Getting to Know You: Geoffrey Allen Wall, Real Estate Developer

Geoffrey Allen Wall is a semi-retired real estate developer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Geoffrey Allen Wall is a semi-retired real estate developer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Over the course of his career, he has established a reputation as a consummate professional, dedicated to fulfilling the needs of clients by completing his projects on-time and on-budget.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Geoffrey has always nurtured an interest in his home city’s beautiful and distinct architecture, including its famous turn-of-the-century houses, such as those designed by Sam Maclure, but also those in the elegant Tudor and Georgian styles.

A proud alumnus of Langara College where he majored in business management, Geoffrey Allen Wall made his first foray into the real estate business while still studying for his degree. As a student, he purchased his first property, redesigned it, and sold it for a profit, all the while digesting academic texts, writing papers, and attending classes. This experience had a profound effect on Geoffrey, and served to reinforce his desire to pursue real estate development as his career.

After graduating, Geoffrey launched himself into entrepreneurship, purchasing land and flipping houses all over the west side of Vancouver. Eventually, he opened his own firm, which found great success for many years. To date, his proudest achievement is a twenty unit condominium community development project he designed and brought to completion.

Throughout his long career, Geoffrey has been particularly interested in environmental initiatives and innovations in sustainability as they pertain to real estate development, and he has endeavored to incorporate ‘green design’ into as many aspects of his projects as possible.

Despite being semi-retired, Geoffrey Allen Wall spends some of his time working as a consultant. Currently, he is contributing his talents to the design and construction of a series self-sustaining overwater bungalow blocks for a group of tropical resorts located in the Caribbean.

What do you currently do at your company?

Most of my day is dedicated to problem-solving. For example, my firm’s housing committee is always trying to figure out issues surrounding permits, which is a consistent problem. Lately, we’ve had a lot of issues with the supply chain, like everyone else in the world. Beyond that, I spend my work day managing costs and trying to stay within budgets. However, that’s getting easier than it used to be.

I’m also constantly looking at new projects and evaluating whether to finance them or to actually take on the design and construction of them ourselves. Right now, my team and I are working on two big properties down in the Caribbean, and the results are making us incredibly happy. Anyhow, that’s where our focus is now. Planning these projects has taken a lot of work.

What inspired you to choose a career in real estate development?

When I was young, I would always notice a ‘for sale’ sign pointed at a nice house with a really nice car in front of it. I was about fifteen and my perception at that time was that it would be interesting to have a job in real estate because it appeared as though people who did had their lives together. The Realtors always looked sharp, happy, and they were always smiling. Actually, when I was younger, I anticipated getting my Realtor license before I realized I would have to relinquish all weekends and evenings because those are the times when people buy houses. That was a sacrifice I wasn’t prepared to make, so I decided to enter the development side of real estate instead. But that initial impression is what sparked my interest in the industry—well, that and my lifelong interest in beautiful architecture. I grew up in Vancouver, and it has a lot of turn-of-the-century houses, many of which were designed by the famous and talented architect Sam Maclure. The city also has a lot of Tudor and Georgian homes sprinkled throughout its neighborhoods. I really love those styles, and it’s always interesting to see old houses and wonder about their history.

What are some keys to being productive that you can share?

I find getting into the office early really helps with productivity. When I was working full-time, I started my day at 5 am, which I find to be an extremely productive time of day. It’s before most people start work, and before phone calls and emails start coming in. Put another way, there are no distractions early in the morning, and it gives you a chance to get some deep work done.

It’s also important to me to have a clean desk at the end of the day. Coming into an absolute mess of a desk in the morning gets you off to the wrong start. I think it’s important to start a new day with a clean slate instead of having piles and piles of things to address first thing in the morning. In that vein, I’ll also say that procrastination is about the worst thing you can do in terms of productivity. Putting matters off until later instead of completing them in the moment is basically setting yourself up for failure in the future. Another important key is maintaining effective communication, as well as building strong business relationships. So many of our projects are brought in through relationships. Making money for people is particularly important, but if you don’t maintain solid relationships with people, they’re not going to come back and do more business with you.

How do you measure success?

