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Toronto Real Estate

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Toronto Real Estate

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Upper Beach condo designed with the kids in mind

From storing the stroller to generous outdoor space, Upper Beach suites by Streetcar Developments cater to young urbanites with kids.

Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star

A new midrise condo in the Upper Beach neighbourhood is putting family living at the forefront.

The six-storey Southwood by Streetcar Developments, at Kingston Road and Southwood Drive, is one of the first condos in Toronto targeted specifically to families, and has been designed with their needs in mind. The 45-unit building opened February 22 and offers a variety of suites, from one to three bedrooms. The building will also appeal to buyers downsizing from houses.

“We are catering to two kinds of buyers — the empty nester who lives in the Beach or Upper Beach and doesn’t want a house anymore but wants to stay in the neighbourhood, and the other group is downtown young couples with babies or young children,” says Jeanhy Shim, president of research and consulting firm Housing Lab Toronto and a consultant on the Streetcar project.

Comment: And this is what we need more of. While mega-towers will continue downtown, we need some smaller and more interesting boutique-y buildings further out from the core. In established neighbourhoods, that contribute to neighbourhoods. Not all condos need to be small and cater to first-timers, investors and pied-a-terrers.

Southwood by Streetcar
“There are a lot of young, downtown buyers living in shoebox-sized units whose life circumstances have changed. They may have one small child or are thinking of having kids and thinking ahead to where their child will go to school.

“Its the first building I can think of that’s actively gone after the family downtown demographic,” says Shim, who has been raising her own young daughter in a condo and is about to embark on an in-depth study of downtown urban family housing needs.

At a recent roundtable discussion held at the Star, several major condo developers identified condo family living as an emerging trend and saw a need for larger units and more amenities to accommodate them. The developers see an increasing number of people staying in the downtown rather than moving to the suburbs after they have kids, as they don’t want to spend a lot of time commuting.

For the Southwood, Streetcar held focus groups to hear what features were most important to potential buyers, and when people preregistered, a salesperson called them within 48 hours and gained useful feedback from those phone conversations.

“We looked at what features of a (lowrise) home people love so much and translated that into a condo,” says Shim. “One thing people love about a house is the outdoor space, and we have balconies that are livable and usable, a minimum of 200 square feet, where people can entertain or kids can play.”

Shim says the young families and empty nesters wish lists were surprisingly similar: as well as generous outdoor space, they both wanted indoor spaces large enough for entertaining as well as decent storage. And though they don’t have kids at home, empty nesters want space to have their grandchildren visit.

Southwood balcony
“What both groups wanted is large entertaining spaces as they want to spend their time together,” says Shim. “We tried to create living and dining spaces that are functional, and kitchens with gas cooktops, as well as French-door fridges and full-size dishwashers in large suites, and islands you can sit at on stools. We tried to make really functional spaces, such as a living room wall where you can put furniture or a TV. We thought about how normal people live.”

Empty nesters love dining rooms, says Shim, so the larger suites include these with enough room for eight chairs. Master bedrooms can accommodate a king-sized bed and two end tables, and closets are walk-in. Ensuites are larger than typically found in condos, with water closets and his-and-her sinks. Secondary bedrooms are a minimum 10 by 12 feet, most with walk-in closets.

Shim says powder rooms aren’t a necessity for family condo dwellers, but storage is, and that space has been used to create space to store strollers, tricycles and vacuum cleaners.

“I think people will respond quite positively, as the layouts are quite distinct and unique. We really nitpicked at the plans,” she says.

One-bedroom suites start at 655 square feet (priced from the $300,000s) while three-bedroom units start from the $600,000s. There are also some large two-bedroom-plus-den suites of 1,200 to 1,300 square feet, and two-level penthouses with 1,500 to 1,600 square feet plus large rooftop terraces.

The neighbourhood is well-suited to family living with excellent daycares, schools, parks and amenities, and the Main St. GO station is within walking distance. The streetcar to downtown is at the doorstep.

Streetcar Developments specializes mainly in stylish midrise projects in east- or west-end downtown neighbourhoods within walking distance of shopping, transit, cultural amenities and parks. The company was founded in 2001 by former chartered accountant Les Mallins, who identified a development opportunity in the Beach and converted a former bowling alley into Academy Lane Lofts, a condo loft project.

