In a press conference at the City Club Wednesday morning, Van Eaton & Romero principals Bill Bacqué, Nancy Van Eaton Broussard and Gail Romero joined Latter & Blum executives Bob Merrick and Richard Haase in announcing that they have entered into a merger agreement that will increase the size and geographic coverage of the Latter & Blum group, already the largest real estate brokerage in the Gulf South. The merger brings Latter & Blum to 34th among all real estate companies in the country by unit sales.

Van_Eaton-Latter__Blum_pic
                                                                                                       Photo by Elizabeth Rose                                                                                                                                            
VER's Bill Bacqué, Gail Romero and Nancy Van Eaton Broussard joined Latter & Blum Chairman and CEO Robert Merrick, second from left, and President Richard Haase Wednesday to announce a merger of the two companies.

As ABiz reported online Monday, speculation had been heating up lately that a deal was cooking between the two companies — Van Eaton & Romero appeared to be a good fit for the aggressively expanding New Orleans-based real estate entity. The largest real estate firm in the Crescent City, Latter & Blum in the past entered into similar agreements with C.J. Brown in Baton Rouge and Noles-Frye in Alexandria, both tops in their respective markets. Like those firms, Van Eaton will retain its autonomy and brand, with the line “A Latter & Blum Company” added to all of its marketing and advertising.

The value and terms of the merger were not disclosed. “There was no money that changed hands,” Bacqué tells ABiz, explaining that the trio of owners will be stockholders in Latter & Blum Holding Company.

Van Eaton & Romero’s principals said they will all remain with the firm; at this point in the dealings there is no strategy for any of them to retire, according to Bacqué. “It’s part of a succession plan but not one where we have any vision of walking away.” The merger is the mechanism that will ensure the local company has continuity for its agents long beyond his and his partners’ work there, he says.

Van Eaton-Broussard and Romero founded the firm in 1977; Bacqué, now 61, joined them in 1990.

Latter & Blum’s companies will finish 2012 with almost $1.8 billion in total sales volume, which includes 8,400 total units sold, the company announced Wednesday.

“The technological, managerial and strategic support coupled with the regional, national and worldwide connections that we are gaining by becoming one of the Latter & Blum family of companies heightens our capabilities exponentially,” Bacqué said in a prepared statement.

“This alliance will lead to unprecedented financial strength, growth and breadth of offerings,” said Merrick, Latter & Blum’s chairman and chief executive officer. The combined entity will have a sales staff of 1,300 in the Louisiana, he added.

The value and terms of the merger were not disclosed. The deal marks a major expansion into the Acadiana market for Latter & Blum, which currently has only commercial property management and low-income housing property management operations here. Founded in 1916, the company also operates in southern Mississippi.

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