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Borrower Perspectives: Ash and Mona Singh, Equity Builders

  • First National Financial LP

Twelve years ago, Ash and Mona Singh bought their first 48-unit, multi-residential building in Mississauga as a way to invest and earn some residual income. That first passive investment transitioned fairly quickly to active investment. Under the banner of Equity Builders, the Singh’s have expanded their portfolio to 850 units within the GTA.

Ash shares his and Mona’s perspectives about the GTA and South Western Ontario markets, where they see opportunities, their vision for growth and how their unique business and family-like relationship with First National has contributed significantly to growth and value.

Q: What are your perspectives on the GTA and South Western Ontario markets
AS: We are definitely heading into a time of greater uncertainty. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. For several years, most people experienced significant gains in a short period of time. But in past three years, people are questioning sustainability. Affordability is becoming a more prominent issue, for both homes and condos. In addition, rents are rising, so it’s difficult to save for home ownership. As a result, the mindset of renting as a transition to home ownership is slowly eroding. Many people are evaluating the benefits of renting permanently. We are living in a time of great transition in the traditional models of how we live and work. I believe that factors including affordability, remote working and e-commerce, to name a few significant ones, are going to alter the real estate market as we have come to know it. There is just a bit of a blind spot right now as to what the new normal will be.

Q: Where do you see the opportunities?
AS: I think there are opportunities, but we’re taking a wait and see approach in the GTA right now. We’ve had a great run in the past 10 years. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the scope of continued growth that we’ve seen in the industry during the past decade. But we believe that we are entering a bit of a danger zone. If you look at precedent, when the U.S. market collapsed in 2008-2009, those people who had money made money. We sense a potential storm on the horizon, so we’re going to wait to see what happens. Worst-case scenario is that we miss a year of opportunity, but we’re comfortable with that. However, we are also expanding the geographies where we’re considering opportunities. We are actively pursuing outer markets with more favourable cap rates and greater affordability including St. Catherine’s, London and Sarnia. Many people are pushing to the outskirts for home ownership. We won’t necessarily see the same yields that we do in other markets, but we feel it's a safe place to park money for the time being. 

Q: What is your vision for growth?
AS: When we started 13 years ago, we had a magic number of 1,000 units in mind. But we also have a very important focus on family. Our kids are in middle school, so we’ve structured our business lives to accommodate a lot of family time – school pick up and drop off, programs, homework, family vacations. It’s an important lesson that we’ve learned from our mentors and many people who have already done what we are doing. Their primary focus was work at the expense of their families. Our goal is to maintain healthy, stable and manageable growth in our business, with an equally strong focus on family and building a viable foundation for the next generation.

Q: How is First National supporting you in your vision for growth?
AS: First National has become like family to us. Our team there is a critical part of our success. Without First National, I’m not sure we would have grown our business to where it is today. Our relationship has certainly been tested, but First National has an uncanny ability to step in, dig in and find the positive in a challenging situation. I have full confidence in our relationship and faith in First National’s ongoing support of our business and vision.

Q: From your experience, how does First National deliver on the concept of being “more than a lender?”
AS: First National cares about more than just the loan. That value is webbed into the company’s business model. We spend a lot of time talking with our team about our family goals, where we want to go and how First National can be a part of the journey. I also appreciate the transparency and honesty. If our First National advisors feel that a deal is too risky, they will tell us. We had a deal that we were working on three years ago where Moray got involved. He knew the area and went to see the potential acquisition. It’s rare for someone at his level to step in so actively. You don’t see that at most lending organizations. We really appreciate how approachable everyone at First National is, regardless of role or seniority.

Q: What stands out to you about working with First National?
AS: We try to push boundaries in how we approach our business, always thinking big and envisioning what’s possible. First National supports our unique brand of entrepreneurialism. When we present a potential opportunity, First National doesn’t try to fit it into a box. Instead, we explore our vision together. If it makes good business sense, we proceed. First National is comfortable and confident taking smart risks based on our track record. And we get excellent advice – about deals obviously, but also about business in general and family life. We have had many conversations with Dru about what he’s seen other clients do in similar situations and how to avoid potential pitfalls. That’s the kind of value that you can’t quantify, but makes the biggest difference.

We currently have 80 per cent of our business with First National. We value the success and growth that we’ve been able to achieve as a result of the relationship, but we truly cherish the friendships that we’ve developed. Dru and Jeremy have become family. We feel very fortunate to have grown a great business with great people and be friends through the whole process. What more could you ask for in life?