Commercial real estate runs through Deepen Khagram’s veins. From owning and running petrol stations to selling multimillion-dollar properties, there’s not much the RE/MAX Commercial Director hasn’t done.
Here, Deepen shares with Kylie Dulhunty just how much he loves the industry and why honesty, integrity, and first-hand knowledge are the secrets to his success.
Deepen Khagram is a big believer in the adage ‘if you talk the talk, you must be able to walk the walk’.
Honesty, integrity, and real-life experience are his essential values as Director of RE/MAX Commercial, based in Milton, Queensland.
“One of my biggest strengths is personal experience in every facet of what I try and sell, or lease, for our clients,” Deepen explains.
IN THE BEGINNING
With 25 years’ experience in commercial property investing, Deepen cut his teeth as a 20-year-old, buying and running petrol stations with his father as part of a small family property company.
In doing so, Deepen bucked the family trend of an accountancy career path, and set about charting a new future for himself.
“I did accountancy at university because my family line on my dad’s side are all accountants,” he explains.
“I even did a short stint with Coopers and Lybrand and KPMG, but it wasn’t for me, and I got into petrol stations quite early.
“Using the cash flow from petrol stations, we invested in a lot of different types of commercial properties, be it petrol stations, fast food, shopping centres, offices, or industrial development sites.”
That experience has stood Deepen in good stead, acting as a point of difference between him and other commercial real estate agents.
Deepen knows how various businesses operate, is adept at making sense of financial reports, and talks the same language as clients, be they veteran investors, one-off business owners, or newcomers to the industry.
“Commercial clients are quite astute and they’re very number orientated,” he says.
“They need an advisor that immediately understands their product because we’re selling assets in the millions.
“You can’t sell it on a script-driven basis, you need to understand what you’re selling, and you need to articulate that to prospective buyers or tenants.”
Deepen says one of the biggest differences between residential and commercial real estate is emotion.
Buying and selling residential real estate is often driven by emotion, while on the commercial side the transactions are more scientific.
“It’s valued on rate per square metre, or a yield on rent,” Deepen says.
“So there are formulas that actually arise, within reason, to value a property.”
It was about 2008 when Deepen made the switch from owning and operating petrol stations, to real estate.
Kicking off his career with Ray White, Deepen won the franchise’s international rookie agent of the year and later opened his own Ray White commercial office at Mt Gravatt.
Many deals were put together, but with a challenging Global Financial Crisis-hit market, many fell over when valuations didn’t measure up to stringent bank lending standards.
Deepen headed back into petrol stations, commercial property development and acquisitions to generate more steady cash flow, but in 2017 the real estate bug bit again.
He joined RE/MAX Commercial and hasn’t looked back.
“Since then we’ve done quite well,” he says.
“One of my mandates was to enhance the RE/MAX Commercial profile. We’ve sold a lot of petrol stations, including the Caltex petrol station at North MacLean, the 7-Eleven at Sunnybank Hills, and the 7-Eleven at Burpengary twice.”
Deepen says one of the team’s best sales last year was the 7-Eleven service station and Coffee Club drive-thru at Pimpama, which sold for $7.8 million.
Other key sales included fast food premises and childcare centres.
Deepen says the agency is a full-service brokerage, selling businesses in addition to freeholds, while also offering leasing and consultancy services.
“I recently sold a pharmacy in the Brisbane CBD and that business was more than $2 million, just the business value,” he says.
“We’re selling fruit and vegetable shops in the shopping centres and we’ve sold restaurants, cafes and bars.
“It’s a smaller part of our business, but it’s a full brokerage office.”
A key member of Deepen’s team at RE/MAX Commercial is Peter Lunney, an in-house consultant with more than 30 years’ experience with Caltex in acquisitions and retail site development.
Peter isn’t involved in sales, but he is on hand to offer clients advice on whether their sites would be suited to a particular development, including petrol stations.
“Peter will identify sites, and I’ll interact with the owners of the site to take it to market,” Deepen says.
“Or he will assist those with sites who want expert advice before they go out and spend $2 million or $3 million building a petrol station, for example.
“They would come to us and we would objectively look at the site and give our advice on whether we think it is a commercially viable venture or not.
“If it is, then we would help that client to identify a team of consultants, be it architects, traffic engineers, acoustic engineers or builders, to then convert the vacant greenfield site into a completed project.”
Other members of the team include administration and marketing executive Michelle Tugawin and property analyst Dawn Abrenilla.
The team prides itself on being customer-centric and doesn’t limit themselves, or their clients, to a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday timetable.
“We’re not an agency that takes on too many listings and then cannot service them,” Deepen explains.
“Whatever we take on, we service to the nth degree.
“Honesty and transparency are core values for us, and we get a lot of our work through repeat business, which we really appreciate.”
Deepen says he was drawn to commercial real estate because he enjoys creating value and he’s always lived and breathed property.
He loves nothing more than understanding his clients’ values, aspirations, goals and desired outcomes and working to help them achieve them.
“I get a lot of satisfaction if I can create wealth for other people using my skill set,” Deepen says.
“It gives me a lot of enjoyment seeing clients’ outcomes being achieved.
“In this industry, our client needs to win and the incoming buyer needs to win. If an incoming buyer has seen that we’ve professionally handled somebody else’s transaction, it sows a seed in their head if they need someone in the future to sell one of their properties.”
As with most industry sectors in the country in 2020, COVID-19 hit the commercial real estate market fairly hard, particularly in the leasing arena, with vacancy rates climbing.
When it came to commercial sales, Deepen says it was a mixed bag.
“People with money were actively looking for opportunities because they looked at the falling market as an opportunity to purchase distressed assets,” he says.
“But without the benefit of foresight, as to when there would be a vaccine and when the economy would improve, there’s been a lot of money sitting on the sidelines thinking that there may be a bit more hurt to come.”
But Deepen says there are still a lot of buyers in the market, and superfund retirees that need to live off their investments were turning their focus to assets with a five to seven per cent return on longer leases.
“We sold a couple of service stations recently under six per cent yield, and we’ve sold a development site on Gympie Rd at almost a record rate per square metre,” he says.
“We also sold a child care centre within a week of listing it.”
As 2021 progresses, Deepen says the goal is to expand the RE/MAX Commercial team and geographical footprint, including having already enlisted a team member in Victoria.
His advice to new commercial real estate agents is to act with honesty, transparency, and integrity at all times.
“You have to treat people and their resources with due respect, and if you take on the project and complete the sale with the customer’s intentions front of mind, that’s the best thing,” Deepen says.
“Customers that give you their listings and spend money on marketing, if they feel that you’re not giving their property due attention because you’re spread too thin, they will be quite disappointed.
“Marketing is a double-edged sword. If you do something well, people talk. But if you don’t do something well, people talk.”