After more than a decade in commercial real estate, John Zinati had settled into a comfortable career as a leasing manager at a well-known locally owned Ottawa firm and could have simply counted down the days until retirement.
Instead, he chose a different path. In 2016, he launched Zinati Realty, a boutique brokerage that serves mainly owners and landlords in the office, retail and industrial sectors.
Since then, Zinati has brought on two more brokers and is looking to expand his team further as the industry slowly works its way toward a post-pandemic future. Looking back on his decision to leave the security of an established firm for the uncertainty of life as an entrepreneur, he has no regrets.
“I was just faced with too many limitations, so I made the decision to go out on my own,” Zinati explains.
“Being nimble and quick and working closely with these owners to get their spaces filled or get their buildings sold is really rewarding.”
Zinati is one of a growing number of local real estate executives who’ve left comfortable, secure jobs at established big-name companies to start their own brokerages and advisory firms.
Many of these owner-brokers point to the freedom of being able to make their own decisions and do their own deals without having to answer to corporate bosses as a major factor in making the leap.
“I think commercial real estate brokerage in the boutique setting is one of the last few places where you can just earn more with a little bit more elbow grease,” says Darren Fleming, the CEO of Real Strategy Advisors. “There’s so much upside.”
Before launching his own firm, Fleming spent seven years as managing director of Cresa’s Ottawa office. His lengthy real estate resume also includes four years as a sales representative at Colliers International and a one-year stint as a leasing agent with Montreal-based developer Canderel.
In 2016, Fleming sold his shares in Cresa, left the company and enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.
The following year, he launched Real Strategy Advisors, which provides advisory and brokerage services to office tenants in the tech, professional services and not-for-profit sectors.
He’s never looked back. Too often, Fleming says, strict corporate policies at bigger firms put entrepreneurial-minded brokers in a straightjacket. He points to an example from early in his career, when an employer told him he was storing too much sales data on a company server.
“I think I’m addicted to being an entrepreneur and being my own boss,” Fleming says. “Are there days when you wish someone would sign off on payroll other than you? Yeah, but it’s worth it in the end.”
Graeme Webster is a partner at Ottawa’s KOBLE Commercial Real Estate, a firm that brokers mainly off-market and unlisted office and industrial transactions for buyers such as entrepreneurs and well-heeled professionals looking to build up their investment portfolios.
He and fellow partner Marc Morin founded KOBLE seven and a half years ago after cutting their teeth for more than a decade at large, well-established firms. Webster says he thrives on the feeling of satisfaction he gets from navigating clients through deals that can set them up for retirement or attain assets that can be passed on to future generations.
“Our focus is to help people establish that family legacy,” he says. “Real estate is really just the tool to allow them to do that.”
Now at six employees, KOBLE recently brought Ottawa commercial real estate veteran Richard Getz on board as a senior adviser. The firm is also looking to hire someone to oversee its business operations as it continues to expand.
Webster says that despite the overall uncertainty facing the industry at the moment, KOBLE is thriving. The firm has more deals in its pipeline than at any other time in its history, a development he attributes largely to the city’s reputation for being a safe haven in times of economic turmoil.
“It’s a place where when there’s volatility, people want to jump in (the market),” he explains.
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When it comes to luxury real estate, location is key. From properties with French alpine to Pacific Ocean views, these luxury listings take advantage of their picturesque settings.
French alpine chalet
Location: Courchevel Le Praz, France
This wood-filled chalet overlooks the ski slopes from an expansive living room with a fireplace and an adjacent south-facing terrace.
The six en-suite bedrooms all have terraces. A closed-in area features a pool and spa, along with sauna and massage room.
Creek views in Colorado
Location: Aspen, Colorado
Price: $8.3 million
This ranchette home, remodeled in 2017, sits on a hillside overlooking Brush Creek Valley, the Snowmass ski area and Hunter Creek. The main home, which features antique 19th-century French Provincial/Mediterranean doors, has three bedrooms and 2.5-bathrooms. Features include a pantry with a custom wine cellar. A large outdoor entertaining area comes with a wraparound stone deck.
A two-story accessory dwelling unit, built in 2005, houses an art studio and kitchen on the first floor and one bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen on the second. A three-car garage comes with a full bath.
Spanish island villa
Location: Son Termes, Bunyola, Mallorca, Spain
This villa sits surrounded by nature on the island of Mallorca. The 12-bedroom, nine-bathroom stone residence has classic Spanish architecture, shaded outdoor sitting areas and a modern swimming pool.
Historic oceanfront in Santa Monica
Location: Santa Monica, California
Price: $7.75 million
Designed and built in 1910 by architect Robert D. Farquhar, this three-bedroom home sits just off the Santa Monica Bluffs, with views to the Pacific Ocean. The home has been reimagined with luxurious finishes, including white oak flooring and custom automated shades. The kitchen features custom two-tone Italian cabinetry and stone countertops and Wolf, Sub-Zero, and Miele appliances. The bathrooms include luxe fixtures by Brizo, Rohl, Newport Brass and Toto.
