Brad J. Lamb has years of experience in both real estate sales and marketing and residential land development. With a reputation for speaking his mind, Brad has become a prominent media figure and a go-to guy for quotes and insight into the market.
We chat with Brad about his new development in Calgary, 6th and Tenth, pick his brain on the Toronto condo market and find out where he got his start in the world of sales.
BuzzBuzzHome: What drew you to the real estate industry? Were you drawn to it at an early age?
Brad J. Lamb: I started off as a very young kid selling things. I lived in Montreal and I sold popsicles, freezies, flags. I did magic shows and fairs. You name it, anything that could be sold, I sold it from my driveway. I always liked the idea of sales. It always appealed to me as a challenge because it’s a challenge of wits.
When I went to university I took engineering. I was living in an eight room house in Kingston. The second year that I was there, the house that we were living in went up for sale. I had an interest in investing at that point. I took a look at the feature sheet and saw the price for the property. I saw that the seller was going to make a 20 per cent return and that was just on the cash flow of the rent. That interested me.
As soon as I got out of university, I started doing research, buying all the real estate magazines that I could. After graduating I got a job as an engineer, but my main interest and hobby was real estate.
BBH: And when did you decide to get into real estate full time?
BJL: I started buying real estate with whatever money I could squirrel together. My first deal was for about $30,000 for a 4 bedroom townhouse in London, Ontario. I rented it to students for about $700 a month. In a little over 3 years it basically paid for itself. I sold it after a year and made a $20,000 profit. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I bought 3 townhouses and then 5 townhouses.
The first few years of my real estate life was buying and selling, buying and renting and renovating. At a certain point in time, the real estate agent I was working with was making about twice the amount of money I was making as an engineer just from me. I decided to quit and my idea was I’d represent myself running a real estate company.
When I went and took the real estate courses, I just saw the level of intellect and ability of the average real estate course enrolee was not that high. It seemed to me like it was going to be like stealing candy from a baby. I got my license after about 2 months and started working downtown. I was planning on just selling to myself but I realized that I’d always liked sales and thought it would be a good profession for me.
BBH: Do you feel like your engineering degree has helped you in the development and real estate industry?
BJL: Without tooting my own horn about engineering, to get into engineering school you have to have extremely high grades. You have to be able to solve problems and be of a reasonable level of intelligence to even get into it.
It’s one of those things that filters people. When you get out, you have a good understanding of how things work and if you don’t know something, you have an natural inquisitiveness and the building blocks to understand things perhaps better than most people.
It’s not like I use my engineering education on a developer site. I don’t go through a site looking at beams saying things like “that beam’s not large enough for the load it’s taking” but it does give you the ability to manage your mind and make decisions perhaps better than some other people may be able to make.
BBH: You’ve obviously had a great deal of experience in real estate sales, but did you feel very comfortable making the jump from sales to development? Was it a natural progression?
BJL: In 2001-2002, I started dipping my toe in development. I started by being partners with development companies. My role developing 11 years ago, was I was handling the sales, handling the design and the creation of the product but I wasn’t handling the financing side or the actual hard construction. I believed that was going to be a lark, that all the work was the work I was doing. That was my attitude at that point. It came from being cocky and successful and not having all the information in my grasp. I thought their job was way easier than my job.
What I realized after 11 years of being in this business and doing the other side of things, I’ve got to say that I was wrong. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I think it’s an extraordinarily challenging business and it’s not for anybody. It’s one of the most stressful jobs you could ever have and you’re never going to understand that until you bury yourself in it.
There’s never a holiday from being a developer. #$@! happens and it’s terrible. If you don’t have the personality and the gut to take it, you won’t survive very long.
BBH: Let’s talk about your 6th and Tenth development in Calgary. Why do you feel like Calgary and Alberta in general is such a vital market to be moving into?
