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$20-million for an apartment? Today, Toronto’s wealthy are aiming high
By Deirdre Kelly – Globe and Mail
A Toronto real estate agent opens the door on the swankiest condo at 10 Bellair St., smack in the middle of Yorkville. Like Bob Barker of Let’s Make a Deal, he stands back to let the audience be wowed by the splendour hidden inside the box.
“This guy’s shtick is mystery,” he says of the owner, pointing to the arching panes of opalescent glass — a contemporary take on Bellini’s embracing walls at the Vatican — that form the rotunda of this 4,000-square-foot condo perched high above the city.
“You see, this place is all about views, but he didn’t want to give it away too soon, and so there is just a hint of what is to come shining through the glass panels.”
What is to come knocks your socks off. Ebony zebra wood, imported from Africa and laser-cut in three-metre-high sheets, lines walls that conceal a stereo system whose speakers cost more than a BMW.
A remote control opens and closes the curtains on the floor-to-ceiling windows and, at another push of a button, the microwave in the state-of-the-art kitchen reveals a drawer in which to cook food, invisibly, silently. The laundry room is a stunner, dressed entirely in white Italian marble. In the master bedroom, a bathtub in the middle of the floor is filled by two narrow streams of water falling straight down from the ceiling.
Besides an ensuite dressing room with steam shower and a large projection screen that descends on command, there’s a built-in espresso machine — arm’s length from the king-sized bed that hangs, seemingly weightless, from the wall. James Bond, eat your heart out.
Call it the gilding of Toronto. In a city where the condo is already king, the expected delivery over the next two years of several hundred luxury condos in more than a half-dozen new buildings — all within a two-block radius — is raising the city apartment to golden calf status.
Advertisements in the New York Times for some of the new luxury condos being built in Yorkville, the compact area that stretches from Bay Street to Avenue Road, and from Davenport to Bloor, make the location’s access to opulence its major selling point: “One minute to Gucci! One minute to Chanel!” reads the bulletin for One St. Thomas, making a worldwide declaration, however gushing, that Hogtown has finally arrived — in the eyes of the mega-rich anyway.
“Yorkville has become the new Upper East Side,” pronounces Mr. Molloy of a city that seems never able to escape comparisons to New York. “It is where you are going to find the finest residences, the most luxurious shopping, the most desired restaurants, all within walking distance of each other.”
Land scarcity and demand, coupled with escalating construction costs, are driving prices ever skyward. The condos are expected to range in price from $3-million for a mere 1,200-square-foot pied-Ã –terre to $20-million for the refurbished 10,000-square-foot modernist classic, known locally as the Torno Penthouse, which boasts 5,000 square feet of wraparound terraces overlooking Yorkville to the north and the Royal Ontario Museum to the south.
Each stately pleasure dome comes replete with luxury. No expense has been spared, for instance, in carrying out the plans of the Paris designer who created the residence hidden within the 10 Bellair condo tower, home to a Toronto real estate developer who requested anonymity. It’s a castle in the sky. When it goes on the market, the apartment, with only two bedrooms, is expected to list for $6-million.
That might seem a lot of money in a city where this week the main debate has been whether to raise the minimum wage from $8 to $10.
But internationally speaking, Toronto remains a bargain for people who wouldn’t think twice of purchasing a $15-million condo (as Bank of Montreal president and CEO Tony Comper recently did at One St. Thomas) if it suits their lifestyle requirements. And according to Toronto real estate agents in the high-end market, most such buyers are Canadian or have local roots.
“Condo development like this shows you are entering into a more mature market boosted by land costs and densities,” Mr. Molloy says. “It’s the way a city that’s developing properly goes. I’d say it shows the city coming of age.”
Uber-agents, who cater to the carriage trade, concur: “I have been selling condos regularly in the $7-million range,” she says. “But when you think that in New York, a [unit] sells for $45-million, and it’s a co-op, we are truly a bargain for the kind of people who want this kind of luxury. Everything is custom-done, even the entry halls. It’s the height of the ceilings, the extras, all top-of-the-line, everything customized for the purchaser.”
