Steve Hayes moving on after more than four decades in commercial real estate

After a successful 43-year career in commercial real estate, Steve Hayes is retiring from the business and from his namesake brokerage of 31 years. He leaves a legacy of team-focused leadership, integrity, skillful deal-making, and enduring friendships with clients, colleagues, and competitors alike.

“It has been a long road of challenging and rewarding work,” Hayes said. “But what I will miss most is the people, the camaraderie. Real estate is about buildings, but the real estate business is about people.”

After graduating from USC, Steve started in corporate sales at Xerox before deciding to try commercial real estate. He got his feet wet during four years at Coldwell Banker Commercial before switching to Grubb & Ellis, where he worked for eight years. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1981 and has called it home ever since.

On April Fools Day in 1993, Hayes did something some of his colleagues considered foolish. He launched a private brokerage with John Blair in a small office in downtown Santa Barbara. Taking the leap from a large, “big name” brokerage to a two-man shop was indeed risky, especially considering the economic environment in the early 1990s. But the firm took root and added clientele.

Hayes and John Blair as featured in the Santa Barbara News-Press in 1993

Blair departed in 1997 to pursue a different business, and around that time Hayes teamed up with Francois DeJohn, then a broker in his mid-twenties who had started doing commercial real estate deals while still an undergraduate at UCSB. The two have been partners ever since, completing over $3 billion in transactions together and earning their places in the top echelon of brokers in the tri-county region. Along the way, they have also managed the firm’s growth from a small “boutique” shop to a full-spectrum firm with fourteen brokers and four staff.

“Steve put a lot of confidence in me early in my career,” DeJohn said, “and I’m both grateful and proud to have worked shoulder to shoulder with him as partner and friend for over 25 years.”

Hayes and DeJohn promoted a team approach within the firm. The industry norm is for brokers to work alone or in two- or three-person units, even when part of a larger brokerage. Whereas, at Hayes Commercial the brokers team up in various combinations to market properties for sale or lease. “We share ideas and expertise across our whole firm, which has many benefits,” Hayes said. “It gives our team members a broader awareness of the market and strategy; engenders teambuilding with better morale and loyalty; adds an element of variety that makes the work even more engaging; and most importantly, gives our clients access to a deeper pool of expertise.”

The results speak for themselves. In terms of production per agent, Hayes Commercial has consistently led the South Santa Barbara County commercial market over the past 15 years. However, building a successful brokerage has been a long and, at times, challenging process. Hayes and DeJohn learned that the team approach requires extra care in choosing members. “It’s tempting to bring a broker on board just based on their book of clients or their specific expertise,” Hayes said, “but over time we learned to prioritize compatibility and personality as we add to our crew.”

Steve 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.

Always an avid traveler, Steve looks forward to having more time to visit favorite spots and discover new cities around the world with his wife, Dana. Other pursuits include chasing his 1-year-old granddaughter around at the park, and chasing a golf ball around the links, both of which are aided by his passion for physical fitness.

“Everybody likes Steve,” DeJohn said. “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.”

Hayes, with John Blair and Francois DeJohn, at his retirement party