Luxury Living: The glam slam
Is the luxury homes market in the GTA coming back? There are many who say it never really went away.
Granted, projects offering suites at the lower range of the luxury scale – perhaps those priced at $850 to $950 a square foot – went through some doldrums. But according to companies such as RealNet Canada, which tracks the condo market, luxury condos above $1,000 a foot always sell at a relatively steady pace despite economic ups and downs.
“If you compare lower-end luxury sales with more modestly priced suites they both follow almost parallel courses,” says RealNet president George Carras. “When the condo market is down overall, so are those suites below about $950 a square foot.
“But for the super-luxury class, the people who have the money to afford them make their buying decision in good times and bad. It all depends on when they want to make a move.”
If, however, the state of your finances leaves you well below that super-rich class, there is indeed good news.
All forms of luxury homes in the GTA have come back with a rush. The Toronto area has probably never seen such a range of choice. Need a townhouse? Try the Townhomes of Lytton Park on Avenue Road south of Lawrence or Ancroft Place in South Rosedale just over the Sherbourne Street bridge.
How about a boutique mid-rise, which combines Yorkville’s rich history with a clean contemporary look? Zinc Developments Group has Hazelton 36. It incorporates the façade of the old St. Basil’s School into a sleek new terraced design.
For those who long for a life that almost makes you believe you are next to a highland salmon stream but still close enough to walk to the splendid boutiques, specialty stores and cafés of Bloor West Village, there is Riverhouse at The Old Mill.
How about a penthouse high above King Street West’s celebrated theatre and entertainment district? The new tower at 8 Mercer Street can make that dream come true, with its three levels of large two-plus-den and three-bedroom penthouses.
But city life is not everyone’s cup of tea. There are those whose idea of ultimate luxury is a large home on a 100-foot lot within a chip shot of a world-class golf course. They might find that dream home at the Glenbourne Custom Estate Collection right across from the Angus Glen course in Markham.
“It is really quite exciting,” says Barry Lyon of Barry Lyon Consulting. “Less than a decade ago, if you wanted a luxury condo, you went to one of the projects in Yorkville. Now there are choices all across the GTA…”
“Builders have recognized that people want choice; they want luxury homes that allow them to stay in neighbourhoods they love or to move to neighbourhoods that offer them what they consider the perfect lifestyle for their stage of life.”
That lifestyle might include a throwback to Manhattan in the 1920s through the 1950s when anyone who was anyone lived in a suite atop a five-star hotel. Central Toronto now boasts at least half a dozen of those.
It might still include a suite larger than most suburban homes, with a terrace almost large enough for a tennis court in the heart of Bloor Street’s glittering shopping district. Yes, we have those. In fact we even have a range of choices.
The theatre district, the financial core, the entertainment district, Lytton Park, Lawrence Park even the fringes of Forest Hill and Rosedale offer superb luxury suites and homes.
So, what is driving this spring and summer’s market? How have we managed to go from doldrums to boom times in a matter of months?
Experts such as Mr. Lyon and Jimmy Malloy of Chestnut Park Real Estate, recognized as one of the city’s top agents, say four factors are at play.
The first is the demands of simple demographics. Both point out that men and women on the leading edge of the Baby Boom have had to put on hold, for nearly two years, plans to downsize their existing domestic arrangements and launch themselves into a more carefree pre-retirement and retirement lifestyle.
“The kids are gone; the house is too big for them alone and they want to start a new life in the home of their dreams and in an area they love,” says Mr. Lyon. “But the recession has kept those plans at bay for the past 18 months to two years.”
The second factor is the resurgence of the resale market. The Toronto Real Estate Board says the first quarter of this year was the best on record, with 22,418 homes changing hands. New listings were up 42% from the same period last year and average home prices climbed every month.
“What this meant was that people saw they could once again easily sell existing homes – and get top dollar for them,” says Mr. Malloy. The ability to sell an existing home is absolutely crucial if you are planning to spend upwards of $1-million on a new luxury condo, he adds.
The third factor at play is the upswing in financial markets.
Men and women who saw recession-driven, steep declines in the value of their savings were in no mood to contemplate spending on anything except the basics, says Mr. Lyon.
“But now we have the markets rebounding … Canada weathered the recession better than any other industrial nation and we again have confidence in the future,” he says.
Not just confidence in Canada but in the future of the GTA as well. All predictions suggest the area will continue to grow through immigration by 100,000 new people a year. All of them will be looking for a place to live.
Which brings us to the fourth factor – and that is something peculiar to the luxury market. As Mr. Lyon and Mr. Molloy explain it, luxury condo buyers are picky and prudent. They prefer to buy when they can finally see what they are getting.
That means the brisk traffic at luxury project presentation centres starts when the building begins to rise from the ground.
“Simply put, they want to see what they are getting for their money,” says Mr. Lyon.
That is why penthouse suites are the last to be released for sale even in moderately priced projects, adds Mr. Malloy.
“Luxury buyers also want to take their time before making a decision,” he adds. “It is not at all uncommon for them to come back and back again with their interior designer in tow, going over every small detail of their suite.”
That said, there may be a fifth factor influencing the luxury market: The ever-expanding range of choice.
“Great cities need diversity,” says Ken Zuckerman of the Zinc Developments Group. His company is creating Hazelton 36, that Yorkville boutique condo that incorporates the 1920s vintage St. Basil’s School. “Not everyone wants to live in the same area or the same kind of building.”
When you get diversity of choice, people who might not otherwise consider moving to a condo see alternatives that perfectly suit their taste and need, he explains.
David Silverberg, director of sales and marketing for Nexxt Development Corp. offers a hearty amen to that thought. Nexxt, in partnership with the Mizrahi Group, is building the freehold Townhomes of Lytton Park at Lytton Boulevard and Avenue Road.
“One of the things that is so exciting about this project is that we are bringing back to Toronto a much-loved form of luxury housing that simply has not been available largely because of land costs and the demand for higher densities,” he says.
“Not everyone wants to live in a condo and not everyone wants to live downtown. When we acquired this site we though it would be perfect for bringing back townhomes – freehold townhomes. If you want a healthy vibrant luxury market and a healthy vibrant city then choice is the key.”
Plans for future launches indicate the GTA has no worries there. Developers large and small have signalled their intention to bring new projects to market this summer. Minto Group, for example, will relaunch the St. Thomas tower at St. Thomas and Charles streets.
Canlight Hall Realty has purchased the 21 townhouses that make up Ancroft Place in South Rosedale and plans to update them and sell them as condos starting around June.
For those longing to remain in their much-loved Lawrence Park neighbourhood near Bayview Avenue south of Eglinton, The Tridel Group has launched Blythwood at Huntington, an elegant, brick-and-stone eight-storey mid-rise overlooking the Sherwood Park Ravine. While two-bedroom suites will start in the mid-$500,000s, larger homes on upper floors, including the penthouses, will have prices well above the million-dollar mark.
“It very much looks like this summer will mark a new and exciting stage in the GTA’s housing market,” says Mr. Malloy. “The range of options in luxury homes is going to be truly impressive.”
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