The dizzying Torno suite, located at 155 Cumberland is a case in point.
Developer Jon Love, with builder-to-the-rich Joe Brennan, is selling it along with 13 new high-end condos, ranging in price from $4-million to $10-million. The new units will be located above and below the former home of Torontonians Noah and Rose Torno — a historically designated suite, believed to have been designed by legendary modernist architect Philip Johnston in 1962, that is perched on top of an office building.
Both Mr. Love and Mr. Brennan have bought units themselves in the property. Each will have 11-foot ceilings, custom millwork, private elevators and, as Mr. Brennan says, “anything else the customer wants.”
But this is not the only high-stakes condo game in town. From Torno’s towering windows with sweeping views extending all across the glittering lake to Rochester, New York, Mr. Molloy easily points out some of the other deluxe condo projects now sprouting diamond-tip wings within sight of Yonge and Bloor. By their scaffolding shall ye know them.
The new Hazelton Hotel and Private Residences borders the district’s defining streets of Yorkville and Hazelton. Behold, too, the Regency at the northwest corner of Bay and Yorkville, and another project at 100 Yorkville; and while it’s not yet started, still another high-end project is slated for Charles Street on land now belonging to the LycÃ©e FranÃ§ais. And sources indicate some sales in excess of $4-million for units at the new Four Seasons condo-hotel, to be housed in a 55-story tower with about 90 residences.
Outside the Yorkville zone, posh sells well too. Closer to the financial district, there are $7-million condos for sale at the Ritz-Carlton, now under construction, and the Trump Tower, with prices as high as $12-million.
Back near Yorkville, there is also the aforementioned One St. Thomas, where Mr. Comper is moving in and where Toronto tycoon George Mann has also purchased an entire penthouse floor for millions upon millions. The building sits across the street from the Windsor Arms, the landmark hotel where the likes of Hollywood actor Richard Gere stay when in town. There are private residences inside, spectacularly appointed, that belong to locals such as socialite Nancy Pencer and Hair Club for Men entrepreneur Steve Hudson.
A widow, Elaine James, whose late husband made the family money in finance and real estate, says she moved into her 3,450-square-foot condo (estimated list price, $3.5-million) after downsizing from a substantial downtown Toronto home that was exquisitely decorated in the French country style. Many of her antiques have made the transition to the apartment.
The point about the condos is for the owners not to feel squeezed inside a box of living space within a building tower but instead to feel safe and sound and surrounded by luxury, Ms. James says. “These are people coming from bigger homes. They are not wanting smaller spaces as much as they are wanting condos that allow them the conveniences of location and the continuation of a lifestyle they were used to.”
Another advantage of the new luxury condo is privacy: Here, wealth is concealed from public view behind the anonymity of a reception desk. The names of high-rolling purchasers are hard to come by, because they tend to insist on confidentiality agreements, says Mr. Molloy. “Often we agents don’t even know who’s buying.”
It dovetails with what Mr. Molloy’s colleague, Barbara Temple, has observed about high-end condo clients: “These are people who want to come into their place, close the door, and feel reassured that no one would even know they were here.”
But agent Danny See, who has sold all 18 units in the new Hazelton Hotel, ranging in price from $3-million to $10-million, including a penthouse to a Toronto businessman who also took 18 parking spots, says, in elegant doublespeak, that the wealth in these new condos “isn’t hidden — it’s just less exposed.”
And speaking of wealth, the condo fees at the Hazelton — which will cover access to all hotel amenities, including a private screening room, but will exclude basics such as utilities, property taxes and cable — will run an average of $80 a square foot. That means the 8,000-square-foot penthouse will cost an extra $6,400 a month to maintain.
Mr. See says that the costs are worth it for some people.
“This area is the most valuable real estate in Toronto. It’s natural for every cosmopolitan city to have its prime area and Yorkville has become it.”
Mr. Molloy, still beaming about the many hidden splendours in the suite at 10 Bellair, seconds that motion.
“In the end, real estate is just about location and when you have great views, then it just becomes, well, perfect.”
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