Avison Young was founded in 1978, when Graeme Young & Associates of Alberta joined forces with Avison & Associates of Ontario and Avison & Associates of British Columbia. After its creation, the company continued opening new offices around Canada, then around the world, and now has over 100 offices in 17 different countries, with a stable of more than 5,000 real estate professionals.

Before 2023, none of the offices in Canada – where the firm is headquartered in Toronto — were led by a female. That changed in April of this year, when the firm named Jessica Toppazzini as the Managing Director of Avison Young's Vancouver office, succeeding the retiring Michael Keenan.

Toppazzini joined Avison Young in January 2022 as the leader of the office's Valuation and Advisory Services team, after spending about seven years at Vancouver-based Garnett Wilson Realty Advisors, a firm which specializes in appraisals.

In 2021, she won the Appraisal Institute of Canada's Top Appraiser Under 40 award. She remains involved with the Institute, as well as with CREW Vancouver, the organization that's dedicated to building up women leaders in the commercial real estate industry, while also serving as the President of the BC Expropriation Association.

The press release announcing her as the new Managing Director of the Vancouver office — Avison Young's second-largest in Canada — highlighted that Toppazzini will be focusing on business development, continuing to build out the team and their professional development, and looking for new ways to continue advancing the team's offerings to clients.

In an interview with STOREYS, just about four months into the new role, Jessica Toppazzini discusses how appraisals was her entryway into the industry, decarbonization, and her team at the Vancouver office.

You were involved in Avison Young’s Valuation & Advisory Services team and also appraisals at Garnett Wilson. I feel like appraisals is a less-discussed sub-sector of real estate. What can you tell me about the appraisal world? Has the industry changed at all? That seems to me like an industry that would be interested in using AI?

Valuations play a crucial role in the commercial real estate industry and we’re seeing that now more than ever in this market. It is a great place to understand how this market functions, the impacts of external factors and how it drives the players. While this may be a "behind the scenes" part of the broader real estate market, it sets the foundation for all commercial real estate transactions.

Over the years, the industry has undergone significant changes as technology has streamlined processes and allowed for more accurate and efficient valuations. Digital tools have been adopted by most appraisers when it comes to data collection analysis and report generation, with artificial intelligence piquing interest in the appraisal world. Despite these advancements, the human element remains a key component as appraisers bring expertise and judgment to interpret complex commercial data in ways that only people can.

How did you yourself end up in the appraisal / valuation world?

I’ve always wanted to invest in real estate; understanding how to value these assets always seemed like the best place to start. I was also able to specialize and mentor with some of the brightest minds in this industry, and I didn’t take that chance for granted. When you work on interesting assignments, with great people and supportive professional associations who are pushing you to grow, it’s hard to leave.

What are people in the industry at large concerned about lately?

The biggest, overarching opportunity right now is to explore how we’re going to meet housing demand. Vacancy rates remain low, with all levels of government hearing from their constituents that affordability is a key priority heading into the next election cycles. Couple this with incoming immigration and housing projects on pause, governments at all levels are going to need to consider more creative programs to stimulate housing development.

Is there anything you are personally a bit concerned about, or keeping an eye on, or have taken a particular interest in?

Like everyone, I’m watching interest rates and inflation. We need to understand where these rates are going, to manage value expectations from both buyers and sellers. Price discovery is always the first step and without more clarity on what central banks will do in the Fall, establishing a fair price for acquisition will be challenging, especially for lenders financing the deal.

One other area that I’m passionate about is Avison Young’s efforts around sustainability – and how we can make positive steps toward decarbonization as a firm while also partnering to help our clients achieve their own sustainability goals. Decarbonization is a top priority for owners and tenants here in Vancouver because, as we know, the building sector is one of the largest sources of emissions in Canada. As commercial real estate advisors, we believe it’s our role to partner not only with owners and tenants but also with municipalities in climate change mitigation, to work together to identify and implement short and long-term strategies that safeguard people and business continuity.

The City of Vancouver has set firm goals – for example, stating that all new construction must be zero-emissions by 2030. As another example, the City has introduced a mandatory Community Benefit Agreements policy, encouraging developers to collaborate with communities, support local businesses, and demonstrate local employment and local procurement. Our Avison Young Vancouver office and our ESG team are partnering to navigate our clients through requirements like these.

Tell me about the Vancouver team. Will it be expanding or changing in any way?

Our Vancouver office was one of the founding pillars of Avison Young. This office is the second largest in Canada and has seen tremendous growth given our partnership structure, collaborative culture, and client-centric business model. We're powered by people and a Principal-led company, which I believe makes us stand out because there is a strong commitment to upholding our culture and maintaining that legacy. The company's commitment to creating real economic, social and environmental value runs deep and is guiding growth.

Here in Vancouver, I could not be more proud of our strong legacy of cultivating homegrown talent among our junior brokers who have risen to become industry leaders, and I intend to honour that tradition. We’re well positioned for growth, have the right foundation set, and our Principals have distinguished themselves in their fields of expertise. What else could a new MD ask for?