What does it take to build a legacy in real estate? Colin Bosa, CEO of Bosa Properties, has the answer. After five decades of shaping urban skylines, the Bosa family has earned a reputation for quality, integrity & community. But this is not only a story of real estate development in an ever-changing city and market, it’s a story about humble beginnings, hard work, family, and unwavering core values. This week, Colin joins Matt & Adam to talk about building a real estate company, daily routine and habits, his thoughts on up and coming areas in the Lower Mainland, & his outlook on the Vancouver Real Estate Market for 2021 & beyond. This is a master’s class in real estate; get your notebook!
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Tell us about yourself.
I’m the CEO of Bosa Properties, which is a private family business, so I get to work alongside my siblings and my father. My career started at a young age. I was on job sites every summer with my siblings and cousins, getting a sense of the business, through my high school years. I wanted to get working full time as soon as I could; BCIT had a two year program so that’s why I picked it.
I studied real estate and business at BCIT and then joined my family’s company. I worked in construction and development, working my way up. I started taking more initiative and responsibility in the company. I did my CFA years later to help round out my education. And that led to where I am today.
Your family story is a big part of your company. Can you tell us about the origins of Bosa Properties?
The family and the business are so linked. My father immigrated to the Lower Mainland in 1958 at 12 years old. He assumed his schooling was over, as education stopped at 12 in Italy. He had a passion for construction and started as a carpenter. He then joined with his siblings to create Bosa Brothers and they started building houses. And then it grew from there. Outside of Bosa Properties, we also have a construction company and income-producing assets. Being integrated this way is how we’ve always done things.
We’re very proud of our legacy and where we started. We celebrate the carpenters on our site because that’s where we started. We are craftsmen at the core.
The company has grown a lot in 50-60 years. What has led to the success of Bosa Properties?
We care about our product and our customer; we’re always going to do the right thing. We won’t put money ahead of doing the right thing. We say, “Infinite patience will get us immediate results.” We think long term and take a broader view of the world.
We’re also entrepreneurial at heart. We enjoy growth and that forces us to be better. When the family came from Italy, they were coming for a better life. The idea of wanting a better tomorrow is ingrained in who we are. We’re always trying to improve; we want to be better every day.
Thirdly, we’ve always operated within our means. Over the last 10-15 years, we have passed on many deals that we knew were good, but just not within our capacity. We’ve managed things well and haven’t overstretched ourselves.
When you were young, was there a vision or level of energy in your house? How was that different from other families?
Everyone’s situation is different. For me, from a young age I got to listen to my father and uncles talk business. I really enjoyed watching that process and being around it. Working on sites at a young age allowed me to ask questions and soak it all in. Growing up, I was fortunate because I knew what I wanted to do. And it wasn’t just real estate. I love real estate but I love the process of building a business more. So I saw real estate as a tool for us to do other things.
I compare it to this metaphor: If you look at how many NHL players’ kids make the NHL and why that is, it’s because they’re exposed to it and they believe it can be done. It doesn’t seem like such a leap to them. That was a gift I was given at a young age.
What does a day in the life look like for the CEO of Bosa Properties?
I tend to get up early, sometimes as early as 3:30am. I will get a coffee and read until 6:30/7am and see my kids in the morning. I head into the office around 8am. On Monday mornings we have executive meetings. I meet with my direct reports 1:1 every two weeks. I spend a lot of my time on people initiatives, getting involved in projects on a high level, looking at new acquisitions, etc.
Does the Vancouver real estate market make sense?
You can look at that from a number of different perspectives. I’ve always said real estate in Vancouver outpaces real estate in Toronto. There is more worth here. It’s a beautiful city and a lot of people want to live here.
From an investor’s perspective: We’re in a low interest environment. If you have your money in a savings account, you’re not making much. So assets are going to get bid up and we all have to accept lower returns. You can see value in real estate. I do think Vancouver is a good place to invest and park money.
What areas are you excited about in the Lower Mainland?
