Welcome back to another episode of Become A Local Leader. Today we have the honor of interviewing Shmuel Siegel. Shmuel is the vice president at CSN, a commercial real estate brokerage. Shmuel grew up in Agoura Hills and served in the Air Force as a captain. He has also obtained a degree in Psychology.

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Meet Shmuel Siegel, our featured Local Leader

Alright. What do you love about the Agoura Hills community and what do you love about living there?

The tranquility. It’s just you wake up in the morning and you have the quiet. And then you go out to the city and Hollywood and business and you do all these things in the middle of it, then you come back home and it’s quiet.

I love the community feeling also the respect that we have for each other. Just everybody loves each other and we are so helpful. We always have a lot of fun together.

Where do you primarily do your business?

Most of our businesses are based in Los Angeles, California.

I know you were in the military, of course, was that what you did before real estate for the most part?

That’s a great question. So I did a lot of psychology. I was helping mostly teenagers and the parents of teenagers. While I was doing psychology, my father gives me a call and he’s been in the Real Estate industry for 20 years or something like that, at the time he had a lot of clients when he was doing leasing deals and he tells me “I need some help and have someone fill in as my assistant for a little bit”. I told him, “Sure. Let’s see how it works out”. And I just fell in love with the industry and the state”

That’s amazing. How long have you been in commercial real estate and how are things going?

About three years, something like that. Yeah, I love it. It’s going really well.

What are your total sides per year or transactions per year? And how does it compare now versus when you started? What’s the growth like and why?

Well, we’re doing this interview doing Corona time and we’ve seen a little bit of upheaval. I will say that the goal of our business is to serve people, to give them the best service possible. And right now, because of the uncertainty when you buy real estate. When you do those transactions, what you try to do is you underwrite it because you want to understand what’s the future is going to look like.

“How is the shopping center going to meet the needs of this buyer or seller?” are the types of questions I’m asking myself. Now, when we live in such a time when uncertainty, it’s so difficult to give the best advice. So I am seeing fewer transactions because I myself am saying, you know, sometimes I don’t know. I don’t know about these tenants. Or I don’t know what’s going to happen.

And I want to be the best broker, there is. I want to give the best service that I can. So when I don’t know something, I will say it. That’s why I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that.

How is your business specifically affected by COVID? Obviously, there’s a dip in a lot of people are feeling the effects of it. But has it affected your business, specifically in a negative or positive way? 

Well, it affected us. I mean, essentially, because we run a business, the pandemic has had a negative impact because our goal is to make transactions happen. So it is a bad thing, but it’s also a good thing that you’re able to understand the situation. It’s also a good time in some ways because you need to think positively, you need to find an opportunity out of the uncertainty.

So that’s the best thing we can do right now. Sit down together plan out the year, what can we do better, focus on trading, focus on reading, growing. I mean, this is the perfect time to do that because transactions are low. So this is you got to use this time wisely.

This the perfect time to kind of take a step back, retool and restructure things, and get ready for when everything in the market opens back up. That way you can actually hit the ground running right and you’re ahead of other people. 

What percentage of your business is repeat business versus new clientele new people?

It depends on the buy-side or the sell-side. We represent a lot of buyers mostly and do a lot of market transactions. We have buyers that usually look for value-added strategies and we try to find a shopping center that will give them that. And it’s off-market because they want to be able to kind of work everything out.

So, we have a lot of buyers that we work with that repeat business, and the new business that we have is just people that get to know us because we call them. We make sure to keep in touch.

What percentage of your business is more so built on relationships that you made with people versus as a result of paid-for advertising and having leads coming your from that way?

We don’t do a lot of advertising. It’s all about meeting people.

How big is your database, right now that you’re working with?

The database is big! How many people we have… that’s a really good question off the top of my head I’m not sure. But what I can say is that the way you need to build your database and the way I built my database is by trying to find the needs of people.

I would have “he needs this”, “he needs that”, “he can afford this” and “he can afford that”. In that way, we were able to cater to people, much better. So even if I don’t have something that’s good for this buyer and someone gives me a call or if someone sends me an email, I just plug it in and then I see exactly who matches what. I am a matchmaker type. I think that’s a great way. It’s kind of a unique way as well. And I like that.

What are you doing right now to actually build new relationships? Is it a lot of cold calling or meeting people or how are you going about that process?

Cold calling is the backbone of everything. Just be on the phone all day long and you are going to love it. And you know, at the end of the day it’s fun. It is really is. The same with LinkedIn, that’s been a great tool for my business.

What you think is your superpower as a professional?

 The most difficult thing or what you need to do best is just making a distinction. Identify what’s a good deal and what’s not a good deal. And you need to draw the line should you go forward with this. “Should you not move forward with this? Am I doing this deal just because I want to get a deal done? Or am I doing this because I want what’s best for my client and I really want them to have a good deal?”

One of my standards is like: “Is this a deal that I would buy myself or am I just trying to get a deal done?” I think it’s very important to reflect on for every deal.

A few weeks ago, we did this office lease and there was a huge question on: “should we wait, should we not wait?” Whether it is a good deal, it is not a good deal. During the signing, my guys were telling me, “Are you sure this is a good deal?” And I said, “I am sure this is a good deal.” And I said this with all the confidence in the world. And they said, well, of course, you’re going to say that you want me to sign this because you’re going to get a commission. It’s an excellent point. 

