Sandlian Succeeded by Always Being Out Front

POSTED Sunday, March 21, 2010
By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

After six active and profitable decades buying, selling and developing commercial real estate nationwide, it’s past time for Colby Sandlian to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

Not a chance, scoffed the 79-year-old operator dubbed the Yoda of commercial real estate by his Wichita peers.

“I tried,” Sandlian said with a laugh. “Too many hours in the day.”

There’s no end in sight to Sandlian’s real estate career, and equally no end to the real estate careers he’s birthed and nourished in Wichita as a broker, operator and resident sage.

“Colby Sandlian is the reason I’m in this business,” said Steve Barrett, a commercial broker and developer at J.P. Weigand & Sons.

“He’s one of the most passionate people in this industry about this industry. And he’s as knowledgeable a person as you’ll find. It’s incredible to have people like Colby in Wichita.”

There’s no deep philosophical reason why Sandlian began brokering commercial real estate, making enough money to build a huge portfolio that takes all of his time today.

“The obvious reason you get into real estate is you make a lot of money,” he said, eyes flashing.

“You can make a good living in real estate. But you get rich by buying, building and owning property.”

And by steering a steady course, Barrett said.

“Colby has a formula for everything he does, and that’s why he’s successful,” he said. “Colby’s out in front of everything. He was developing strips before they became popular, and he helped start the mini-storage craze that’s become a total national industry.”

Passion for Wichita

Optimistic, pragmatic, oftentimes blunt but always with a no-frills take on his accomplishments and his life’s work: That’s Colby Sandlian.

* Sandlian the optimist: The hometown he loves will be back after the recession, stronger than ever.

“Maybe we’ve got a little too much space in strips, but the Wichita market’s better than most,” he said.

“Fact is, the aircraft industry will be good again, sooner than you think. We’re going to need airplanes, and we built a lot of very good ones here.”

Ask Sandlian about his hometown, and the flashing passion in his eyes softens.

“Wichita is a fine city, right in the middle of everything,” he said, smiling.

“I can be in California in four hours. I can be in New York in four hours. I’m going to Florida this week, and I can be there in three and a half hours.

“This is a good city. I could live anywhere in the world, and I still can, but my home is in Wichita.”

* The pragmatic, blunt Sandlian: Greed brought the U.S. economy down, and hard work will bring it back, he said flatly, his look hardening.

“We went too high,” he said, talking about residential and commercial real estate values. “Difficult to say that because everyone wants to go high, but the result was a bunch of financial derivatives and securitized loans that were sold in packets. Terrible.”

Treating real estate as a commodity, rather than an investment, helped bring the economy down, Sandlian said. Thus, it’s time for mortgages to return to the hands of their lenders for service.

“Most of the mortgages out there are being paid, but you’ve got this group that isn’t, and there’s no one out there to send out to try to solve it,” he said.

“I mean, the government wants you to short sale, do a bunch of things, but short sale what? A piece or a fraction of an instrument covering a thousand homes? A thousand properties? Makes no sense.”

Wichita’s 1959 economic collapse — when he said a third of the city’s 90,000 workers were laid off – provides a blueprint for his commercial brethren to weather today’s economic storm, Sandlian said.

“What you have to do is dig, work a little differently,” he said.

“You dig to find good listings. Never take a buyer and go out and find something for them. Go find a piece of property — a building, land, whatever — that’s a reasonable buy. Not too much below the market, but within the market.

“Spend your time analyzing, digging and digging to find good properties. And when you find one — a strip, a warehouse, land, a service station — that’s truly a good buy, there will be people who will buy it.”

‘An acute sense of integrity’

Sandlian is a complex, disciplined, detail-oriented man with an almost unbeatable real estate system, Barrett said.

“He would have been a great coach in any sport because that’s the way he attacks life, very disciplined, never deviates from his system,” Barrett said.

But to truly understand Sandlian, you listen carefully to the story he tells with reverence about the first Wichita home his struggling family owned, an 1800s house in the 300 block of North Washington bought from the legendary Wichita real estate pioneer J.P. Weigand for $900 in 1942.

“It wasn’t a big deal, but my father felt like he treated it as one,” Sandlian said.

Today, Sandlian’s friends say he’s the same kind of man.

“Colby has an acute sense of integrity, always has, and wouldn’t do anything untoward to make a real estate deal,” said a former employee, Wichita commercial broker Rod Stewart.

“All you need to know about Colby Sandlian is that his handshake is better than most people’s written contracts,” he said

“That’s the person Colby’s turned into: a rare package of talent, personality and integrity, a very special person,” Barrett said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or
© 2010 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

One Comment »

  1. […] improve. Bill Wilson allowed us to reprint the article he wrote for the Wichita Eagle that features the successful traits of one of our most treasured members, Colby Sandlian. Dennis Crull, S.E.C., CSPG, shares “tax-saving exit strategies for retiring real estate […]