I'm pleased to announce the newest featured participant of our Spotlight series, Simon S. Mass. The CEO and Founder of the The Condo Store (TCS), Simon holds over 26 years of real estate investment experience and is heralded as the architect of Toronto's pre-construction condo investment space. After its inception in 2004, Simon has grown The Condo Store from a 10 person boutique firm to an organization with over 50 team members that accounts for $500M - $1B in annual investments.
We sat down with Simon to discuss how he got his start in real estate, his investment & industry philosophy and more.
Can you share the story of how you got to this point in your career (perhaps sprinkle in the details that can’t be found through a Google search?)
Without a doubt, it is my resilience to not fail and that I am constantly re-evaluating my strategy to stay a step or two ahead of the herd. As a child, my aspirations to be in business and to do something that I loved were key to my finding my current situation.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted but I knew it had to meet 3 requirements: 1) allowing for creativity (i.e. my interest in architecture and interior design), 2) a lucrative financial opportunity beyond a salary position, and 3) business ownership and allowing others to also thrive from it.
With that as a starting point, finding real estate didn’t come naturally and was really born out of some luck, timing, and intuitive-mindset management.
Can you think of one pivotal decision that had the largest impact in the trajectory of your career?
Well, that story is one that I’m happy to share.
Through a series of situations and mishaps that included driving as a newcomer in a winter snowstorm in downtown Toronto without even knowing what ‘snow tires’ were. I landed inside a pre-construction sales center to ask for directions and to sit out the storm for a few hours. The result was an education in the pre-construction real estate space by a lovely, close to retirement, salesperson named Millie. I still get goosebumps from this story - there is no way I would be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for that accidental lesson I was given.
After a few years and putting my money where my mouth was, out of the fire came a thriving business. The business has steadily grown to have a stellar reputation that provides much needed wealth investment opportunities to a wonderful group of doctors, surgeons and business professionals.
What 3 personality traits do you think have contributed most to your career progression?
- Believing in myself: I really believed I could become successful just based on the mindset that I wholeheartedly believed in my vision - this was an important first step in establishing myself in the real estate investment space.
- Continuous improvement: I feel that without constant change it’s impossible to continuously grow in any capacity. Change is good and change is needed to progress personally and professionally.
- Creating a win-win scenario in every single situation. When dealing with others, my goal is to create relationships where there are no losers. It’s just bad business to not create a strategy that allows everyone to feel like they received the best solution to their problem.
TCS has a unique perspective of working with hundreds of medical professionals as part of their investor group. How does the medical professional homebuyer/investor differ from the other demographics? What are their unique needs and how does your firm support them?
The difference is really the time factor. Doctors are paid well overall but the more they work, the more they make. Generally, what you see in this sector are overworked doctors who have the funding, savviness, and willingness to invest properly.
Doctors usually don’t have time to do what is needed to invest in today’s marketplace. That’s what our doctor clients, who make up about 80% of our roster, prefer about our investment model. We do the heavy lifting of finding, evaluating and then curating the proper investment offering before we even let our clients know about the opportunity.
With over 20 years of experience focused on Toronto, our valued clients understand that our investment offerings are the right ones and will meet their long-term investment goals. This is shown through the very high peer-to-peer referral rate of our client acquisition.
Lastly, we not only take on the hard task of finding the opportunities for our clients, but we also offer a full-service white-glove experience for the entirety of the real estate process. This allows the clients to concentrate on their respective work and not deal with day-to-day tasks that come with real estate portfolio building.
Your firm is a proponent of always having “skin in the game” next to your clients on investments. Can you elaborate on what this looks like and what impact it has had on your business?
First off, my partner John Mehlenbacher and I have grown our real estate portfolio for almost two decades. There is a direct advantage to investing in deal structures that we have spent months and sometimes years developing with private equity firms and development families across Toronto and now in Miami. This has been one of the strongest and best strategies that we could have ever put in place.
The fact that our firm is investing alongside our clients brings credibility and trust to the equation. We’re one of the few who believe so strongly in the product they’re selling to their clients that we’ll even invest in it alongside them with our own personal funds. It’s a simple concept but core to our business strategy. Everyone is selling something but we’re showing our clients that we’re so confident in these deals that we will be the biggest buyer in this opportunity. Our strategy ultimately gives them the peace of mind that we aren’t hawking any product that comes across our desks. This industry is full of people only working in their own self-interest and the loyalty from our clients shows us that what we are doing is working and helping people. This, along with the customization of every deal that we offer, builds trust in the program and that trust in the chosen investments will bear fruit for all of our long-term investors.
What are the must-have components of a TCS investment opportunity? What are some deal breakers?
The biggest and best developers, the right areas geographically, and of course the financials. If we don’t have these three factors lined up, we won’t participate, period. Staying true to our moral compass is a pillar of our foundation and that often leads to us bucking against industry norms.
