By Karen van Kampen
The night before Janet LePage was set to return to work after maternity leave, she sat on the floor of her daughter’s room and cried. She had a tough decision to make, one that would change the course of her life. Should she leave a good pension and steady paycheque to follow her passion and make a career out of investing in real estate?
“I would be leaving everything,” she says. “It was terrifying.” The next morning, Janet quit her job and never went back to the corporate world.
Six years later, Janet has built Western Wealth Capital into a global equity platform for real estate investment. With more than $2.5 billion in transaction value, the Vancouver-based company is the eighth largest private foreign buyer in U.S. multi-family real estate. As CEO and co-founder, Janet has garnered national recognition and accolades, including the 2019 RBC Momentum Award — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has created a responsive business that can adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.
When people ask Janet how she built her award-winning business, she’s open about the challenges. A new business isn’t profitable on day one, says Janet. This often means staying at your full-time job while building your next career in the evening and on the weekend, which Janet did for five years. “You work two jobs. My day job was from seven to five and then my next job started,” she says. “You don’t get a free ride becoming an entrepreneur.”
The journey began in 2008, when Janet hired a coach to learn about the real estate industry. She then bought two single-family homes in Phoenix, Arizona. A year later, Janet devised a business plan to flip houses in Phoenix. But she needed $10,000 to get her idea off the ground. She presented the plan to her dad and he said, “if you beat me at crib, I’ll lend you ten grand at 18 per cent interest.”
Over the next two years, Janet bought 58 Phoenix properties at auction, fixed them up and quickly sold the turnkey properties at the same price as neighbouring foreclosed houses. In 2011, Janet says the margins were becoming too thin. So she shifted her investment strategy and bought her first apartment building at auction, a 23-unit property near the University of Arizona. A year later, Janet purchased a 200-unit building in Phoenix. The $5-million cash close was the deal that propelled her career in real estate investment.
With two young children, Janet knew that she had to choose between real estate and her full-time position as a senior marketing manager at a major North American construction company. “I was terrified that my children would derail my career, and they did the exact opposite,” she says. “They were hands down the best thing that ever happened in my success because they forced me to choose.”
With her experience investing in real estate as well as some savings in the bank, Janet says she took a “calculated risk” and launched her business with partner David Steele.
“You have to break every norm you thought possible of what a mother or a woman should be, you cannot fit a norm and be powerful. They don’t co-exist.”
Her eight years in the corporate world “was a grooming on how business works,” says Janet, and her hands-on experience with corporate structure and controls provided a solid foundation to build her business. Western Wealth has created a strategy in which repeatability enables scalability. Once a property is purchased, a series of uniform interior and exterior upgrades are made. Keeping to the same colour palette and fixtures tightens the timeline for renovations and speeds up the process of listing units on the rental market. This creates wealth and reduces risk for investors.
“There’s also probably some mom card being played throughout how this company was built,” says Janet. Property upgrades include lighting in parking lots to create a safe environment for women, and umbrellas at playgrounds offer a shaded place for kids to play. Every time a $600 washer/dryer is installed in a unit, this increases the market value of a property by $10,000. These upgrades also improve the lives of residents.
While Janet says she is in the business of creating wealth for her investment partners, she adds, “you can create more wealth by doing good. That was the big ah-ha.” Generally speaking, the primary goal in real estate is to make money. Janet is working to change this outlook in her industry. “You can improve the lives of the people who work and live in your community while creating wealth,” she says. “It’s not an either/or.”
Satisfied employees work harder and happy residents aren’t compelled to move. The less turnover, the less money it costs to operate a property. To date, Western Wealth Capital has acquired over 16,500 apartment units in Arizona, Texas and Georgia. The company employs 40 staff across its Vancouver and Tempe headquarters, 50 in-house property management and 400 employees across its third-party-managed properties.
One day Janet was visiting a Phoenix property and noticed that many of the children boarded their school bus without backpacks. When the kids returned home that day, there were backpacks filled with school supplies waiting for them, and the “We’ve Got Your Back” program was born. Today, backpacks and school supplies are provided to all children living in Janet’s properties.
With less than three per cent of women in executive roles in real estate investment companies, Janet often reflects on being a strong role model, especially for her kids. She talks to her daughter about finding success on her own terms. “You have to break every norm you thought possible of what a mother or a woman should be,” says Janet. “You cannot fit a norm and be powerful. They don’t co-exist.”