Steve Hayes celebrates 30 years of CRE dealmaking

Steve Hayes remembers meeting his clients at places around town, rushing back to his office, checking voicemail and then heading back out. It was commercial real estate, in the low-tech days before BlackBerrys and iPads. “It’s really a people business,” Hayes, who recently celebrated his 30th anniversary in the business, said.
His firm has gone through various incarnations, form Blair Hayes Commercial with partner John Blair from 1993 to 2004; then on to Leider Hayes Commercial from 2004 to 2008. That year, Hayes formed Hayes Commercial Group in Santa Barbara, He’s the managing partner in the business, which has grown from two brokers when he first began to 11 now.

“Blair did retail deals; I did office and R&D. That’s how we divided the world,” Hayes said, looking at an April 3, 1993 article from the Santa Barbara News-Press in which he’s standing next to Blair in front of the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in downtown Santa Barbara.

Hayes’ coat lapels are narrower now and he no longer sports the big ‘80s spectacles, but two recessions later, he’s still in the rough-and-tumble commercial real estate business in one of the most competitive cities in California.

According to Hayes Commercial Group’s stats, Steve Hayes has leased more office space in Santa Barbara County than any other broker, with more than 1,000 deals totaling more than $1 billion. Over the years, his clients have included Raytheon, Citrix Online, The Towbes Group, RightScale, Bermant Development, Venoco and Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.

Hayes said that when he started doing deals in the city more than three decades ago, Santa Barbara was “a much more provincial market.” But since then, many startups out of UC Santa Barbara have either grown up here and expanded into larger and larger spaces, or have been acquired by bigger firms who maintain their presence in the market, as was the case with Citrix acquiring Expertcity in Goleta and turning it into Citrix Online.

Hayes says he tells his brokers to always be aware of the potential of a new client and to never think a deal is too small. “I always tell my brokers, ‘If someone has a 1,000-square-foot requirement, we can help them with that.’”

Hayes said his firm takes a unique, team-oriented approach to dealmaking. That means that brokers often form teams in which their skill sets complement each other–one broker might be a better people-person, but the other has experience with investment sales, for example.

The firm is also growing in a different direction. It has adopted what industry insiders refer to as a corporate service model, which means it handles all CRE deals across the country for some large tri-county firms, including Santa Barbara-based Select Staffing. Investment sales, driven by the fast-growing apartment market, and SBA-backed owner-user deals are also on the rise.