This week, Langley-based Frontline Real Estate Services is finally publicly announcing the new leader at its helm: former Vice President of Corporate Development at Colliers Amyn Bhayani.

Bhayani's career in real estate began with a bit of luck and generosity when a friend who knew he was looking for a summer job offered to introduce him to Kelly Heed, then the Vice Chairman of Colliers International who had been at the firm since 1967.

What began as a summer internship at a desk in the photocopy room ultimately resulted in 18 years at Colliers, during which he played a significant role in the firm's international expansion.

Bhayani left Colliers in 2013 and founded Rockcastle Developments the following year. Rockcastle has undertaken residential development in Vancouver as well as commercial development in Portugal through Rockcastle's involvement in another company.

Bhayani remains the President of Rockcastle, but most of his time is now spent with the team at Frontline Real Estate, which was founded by Justin Mitchell in 2009 and now has ambitious hopes of expanding in ways Colliers did.

They are currently in the process of increasing their portfolio of services to become a one-stop-shop for clients, growing that shop with a new commercial team, and expanding beyond their strong foothold in the Fraser Valley.

In an interview with STOREYS, Amyn Bhayani discusses his time at Colliers, why he decided to join Frontline, and all things Fraser Valley.

You were the Vice President of Corporate Development at Colliers for nearly 20 years, during which Colliers saw significant expansion. What was your role in that expansion and what do you view as your biggest accomplishment?

I held several roles within Colliers beginning as a real estate analyst within the brokerage's investment division. After five years, I moved to the corporate group working on special projects and soon after took over as the company's Corporate Secretary. I was named Vice President in 2007 and in 2012 moved into Corporate Development. As Corporate Secretary I managed the company's global legal, corporate governance, and risk management functions. One of the highlights during this time was playing a key role in the sale of the company to FirstService Corporation.

[FirstService has since spun off Colliers as an independent public company.]

At the time, Colliers was a network of independently owned and operated companies around the globe. In addition to those functions, I established the group's International Secretariat office, which managed all the administration of the organization including the group's intellectual property (trademarks), processes of referrals, entering new geographical territories, and member audits.

The most notable achievement was spearheading a new affiliation agreement, which had not been updated, nor reflected the current organization, for more than fifteen years. This was a crowning achievement because it required bringing together smaller independent owners in various countries around the world onto the same governance platform that respected their rights, but also recognized the evolvement, scale, and scope of larger members -- no small feat when you consider the differing motivation and objectives of each separate and distinct member.

Why the move to a local firm like Frontline Real Estate? 

Frontline has many of the markers that Colliers had when I first started there and that is what's attractive. The role presents an opportunity to develop the company from its strong platform to a wider scope and larger scale. It's the company's potential growth and ability to participate in the success of mostly local clients that is most exciting.

For those who may not know, how would you describe what Frontline does? How is the company positioned? Where do you see Frontline five years from now? 

Frontline is a boutique commercial real estate firm that focuses primarily on the Fraser Valley. We are particularly strong in industrial and land brokering and are keen to widen our area in terms of geography and expertise. Our five year goals include having a strong presence in Vancouver and to be able to offer a key suite of services to our clients. We are aiming to have an office in downtown Vancouver and will look to other areas that fit our service offering.

Frontline also has a residential firm, Breakside. What will your involvement with Breakside be?

Our affiliation with Breakside is very important as the companies share similar values and ethics. I work closely with Breakside CEO Danielle Reed to collaborate between our Land department and their Project Marketing capabilities to leverage economies of scale.

As a Fraser Valley specialist, are there any aspects of the Fraser Valley market that you think goes underappreciated, or are there any misconceptions?

One of the misconceptions of the Fraser Valley is that it is a secondary market that is more affordable than the city centre. That is not necessarily the case. Considering incomes from census data, Surrey and Langley have high average incomes relative to the rest of the region.

Another misconception is that there is so much greenfield development land. This was true 20 years ago, but the pace of development has absorbed most of these large parcels that are not within the agricultural land reserve (ALR). There is far less land that is not in the 100-year floodplain and the ALR than most would believe. 

And finally, I would say the misnomer of believing that the suburbs are less dense and more spread out is very prevalent. A higher percentage of people live in stratified multi-family buildings in Surrey than in Vancouver.

Big picture discussions about industrial real estate in BC tend to focus on the shortage of industrial land and space in Metro Vancouver. How are things looking out in the Fraser Valley?

In the past decade, the sheer amount of land in the Fraser Valley gave the false impression that a "safety net" existed to mitigate Metro Vancouver's industrial supply crisis. While a quick glance of an aerial photo of the Fraser Valley or even some available submarkets indicate an abundance of available land, this could not be further from the truth.

Industrial nodes are separated into what we call "submarkets" and are severely constrained by surrounding residential and ALR boundaries. These residential nodes are likely to densify and although there is speculation certain ALR areas may be excluded by the Agricultural Land Commission, the chance of seeing anything significant in the near term is unlikely.

Further, with global supply chain risks highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial-oriented businesses, more than ever, are focused on buying in bulk, storing, and even manufacturing. This has exponentially driven up the price of industrial land as the Fraser Valley industrial engine relies on land parcels for material storage and commercial vehicle parking.

We are seeing developers going head-to head with end-users, and often getting priced out, resulting in the site not being developed into badly-needed warehouse space. The consequence is skyrocketing prices over the past three years which has resulted in the beginnings of significant attention in previously "undesired" areas such as Mission.

Due to the land constraints, a lot of industrial developers in Metro Vancouver are building upwards, with multi-storey "stacked" industrial projects. Is that happening out in the Fraser Valley as well? 

There is lots of chatter around stacked industrial projects, in Abbotsford and beyond. This is especially apparent on atypical sites with topography that would support a stacked structure, such as hills/slopes. We are also aware that the large global multi-storey developer, Prologis [often credited with building the first multi-storey industrial building in the United States], intends to move into the Metro Vancouver / Fraser Valley market soon.

The unknown is how the Fraser Valley industrial market -- buyers and tenants -- will respond to upper floor industrial. Currently, based on our conversations with user groups, we anticipate that almost all users prefer being on the first level and an enticement in the form of a discounted price/rent would be required to initially warm the market to this new concept.

When purchased at low land cost relative to current sale/lease rates, we are seeing developers running multiple scenarios, including stacked/multi-storey industrial. However, developers have made it very clear that they will not pay a premium for sites with multi-storey given the increased construction costs and difficult-to-predict sale/lease rates.

Over the next decade, we at Frontline Real Estate are really looking forward to seeing creative strategies from developers in order to address the Fraser Valley's dwindling land base.