“Streetcar initially catered to the young, urban demographic, but sees this (family-friendly projects) as a natural extension of their brand as their buyers have grown,” says Shim. “Its evolving along with its buyers. Just because you have a family doesn’t mean you cant still be cool and hip.”

The Southwood will feature the type of warm, modern style Streetcar is known for, with features such as nine-foot ceilings, quarter countertops, engineered hardwood or laminate floors, and barbecue hookups on balconies. “Green” features such as VOC-free paints, heat recovery ventilators (that provide a constant source of fresh air to suites) and low-flow faucets are standard.

The lobby, designed by Seven Haus, will be “very beautiful” says Shim, and the building will feature a multi-purpose room that can be rented out for parties or serve as a meeting space for mothers and children.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Condo culture doesn’t have to be an oxymoron

The condo boom has created lots of space for shops, but why is it all so predictable?

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

The condo boom has done more for the city than it has for its streets. Though most residential towers sit atop podiums designed for other purposes — commercial, retail and the like — most include little more than the usual franchises and chains interrupted by an occasional dentist or dry-cleaner.

Condos cant be held entirely responsible; the same phenomenon is playing out in cities around the world. Still, the result is the retail desertification of Toronto, and a homogenization of the public realm.

Sure, there are signs of change on the horizon. Last weeks announcement of a “City of the Arts” condo project on the site of the old Guvernment nightclub is one of them. Daniels Corp.’s $700-million scheme is being sold almost exclusively on the basis of its cultural and commercial tenants — including Artscape, the Remix Project, Manifesto, Last Gang Records — not its architecture, still unformed at this point.

But selling a condo on the basis of its ground-level occupants has been far from the norm. So far in Toronto, even the most architecturally engaging project, such as, say, Market Wharf on Lower Jarvis, ends up with a déjà vu Shoppers Drug Mart at street level. Or look at the West Don Lands, easily the city’s most exciting new neighbourhood. Two new seniors residences opened there recently. The first tenant? Tim Hortons.

Talk about the shock of the familiar.

Comment: Sure, because big chains sign long leases and plant to be there for a long time. There is big money backing them, there is less insecurity about rents being paid. When a condo board can choose between a no-name startup restaurant (with a 60-80% failure rate) and Timmy’s or Shoppers (with a 0% failure rate), one makes more financial sense.

Condo commercial tenants
The streets of Toronto have become a reconfiguration of the expected brands, logos, colours and signs. Subway, Starbucks, Tims, McDonalds, Shoppers and, at every corner, another bank branch have washed across the city like some tsunami of sameness, and condos are their enablers.

Of course, it wasn’t planned that way. It doesn’t help that each condo is a NIMBY fortress and every management board its own Spanish Inquisition. Condo dwellers may be idealized as young, smart, adventurous and urban, but they tend to be conservative when it comes to their own piece of the sky.

But that’s only part of the problem; with so many condos popping up across the city and beyond, competition for tenants is fierce, especially in such precarious times. To make matters worse, street-level rental is not a priority for most developers.

“Retail is a very ancillary part of most condo projects,” explains lawyer-turned-developer Steve Diamond. “In many cases, its questionable whether there’s any need for retail at grade. But banks prefer chains and franchises.”

Then there are technical issues, such as the fact that most podiums are large, column-filled spaces ill-suited to the needs of retailers, especially small retailers. That can be eliminated by adding a transfer slab, which allows for fewer supporting posts. But they are expensive and in a competitive market like Toronto, builders are always looking for ways to cut corners.

As former city councilor Kyle Rae also points out, “Street retail has been most successful where condos replace office towers and where there’s existing foot traffic. But in some places, it has been a disaster.

“In my experience, developers are putting more and more restrictions in place to protect future residents. They don’t want noise. They don’t want smells. They don’t want cooking on the premises … So you get the Tim Hortons, Starbucks and so on; they just truck in the supplies they need.”

Market Wharf Condos
But some developers are willing to be more adventurous than others. A couple of midrise condos on King east of Parliament Street have car dealerships in their podiums. Not terribly sexy, perhaps, but definitely a sign of changing times.

Comment: The city should step in a pay for space for a library or rec centre or even a school.