So I looked at them and I said, “You know, at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be worth my time to sign you up for a bad deal, because today I give you a bad deal, tomorrow you’ll tell the whole world that it was a bad deal and I lose you. And I lose anybody ever referred to me and I lose my name and my reputation. So it’s not worth it for me.”

I think that’s the most important thing just making all these distinctions all the time and going into the books. And when you do have a deal, do the best due diligence that you can do, be there, take action take part, look at the lease, look at the PSA, look at the deal terms, look at everything that’s going on and say, “hey, in my experience, I’ve seen this and that. And this is why you’re working with a broker, because this is all I do all day long and I can tell you that deal that have closed and transacted and have been good look like this.” This was the type of challenges that we saw, or the other way around.

What sets you apart from your competitors in the commercial industry? What do you do to differentiate yourself?

That’s a great question. Because my industry is amazing, it’s like a family it really is. And it’s a business family so you understand it’s all business, it’s all fun and businesses. And all’s fair in business.

As long as you’re not lying or cheating, which we would never do. There are some amazing people in the commercial real estate industry and those people are a lot of help. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve reached out to other brokers that have been in the industry for a long time and they don’t have any real benefit in helping me and they still do. They give me advice and they help out. That’s something that I love.

And that’s why I think it is surprising and it’s not at the same time, because when you’re the best and when you know how you can help, you able to share that knowledge with other people. For me, I’m always happy to do the same because that’s what brought me here.

To differentiate my business and become a top producing broker, it’ll come down to the way that I serve the clients I work with.

What are some of the things that you do to actually give value to the people who live and work in your geographic farm area? 

My phone number is anywhere and everywhere. And it’s my cell phone number. So, people can just call me. I’m always happy to help and I’m always happy to refer. I’m always happy to give a hand with whatever it is but doesn’t have to be something so big, it’s enough to do small good deeds every single day. And when you’re giving back, the little things collectively become much bigger. It’s like a rock in the ocean. When a wave hits a rock, the further the wave goes, the larger the wake is. The ripple keeps on going.

So if you go down the street and you see that there’re chairs on the floor, you don’t overlook it. Bend down and you pick it up. If you see somebody who needs help you stop and you help them. And maybe that wasn’t the biggest thing in the world but I helped somebody and helped them ‘have a good day’ which inevitably will make him help somebody else a ‘have a good day’ – you can impact a lot of people that way. So that’s my kind of style of how to do things.

And it’s just a lot of supporting people, a lot of just being there and being available. 

What are the goals that you have for your business moving forward?

Okay, so my father and I have been in the business together and we have two other people working with us. I think the corona kind of slow things down if you know what I mean, our plans to expand. But it’s little by little. We love what we do, we love giving service, we love working with the clients that we have. Right now the way to expand is to make more calls, get more listings, get more deals done, and get more transactions.

We have our business plan which outlines exactly how we’re going to do this, exactly how many calls we have made a day, how we can double, triple all of that. We had a lot of appointments that kind of canceled on us because of Corona.

Buyers or sellers, I will say are afraid of getting retreated, which means that when you put a building under contract and then the value kind of changes, you retreat and you say “Okay, you said you’re going to sell it for $5 million, but we just heard that this brand is filing bankruptcy because of those shutdowns everywhere else. So now you don’t have this brand. So, we’re going to make it into a $4 million sale” The uncertainty kills you.

And that’s why I’m seeing fewer properties going on the market, which makes sense to me unless there’s a huge incentive. 

What are some of the roadblocks and the major challenges you face when you’re trying to achieve that goal of expansion and growing your brokerage?

I will add that you need to look for quality people. Go for the best. We like to be with the best. So we have a small team, but we have a good team.

I would rather have people that I like to work with and you know it’s not that people are bad. It’s not that other people bad, ‘A’ is in my opinion, someone who I can work with. The same person I would have a difficult time with would be perfect for somebody else. It’s all about finding the best match. It doesn’t make someone less good. It just makes somebody less may be able to work with.

Do you pay for any Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn ads that kind of stuff?

No, I don’t see the need. I think it’s not personal. Just seeing a picture of my brand loses the personal feel that I want to have. Once you build a brand that’s very well-known and people are like, oh yeah, I know that that’s, well, that’s the father (my father) then it becomes better because it adds emotional touch but at the moment someone who sees the brand and I don’t know where it is. I think it’s a waste of money, at this point in time.

Do you write blogs online?

We have a website and a blog, www.csncommercial.com, but we don’t write in it that much. It’s definitely something that I want to do more of.

It’s about finding the time to do it. I want it to be of high quality. I’m not just going to write anything just for the sake of making a blog if you know what I mean.

So do you create any video content, either on YouTube on your site or social media at all? 

No, I hate myself on video!

Are you active on social media? I know you talked about LinkedIn. So you’re active on posting frequently and that kind of thing, or any other social media?

Well, my sister is huge on LinkedIn and she’s teaching me the works.

What type of follow up work do you actually do on your database? Do you stop by? Do you write personal notes? Or do you prefer to call? How do you keep in touch with them? 

All of the above. It’s any way that’s best for the person. So if someone is extremely busy, I would send an email. It’s much better. Some people prefer messages on LinkedIn. Some people prefer text. Others like a phone call. So it depends on the person. To get to know the people.

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