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Borrower Perspectives Revisited: Mona and Ash Singh, Equity Builders

  • First National Financial LP

Fourteen 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 more than 1000 units within the GTA and surrounding areas.

We first spoke with Mona and Ash in 2018 about the GTA and Southwestern Ontario markets, why they were looking to invest on the outskirts and the foundations of their family-style relationship with First National. Two years later, Mona and Ash share insights on the multi-residential market, where they see opportunities, their strategic focus and why the commonality of culture with First National has inspired a natural evolution in the relationship.

Q: What has changed most in your industry and business since we last spoke in 2018?
AS: We are definitely still cautious of the market. If you look at the multi-residential market 20 years ago, properties were predominantly family-owned. Today, institutional investment is dominating the market. Institutions have patient money, which has created a landscape where cap rates are lower and prices are higher. We are also seeing people “gambling” on appreciation rather than relying on cash flow as a patience strategy. It is a precarious proposition.

Q: What are your business goals and what types of opportunities are you pursuing?
AS: Finding added value in our current assets is 90% of our focus. Strategically, we are doing that in two ways – redeveloping additional land and repositioning to enhance value for our current tenancy. For example, we have a plaza property in Mississauga. We are evaluating a partnership to learn about the business of construction, possibly to build or to rezone the land. That move seems to be a natural transition for where we are in our business evolution.

MS: I run the day-to-day management of our properties. The profile of our tenants has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. We are seeing a higher-quality tenant, with more income, who is staying longer. As a result, we are really ramping up our customer service, trying to provide added value and create a sense of community in our buildings. Renting was more of a transitional strategy before, but now people are staying 10 or 15 years, or are moving within our buildings to accommodate their different life stages. For every building and its associated demographics, we want to create the most impact possible and a sense of pride for the people that live there. For example, in one building, we have underutilized storage rooms that we are considering turning into cubicles, so kids that live in the building can have a quiet place to study.

Q: How is First National supporting you in your goals beyond financing?
AS: The analytical and data resources that I can access at First National always impress me. If you ask the questions, you have someone to support you with metrics-based answers. For example I was considering a deal in Sarnia, and I called Dru requesting rent statistics. He provided the insights within a day.  including Peter Rajaram and Will Hunter, helps me mitigate my risk more effectively. First National has also mastered a client-centric culture, and that culture is nurtured every day. Our relationship with Dru and Jeremy is more than just business. Anybody can execute a loan, but real partnership is another proposition entirely.

MS: We always get honest feedback about deals we are considering. For a recent deal, Moray got involved and walked us through the pros and cons. Being able to access that level of support is invaluable. First National is like family to us. We feel there is true friendship outside of the business.

Q: What do you value most about your relationship with Dru and Jeremy?
AS: There is mutual trust. Dru and Jeremy trust that we are making sound investments because we are professional, proven operators. I also respect how First National promotes within, which is a value we share. Jesse has grown with the company and just recently took advantage of a great opportunity to move to BC to help grow First National’s presence there. 

MS: We have very similar cultures and values. When we met Jeremy, Dru and Jesse and got to know them as people, it was clear that our definitions of success include elements beyond financing. That commonality made me feel even more confident in our partnership. Turnover is also very low. With that level of consistency, we don’t have to explain our business or bring someone up to speed every few years.

Q: What do you believe motivates First National within your relationship?
AS: First National has a win/win mentality. If we continue to grow our portfolio and achieve our goals, we all win. When I can sit down with Moray to discuss the development strategy for a deal, it is a win for both companies. When you genuinely want your customers to do well, you will also do well. First National has an aggressive growth mindset like we do, but never jeopardizes us with undue risk.

MS: I would describe our relationship with First National now as “intensity with ease.” There is a simplicity embedded into how we work together because the relationship is established and solid. We know what is required of us, and First National knows what we are able to deliver. We haven’t taken our foot of the gas in terms of growth or ambition, but the journey is really smooth. We say it all of the time and will continue to say it. We would not be where we are today without First National.