First National Financial LP

Borrower Perspectives: Mike Miller, Abstract Developments

  • First National Financial LP

Mike Miller founded Abstract Developments in 1999, with the goal of designing and building innovative, community-minded spaces in Victoria, BC. Passionate about the process of design, Mike and the Abstract team focus on high quality, class A, boutique developments for market as well as sought-after rental properties.

Mike shares his perspectives about the Victoria market, where the opportunities lie, his vision for growth and his evolving relationship with First National.

Q: What are your perspectives on the Victoria market?
MM: The Victoria market is still undervalued relative to the country. It’s a highly desirable city to live in, and I think that the market will be active for a few years yet. We will continue to see growth, then it will slow a bit and then stabilize. More than 50 per cent of people moving to Victoria are coming from Vancouver.

Q: Where do you see the opportunities?
MM: I think it depends on where your strengths lie. Quality of life here is not tied to the automobile. It’s a very bikeable, walkable city. So we see a lot of value in walkable boutique locations in a village-like setting.

Q: What is your vision for growth?
MM: We experienced an accelerated rate of growth for quite a while. Currently, we are in the final stages of implementing the management and infrastructure required to scale again efficiently.

Short term, we are planning to add 300 market and 300 rental units in the next three years. Once that project is complete, we plan to focus on extending the scope and capability of the leadership team so we can maintain our position in the market and increase the rental side of our business. We are also evaluating other market sectors.

Right now, we are focusing 80 per cent of our energy on executing on what we’ve committed to at a very high level. Sometimes, it’s important to focus on doing and not just growing.

Q: What was your first engagement with First National, and how was the experience?
MM: Our first deal was a market condo in Victoria. Dealing with Russell Syme was excellent. He was very professional and handled the deal well. Our pre-sales were ambitious, and Russ delivered a fair deal back to us. The underwriting requirements were more rigorous than we were used to, but First National made the process as simple and seamless as possible.

My impression overall is that everyone at First National really values relationships and trust. We value that as well. So there is a commonality there. We also think long-term. Because we are self-funded and heavily vested, deep trust is essential for us.

Q: From your experience, how does First National deliver on the concept of being “more than a lender?”
MM: I think that First National has the culture, capital and desire to deliver on that concept tangibly. I’m an entrepreneur through and through. So it’s important that I work with someone who asks a lot of questions to get to the right answer. Up until now, we’ve been doing things a bit more ad hoc, but Russ has stepped up every time. I look forward to the next evolution of our relationship, which will involve more planning, proactive review and collaborative opportunity development.

Q: What stands out to you about working with First National?
MM: I had a really positive experience with my takeout rental financing deal. Russ is well represented and supported. He understands his job and what I need from him. And he ask questions when he needs clarification. He’s also resolute – there is no waffling once a deal is done. Longevity of people is one of the things that I really like about First National. The team stays put. So you can build that relationship and grow together. I think that First National strikes the right balance between size, flexibility and nimbleness.