Two years after launching commercial mortgage brokerage firm Soliman Corporation in Montreal, Jeffrey Soliman has started a second real estate business with the hopes of acquiring $1 billion US worth of real estate in 10 years.
Soliman has invested $16.5 million US to buy an 11-storey multi-tenant office and medical building at 1250 E. Hallandale in Hallandale Beach, Fla., about 20 miles from Miami. Built in the late 1970s, the class-B building has 112,000 square feet of gross leasable area, along with a ground-level gym and daycare and a 400-spot parking garage.
The building has been acquired under the Soliman Corp., banner, while the pre-existing commercial mortgage brokerage has been re-branded to VA Capital.
“We can create value over time,” Soliman says of the building, which has a vacancy rate of about 20 per cent but does not require major capital expenditure. Soliman plans to eventually convert the multi-storey exterior parking garage, which covers about two-thirds of the site, into a mixed-use project.
With average space use of 1,500 square feet per tenant, the building is ideal for lawyers and doctors, tenants that can’t work from home and start-ups. “The rent is fair,” he says. “I know we’ll be able to lease up the space because there’s high demand for it.”
The road to creating Soliman Corp.
It was one of the first buildings for developer Ken Israel, who owned it for more than 25 years. “(Israel’s) happy that he’s transitioning it to someone young,” says Soliman, 33. “He knows I’m going to take care of the building. It was an emotional sale for him.”
It’s the latest step in real estate for Soliman, who has been in the business since the age of 19 after graduating with a finance degree from Concordia University. “I was eager to get out of school,” says Soliman, who started school earlier than usual, skipped a grade in elementary school and zoomed through university in 2-1/2 years.
After graduating, Soliman landed a job at commercial brokerage JJ Barnicke (now Cushman & Wakefield). Fresh out of school, he recalls calling major players like Dario Montoni and Mike Jager and “shaking on the phone.”
Soon after, he helped open the CMLS office in Montreal, where he spent three years as a commercial real estate lender. “That’s how I met (Groupe Mach owner) Vince Chiara,” who eventually offered him a job.
Since Chiara was handling acquisitions and financing himself, Soliman says he suggested the developer create an acquisitions and financing department to lighten some of his responsibilities.
“You’ve got to give me a V-P title,” Soliman recalled telling Chiara. “He said ‘Maybe manager.’ I’m like, ‘No, give me the V-P title.’ I ended up getting everything I wanted. It was the beginning of something great.”
“Mind-blowing” first year
His first year as vice-president, acquisitions and financing at Groupe Mach “was mind-blowing.” Soliman found he had oversold himself to Chiara and worried he couldn’t deliver on all of his promises. He watched Chiara run laps around him and to catch up, “I had to work extremely hard. It was insane.”
However, as the company built a solid acquisitions and financing team in his second year, Soliman hired analysts, lawyers and assistants. By the time Soliman left Mach five years later, he’d had a hand in acquiring a couple of billion dollars of real estate.
He was involved in deals to acquire everything from the Maison de Radio-Canada/CBC Tower from the federal government to “incredible” acquisitions like the St. James Hotel.
“It was one of the best jobs in Montreal in commercial real estate. We had carte blanche to buy whatever we wanted.”
After leaving Groupe Mach, Soliman briefly explored opportunities in the U.K. Over a three-day period, he had 30 interviews with major real estate players there, all of which were set up by his network in Montreal.
“When I realized that, I said ‘Maybe I’m not ready to leave Montreal’ because there’s so many people that vouch for me.’ ”
Launching his first company
Soliman then launched Soliman Corp. in February 2019. “My phone started ringing immediately.”
The market for the business is largely untapped, he says, because it’s hard to build relationships with lenders.
“Lenders are more keen to say no than they are to say, ‘Yes.’ ” However, if you know which buttons to push, who to call and how to get creative, that creates value, he says.
“We are able to push the envelope with the lenders.”
Last year, mostly during the pandemic, seven-employee VA Capital obtained more than $400 million in loans for its clients. Soliman is now looking for new office space – it’s currently on Notre-Dame Street in Montreal’s Old Port – and to hire more brokers.
VA Capital currently has more than 20 loans in its pipeline, primarily in multiresidential and industrial. Mondev and Lachance are just a few clients.
“The value add I offer clients is beyond anything I truly believe they’ve ever seen from a mortgage broker (from negotiating to closing deals).
“We don’t stop until the money’s in your bank account,” he says. “People say I’m crazy because it adds a tremendous amount of work. But, the results are there.”
Soliman has “great relationships”: Ian Quint
One of Soliman’s talents is in sourcing “very competitive” financing deals, says Groupe Quint president and founder Ian Quint, who has used Soliman for three or four deals.
“He has great relationships with a lot of the lenders,” says Quint, adding “he delivers on what he says he’s going to do.”
Soliman recently rebranded the commercial mortgage brokerage as VA Capital (for value-added), with Soliman Corp. handling U.S. investments.
Soliman Corp. plans to buy real estate only in the U.S. to avoid conflicts with clients in Montreal. “When clients show me deals in Montreal, I don’t want them thinking ‘Is Jeff going to buy the building behind my back?’ So it was very important to me I made that clear.”
Soliman says his plans to acquire about $1 billion in real estate in a decade “could sound like a big number but there’s a lot of opportunities in the U.S. As long as you have access to capital, you can definitely make it happen.”