The “Big 4” of Commercial Real Estate

by Greg Barrett

We’ve all heard of the Big 4 accounting firms. If you’re not a millennial then you can probably recall the “big 5” accounting firms; or even the “big 6” accounting firms.  Economies of scale, brand power, the need for international services, and many other factors generated a need for a consolidation of work into a small number of firms.  The commercial real estate services sector has been in consolidation mode for over a decade, and has developed into 4 dominant providers.  Listed below are the “Big 4” real estate firms by market share:


  1. CBRE
  2. JLL – Jones Lang LaSalle
  3. Cushman  & Wakefield
  4. Colliers International


Steady consolidation has permeated the commercial real estate services sector, both vertically and horizontally, since the mid 2000’s. We have a long way to go to match the near-oligopoly status of the accounting industry, since the “Big 4” commercial real estate service providers combine for only 17% of the market. I don’t envision the same level of consolidation in the commercial real estate industry, compared to the accounting industry, because overlap in services can be very detrimental.  CBRE is not likely to continue growing at fast pace, precisely because their services will begin to overlap.  JLL has some room to add additional service lines, and therefore, some room for growth. Cushman and Wakefield follows just behind JLL in size.  After the Cushman/DTZ merger we’re seeing a decent amount of overlap, which will probably put a stop to additional acquisitions in the short-term.  The smallest of the big 4, Colliers International, will continue to grow. I think a few of the players outside the big four will follow suit and start consolidating. In several years I believe we will see 6 or 8 dominant firms.  In order to land multinational companies as clients, real estate companies need to have the depth and breadth of services to support them in all their real estate needs.


Why are real estate firms consolidating?

It’s important that real estate service providers have not just a regional presence, but an international presence. They must be able to service all of their customers’ real estate needs, not just a few. As their clients continue to consolidate and extend the breadth of their services geographically, their real estate service providers must do the same. Companies don’t want to have 10 real estate service providers. They want one big shop that can help them with all their real estate needs. That is the primary driver of this wave of consolidation, and why consolidation will continue until each firm can be a one-stop shop for all their client’s real estate needs.

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