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Coldwell Banker Unit May Change Hands : Real estate: A partnership is reportedly negotiating to buy the Mission Viejo-based home-sales operation from Sears.


MISSION VIEJO — A management team and two investment groups are reportedly negotiating to buy Coldwell Banker Residential Services, the home-sales operation that retailing giant Sears, Roebuck & Co. put up for sale last year.

Boston-based Bain Capital and Acadia Partners--a Ft. Worth, Tex., investment group that includes billionaire Robert Bass--would provide financial backing for the acquisition, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business.

Based in Mission Viejo, the residential real estate operation has more than 2,000 offices across the country, making it one of the nation's largest.

Coldwell Banker officials, including Chairman Chandler Barton and Chief Executive Steve Roney, would not comment Tuesday. They referred callers to Sears' corporate headquarters in Chicago.

The Crain's report "was written on rumor and speculation," said Perry Chlan, a spokesman for Sears. He would say only said that plans to sell Coldwell Banker are "proceeding as planned."

Brokers at individual Coldwell Banker offices said Tuesday that they have been told not to discuss the matter. But industry insiders say they have heard talk about a management buyout for several days now.

"I've been told by very reliable sources that the deal is on," said the chairman of a competing real estate brokerage chain. "The word is that escrow could close as early as the end of the month."

In September, Sears said that it would spin off Coldwell Banker as part of its plan to pay down massive corporate debt and focus on its core business of retailing. Analysts have put the price for Coldwell Banker as high as $600 million.

Coldwell Banker has benefited from an increase in home sales last year, analysts say.

The unit posted a profit of $74 million for 1992, almost triple its earnings of $26 million in 1991.

Coldwell Banker also has been gaining market share. One in every nine homes sold in the United States last year involved a Coldwell Banker affiliate, the company says.

But there is speculation that the Bass investment group would be more interested in Sears Mortgage Banking Group, which operates as part of Coldwell Banker Residential Services along with Sears Savings Bank and Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Group. The mortgage group's loan production increased by 43% to $11.75 billion for 1992.

"I don't know why all the Basses would go out there and buy all of those brokerage offices," said one Wall Street analyst who asked not to be identified. "There are more opportunities in the mortgage banking business."

Still, the nearly a third of the mortgage group's loans last year came from people who bought homes through Coldwell Banker.

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