BJL: The cities that we’ve been active in are Toronto, where I’ve done most of my work, and Ottawa, a secondary market. Ontario is maturing as a market and we wanted to diversify to another city that looked like it was stale in terms of the condo market.
We looked at a bunch and the only city to me that made any sense was Calgary. Why? It’s a town that’s growing. It’s a million-person town, so it’s a good-sized city. There’s lot of opportunity for land and development. It has a very highly educated and affluent population.
I don’t think that most of the developers currently working in Calgary create very good housing. We thought if we go and shake things up a bit and create more stylish, more design driven, more thought out development, we would be successful. We may not be the biggest developer in Calgary, but we thought we could do a couple hundred units every two years and maybe build a tower every couple years.
Calgary’s a city that’s going to be in great shape for the next hundred years. They’ve got oil. There may be setbacks, but over the long term, oil is only going to get more expensive and scarce. That part of the world has a ton of it and that means Calgary will prosper.
BBH: One of your new Toronto developments is The Brant Park. What makes that an attractive neighbourhood for you to be building?
BJL: I’ve been chasing that development site for about 5 years because I like the fact that it’s on a park. I think that’s hard to find high rise developments on a park. Parks are very contested from a planning standpoint.
We wanted to do a building that was spectacular in a different way. This building is designed in the sort of 50s, 60s international style and we wanted to be true to that. We wanted to build a building that was very geometric and very attractive architecturally.
The location is great. You’re a block from King West which to me is the new hub for restaurants. It’s one of the most popular places to live in Toronto now. I think King Street West is going to be where the next run of Gucci’s and Louis Vuitton’s will be.
BBH: Why do you think you’ve become such a prominent media figure — an ambassador for the public to the real estate and new development industry?
BJL: There’s a lot of real estate developers who want to be invisible. There’s a certain benefit to nobody knowing what you do, knowing that you make lots of money, knowing that you have children and where you live. There’s dangers to that. A lot of people like that refuse to comment. They don’t see any benefit in doing it.
My agenda is I want Toronto to be as good a city as it can be. There’s a lot of developers, and I’m included in that category, who make their best effort to make the best housing for the city, at a profit. I think the fact that I talk about that and care about that makes people want to talk to me. I have an opinion and my opinion also happens to be right.
Everything I talk about comes from a desire to make this city as good as it can be. We’re going to have a lot of tall buildings in this city. Why not make these buildings great? Why not make them iconic? I think that media likes commentary about that sort of thing. Because I’m a prominent real estate broker, a developer and I had a TV show, those are the three things that contributed to a lot of people knowing me. They’ve seen me doing condominium sales, they’ve seen my billboards, a lot of people have used our services to buy and sell real estate. Couple that with a TV show that was seen in 40 countries and add that to developments that people walk into.
BBH: No interview with you would be complete without a question about the trajectory of the Toronto real estate market. Are you still firm in what you’ve been saying in the past few years?
BJL: I’ve been saying for three years that we’ve been getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not going to continue to see 10 per cent increases in real estate prices every year. We can’t continue to borrow from the future. Real estate prices will not rise that much again for awhile. We’re going to see sideways real estate prices for condos for the next few years. We’ll see increases again and we’ll see substantial increases again.
There’s a lot of people out there who want to buy and rent condos. Those markets are strong. The new development market is not strong. We’ve run our course in a 12 year fantastic development cycle. So many things have happened in Toronto. We’ve done a lot to fill this city with a lot of exciting people and a lot of exciting things. There’s a time that’s going to take place now where I don’t believe that the new condo business is going to be a good business for someone to be in for the next few years. Projects will get built. Projects will get sold, but it will be nothing like the numbers we’ve seen in the last 12 years.
BBH: If you could teach a course at university, what would you teach?
BJL: I’d teach money management. It’s kind of boring, but most people don’t understand the value of money and how to treat it and invest it. It’s not actually taught in a common sense way at any school in the world.
Thanks for buzzing with us Brad!