Oakview Capital, the company Ryan Barresi started as a side hustle in 2010 and turned into a full-time gig three and half years ago, specializes in low-rise industrial flex space that caters to small enterprises like contractors and plumbers.
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Ryan Barresi would be the first to admit his growing Ottawa real estate firm isn’t the kind of business that gets an investor’s heart racing. Oakview Capital, the company he started as a side hustle in 2010 and turned into a full-time gig three and half years ago, specializes in low-rise industrial flex space that caters to small enterprises like contractors and plumbers. “It’s not a sector that’s very sexy,” the longtime broker says with a chuckle. That’s just fine with Barresi. The former vice-president of commercial sales and leasing at Cushman and Wakefield Ottawa decided to leave his secure job with one of the world’s largest brokerage firms to focus on Oakview in the summer of 2020, just months after the COVID-19 pandemic began upending the real estate industry. It was a leap of faith that now looks like a stroke of genius. Oakview recently completed its biggest deal yet, the $14.5-million purchase of a 95,000-square-foot property at 1140-1150 Morrison Dr. from Toronto-based Crown Realty Partners. Located just off the Queensway between the Bayshore and Pinecrest shopping centres, the two-building complex epitomizes the kind of asset Barresi loves. Fiscally conservative by nature, he says the property’s sale price of $150 a square foot offered good value. He was also attracted by its location, abundance of free parking and dependable income stream from 28 tenants with an average weighted lease term of three and a half years. “The math made sense,” he explains. “Along the Queensway, you can’t go wrong. It’s a nice asset for us.” Split between industrial and office showroom space, the property is 93 per cent leased. Barresi says interest in the building is high. Since the deal closed, for example, an existing tenant has signed a five-year lease extension and agreed to take on additional space. “We’re getting very good traction on Morrison,” he says. The acquisition increased the Ottawa firm’s industrial portfolio to more than 300,000 square feet. Barresi expects that number to increase to about half a million square feet pending completion of another deal that’s currently in the due-diligence phase. “We never would have expected it to go like this – I have to be honest,” he says. “It’s been a good ride.” A real estate lifer, Barresi credits industry colleagues like C&W Ottawa managing director Nathan Smith and Properties Group Management principal Jules Sigler for teaching him the ins and outs of the business. He remains unapologetically optimistic about the local industry, especially the suburban industrial submarket. Oakview’s portfolio currently includes no properties downtown, where commercial real estate prices are typically above the firm’s “weight class,” as Barresi puts it. “You have to have money to invest there,” he says simply. Plus, he prefers doing business outside the core, where most of the city’s industrial stock is located and unrelenting demand for limited inventory is pushing rents to record highs. “More and more companies are leaving the downtown core, or they’re opening what they call satellite offices in the suburbs to get their employees back to the office,” he says. Even as interest rate hikes have made financing acquisitions more expensive and factors such as rising inflation have caused economic growth to flatline, Barresi sees glimmers of opportunity shining through a gloomy landscape. “I can’t say this enough – I think it’s a great time to be in commercial real estate,” he says. “People keep saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a recession.’ I think we’re in it. The price of everything has gone up. People are strapped. That’s called a recession, if I remember my economics. “It’s a good time to buy. When everybody isn’t buying, it’s the time to buy. When everybody else is buying, it’s the time to sell.” Oakview’s backers include high-net-worth individuals and family offices. But Barresi, whose five-person team also includes veteran broker Victoria Blackburn as chief operating officer and former C&W executive Ryan Murphy as vice-president of asset management, points out that he also invests his own money in every deal. “(Investors) like that, because they know somebody’s guarding the henhouse,” he says with a smile. “We’re super conservative, and we work on our diligence.”