The managing director and senior partner of Boston Realty Advisors discusses his tree farm, antique car collection and the therapeutic nature of horseback riding.
In a way, William ‘Wil’ Catlin has two jobs. The first as managing director and senior partner at Boston Realty Advisors, a self-described “boutique” commercial real estate brokerage and advisory firm and one of the dwindling number of privately held CRE firms in the city. The second as a tree farmer on his officially registered “tree farm” in Wayland, once owned by his father, where he and his family have two horses, one pig, a dog, a cat and a lot of wood to chop. “It’s therapeutic,” he says of his work around the 36-acre farm, where he also owns and stores a vintage 1929 Model A Roadster Pickup, a 1940 Ford Woody Wagon and a 1972 Chevrolet Blazer, among other vehicles and gadgets scattered around his Wayland property. But make no mistake: His first professional priority, he says, is to Boston Realty Advisors and its 87 employees and corporate clients.
Though Boston Realty Advisors is relatively small compared with other CRE firms operating in Boston and nationally, Catlin and his team have leased more than 1.5 million square feet over the past two years, establishing the firm as a leader in the TAMI (tech, advertising, media and information) office sector and specializing in “gut rehab” commercial projects in Greater Boston. Catlin recently talked with correspondent Jay Fitzgerald about Boston Realty Advisors, his farm and the dream vehicle he’d love to drive around his farm and on local roadways.
To start off, how’s the local commercial real estate market doing from your perspective? There’s a lot of talk of it slowing down in Boston. The local commercial real estate market is hot. This is due to limited availability and a significant demand from all size ranges across multiple verticals. I don’t see the rumored slowdown coming anytime soon.
Are there any specific parts of the market that you’re worried about? The suburban market? Boston/Cambridge? While the Boston central business district is substantially larger than Cambridge, the primary similarity is that both are supply-constrained markets. Boston is preparing itself with 7 million square feet of new lab and Class A office space. The demand is there, and so will (be) the absorption. I’d like to see more new construction for Class B office space in Boston, but the math simply doesn’t support it.
There’s been a lot of consolidation with the commercial real estate industry, with the big CRE brokerage firms getting ever bigger. Do you think there’s still a place for boutique firms like Boston Realty Advisors? I believe that all real estate is local and therefore a local firm will always outmaneuver an international and/or national brokerage firm. Simply put, not only do I believe there’s a place for a firm like Boston Realty Advisors in today’s market, I believe that a firm like Boston Realty Advisors can dominate certain aspects of the market.
Do you have any plans to merge with another company or significantly expand? Yes. We’re always looking for expansion opportunities. Recently, we’ve executed a few acquisitions and are always looking for new prospects to grow our platform.
Switching gears, you own and live at your own small farm in Wayland, registered as a ‘tree farm.’ What does that entail, in terms of farming? Whom do you sell to? As a registered tree farm in the state, I am required to sell firewood or product that I grow on my land. I cut, split, sell and deliver firewood to the local community.
Cutting wood sounds like hard work. But we like the idea of growing trees, sort of like watching grass grow. In other words, it sounds easy. But is it easy? Cutting trees, splitting trees, as well as stacking and delivering firewood is difficult. I am not delivering hundreds of cords of firewood a year, but it’s hard work. I use some basic machinery to assist in the process and my kids sometimes participate.
You also like riding horses, almost as therapy. Why is it therapeutic? The connection with a 1,200-pound horse is a magical experience. I must admit, I don’t ride as much as my wife would like me to.
You also help raise funds each year for the Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding Program. Is it gratifying to see people who have never ridden horses before respond positively, in a therapeutic sense, to horseback riding? Unbeknown to me, a coworker’s son participated in the program at Lovelane. He told me that his son can walk today because of therapeutic riding at Lovelane. The notion that we’re not only changing the life of a child, but we’re also changing the life of a family, is extremely gratifying. … Lovelane does 108 lessons per week. That translates to 108 children and their families benefiting from a program where they can perhaps walk, learn better social skills and gain self-confidence.
You also have a small car collection. Is there a vintage car that you would love to own? I would love to own a World War II military Jeep. For many years, my dad and I worked on a post-World War II Jeep, and I always wanted the real deal. I love the idea of driving around Wayland in a World War II Jeep, painted military green with military tires.
When not chopping wood, horseback riding and driving cool old vehicles, what else do you do to relax? I don’t go to the gym and prefer to spend time outside. Fortunately, there’s plenty of outlets to be outside when you live on a farm. As an example, I cut my own lawn, which doesn’t sound like much. However, when you walk for three-and-a-half hours behind a machine, it’s productive, therapeutic and relaxing. Also, spending time with my wife, my kids and my extended family is all part of my routine.
What’s the last book you read — and did you like it? The last book I read was recommended by my wife, called Bad Blood. It’s about the (biotech) company Theranos and the narrative told about a group of executives raising money, about its rather extensive board, and the subsequent failure of that company. It was absolutely riveting, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.