BTWShiells, one of the best-known commercial property agencies in Northern Ireland, has been acquired by English agency Lambert Smith Hampton for an undisclosed sum.
The Belfast-based firm employs 75 people and has interests in retail, business space, capital markets and shopping centre management – including a lucrative five-year asset and property management contract at the city's Victoria Square Shopping Centre.
BTWShiells also announced the hiving-off of its residential arm, which will now be run by director Simon Brien as Simon Brien Residential.
LSH operated in Northern Ireland until 2003 – and BTWShiells emerged from that business after a management buy-out.
Records suggest LSH has been planning a move into Northern Ireland for at least six months as company Lambert Smith Hampton (NIreland) Ltd was set up in November last year.
Ezra Nahome, chief executive of LSH, said: "The transaction brings together highly regarded and complementary teams in strategically important areas such as capital markets and asset management thereby improving the expertise and coverage available to clients.
"It also adds to our existing offer in the non performing loan portfolio market by bolstering our presence in Ireland."
LSH advised US investment firm Cerberus on its acquisition of Nama's portfolio of loans held by Northern Ireland debtors.
The BTWShiells acquisition will give LSH the benefit of close knowledge of the Northern Ireland property market before the torrent of transactions which are expected to result from the Nama purchase. According to a statement by LSH in April, there were 900 assets included in the Nama deal.
Ross Davidson of law firm RW Davidson, which specialises in commercial property law, said: "This deal makes business sense.
"The current trend within the commercial property sector has witnessed the banks place disposals from their property secured loan books with nationally recognised players.
"The BTWShiells directors are knowledgeable individuals who, under the highly regarded LSH brand, will see the return of strong players to the local market."
The existing management team at BTWShiells of Keith Shiells, Paddy Brennan, Donall McCann, Paul Gamble and Stuart Draffin will remain at the new business, while Douglas Wheeler will also remain as a consultant.
Keith Shiells, whose BTWShiells history goes back to 1979, said: "We were part of the Lambert Smith Hampton Group for 15 years prior to the management buy-out in 2003 and it's good to be back home with a management team we know and respect."
Speculation last year linked Savills to a possible purchase of the commercial property arm of BTWShiells but it's understood those discussions stalled.
The number of assets Cerberus acquired after its buyout of Nama loans