- For us to bring an investment opportunity to our clients, it must be safeguarded at every possible level. The best way to do that is to only work with the biggest and best developers - that way you know your project will be delivered.
- A good amount of the lucrative deals that we, and our clients, have been a part of have been full or partial gentrification projects. It’s not something we purposely seek out, but we’ve often found more value in those types of turnarounds. As a result, we tend to look for “up and coming” areas that have a decade plus of potential growth and aim to be the first to enter the market there.
- The financials need to work for our clients. We curate investment offers so that our clients can benefit from our due diligence and analysis. We believe our model is unlike what anyone else can do in this niche space and that all the factors of a TCS offering aren’t available to any other firm. The most significant specific deal element has and continues to be using our clients’ HNW status to limit the cash outlay on deposits. We negotiate much lower deposits needed which in turn increases the ROI for each purchase on a “cash-on-cash” basis.
Why has your team decided to expand from Toronto to Miami and how do you see your firm competing in the South Florida market?
Over the years as we saw some of our doctor clients leave Canada for the United States and they often asked for our guidance. We also understood that the magnitude of the U.S. market is ten times larger than Canada population-wise. Entering the Miami market allowed us to work with many more doctors that live, work and are seeking investments there.
With our track record amongst their peers, we feel that we can grow our referral-based business within the medical practitioner space to two or three times the size of our Canadian operations over time.
Over the years we have been able to understand the needs and wants of our core clients, and we can bring that outlook and experience to an entirely different market that has exploded in population, migration, and international status in recent years. We’ll bring the fundamentals of what a great real estate investment is and push to create the same deals and opportunities in Miami that we are known for in Toronto.
Now that the real estate industry is adopting technology more, what is one area of the new dev sales that you’ve seen technology have the largest impact? What are some specific technologies/software that TCS leverages to remain successful?
The biggest change to day-to-day real estate operations is the lack of in-person meetings nowadays. We are in the ‘Docu-Sign Era’ which was jump-started by the pandemic. I wouldn’t say it’s all positive. I believe that real estate, and business in general, is a contact sport and best accomplished together and with people. But we live and learn and adapt or die. Ultimately, we’ll do what the clients want. If some want to meet and go through a document or investment, we can handle that. If they just want an email with some information, we can do that too.
Software for our developer sales group is incredibly advanced compared to where the industry was 10 or so years ago. The streamlining of all the necessary processes and increased organization is saving so much time and headaches. Additionally, the proliferation of prop tech for the management of buildings is providing smart and energy conscious options.
What would you tell someone who aspires to follow in your footsteps?
Anything is possible if you work hard and make it your passion. It, however, requires a sacrifice of your free time and requires recognizing that the uphill battle could take years or even a decade. If you stop climbing, there’s very little hope to continue to grow your business and ultimately yourself.
I’d add that you’ll never really understand the art of good business without stepping into the client’s shoes. There are simply too many one-sided deals out there. These ‘one hit deals artists’ have no consistency to provide more service, but rather consciously provide less and move on to a new client. That approach to me is bizarre and one that I’ve never followed.
Do you have some conventional wisdom/advice that you live by? What about unconventional advice?
My leadership team and I adhere to a general concept: soft skills are paramount to success. I believe we are seeing an erosion in soft skills as time moves along. However, people that can connect with other people and communicate an idea or story will always have tremendous value. While it does come naturally to some, the best part is that it is a skill that can be taught and trained.
As far as unconventional advice, I’d say we need to put a hard stop to the notion that the world revolves around a fake social media presence. It’s about time for everyone to realize they need to live their life today, not through inauthentic, paid influencers who are turning them into zombies. Social skills are a must, and we are experiencing a lack of real connection, face to face interactions, and the ability to talk versus text.
TCS has grown tremendously from where it began to where you are today. What are some of your growth goals for the future?
We talk constantly about targeted growth, and we’re not selling something generic like toothbrushes so exponential growth is not a reality. We need to be smart and calculated with our decision making, bandwidth and the market itself. We typically only bring 2 or 3 investment opportunities to our clients each year, so for us to add an extra offering, which equates to an extra $100 million or so in sales, we would need to expand our client base by a certain amount.
So, we are calculating in terms of expansion from our core. We don’t really advertise but our referrals are constant and very important to us. Our business is built on exclusive access. We’ll build that business in South Florida steadily and confidently, with qualified investors who aren’t in a rush to grow, as keeping quality connections is more important to us.
Are there any additional messages or projects that you would like to promote or discuss here?
In 2024, I’d like to concentrate on growing our Miami operations with an emphasis on bringing a special program aimed at the same type of clients we have had the honor of supporting for decades in Toronto.
I feel that Miami is an amazing opportunity and escape for Canadians who most definitely need a break when it comes to the cold and harsh winter weather.