What does it take to claw your way to the top of the hyper competitive world of Vancouver real estate? Turns out a lot more collaboration and a lot less clawing than you might think. Michael Uy & Morgan Browne, co-founders and Partners at Oakwyn Realty, sit down with Adam & Matt to discuss the meteoric rise of Oakwyn Realty and the practices that have led to Oakwyn having a strong comparative advantage in our marketplace. These young entrepreneurs talk taking on the established world of real estate brokerages, creating a culture of success, as well as some catastrophic failures that might have buckled the best of them. And turns out they also know a thing or two about real estate investing. Where would they buy? What is the best long-term hold? And what is the most important real estate metric? Trust us – it is one you have never heard!
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Morgan Browne – Partner, Oakwyn Realty
Michael Uy – Partner, Oakwyn Realty
Tell us about yourselves.
Morgan: I’m born and bred in Vancouver. I’ve been in real estate for about 12 years and started as a sole resale agent. I grew my team and then became a partner at Oakwyn about five years ago. I’m a person of my word, I’m very optimistic and I believe in enjoying life. I love to travel, and I have a great son and husband.
Michael: Morgan and I are partners at Oakwyn, a real estate brokerage in Greater Vancouver. Oakwyn was started five or six years ago and we’re trying to do something different. Morgan and I have been partners since day one and it’s been fascinating to see it grow. We’re excited to be working with you two and to be part of the podcast!
Why real estate?
Michael: I love real estate. I’m very passionate about it. I love homes and everything to do with housing, both residential and commercial. I think real estate is the best avenue for investment and securing your future. I believe so strongly in our product. Real estate and housing is a basic essential need and I love being part of the process.
Morgan: Real estate is one of the only businesses that is ever-changing. There’s so much new development, and so many new people coming into Vancouver every year. Things are constantly changing from regulations to developments. We’re able to keep contributing to an ever-changing market. Like Michael, I’m a bit of a real estate nerd. I love investing and having a great investment over time.
Real estate is a topic of conversation in every house. It’s our number one industry in Vancouver and everyone is interested in it.
You both started as resale agents and then started Oakwyn 5-6 years ago. How did that transition come about? Why did you want to start a brokerage?
Michael: Morgan and I were in different brokerages originally and we felt the industry needed a lot of improvement. We felt agents needed to be providing better services to the public and there was a disconnect with the brokerages that were available. So we started our own firm so we could improve the quality of service, education and marketing to agents, so that it trickles down to the buyers and sellers we represent. Our philosophy is different from many agencies. We’re excited about the growth and the people – it’s all about the people!
Morgan: Like Michael said, it’s always been about the people – the realtors and the public. We want to serve everyone on an excellent level and I think we’ve shown that over the last five years.
Michael: A lot of brokerages were really competitive, secretive and dog-eat-dog. We wanted a place that was open and more collaborative to better serve the public.
Morgan: Collaboration is key. We have something called Agents’ Secrets where our agents are sharing their knowledge with the other realtors. We believe in a collaborative community.
Thoughts on focusing on the brokerage and how consumers can choose an agent/brokerage.
Michael: It’s definitely important for consumers to look at a brokerage when hiring an agent. Where is your agent practicing and what philosophies are they following? We advise most buyers/sellers to interview two to three agents. One of the big questions you ask your realtor should be what brokerage are you with and why. We want our brokerage to be the one that cares the most about customer service as well as marketing, so your home is shown off in the best light. We care deeply about professional development. Our collaborative community is all learning from one another. We want our agents to always be hungry to learn, to innovate and to go the extra mile for the consumer. We think our care for our agents will carry through to the consumers.
Thoughts on Oakwyn’s growth
Morgan: We are aligned with a lot of people who have the same business philosophy. We work with entrepreneurs who want to pursue growth and learning. They know it will enhance the consumer experience.
Michael: When Morgan and I first started in the industry, everything was very competitive. You’re an island all on your own. For an agent who is hungry to learn or just getting started, they can really be taken advantage of.