We’re focused on a project in Squamish right now. In the last six months, Squamish has taken off. It’s been a beneficiary of covid as people can now work from home. People can now live where they play. We also have a number of projects in Coal Harbour and the West End, as well as Metrotown and Surrey. So that’s where we’re operating right now.
A company like Bosa can almost make a neighbourhood or transform it. How do you choose sites?
The term “market” for us is a bit broader: Lower Mainland, Toronto, US, etc. So we pick markets based on our competitive advantage and if we can compete. So we don’t operate in Toronto because our brand doesn’t mean as much there. We wouldn’t have a competitive advantage.
In terms of picking sites, that is based on the product type we build and the opportunities that make sense. If we’re thinking long term, that might help us pick different sites than if we only thought short term. For example, we started buying in Surrey in 2010 with plans to wait. We’re now building more aggressively out there as timelines have ramped up. Similarly in Squamish, we bought at a good price and thought we’d have to wait longer to develop. But especially with covid, development has been moving quicker up there.
Are there markets outside the Lower Mainland you’re excited about?
We’ve done a fair amount of work in Victoria but aren’t active there right now. We have the project in Squamish and we’re doing some work in Seattle. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out post-covid. What is a temporary change and what is a structural and lasting change? We’re thinking a lot about that when we consider where to buy long term.
Let’s talk about short term fads VS long term trends due to covid. Has Bosa pivoted based on the new trends we’re seeing?
We would never act in a knee-jerk way; everything we do is well-researched and methodical. My sense is that there will be some long term changes. I think we’ll see hybrid work environments that allow for young families to move out of the core to get more space, and only come into the office occasionally.
Right now people are comparing a place like Squamish to Vancouver. But with shops and amenities closed, Vancouver isn’t at its best. We also have to look at immigration. The federal government is wanting to increase immigration targets in the coming years. So while we may see people move out of the city, there will also be a lot of people moving in. By no means do I think the city is dead.
There are limitations to working from home. We’ve been doing it for the last little while and have been productive, but not everything can be done virtually. I think a hybrid model will be the way forward.
If you were thinking about a single investment property, where would you buy in Vancouver?
I don’t believe the right way to answer the question is to suggest an area. I think the right answer is do your homework. Understand why you are buying the asset. What are your objectives? What are your capabilities? What do you enjoy? And how does all of that factor into your investment piece?
Everyone is different. Do your homework on an area and wait until a deal comes up that makes sense. Don’t try to time the market – no one can. Take a long term approach and know what your exit strategy is.
The reality is there are opportunities all over the place. You have to know how to spot them when they come along so you know what makes a good deal for you.
What are your thoughts on the market in 2021?
Nov-Dec 2020 were very good months for us and we’ve seen a strong start to 2021 as well. 2020 saw record MLS sales and I think 2021 will beat that. But let’s look at why that is happening.
In the last few years, the city has launched only 40% of its usual supply of high rises. So we know supply is short. Low interest rates are driving a lot of demand in the market. We are dealing with covid, but a lot of people have done okay through covid and they’re actually spending less. So there’s a lot of capital sitting in accounts. At some point, that money will flow into the economy and a lot of it could be targeted at housing.
I think 2021 will be a good year. Interest rates are low and it takes a while for supply to catch up.
What is different about a Bosa home?
When my father and his brothers switched from wood frame to high rise, they didn’t know how to do that. So they hired a Finnish expert who advised them to build concrete exterior walls. A lot of the older Bosa buildings have these well-built walls that still look new today with a fresh coat of paint.
If you were to buy a brand new car, you would never accept it with a dent in the door. But if you think of our industry, developers are asking buyers to accept sub-par buildings with deficiencies. We strive to get to zero deficiencies – which isn’t always easy to do. And we do that at scale.
The pride that went into my father’s first cabinet is now transferred into the thousands of homes we deliver every year. To have that scale and continuity isn’t easy. We care about doing the right thing and feel we owe that quality to our customers.
We think a lot about how people will live in our homes; they’re built with purpose and thoughtfulness. You’ll see a design focus in a lot of our new builds.
Find out more: https://bosaproperties.com/en/