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5 questions with Tulsa real estate expert Paul CouryMcBirney Mansion

Tulsa World, September 17, 2010
by: JOHN STANCAVAGE World Staff Writer
photo by STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

Paul Coury is chairman of the Coury Group, comprising Coury Properties, a full-service real estate investment advisory firm, and the Coury Collection, a hospitality development and management unit specializing in boutique historic properties. Founded in 1985, Coury Properties specializes in property management and development, design consulting and construction as well as real estate leasing, brokerage and investments.

1 You started your career in real estate at a young age? What drew you to this profession?

My interest in real estate began at the University of Tulsa, where I had an instrumental professor, Larry Wofford. As a successful entrepreneur and academic leader in real estate, financial management and investments, he stirred my interest in these fields and became a great mentor.

When I graduated from college, I went into banking and ended up in the commercial real estate lending department, which helped expose me to the financial side of the industry.

I was attracted to real estate because it takes a combination of entrepreneurial skills, marketing, design and finance, along with the intuition of knowing locations and people - human nature.

2 Your company is perhaps best known for the historic Hotel Ambassador in downtown Tulsa and Colcord Hotel in Oklahoma City. This year you also began overseeing operations of the McBirney Mansion. What's behind the growing popularity of renovating landmark properties?

It may be a new trend for some, but it's something our company has been pursuing for 25 years. We've always appreciated older buildings and their design elements, which are more traditional than details we see in most of today's architecture.

Tax credits are an added incentive for renovating these properties, but we, like many people, are just drawn to the buildings and their ambiance. Our clientele is mainly upscale business and leisure travelers, who like that we offer modern, luxury amenities without compromising the historical integrity of these properties.

3 In the late 1980s and early '90s, Coury Properties served as a court-appointed receiver and asset manager for more than 40 defaulted commercial properties across the country. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned that economic downturns often linger far longer than people realize. We've operated numerous troubled properties on a turnkey basis during critical transition periods, working closely with banks, life insurance companies and individuals, and it can be a strenuous process. It takes a lot of creativity and perseverance to match up buyers and lenders to take over distressed properties in difficult times.

Our experience in the '80s and '90s also proved that these downturns do play out and values do increase again over time. We've always had a long-term philosophy on our investments.

4 How difficult is it right now to obtain credit for real estate projects? Has there been any improvement here in the last 12 months?

We're just now hearing some national reports of credit standards loosening slightly, but it's still difficult to borrow money no matter where you live. Banks are continuing to deal with the bad loans that toppled the housing market, so credit conditions will probably remain tight across the country over the next several months.

Obtaining credit right now is especially difficult in Tulsa. Most of the real estate lending in Tulsa is done by the community banks, which are still trying to sort through new regulations.

5 Real estate markets tend to move in cycles. What do you see happening over the next five to 10 years in your business?

The commercial real estate business is changing a lot because technology is changing people's patterns. People work from their homes and phones more today, so the concept of "the office" is much different than in years past.

If you look at hotels, branding is not quite as important as it used to be because smaller, boutique hotels can now compete online against the industry giants. The Internet is leveling the playing field.

At some point, the real estate market will stabilize, but the next five years will be tough on those brokers with less industry experience.