Bob Shallit

Conrad, Sacramento’s real estate ‘bargain hunter,’ expands empire

Sacramento's Ethan Conrad has emerged as one of the most active buyers of commercial real estate in the country. Conrad is photographed in front of one of his building in West Sacramento. One of the reasons for his success: a work schedule that has him in the office from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. most days, even on weekends.
Sacramento's Ethan Conrad has emerged as one of the most active buyers of commercial real estate in the country. Conrad is photographed in front of one of his building in West Sacramento. One of the reasons for his success: a work schedule that has him in the office from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. most days, even on weekends. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Ethan Conrad likes to compare his business to a “real-world Monopoly game.” Well, the prolific Sacramento acquirer of commercial real estate just keeps passing “Go.”

So far this year, Conrad has made 10 buys, the latest being this week’s purchase of a former AMF bowling alley on Florin Road that he expects to lease to a gym operator.

Other recent deals range from the former Lucky Derby Casino on Greenback Lane to a warehouse near the planned regional outlet mall along Highway 99 in Elk Grove.

“Just in terms of deals, we’ve probably done three to four times as many this year as any other buyer,” said Conrad, a youthful 49-year-old who started buying real estate in 1995 and never stopped.

His company, Ethan Conrad Properties, now owns about 4.4 million square feet of commercial property in about 180 buildings scattered throughout the region. The total value: More than $500 million, by Conrad’s estimation.

Among his more notable holdings: The former Breuners building near Madison Avenue and I-80, six office buildings on Tech Center Drive off Highway 50 and Bradshaw Road, and the Nimbus Winery complex in Rancho Cordova.

What’s most remarkable is that Conrad keeps finding deals despite an economic recovery that’s brought big institutional buyers to the local market and elevated prices. One explanation: He seeks out “value added” properties – those with high vacancies, below-market rents or deferred maintenance that scare off other buyers.

He also targets deals at lower price points than those appealing to big outside investors. In Monopoly parlance, he’s looking to buy the Baltic Avenues of the region instead of the Park Places.

For example, his 10 acquisitions so far this year had an average sales price of $1.4 million. “The institutional guys don’t look at those (kinds of deals). They don’t hit their radar,” he said.

How long will the buying spree continue?

That’s unclear. A few years ago, Conrad was predicting that a buyers’ market for commercial properties would be over by now.

“It’s surprising,” he said, “that it has lasted as long as it has.”

End of an era

After a 40-year career, Paul Criswell is hanging up his mechanic’s tools.

The longtime owner of Paul’s Automotive – one of the area’s top-rated car repair shops – is turning the business over to veteran employee Mike Spellman on June 30.

The reason: Spinal issues that accumulated over “40 years of standing on concrete and bending and twisting,” he said. His retirement plans? Like most retired automotive buffs, he’ll be restoring classic cars, starting with a 1968 Camaro.

Criswell is asked how he managed to stand out from the pack – first as an employee and then owner of Toby’s Mobil Service at 16th and V streets from 1974 to 1986 and then at Paul’s, at 1922 O St.

His answer: Keep clients happy – even if it means biting your tongue sometimes.

“The customer isn’t always right,” he said. “But you have to let them know they are always right.”

Worth the wait

After three years of planning, the owners of Granite Bay’s popular Hawks restaurant are finally close to opening twin eating spots at 1525 Alhambra Blvd.

The smaller of the two ventures – a grab ’n’ go breakfast and sandwich spot – should open in July, said Molly Hawks, who owns the business with her husband, Michael Fagnoni.

The larger, sit-down restaurant will open soon afterward.

Getting the new Hawks Provisions and Public House from concept to build-out was trying at times. But Hawks said she’s excited to open, especially now that fellow restaurateurs Randall Selland and Billy Ngo are developing another twin-concept eatery at the former Andiamo Restaurant a few blocks away.

That part of Alhambra, she said, “is going to be a fun little corridor.”

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