This home features a patio and the ground level and a deck on the second floor comprising more than 1,000 square feet of private outdoor space.
FGP Swiss & Alps, Hilton & Hyland, Inmobiliaria Rimontgo and Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate are exclusive members of Forbes Global Properties, a consumer marketplace and membership network of elite brokerages selling the world’s most luxurious homes.
B.C. real estate agent suspended, fined nearly $100K over 'predatory' rent-to-own scheme – CBC.ca
A Lower Mainland real estate agent has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in fines after being found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to a rent-to-own scheme allegedly aimed at financially vulnerable homeowners.
More than three years after B.C.’s real estate council first suspended Kevindeep Singh Bratch’s licence under “urgent circumstances,” Bratch has also been told he’ll have to wait another year before he can apply to get his licence back.
A disciplinary committee found that Bratch committed conduct unbecoming of a real estate agent after a hearing that saw testimony from a man who claimed Bratch acted like a “saviour,” while negotiating a deal to purchase a $2.1 million house for less than a quarter of its worth.
“Bratch’s conduct … constitutes conduct unbecoming because it targets members of the public who are in stressful positions, have limited options and feel pressured into agreeing to any terms to keep their family homes,” the council said in submissions that resulted in the penalties.
“In these circumstances, Mr. Bratch was looking to make an investment and was driven by profit. The homeowners were driven by the desire to keep their homes.”
Deals ‘disadvantageous’ to owners
The case was one of the last handled by the real estate council before the introduction of a new regulatory authority in B.C. The B.C. Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) now oversees real estate agents, mortgage brokers, credit unions, trust and insurance companies and pension plans.
The penalties — which include a $45,000 fine and $50,000 to pay for the cost of the investigation — were announced on the new regulator’s website this week.
The BCFSA will handle the file going forward.
Bratch could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for the regulator said he has appealed the decision to the Financial Services Tribunal.
The rulings make clear that Bratch’s activities were not illegal.
The real estate council claimed they were “disadvantageous” to owners who “did not receive independent legal advice or separate agency representation, and either believed that Mr. Bratch was acting on their behalf, or were at least confused as to his role in the transaction.”
‘This is the best case scenario’
The witness who claimed Bratch came across as a “saviour” told the council that he approached Bratch after receiving unsolicited mail claiming the real estate agent was a foreclosure specialist.
At the time, the witness — whose name is redacted in the decision — was experiencing financial difficulties; his mother had passed away two years earlier and his bank had started foreclosure proceedings on his $2.1 million childhood home.
According to the decision, the two reached a deal that saw Bratch and his wife purchase the home for $500,000 and then agree to rent it back to the former owner for $4,000 a month with an option to buy back the property for $600,000 four months later.
“The language was like this is the best case scenario, this is what you have to do in order to make sure that the bank doesn’t take your home,” the witness told the disciplinary committee.
“I’m walking into this, like Kevin [Bratch], is in my corner, he is not somebody who, who is on the other side of the table in an agreement.”
The deal ultimately ended up in court after Bratch and his wife sued the homeowner, who responded by claiming the deal was “unconscionable.”
All three parties agreed to dismiss the legal action in December 2017.
‘I do wear the different hats’
The real estate council’s disciplinary committee considered evidence related to three rent-to-own deals involving Bratch.
In one case, Bratch evicted an elderly Maple Ridge couple on Thanksgiving 2017 after taking them to the Residential Tenancy Branch, over unpaid rent on a home they agreed to sell for $233,000 less than its assessed value to a company Bratch and his wife controlled .
The council faulted Bratch for failing to disclose the nature of his relationship with the company, and for failing to recommend that the couple get independent legal advice.
That situation led to the interest of local media. It also resulted in a lawsuit that was settled in an agreement that saw the couple buy their home back from Bratch for roughly the same price he originally paid them.
In the third case, the council says Bratch paid $154,000 less than the value of a property assessed at $869,000. He rented it back to the original owners for $4,300 a month.
“When we first signed this deal I expressed concern as to whether or not… [we] would be able to execute the re-purchase option after just one year, to which you assured me, and I quote, ‘I’m not a monster, I’m here to make a return on my investment, if you can’t buy it back after one year I would extent it [sic] another year,'” the original homeowner said in an email to Bratch, shared with the council.
The original owners could not buy the home back in a year and ended up renting on a month-by-month basis before moving out in December 2018.
According to the decision, Bratch now resides in the property. It was assessed at $915,000 in 2019.
Bratch represented himself at the hearing, disputing the allegations against him. He claimed he had advised the elderly couple to get a lawyer and was clear with his clients about the transactions.
According to the decision, he described himself as wearing “different hats.”
“So I provide homeowners with the different options and again I do wear the different hats,” Bratch is quoted as saying.
“So I would be wearing a mortgage broker’s hat, a real estate agent’s hat and during that time you’re allowed to be … licensed as a mortgage broker and a real estate agent at the same time.”
In addition to the penalties and suspension, Bratch has been ordered to take an “Ethics in Business Practice” course offered by the Real Estate Institute.
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