where he specialized in office and master-planned residential development. These services no longer were needed when the housing market cratered and sparked the Great Recession. So, Williams began asking around for advice, and that’s when he found his new calling.
The receivership business seemingly was bustling in the throes of the economic upheaval for everyone except Williams. He spent his early days as a receiver trying to persuade someone to give him a chance. But that was difficult because people were looking for experienced receivers, not someone breaking into the business.
“It was about 15 months of failure with no business to speak of,” Williams said. But them a court appointed him receiver to oversee the trio of residences in Los Angeles.
Williams began paying his dues, taking on not-so-desirable assets as he built his business. Williams worked to impress judges and law firms along the way before getting asked to work on bigger cases.
The hard work paid off. Williams has since grown his business nationally, and the company has done at least 150 cases, Trident Pacific now has eight employees.
In April, Williams was named receiver of a 52-story Class A tower in downtown Los Angeles. This month, he was named receiver of a 41-story Class A office.
Williams said the firm currently has 21 active receivership cases around the United States, up from 11 last year. He expects his business to pick up in the months ahead as the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates and the commercial property market adjusts as the global health crisis winds down.
As for Trident Pacific, the company isn’t planning to hire as its business grows.
“We’re well positioned for workload we receive,” Williams said.