Updated: Aug 16, 2022
This week we are pleased to share our interview with the pre-eminent realtor and 38-year veteran of commercial real estate, Linda Loftus. Linda is the Director of Squarefoot Commercial Group. She creates sustainable real estate investment by advising clients on the fundamentals of the real estate process, discussing investment goals, and minimizing tax exposure. Additionally, Linda consults with families on matters of succession and estate planning. She holds SIOR, CCIM, CIPS, and RICS designations and is a big proponent of life-long learning and ethics.
Read more for insights on relationship-building, professionalism, and hard skills in commercial real estate.
What’s your story and how did you get started in the commercial real estate industry?
Linda: I started in residential in 1983, and before that, I was the "google" for the County of Simcoe library, finding information for people. If a young girl wanted to learn more about dinosaurs, she would go to her local library, get on the teletype—literally a World War II teletype—and the local librarian would type in what the member was looking for. The text would come to me and then I would tear it off, look for the information in encyclopedias, books, articles, and magazines, put the information in a book-bag, and send it out with a courier. That was my job, and I loved it! It taught me all about research. But it was only $11,000 a year, and back then you had to be making at least $22,000 a year to survive, so I decided to get my real estate license.
I sold residential for 2 years, but after a value disagreement with my management, I decided to look into commercial real estate. Someone had told me that commercial real estate was open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which sounded good to me!
Did 9-5 and no weekends turn out to be true?
Linda: It was! There was no internet, no fax, and I’m not sure if we even had pagers back then. Nothing was digital, so digging was what I was doing in my early twenties. Having come out of residential sales, I didn’t know that you shouldn’t call people at 10 o'clock at night. I was dialling for dollars, calling people and looking for listing contracts on the biggest parcels of real estate in our town.
How did you get along in the industry back then?
Linda: It was with the help of old white men, lots of them! And because I was young, they took me under their wing. I didn’t have to worry about sexual harassment—which wasn’t a thing in my experience. They treated me like a daughter, which I was grateful for. They all had interesting stories to tell, and I was grateful to be in their company.They didn’t hoard information either, they shared it openly. I soaked up everything they could teach me, and to this day I could listen to any elderly person tell me their story for hours.
A CCIM would consider another CCIM before they deal with a corporate person within their umbrella, and an SIOR would do the same. Why? Because we think the same way: the client is first, the service is first.
Do you remember your first transaction?
Linda: I think I was 26 when I did my first big deal, and it’s where Walmart is currently on Bayfield Street. It was 18 to 25 acres, owned by Oshawa Foods—the Wolf brothers. The Wolf brothers were delightful older men, and they must have gotten a kick out of me because they actually gave me a listing at 4%. The broker I was working for at the time couldn’t believe it. He was like "How did you get that?" and I was like "I just called and I asked." That was my first big deal, and it was sold to Sam Riseman from the Rose Corporation. At the time, I thought, "Man, this is easy." .
I didn’t know how to do any leasing back then. It terrified me! There were so many steps and too much math! I went into sales instead. There weren’t any computers or databases back then, so I built my own. I went to the clerk’s office in the city of Barrie with a Hilory spiral-bound book and started writing out assessment records for the property type I was looking for—I still have it today. I would take the assessment number, the owner, and the zoning and build my own database from there.
I used pieces of plastic to trace where the commercial and industrial developments were going and those were my GIS layers–It wasn’t really a thing back then and I was doing it manually. Now I can do it digitally.
Linda: Lifelong learning. I taught myself GIS. Back in 1993, I had my own real estate company and I thought, "I’m selling land, but wouldn’t it be great if I knew where the roads, sewer, and water were going to be and what the zoning was?" I went to the city, got maps, and I used pieces of plastic to trace where the commercial and industrial developments were going, and those were my GIS layers—it wasn’t really a thing back then and I was doing it manually. Now I can do it digitally. As a realtor, if you keep the customer in mind by respecting their time and shortening due diligence, you set yourself apart from other realtors. Now I’m learning to code so that I can extract better information.
How does coding marry with commercial real estate?
Linda: It’s not as hard as it looks. It’s just tedious, and it certainly is not a skill set that I would have embraced at school, but I have a very busy brain. Coding allows me to write short expressions to extract information, and that’s as deep as I am willing to go.
I’m currently working on a project where I talk to the GIS department, get their OP, zoning, all their roads, and the draft plans of subdivision, and then I can augment it by enriching the layers with population, so I know where it is and where it's going. Then, I can write an arcade expression—a little coding—which pulls out all the information—where the townhouses are, how many, and where all the semis are, how many, etc.
With all this information, I can produce a market study in half an hour that would have taken weeks before. And if I’m trying to sell somebody on an area or particular opportunity, it’s very valuable information. I condense it to an executive summary for the technical and peer review teams. people. The professionals in the development ecosystem are appreciative of the contextual information — hey, the bonus is, they won’t have to search for details because I’ve already gift-wrapped the information.
In my small market, I’m always pushing the designation–I think I’ve mentored seven different people that are effectively my competition!
What are the benefits and privileges of carrying the SIOR designation?
Linda: I got the CCIM designation first, which fast-tracked me to SIOR. In terms of peer relationships, there’s nothing like it. It’s not a private club, it’s an inclusive club. That’s what I like about it. You’ll feel more confident and be a better asset to your client. In my small market, I’m always pushing the designation–I think I’ve mentored seven different people that are effectively my competition! I can’t be everywhere and I can’t list everything, so if my peer group is educated and at the same level of sophistication, we can do better real estate faster.
Succession planning is very much on my mind when I’m building these relationships because I can see the horizon. I don’t want to leave clients without competent care, so in order to work on our team, you have to have a CCIM or be enrolled because it’s a level of competency that everyone must possess. CCIM can naturally lead to SIOR if your practice is in industrial or office. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
I don’t want to leave the clients without competent care so in order to work on our team, you have to have a CCIM or be enrolled because it’s a level of competency that everyone must possess. CCIM can naturally lead to SIOR if your practice is industrial or office. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the industry?
Linda: Here’s my advice to newcomers:
Find a mentor
Don’t be greedy, and embrace competition because it keeps you sharp.
This next one is tough to practice, but I’ll preach it: try to rise above the lack of professionalism that generally exists in this industry. Since there are no holds barred on who can be a realtor, you will encounter people who don’t take it as seriously or educate themselves, and as a result, you might find yourself filling the gaps because they don’t know what they're doing.
Work with accredited people. Generally, there is an ethics component to their designation. A CCIM would consider another CCIM before dealing with a corporate person within their umbrella, and an SIOR would do the same. Why? Because we think the same way: the client is first, the service is first.
Do you have any interesting sayings in your work?
Linda: When a client invites us in to talk about a disposition, the thing we always say is "it’s not what we sell it for, it’s what you get to keep." Have you talked to your lawyer and your accountant? How will you set yourself up so your taxes will be minimized? Sometimes the client doesn’t know that we may not be the first person they should be talking to. We'll spend 6 months getting a property "tax-advantaged" and then we’ll sell it. The more you get to keep, the happier we are.
Who are your biggest inspirations and helpers?
Linda: People I have met in the 40 years I’ve been doing this. The men who helped me out are now retirees, and they tend to give us their business. If I ever need a sounding board or another perspective I can call any one of them at any time. A lot of them are my parents' ages–n their 80s– and I can still call them. It’s the relationships that you build throughout your life, and if you’re genuine, it’s more than just an exchange of information, there’s a connection. You grow to like and respect each other. There’s no one person, but many people; I collect them like flowers from a garden as I go through life.