Risk management, trust keys to success for financial firm
By NORAH MACHIA
The extended Morgia family in Watertown has been known to many north country residents for years as financial and estate planning experts, offering investment advisory services and asset management.
Anthony Morgia, 78, Michael A. Morgia, 50, and Phillip “P.J.” Banazek, 51, all serve as managing directors and partners of The Morgia Group of HighTower Advisors LLC, 151 Mullin St.
A third generation has entered the family business as well. This past spring, Nico Morgia, 25, who is the son of Michael Morgia, joined the firm as a client service associate.
All four men graduated from LeMoyne College, Syracuse — Tony Morgia in 1960; Michael Morgia and Phillip Banazek in 1988; and Nico Morgia in 2013.
The three managing directors and partners left the Watertown office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney five years ago. The Morgia Group, a standalone investment advisory firm, then affiliated with the Chicago-based HighTower Advisors.
In 2011, they constructed a new 3,500-square-foot office on Mullin Street.
Nico Morgia, who worked as an intern at the family business during college, joined the firm this past spring after working at the Bank of New York Mellon.
“I liked the idea of being around my family and working with them,” he said. “I’m actually more comfortable that my bosses are my family.”
“I have no problem asking questions or giving my opinion,” he added.
That’s the type of workplace atmosphere that Tony Morgia, who started in the portfolio management field in 1968, has tried to promote in the family business for years.
“At some point, everyone has to feel part of the business” said Tony Morgia. “Each generation can mentor the next.”
Part of working together as a family involves mandatory meetings, which also include staff, and “everyone is free to say something and offer their opinion,” he said.
“We must be willing to see both sides of an issue,” Tony Morgia said. “But we must still keep the main focus on the client. We put the client first because we have a fiduciary relationship with the client.”
It was 20 years after Tony Morgia began his portfolio management career that his son, Michael Morgia, joined him. Approximately 15 years later, they recruited Mr. Banazek to their team.
Mr. Banazek is related to the Morgia family through marriage. In 1994, he married Tony Morgia’s daughter, Jennifer, who is also a LeMoyne College graduate.
Despite being at LeMoyne at the same time as Michael Morgia, the two men did not meet in college. Mr. Banazek actually met his future wife through a friend of the Morgia family.
Mr. Banazek had spent 13 years working as a certified public accountant for a Syracuse firm before he joiend The Morgia Group.
“Mike and I were looking for a partner, and we wrote down 10 names and started crossing them off,” said Tony Morgia. “P.J. was the only one left on the list.”
But “we didn’t want him to feel pressured, so we decided to just mention in passing that we were planning to hire someone,” said Tony Morgia.
The strategy worked, and Mr. Banazek and his wife relocated to the north country.
“This is one of the best places to raise a family,” Mr. Banazek said.
Having three partners with different backgrounds and areas of expertise is a huge benefit for the client, he said.
“We each have our own skills that we can share with clients,” Mr. Banazek said.
Mike Morgia, who started in the business right after the stock market crash of 1987, said he made an arrangement with his father to try it out for two years, and then re-evaluate his decision.
Both father and son decided it was the right one.
“You need to have very open communication when working with family,” said Mike Morgia. “And you must set expectations at the beginning.”
“Our No. 1 philosophy is risk control,” he added.
While Tony Morgia said “I love the business and plan to continue working,” he also noted, “I don’t want to be the quarterback.”
“I’ve been mentoring, but Mike and P.J. are now setting the direction,” he said. “It was not a difficult decision on my part. I knew their capabilities, and that they would run this business efficiently, and would run it right.”
Incentives driven by economic development and home buyers purchasing more expensive homes increased the number of homes sold in Jefferson County and the median price in both Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties in the third quarter of the year, but a loss of employment opportunities in Lewis County decreased the median price and kept the number of houses sold relatively flat.
The number of houses sold in Jefferson County increased last quarter by 80 units, or 33 percent, from 246 to 326, according to the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors. The median home price in Jefferson County also increased by $2,875, or 1.9 percent, from $148,625 to $151,500, and the median number of days on the market for a house increased by 30 days, or 49.2 percent, from 61 to 91.