“You have to ask yourself: where does cool and inventive retail go?” says Toronto architect Michael Kirkland. “The ultra chic — Gucci, Prada, etc. — go to Bloor. Quirky retailers end up on Queen Street East. I’m a big supporter of the tower-on-a-podium model because it allows for intensification of the city. But the standard 750-square-metre floor plate tends to produce big retail. Small stores can’t use spaces that are so deep; this leads to less choice and a coarsening of the city.”

Indeed, the most vital streets in Toronto are those lined with small and often unremarkable two- or three-storey buildings that have two huge advantages: one, they are flexible and, two, they are older and, therefore, the mortgages tend to be paid off. Jane Jacobs was right when she proclaimed that “new ideas need old buildings.” This city is a perfect example of what that means.

As city real estate grows ever more expensive and its building stock newer and newer, we will have to go further afield to find structures that offer the same qualities Jacobs wrote about. That could mean places like Scarborough, North York and parts of Etobicoke and Mississauga where small spaces and cheap rents prevail.

Just last month that theory got an apparent boost when the author of An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, Tyler Cowan, wrote that “Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.”

Its unlikely much of that food is served in restaurants located in condo towers, but its a start.

Comment: It is also a function of downtown rents being much higher than in a Scarborough strip mall.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


City shouldn’t mess with Waterfront Toronto’s success

State of waterfront address a reminder of how far city has come — and how far it has to go.

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

At this point, Waterfront Toronto’s success speaks for itself. Revitalization still has a long way to go, but a decade into a 35-year process, things are looking good.

Comment: Finally. It has taken SO long to get here. But now that it has started, hoo boy, it is going gangbusters!

Though the argument for excellence has never gained traction in Toronto, WT CEO John Campbell made a pretty convincing case for it at his State of the Waterfront Address April 1.

As the departing head of the tripartite corporation pointed out, the result of the agency’s $1.3-billion expenditure is $2.6 billion in direct private-sector investment and a further $10.4 billion in indirect investment.

Underpass Park
As Campbell also explained, using a counter-intuitive yet enlightened strategy, WT put much of its money in the public realm, the part that usually comes last. Starting with the “frills” — Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common, HTO, Underpass Park, Corktown Common, etc. — enabled people to see past the grime to the huge potential of these former industrial lands.

“Building amenities first is not the normal model for developers,” Campbell told an attentive audience of several hundred. “But this is about more than real estate. Revitalization is not redevelopment.”

Try telling that to your average builder, or city councillor. By acting as the “master developer,” WT can bring a more holistic perspective to the process. That means ensuring that new buildings are constructed to the highest environmental standards, with leading-edge technology, no more than a four- or five-minute walk from transit. It also means architectural excellence and a public realm that’s second to none.

Comment: Finally we have a serious push to more green building. Why has this taken so long?

Daniels City of the Arts
Don’t forget that, aside from building giant flood barriers, cleaning vast quantities of contaminated soil and purifying dirty water, the real job here is to create desire. The amount of construction on the waterfront and surroundings is a clear indication that WT has figured out that aspect of things.

Campbell also discussed the recently announced Daniels Waterfront development, an ambitious mixed-use project that has already lined up a number of cultural agencies as tenants. Located on private property — the site of the old Guvernment night club — the scheme lives up to both WTs requirements and its spirit. It will even extend Sugar Beach across Queens Quay and give it a new northern addition.

But there are issues, most notably the scheme to expand the Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport to accommodate jets. “Were very concerned about the scale of airport expansion,” Campbell told a loudly cheering crowd. “Whats the impact of that sort of change, not just adding 200 metres of dirt in the lake at either end of the runway? And how does it fit into the overall plan?”

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. Indeed, island airport expansion flies in the face of everything WT and the governments that support it have been doing on the waterfront since 2001, when the organization was formed.

The Guvernment
There are other challenges, too, such as whether WT will have the financing it needs to fulfill its mandate. The original $1.5 million is almost gone, and no commitments have been forthcoming.

Ideally, WT will be able to raise cash through the sale of properties that it has planned and prepared for development. The next part of WT’s agenda includes re-naturalizing the mouth of the Don River, building a second flood protection berm, transit and public realm improvements.

In the meantime, the city is halfway through yet another review of WT, which, if it weren’t so petty, would almost be funny. The arrival of city planners and politicians on the waterfront would be the kiss of death for the one local city-building body worthy of the name.

Only in Toronto is civic success a cause for civic concern.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.