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Vancouver’s real estate moguls share trade secrets

Vancouver False Creek

Vancouver’s real estate moguls share trade secrets

Joe Segal and Natale Bosa share how some of their biggest gambles paid off


To become a real estate mogul you have to love what you do, be able to make quick decisions and have a good relationship with your banker, the Vancouver Real Estate Forum heard from local real estate legends Joe Segal and Natale Bosa Wednesday.

Segal is best known for starting Fields Stores and then taking over the much-bigger Zellers which was subsequently bought by Hudson’s Bay Company.

It was a deal that people called the mouse swallowing the elephant, the 87-year-old said. At the time, one of his stores — which was 6,000 square feet — was beside a Zellers.

Fields was doing $1 million a year in that spot while Zellers, which was occupying 24,000 square feet, was doing only $400,000. “So I figured there must something wrong here,” Segal said.

So he talked to his banker and asked him for $50 million to buy Zellers, which was a lot of money in 1976.

“And I was shocked. He gave it to me,” Segal said.

But his first foray into real estate came earlier — when he had a surplus $100,000 from his retail business that he used to buy a building.

And from there he’s developed a multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio. One property he bought for $600,000 is now worth $150 million, he said.

Segal looks at each project and measures the risk/reward ratio.

“If I can digest the risk I’ll take a shot and I’m entitled to the reward,” he said.

But you have to be able to make a decision, he said.

“If you can make a decision and make it quickly you’re at an advantage,” Segal said. “If you dilly-dally and your banker won’t listen to you, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Bosa, the president of Bosa Development Corporation, the company behind projects like Citygate near the Telus World of Science and Newport Village in Port Moody — jumped at the chance to get involved in Citygate, buying one of the parcels in 1988.

He then bought a second piece before being offered the rest of the development.

“It was a big gamble at the time but at the time I had more guts than brains,” Bosa said.

And he was able to find a banker who would lend him the money on short notice.

“You’ve got to have a nose for it,” the 68-year-old Bosa said. “You’ve got to really believe in what you’re doing. You’ve got to feel it’s going to work. And fortunately it’s worked for me.”

And a little ignorance can be a good thing.

“Sometimes being too smart is not going to get you there,” he said.

“If you study things too much you’re going to miss out.

“Because if you know too much about a deal chances are you aren’t going to buy it.”

fionaanderson@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/fionaanderson