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Danielle Singer on starting a commercial real estate career during COVID

Starting a new career can be daunting at any time, but Danielle Singer, vice president, leasing and hospitality at Madison Group of Companies in Toronto, started her commercial real estate career six months before COVID shut down the world.

It was an interesting time, she says. As she was learning about CRE, she also had to reach out to tenants and brokers in innovative ways. Like many businesses, the pandemic forced the company to start from scratch, shifting from antiquated technology to everything from DocuSign to Zoom to virtual showings.

Singer oversees all aspects of the commercial division including the management of leasing activities for commercial, retail and hospitality portfolios, as well as pre-leasing sales and marketing strategies. She says she had to educate herself and her tenants to the new reality, giving certain tenants who pre-pandemic might have been considered unsuitable for a given space another look.

For example, a new restaurant that wouldn’t have been considered pre-pandemic because it was unproven will be put into the Madison Group’s Yonge and Eglinton building. “It thrived during COVID,” she says. Tech start-ups, which also did well during the pandemic, are being welcomed and flexible spaces created for them to meet downsizing and hybrid work models.

Singer’s interest in real estate was sparked while she was completing a fellowship with the Israeli Ministry of Justice, with a focus on land rights. This was further cultivated during law school, where she studied real estate law and went on to work for a leading real estate firm in New York.

Upon moving back to Toronto in 2018, she continued her real estate career at the boutique commercial real estate law firm of Delzotto Zorzi, where she says she gained valuable insight into condominium law and real estate transactions.

She joined the family business, Madison Group in 2019, looking for something “not legal,” she says, instead preferring to build communities. She works hand-in-hand with the residential real estate department, interconnected from the development stage to create projects with a more holistic feeling that will appeal to residential buyers and commercial tenants.

Her legal background is an asset but she says there was a “ton to learn in commercial.”

She also had to learn to navigate the male-dominated field. She urges young women not to be afraid to speak up, not to apologize (which women tend to do a lot more than men do) and to remind yourself that you deserve to be there and deserve to be heard.

A 2019 study conducted by the U.S.-based Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW) shows that only 15 per cent of the top management positions are held by women.

Singer says a growing number of women are entering the field and that there is a strong group of women willing to help the newcomer. She stresses the importance of having a mentor, male or female. She has had a female mentor since she was a law student. They still meet on a regular basis and her mentor helps by sharing her experiences and challenges. Singer is a member of CRE8 – Women In Commercial Real Estate.

She urges women to join organizations and to find a mentor by reaching out to someone they admire and who has had a great career trajectory. It can be as simple as searching online or reading articles, then emailing to request a call or to meet for coffee. “Even in New York, mentors are willing to do so,” Singer says.

She urges young women not to be afraid to reach out and to remember, “There is no stupid question.”