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Profile in Commerce: Michael S. Grill
Banker & Tradesman
May 17, 1999

By Joe Clements

No matters what happens in the future, it is a safe bet that Michael S. Grill will always remember the first week of May 1999. Just hours after selling an 85,000-square foot Newton office/retail building with two other partners, the president of Fairlane Properties was at the hospital with his wife, Hillary Brown, where she gave birth to their second child on May 1. A few days later, he was closing on 15 Broad St., a 10-story office building in Boston’s Financial District.

“It’s been an active month,” Grill acknowledged last week. “Everything came together at once.”

Although it might have been easier to space the events out a little, Grill understands that life does not always work that way, especially in a market where time is critical to successfully completing deals. Indeed, the industry veteran counts speed among his greater assets, using an extensive background in investment sales and knowledge of the market to quickly analyze opportunities.

The 15 Broad St. deal is one example. Having previously helped market the property as an investment broker at Fallon Hines & O’Connor, Grill was familiar with the 99-year old building’s issues and ready to strike as soon as it was offered by Wellsford Commercial Properties.

Unlike other investors, Grill tries to perform due diligence before bidding so he knows early on whether the deal makes sense. In the case of 15 Broad St., he closed just 21 days after the purchase-and-sale agreement was signed.

“Anytime I am making an offer, I try to do my homework up front,” Grill said, noting that he has acquired half of the 10 buildings he has bid on since launching Fairlane in January 1997. After buying 313 Washington St. in Newton, the building which just sold, the company has purchased 112 Water St., 33 Broad St. and 98 North Washington St., all older office/retail buildings in Boston. The 15 Broad St. building was purchased for $8.1 million.

Whereas some investors take a gill-net fishing approach, bidding on many buildings in the hope of scooping up a few, the New York native maintains there is greater credibility in only pursuing opportunities one is seriously interested in acquiring.

“I’ve worked hard to be a man of my word,” Grill explained. “If I say I’m going to do something, I am going to do it, whether it be for tenants, lenders or sellers.”

Tenant Focused
Fairlane does not waste time putting renovation plans in place. Fuller Assoc. of Boston has already planned a redesign of 15 Broad St. with a lobby overhaul on tap, as well as changes to common areas, the elevators and windows. Some $3 million will ultimately be spent, including a new roof, modern electrical systems and telecommunications capabilities.

Such upgrades will make it easier to market the 13,000 square feet of available space, Grill said, adding that he also likes to renovate common areas early on to send a message to existing tenants.

“It lets the tenants know right away there is a new owner who has a vision for the building and intends to make improvements to it,” Grill said.

Catering to tenants “is an important part of my company’s philosophy’, added Grill, who recently conducted a tenant survey to better understand their Internet needs. He also moves into the buildings he buys to be closer to the companies occupying space, a goal made easier by having the Broad Street and Water Street properties all in the same block.

Grill said that he always wanted to have his own real estate firm, even back in the 1980’s while serving as a financial/legal consultant with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. A licensed attorney who also holds a city planning degree from Harvard University, Grill familiarized himself with as many different disciplines as possible in order to prepare for the day he struck out on his own. His wife also works in the business after previously serving at Beacon Properties Corp. and MetLife in various capacities, including leasing and portfolio management.

Now with 210,000 square feet of space, Grill said Fairlane will continue looking at additional buildings, but stressed the company does not view properties as commodities to be flipped as soon as possible.

“I’m trying to set up a long-term operating business, not just a buy/sell real estate company,” he said. “I want my tenants to be tenants for life.”

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