Lee & Associates, the nation’s fourth-largest commercial real estate firm, has opened an office in Santa Barbara under the ownership of veteran brokerage team Steve Leider and Clarice Cornell Clarke.

The Santa Barbara office, at 1111 Chapala St., joins three other tri-counties locations in Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and Ventura. Its principals, Leider and Clarke, began operating with L&A on Aug. 1 along with one associate, Jarod King.

Leider and Clarke have long been fixtures on the local commercial real estate scene. Leider spent 10 years as a broker with CB Richard Ellis while Clarke was managing real estate with Towbes Group. The two joined forces in 1996 when Leider started his own company, Leider Commercial Real Estate, with Clarke as an agent. In 2001, they partnered to form Leider Group and in 2004 connected with Steve Hayes to found Leider Hayes Commercial.

“There’s continual pressure on consolidation in this industry, but there’s more pressure to stay on the cutting edge,” Leider said. “It becomes increasingly challenging for small-firm technology.”

When Bill Lee, founder of L&A, approached Leider and Clarke with an offer to open a Santa Barbara office, Leider says it was an opportunity to live up to the increasing demand of clients.

“What he offers us is a bigger platform for business. All 40 (L&A) offices have local ownership by the individuals in it so you don’t see that corporate structure,” Leider explained. “We control our decisions, so that was attractive to us.”

L&A runs corporate commercial real estate in a unique way. Essentially, each office is broker-owned and each owner becomes a shareholder in the firm. The premise for the system is that it creates regionally smart and invested brokers who don’t answer to a removed third party.

King started as a broker’s assistant with Leider Hayes in 2004 and has now joined L&A as an associate. He said the merger is exciting because it means applying national resources to the group’s vast local knowledge.

“We are going to add credibility for national tenants we work with and there’s a lot more networking opportunities,” he said.

In such a demanding and competitive market, the resources and technology of a corporate firm can make all the difference, especially in comparison with that available to smaller boutique firms like Leider Hayes, which was dissolved Aug. 1. Hayes has since started Hayes Commercial.

“Certainly we can offer a bigger product array than what we had before,” said Leider. He explained that because business in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties is constrained with a high entry barrier, having the extra network of offices is extremely helpful.

“If a client needs to make an investment we have the ability to call 30 other offices and see what they’ve got,” he said.

As far as the local market for commercial real estate is concerned, Leider says there’s no question it has slowed down. He relates it to a ripple effect that has especially affected Lompoc and Santa Maria.

“From a retailer’s perspective, with of the cost of housing and the price of gas, and relying on employees coming in who are living in Buellton or Santa Maria, companies aren’t expanding,” he said.

Leider also commented on the controversial Santa Barbara height initiative, saying the city is “talking out of both sides of its mouth” by encouraging more workforce housing but still facing the problem of cost per unit.

“The price of development in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara is high, and unless you can get enough units, which means you have to go up, that makes it prohibitive,” he said.

In the coming months, Leider and Clarke plan to fully staff their new Chapala office and continue to draw on the new resources available to them.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at mhelmuth@noozhawk.com.