PacBiz Times: Commercial real estate legend Steve Hayes retires

After graduating from the University of Southern California, Steve Hayes knew he wanted to be in some form of sales work.

After all, it was something he had been doing since he was a kid.

“If you asked my dad, he would say, ‘Steve always had a campaign,’” Hayes told the Business Times June 19.

“He would say I was always selling, always putting something together on reasons to do or not to do something so I guess I liked getting in front of people and convincing them.”

Knowing that eventually drove Hayes to a career in commercial real estate sales, and one day, on April 1, 1993, he took a chance on himself — no joke.

On that April Fool’s Day, Hayes founded Santa Barbara-based Hayes Commercial Real Estate with partner John Blair in a small office in downtown Santa Barbara.

Four years later, Blair left to pursue another opportunity, so Hayes knew he needed to find a new partner to help him grow the company and eventually settled on Francois DeJohn.

“The most important decision was when John (Blair) and I thought through who would be best to compliment me and grow the company, and that was definitely Francois DeJohn,” Hayes said.

“He brought to the table very defined and advanced analytical skills that complemented me… That really was the critical decision to maintain and then grow the company was bringing him on as a partner,” Hayes added.

The two have teamed up to do some amazing work in commercial real estate as the pair have completed over $3 billion in transactions together, earning their places in the top echelon of brokers in the tri-county region.

“Steve put a lot of confidence in me early in my career,” DeJohn said in a press release.

“I’m both grateful and proud to have worked shoulder to shoulder with him as partner and friend for over 25 years.”

“Everybody likes Steve,” DeJohn added.

“He has genuinely led by example, setting a tone of collegiality and integrity not only within our firm but also among the South Coast brokerage community. He will be missed.”

The pair also grew Hayes Commercial Real Estate into a known community in Santa Barbara.

According to Hayes, in terms of production per agent, Hayes Commercial has consistently led the South Santa Barbara County commercial market over the past 15 years.

Along the way, they have also managed the firm’s growth from a small shop to a full-spectrum firm with fourteen brokers and four staff.

“I feel very comfortable with my decision to leave. I’ve accomplished a great deal and built a really cohesive group of people that comprise our company,” Hayes said.

“My goal was always to find people who complement each other, and I think we have done that really well.”

With more than 40 years in the CRE business, including 31 years under a firm with his namesake, he has seen a lot of shifts in the market, but none bigger than the Covid-19 pandemic.

During that time, home sales were through the roof with interest rates being so low, but now with more people returning to a more normal routine, some things, such as offices not fully returning from remote work have left areas in a bit of conundrum.

For the past three decades, Hayes and DeJohn primarily focused on office research and development markets

“And right now the pure office segment of that market is suffering, and it’s because of the lack of a return to office by employees,” Hayes said.

“Millennials have dictated the terms to the CEOs of these companies, and they decided that in order to retain talented people, they’re going to have to succumb to their demands, and that is mostly working from home, so that’s been the biggest shift in the last 35 years that I’ve seen.”

Hayes said not much will change at the firm as no one person was ever in charge, rather all of the partners at the company have their own responsibilities.

As such, Hayes looks forward to retirement, knowing the company is in good hands.

He will also still be involved in the community. Hayes has been involved in various philanthropic causes over the years, and since 2012 he has played a significant role at the Lobero Theatre Foundation, including chairing the board from 2019 to 2023.

He will be celebrating his 70th birthday in Hawaii surrounded by friends and family in just a few weeks. After that, he hopes to do a lot more traveling with his wife.

“I want to experience new things, travel more, work on my golf game and get some new hobbies,” Hayes said.

“It all sort of lined up perfectly.”