Randy T. Raso, president of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors, said the proposed missile defense site at Fort Drum encouraged more prospective home buyers to purchase homes in the area, driving up home sales last quarter.
“A lot of folks hear things like that and their first thought is, ‘Should I invest in this area?’” Mr. Raso said. “I have worked with people overseas … who are interested in investing in the area.”
Foreclosed properties that investors purchased earlier this year were put back on the market and sold at higher prices, Mr. Raso said, raising both the number of units sold and the median price. For instance, a developer would renovate a house valued at $100,000 at the time of purchase and resell it for $30,000 to $40,000 more.
“They are buying them up as a deal and are fixing them to make more of a profit,” he said. “So that raised the median price. Not only does that help the city and the area, but it also increases the value of the home.”
Lance M. Evans, executive officer of both the Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence boards, said that brokers sold more single-family, year-around homes at higher prices and waterfront summer cottages last quarter. For example, one Realtor, Mr. Evans said, sold a $999,999 cottage in Henderson.
“The bottom line is that in the north country real estate market … homes are still priced nicely and interest rates are still low,” he said.
Compared with 2015, home sales from January to September this year increased in Jefferson County by 96 units, or 15.7 percent, from 611 to 707. The median price for homes for the nine-month period in Jefferson County, however, decreased by $27,700, or 18 percent, from $154,000 to $126,300. The median number of days on the market is also up from 2015 by 16 days, or 21 percent, from 77 to 93.
Mr. Raso said investors were less likely to purchase properties in the city of Watertown while the City Council discussed Councilman Stephen A. Jennings’s proposed rental registration and inspection law. Under its initial version proposed in August, the law would have required landlords, including ones who operated outside of Jefferson County, to register all of their properties with the city and have them inspected once every three years.
“Investors felt like they were being penalized for a few people who did not take care of their properties in the area,” Mr. Raso said. “It put a lot of folks on hold.”
In St. Lawrence County, the number of units sold last quarter decreased from the same time in 2015 by 25 units, or 11.7 percent, from 214 to 189, according to the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. The median price, however, increased by $12,880, or 14.2 percent, from $91,000 to $103,880, and the median number of days on the market was down last quarter by six days, or 7 percent, from 88 to 82.
Debra J. Gilson, president of the St. Lawrence Board of Realtors and a broker for County Seat Realty, said that having a low inventory in areas such as Canton and Potsdam could have caused a decrease in sales, although some areas such as Massena still have an overabundance of units on the market. While the number of units sold was slightly down, Mrs. Gilson said, waterfront property purchases drove up the median price last quarter.
“And of course, interest rates are at an all-time low,” she said.
The number of units sold from January to September this year increased from 2015 in St. Lawrence County by 15 units, or 3.2 percent, from 466 to 481. The median price increased from the same period in 2015 by $1,750, or 2 percent, from $87,250 to $89,000, and the median number of days was up by five days, or 5 percent, from 99 to 104.
Lewis County home sales remained relatively flat last quarter compared with the third quarter in 2015, decreasing by only four units, or 6.3 percent, from 64 to 60, according to the Jefferson-Lewis County Board of Realtors. The median price also decreased in Lewis County by $22,750, or 16.5 percent, from $137,750 to $115,000, and the median number of days on the market dropped by 35 days, or 31.3 percent, from 112 to 77.
The number of units sold from January to September this year increased from 2015 in Lewis County by two units, or 1.3 percent, 143 to 145. The median price for 2016, however, decreased from 2015 by $14,500, or 12.2 percent, from $119,000 to $104,500, and the median number of days on the market dropped by 34 days, or 27 percent, from 128 to 94.
When Climax Packaging, Lowville, closed in April and laid off 157 workers, Mr. Raso said that slowed the economy and caused a drop in both sales and the median price last quarter. For this year, Mr. Raso said, an overall lack of employment opportunities in the county affected the median price and number of units sold.
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