Morgan: We wanted to make a safe space where realtors can grow their business, give back and constantly pursue growth and learning.
On the investment front, what is your approach to real estate investing?
Morgan: It totally depends on the product. Overall, my approach is all about demand at the end of the day. Whatever I’m investing in needs to have potential in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. I’m a long term thinker. Instead of something that is hot at the current moment, I encourage people to look farther down the line.
Michael: I start with doing some research and look into the macroeconomics of the region. So things like how many people want to enter the city, housing stats, and figuring out what area will be in demand in the future. A lot of real estate in Vancouver doesn’t cashflow so you have to look at the long term strategy.
For retirement, I think real estate investment is the best way to go. A great real estate portfolio will win the day for someone in Vancouver. Like Morgan, I’m looking at what will pay in the long term. The macroeconomics can tell you about selling in the future as well as tenants and demand.
In Vancouver, cashflow is almost impossible – it’s a capital gains market. So what does it mean for an investment to be doing “reasonably well”?
Morgan: Anything between 4-10% cap rate is what we try to get in Vancouver. We want something that is covering our costs. And again, something that in 10-20 years will be lucrative.
Michael: I think this is normal in hot international markets, to not see cash flow. I believe in this city. I love this city. I think in the future, nature will play a huge factor in where people will want to live. And that’s what we have here in Vancouver.
Morgan: We’re very lucky to live in this city and be investors here.
Do you have an area you’re excited about?
Morgan: Between Fraser and Knight on Kingsway – Cedar Cottage. That area is going to go off! Being born in this city, I’ve seen it change so much. A lot of that west side community has moved east. This is a place where you can raise your kids, it’s safe and people are investing in this area.
A lot of people not originally from Vancouver are jumping on these areas that used to not be so nice, because they don’t have the same stigma a local person might have about the region. A third party objective source can be key.
I’m all about energy hubs and places where you can see people growing long term, kids going to school from daycare to grade 12. Both attached and detached homes. You’re seeing that change coming into the eastside.
That energy happens where people gather – where there are transit options and shopping.
Michael: I like looking at retail. People want to be within walking distance of great coffee shops, restaurants, etc. When I see those cool independent breweries come in, I know an area is going to pop off. And it’s in areas that used to be where we’d get beat up in high school!
I’m also excited about Cedar Cottage but I’m okay with exploring farther out. Public transportation is a great indicator of future investment. Proximity to the skytrain is paramount. Newer product along skytrain lines is what I like – New Westminster, Burquitlam, Port Moody.
Where would you invest right now? What would you buy?
Michael: Those areas out by the skytrain and new product. I want to hold for 25+ years so it’s a long term investment for me. As well, I’ve seen prices dropping a lot on the west side of Vancouver. West Vancouver has taken a huge hit in pricing too. So there’s good opportunity there with properties of substantial value.
Morgan: Michael is right that it makes sense to invest in areas that took a hit, like West Vancouver. There are also a lot of places in areas like the Sunshine Coast or Tofino where people couldn’t hold their secondary homes because of the vacancy tax.
It’s about affordability. West Vancouver and the west side, they haven’t made room for multi-family homes. So you’re not seeing the young families in these areas – they prefer the energy hubs.
What is one of the best and most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Morgan: I used to live and work primarily downtown so along the waterfront is where I went. So investing in the area right behind Parq was a great buy. Back when I bought, that area was still looked down as being part of the lower east side.
You’ve both done very well and you’re quite young. You have multiple businesses and balls in the air at the same time. What advice would you give to smart, driven, young people about to enter the real world?
Michael: You need to surround yourself with really amazing people. I’ve been working with Morgan for over six years and it’s been an absolute joy – our friendship, partnership and business. Seeing each other grow and seeing that iron really does sharpen iron. Create a group around you who is striving for more. I’m so lucky to have great people around me. I always feel like I’m the dumbest guy in most rooms and I think that’s a good place to be.
