Jeffrey Williams
Executive Managing Director, Colliers International
Age: 57
Industry experience: 32 years

With availability rates approaching nearly 24 percent in Fairfield County’s office market, it’s a good time to specialize in tenant representation work. Jeffrey Williams heads a Stamford-based Colliers International team that works with companies on space searches in Fairfield and Westchester counties. Williams joined the firm in 2010 from Cushman & Wakefield. A career commercial real estate broker who joined the industry straight out of college, Williams said the job’s flexibility and self-directed nature are a good fit.

Q: How do the multiple options for tenants affect your strategy in negotiations with landlords?
A: Clearly it’s a tenant market and there certainly is enough vacancy out there that exceeds demand. But we’re seeing a number of large deals in the market right now. We just won a 40,000-square-foot Stamford requirement for a national reinsurance firm, so we’re in the game. There are some issues with absorption with Charter and possibly Indeed building their own buildings, so those are new buildings that are not occupied and not going to affect absorption. But that said, corporate retention is important. We retained WWE and Charter, and it appears we’re going to retain Indeed so those are all positive signs for our market. A lot of the reason people are coming to Stamford is coming closer to the live, work play phenomenon. I predicted the UBS Building would fully leased in one year, and it’s upwards of 80 percent leased right now and they’re looking at several deals as we speak. The building was taken out of financial distress, and they’ve done a great job over there. We did a couple of leases in the building with KPMG and then Thomson Reuters. It’s just a matter of time before they land one of the larger tenants.

Q: How are landlords responding to the current market conditions?
A: The incentive packages can be viewed as significant, but the tradeoff is the face value of the rent is going to remain the same. What landlords are doing is sort of like they did in 2008 and 2009, when the market took a turn. They’re not changing the base rent, and that has to do with a lender pro forma issue. But it includes tenant improvement dollars and free rent at the beginning of the lease. It ebbs and flows, but right now you’re seeing oversupply and low demand, so you’re going to see those numbers increase.

Q: Are you hearing from clients about whether the coronavirus is affecting their plans?
A: I have not. It’s on the forefront of everybody’s mind, but I’m not expert in this year. I certainly hope the government can address the situation as quickly as possible in terms of finding some sort of remedy. Nobody is calling me saying, “We need to do this,” but we are seeing ripples in commercial real estate: conferences being cancelled and postponed.

Q: How much sublease activity are you seeing in Greenwich and Stamford?
A: That is somewhat of a surprise to me [in Greenwich], but there’s some right-sizing going on down there, with three buildings having close to 150,000 square feet on the sublease market. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. Stamford had a big shake-up with the acquisition of XL Group and they occupy a tremendous amount of space including two floors at Harbor Point that are available for sublease.

Q: Given the duration of the current real estate cycle, do investors look to suburban and secondary markets for acquisitions?
A: The suburban assets have really lost some of their allure for investors. That’s because suburban assets are having a difficult time leasing, because people want to be closer to downtown, and don’t want to drive everywhere they need to go. GE couldn’t get anybody to fire [on a purchase of its former Fairfield campus] because you were out in the middle of nowhere. These suburban campuses aren’t making it. High Ridge [office park in Stamford] is adding a Lifetime Fitness, and you see a lot of repositioning for medical and even residential. Half of 201 High Ridge Road is going to be converted into senior living.

Q: How are your law firm clients approaching their space requirements these days?
A: I’ve always worked with law firms and that’s a specialty I retained when I came to Colliers. Law firms are coming around to today’s age of new office space and getting much more systematic on how they use their space. No big partner’s offices, all the offices are the same size, and some of the offices are coming off the window line to provide perimeter light for the paralegals and associates. They’re right-sizing quite a bit. I don’t remember the last time I built out a library. If they do, it’s strictly for decoration.

Williams’ Five Favorite Golf Courses:

  • Winged Foot Golf Club
  • Cypress Point Club
  • Pinehurst Golf Resort
  • Plainfield Country Club
  • Woodway Country Club