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For 50 years, real estate transactions have been personal for The Cabot Group

For 50 years, real estate transactions have been personal for The Cabot Group

Mike Smith, founder and CEO of The Cabot Group. (Photo provided)

There was a time, as Mike Smith’s firm grew and gained a greater foothold within Rochester’s real estate community, that it made sense to be multi-faceted.

Cabot Management Corp. managed properties for third-party clients, developed a town home community in Honeoye Falls, became a mortgage lending correspondent for a major life insurance company and created a series of investment partnerships to own and operate retail, office and multifamily space.

But as Smith, the CEO, evaluated his firm’s strengths and how his team could best serve clients back in the mid-1990s, the mirror provided a more accurate picture of the future.

Rather than dabbling in a variety of industry sectors, it made most sense to focus on being the best real estate servicer in the region.

So his firm shifted away from development, from investment and from building ownership, he altered the company name to The Cabot Group, and the employees began concentrating solely on being trusted advisors and high-quality service providers.

Now celebrating 50 years of service in the real estate industry, the pivot has The Cabot Group in a position of strength heading into the next half century.

“Every business executive at some point in time will have a real estate issue they need to address,” Smith said. “We’ve grown to be a resource to address those issues. But then once we agree with the client on the course of action, someone has to implement the strategy.”

Enter The Cabot Group. Whether it’s providing brokerage services, managing a 500-unit apartment community, executing market analysis, doing audits or helping a client decide the best time to diversify or refinance, someone with the firm’s 130 employees is a specialist in that particular silo.

“We could not have talent that was a jack-of-all-trades,” Smith said. “If we were going to be good at what we do, if we were going to provide the quality and expertise that our clients would expect and we would expect, we had to specialize.”

He came to that realization by performing what he called a SWOT: an analysis of strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.

The strengths: high-quality key personnel and a multitude of experience in all facets of real estate.

The weaknesses: limited investment capital.

The opportunities: a market devoid of full-service service providers and advisors.

The threats: a relatively small real estate market and the need to fill every need for a potential client.

When the firm also owned property, Smith realized it wasn’t right to be in competition with clients for the same office tenant or retail tenant. That was also why The Cabot Group chose to be only an advisory and service provider.

“I just felt there was a need for a specialized real estate management company,” he said. “Each of the steps along the way, people have come to us and said, ‘Can you help me?’ And over the years, the opportunity to help has expanded.”

A graduate of Monroe Community College and then Miami University in Ohio, Smith said his best education in real estate came from his first job, as general manager of property management for Rochester-based Stanndco Developers, a firm that no longer exists. “General manager” essentially meant he would generally do a little of everything.

“They threw so much at me,” Smith said.

He realized, however, that there was a niche in the market, so at the age of 26 he made the decision to create his own firm. Which meant he needed a name, but as a relatively unknown, Smith Management or The Smith Group or Michael Smith Real Estate just wasn’t going to wow the marketplace.

“Who is going to put their money in my hands at my age?” he said. “I needed something that sounds like it’s been around here forever.”

He settled first on Cabot Management Corp. It sounded stately. It sounded regal. It was unique. And now, 50 years later, The Cabot Group’s direction and focus is also unique.

One of his first clients was The Windsor Square in Penfield. The residential community is still a client. Today The Cabot Group manages around two million square feet of office, industrial, warehouse and retail space and more than 4,000 multifamily units across a dozen properties. Representatives also broker some $50 million annually in transactions.

“My clients have become my friends, and my friends have become my clients,” Smith said.

They recently completed liquidation of the Max Farash property empire, a portfolio that included around 75 properties, most of which was in Western New York. The proceeds fund the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.

Farash Place at 255 East Ave. was not sold, however. With 170,000 square feet of office space, it is home to the foundation as well as other tenants and is 96-percent leased, Smith said.

“Under everything we do is someone’s money,” Smith said, “so our financial administration has to be perfect. Everything we do is relationship-based. It’s not transactional, it’s personal.”

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