The most important aspect to measuring success is the completion of projects. Before taking on a project, it’s important to make sure it’s something you’re actually able to complete properly. If it is and you follow through with it, you can be proud of what you’ve done when it’s finally finished. In real estate development, taking raw land and actually building it into a community from scratch is the ultimate success in my mind. So, I would say that success is having realistic goals and accomplishing those goals, ideally by under-promising and over-delivering. Of course, as with any industry, making money is also especially important.

What are some valuable lessons you have learned throughout the course of your career?

The value of time is especially important, the value of relationships is important, and appreciating the value of money is particularly important. A lot of people don’t appreciate money. In life, you have to understand how hard it is to make a buck and be careful how you spend that dollar. Another valuable lesson is, at times, having big problems can serve as a great learning experience because it forces you to learn how to adapt to changing circumstances. In fact, failures are some of the greatest opportunities for learning experiences—and ones which you cannot learn from a book or at a seminar. The harsh reality is that you have to actually live through and experience challenges in order to become stronger.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in real estate development?

There are some general pieces of advice I would relate to anyone considering a career in real estate development. For instance, make sure you complete your due diligence for the projects you invest in, as it may save you a lot of money and trouble down the road. Also, understand that timing is everything. Above all else, though, make sure that you’re capable of accomplishing your plans before starting them. Since the market crash of 2008, a lot of people have jumped into this industry hoping to become renovators and home designers in a bid to build wealth quickly. Unfortunately, many of them did not anticipate everything involved—the time it will take, realistic costs, overages, et cetera. The lesson to be learned from this unfortunate trend is that it’s critical to be prepared before you begin a large, complicated enterprise. When you do begin, be sure you’ve figured out as much as you can in advance and leave a cushion for unexpected changes in your plans. There will always be unexpected changes. That’s just the way it is. Make sure to leave a lot of leeway for errors and allow for extra time in the construction phase. Time is a major factor in real estate development.

How would your colleagues describe you?

I think my colleagues would say I’m thorough, fair, and definitely on point. I give people the opportunity to explain what they’re going to do, and then I hold them to it. I believe people should be responsible for what they say they’re going to do. From the standpoint of others, I believe whether I’m considered fair or tough depends largely on whether or not they have done their job. If they have, then I will be considered fair. If they haven’t, then I will probably be considered tough.

How do you maintain a solid work and life balance?

My family is the most important thing in my life. They’re the best incentive for me to start work early each day. That enables me to free up as many of my afternoons as possible to be with the kids. One of the ways I do that, as well as keep my work and family life in balance, is to coach their extracurricular sports teams, whether it’s baseball, soccer—whatever sport that they happen to be playing at the time. I always want to be there for them, just like my parents were always there for me. As a child, my dad was my coach, and my mom was the president of whatever league in which I was playing. It always felt nice to know mom and dad were there for me, and I try to abide by the example they set for me with my own kids. So, I make sure to block off afternoons to be with them. My partners and the other people I work with know that I start very early in the morning and put in a ten-hour workday so that I have time in the afternoons to spend with my family, and they know better than to interrupt me should I happen to be coaching a soccer tournament over a weekend or some such thing.

What is the piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

Technology is not important to me as much as relationships are. I don’t use any proprietary software. I’m able to pull all the data and everything I need from ordinary methods, whether it be from city sites or from consulting officials and just asking them the right questions. Whatever I require for permitting, planning, or zoning is readily available. In fact, relationships are the single most valuable tool that I use on a daily basis. I rely on them to get the right answers. Knowing who to talk to for the right answers is, in my view, imperative. Whether it be marketers, accountants, sitemanagers, or lawyers dealing with the city, I’ve always depended far more on direct relationships than technology.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome?

While there are many obstacles I encounter through the course of my work, the hardest obstacle is keeping things moving forward at the right pace. Often, delays happen when projects get stalled in planning committees or in the permitting process. But overall, our biggest hurdle is keeping things on schedule. As I mentioned before, time is of significant importance in this industry.

What is one piece of advice you have never forgotten?

Business is all about relationships. This means that if you spend the time needed to develop good relationships, good things will come from them. Knowing who to call to ask for guidance, or who can file whatever paperwork, which lawyers you’re going to need, which accountants you’re going to need is absolutely invaluable. When I visit project sites, I actually learn people’s names, whether they’re the site manager, the electrician, or the drywall finisher. I do my best to learn about their kids or their wives or their mom and dads. It’s really important. It shows that you actually care about the people involved in the project, and it helps develop both a better work environment and mutual respect.