Morgan: You need to make a plan, do your research and execute, no excuses. You need to strategize and then just push for it. Combining that with being around incredible, talented people is a formula that you cannot beat.
Morgan, you’re currently doing a mastermind. What is a mastermind?
Morgan: I got together with about 12 agents to create this group and it’s just a place for us to help each other, bounce ideas off of one another, challenge each other and push to be our best selves. So it’s just coming together to discuss a topic that’s important to everyone. Oakwyn has created that community and this is a core group of people who wanted to do this.
Michael: We also have a book club. I grew up in libraries and comic book stores. We form a community around the love of reading. We have a program for new agents called Open University. I always hope that they will catch a reading bug and join the book club. We discuss some new topics and kick back with wine and cheese.
You both act with intention. What does that mean for your business?
Morgan: You need to have intention to get things done. When there are a lot of plans in the air, you can always come back to your intention.
Michael: A lot of agents are quick to change their plans. But you need to believe in your plan and stick with it. We may not be able to spend as much as other brokerages on marketing but we do have a love for our realtors and wanting to improve their skills as much as possible. That cycles down to the consumers who also receive that level of care.
What mistakes do you see young agents or entrepreneurs making?
Morgan: They get discouraged too quickly. There’s a lot of rejection in our business and things don’t always go your way. They get discouraged and don’t stick to their plan. I also see people being afraid to work hard. Sometimes you need to go back to basics and work from the ground up.
Michael: It’s important to have a really good reason for why you are doing something. A lot of agents just get into the business because they see a hot market. Those agents never do well. But if they have a passion for people and for homes, as well as an answer for why they’re in this business, they will have success. You need to know your why. Without your motivating factors, it’s so easy to give up.
In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour or habit has most improved your life?
Morgan: The belief that you don’t have to do it alone. As an entrepreneur and realtor, you think it’s all on your shoulders. But in the last five years, I’ve understood the importance of building a team and surrounding myself with people who are better than me.
Another one is just to be present.
Michael: We started with zero realtors above a cupcake shop and now we’re at over 400 within the last five years. Focusing on what you can do in the moment is key: what is the best thing I can do in this moment to achieve my goals for the long term? Being really present in the moment and trying to do good work, that’s what is important to me. What is the best thing I can do right now to be a great friend, a great partner, etc.?
Fundamentals always rue the day. It’s not about the new secret trick. It’s about hard work and sticking to those fundamentals.
How has a failure set you up for later success?
Morgan: I feel like they’re not failures. There are moments but I don’t let them get to me. I’m here doing what I’m doing because I put myself here.
Michael: Prior to being known as Oakwyn we were known as Opus. We signed up at the real estate board and then found out after a year, once we started gaining traction, that there was another Opus Reality. And they were suing us for trademark infringement! I was really embarrassed and we had spent a lot of time and money building a brand. I thought it would be the end of our brokerage. Who is going to trust me if I can’t even trademark a name? At the time we had 30-35 realtors and I didn’t want to let them down.
Because of that failure, we decided we wanted to do something better. That’s how we came up with Oakwyn.
Morgan: It was one of our biggest faults but also our biggest blessing.
Michael: We elevated the brand substantially after that. Fertilizer creates great soil. That failure allowed something better to happen. We used to meet at coffee shops at six or seven in the morning to talk about where we could take the brand. That failure became the best thing that ever happened.
Favourite neighbourhood: Morgan – Fraser; Michael – Main Street
Favourite bar or restaurant: Morgan – Sandbar; Michael – Colony Bar
Book you would recommend everyone read: Good to Great by Jim Collins; 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
One piece of advice you would give your 18 year old self: Morgan – Don’t be so hard on yourself; Michael – Believe in yourself a little bit more
Something you have purchased for under $1,000 that has changed your life: Morgan – Ticket to Greece (travel in general always provides perspective); Michael – Instapot (pressure cooker)