Big plans for Farmboy in Fort Frances

Sam Odrowski

A recently-incorporated local business has big plans in the real estate investing market.

Farmboy Real Estate is on the hunt for properties to buy and hold with the goal of generating income in the commercial and residential rental markets.

“We’re not flippers, although we’re not opposed to that if the opportunity comes about where we think there’s profit in it,” Farmboy CEO Wade Friesen told the Times.

“Generally, our thing would be buying bigger properties where there’s places to add value as far as renovating it or repurposing it or adding more curb appeal.

“Our interest is in commercial buildings, apartments, possibly hotels and other businesses,” he added.

Friesen said he’s currently focused on Farmboy’s primary asset which is the building that formerly housed the Fine Line Art Gallery on 529 Mowat Ave., where they rent out five commercial units, two residential units and one storage unit.

“We’re working with engineers currently to maybe change that a little bit,” Friesen said. “There’s ample area for growth there is what we can say.

“But at any given time, we’re analyzing around 10-20 properties at various locations. So we’re always looking for more but currently our main focus is on that building,” he added.

While Farmboy only holds the Mowat Avenue property currently, the company’s chief operating officer (COO), Kaleb Firth, said Friesen’s done a lot of legwork to get established in the community.

Friesen has been operating under the Farmboy name since 2011 when he first entered into real estate and owns multiple properties himself, separate from the business.

“I think what’s important to note is the hard work that Wade’s put in to scale the name behind the company,” Firth noted.

“Wade’s done eight or nine years of development and residential property ownership . . . he’s scaled from very small means.

“It’s not like someone gave him a ton of money and said, ‘Go play Monopoly,'” he added.

Firth said it’s Friesen’s best practices and strategies that have made him successful in the district’s real estate market.

The pair have been high school friends since the ’90s and have been working together for over two years now.

Friesen focuses on the big picture aspects of running Farmboy, while Firth directs his energy towards its day to day operations.

“What I do is very abstract, it’s more visionary, but Kaleb’s more hands on,” Friesen explained.

He told the Times a lot of his job is looking for opportunities, talking to potential sellers, making offers, negotiating, and working with banks for financing.

“I think we have a really strong working relationship, and that’s what kind of keeps fuelling all these projects is there’s a level of trust,” Firth noted. “We communicate and we both like the hustle.”

He added that a lot of Farmboy’s success can be attributed to its teamwork in the community.

“The depth of our unofficial team is what’s really the strength and the secret sauce to our success; without them, we couldn’t do what we’re doing,” Firth remarked.

Farmboy works with local realtors, legal professionals, contractors, and bookkeepers to ensure their operations run as smoothly as possible.

Firth said it wasn’t easy finding the right people that are best-suited for their business but it has really helped Farmboy to work more effectively.

“To me, that’s one of the biggest things that has allowed us to be successful and really turn the page towards bigger thinking and doing really big things,” he explained.

While Fort Frances is Farmboy’s focus right now, Firth said it isn’t always going to be the only community they operate in.

“We’re eventually going to have to look outwards but for now our focus is here,” he noted.

In the future, Farmboy will be looking regionally at opportunities in Dryden, Kenora, and Thunder Bay, with plans of seeking potential deals as far into northern Ontario as Sault Ste. Marie.

“We’re always looking for more; I hope every year is exponential to the year before,” Friesen remarked.

“If every two years is a 10x from where we are, in terms of asset value under management, in terms of amount of units or tenants that we have, that’s our goal. I feel like if we’re not growing exponentially every year, then we’re stagnant.

“A good way to figure that out is how uncomfortable we are,” he added.

Friesen said he’s continuously searching for the next big deal and wants to work towards acquiring properties that may seem impossible now, but could be viable in their future.

“It’s just one of those things that you can’t really wait until all the lights are green to start moving,” he reasoned.

“That’s not how people get from point A to point B; you’re going to hit red lights and stuff like that.”

Meanwhile, Firth said there’s a lot of potential in Fort Frances as it’s entering a “pivotal moment in time” with the mill uncertainty and potential to develop the corridor from the arena to the wood yard.

The rental and real estate market continues to face demand pressures locally as well, creating a need for more accommodations throughout the district.

“It’s a very interesting web of supply and demand or what’s effecting the demand,” Firth noted.

He said while many locals attribute the New Gold Mine to the shortage of housing here, there’s actually a variety of factors.

“If you’re talking about the rental market, I’ve noticed a very strong inward migration of indigenous members of the 10 First Nations that surround Fort Frances and that makes a larger impact then the mine itself,” Firth explained.

“I would also say the strongest need that I’ve noticed as we collect applications for our holdings is student housing–and not necessarily student affordable housing–but just student housing period.”

With the recently-built Seven Generations Education Institute facility in Couchiching and the Confederation College campus in Fort, many students from outside the district struggle to find nearby accommodations, according to Firth.

“There wasn’t a very strong supply here to begin with, too. Fort Frances is only so big and I found that a lot of people don’t want to live together anymore,” he said.

“There’s definitely less members per household then there was, say, before the mine started.”

Going forward, Farmboy hopes to continue to build their team and find investors to ensure they continued growth.

“Our goal is always keep buying, keep added-value for people that invest with us, and keep expanding,” Friesen enthused.

“We’re wanting to invest in a better community and to us the only way we can do that is if everybody is working together for the better of the community.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with Farmboy can contact Firth at 276-7452 or email