Tony Toronto a haven for ‘stealth wealth’
Susan Pigg – Toronto Star
Osman Sheikh knows better than most what the wealthy want.
His five chic Toronto residences — which he rents out for up to $20,000 a month — are stunning showcases of “stealth wealth” and have become welcoming refuges for the super rich looking for a safe haven in a shaky world.
“It used to be that people immigrated here for a better life,” says Sheikh, 33, who grew up in Pakistan, was schooled in England and now calls the Yorkville area home. “But these people aren’t coming here to be cab drivers.
“They are people with tonnes of money. They can live anywhere in the world, but they are coming here because they are finally understanding that Toronto has something to offer them.”
This year a foreign investor snapped up the 55th-floor penthouse of the new Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences for $28 million, setting a condo sales record for Canada.
A German billionaire spent $17.5 on the freshly renovated historic mansion in North Toronto once owned by grocery-store magnate Steve Stavro.
In the last year alone there has been a 50% increase in the sales of luxury homes priced at $2 million and up, according to MLS statistics — more than 600 as of the end of November, up from 400 for the same period last year.
Many are buyers from overseas, realtors say. Most of the demand is for “move-in ready” homes in tony neighbourhoods such the Bridle Path, Lawrence Park, Forest Hill, Rosedale and Oakville.
“The reason they are doing it is security,” says Jim Burtnick, senior vice president sales for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.
“Canada is seen as a safe place to do your banking, real estate has survived the credit crisis, and there aren’t many places in the world like that. We’re seen around the world now as safe place to park some of your money as opposed to putting it into equities or local real estate (back home.)”
Last May’s federal election has only bolstered demand, says Dianne Usher of luxury brokerage Johnston & Daniel.
“We’ve got a strong majority government now. That bodes very well for the foreign investor. It shows we have strong leadership.”
Many of the wealthy families who’ve rented Sheikh’s homes — he has four houses and a condo in the Yorkville and Rosedale areas — love Toronto so much, he says, they extended their stays. Two rented while their own luxury homes were under construction.
“There are a lot of McMansions in Toronto, but I don’t feel that really appeals to these very sophisticated international buyers,” says Sheikh.
They are looking beyond beige, big-screen TVs and showy finishes to classic, elegant interiors that whisper, rather than shout, worldly charm and good taste — what Sheikh calls “stealth wealth.”
Sotheby’s is now seeing high-end builders moving into this market, says broker Andy Taylor. They’re looking for old classics to gut and renovate to modern standards or prime properties to raze and rebuild.
“There’s a feeling that this is a strong market.”
Sheikh’s Hazelton Ave. home is a stunning example of the grand homes this well-heeled crowd is after, in this case, not so much in size as in styling and location — right in the heart of Toronto’s top shopping district.
It is graced with authentic Parisian and old English finishes he bought at European auctions and shipped to Canada after he gutted the home so he could rebuild from scratch.
You won’t find a gold-plated tap in the place and the big-screen TV is hidden behind custom glass that looks like a mirror when it’s off.
The understated kitchen cupboards are from the same shop in England that made the Queen’s, he says. The adjoining sitting room has a fireplace with a Louis XV Rococo revival-style white marble mantel.
“I have a love of luxury living,” says Sheikh with a mischievous grin. He comes by it naturally as the scion of a wealthy Pakistani family who has lived in many of the world’s cultural capitals.
Sheikh is a lawyer by training, but an architect/designer/visionary at heart. He’s always looking for new properties to transform into homes suited to what he believes is increasing demand from high net-worth families looking to Canada as a safe place to raise their kids.
He’s hearing of Canadian bankers looking to come home after working their way up the ranks overseas. Others are senior executives trying on Canada for the first time, or looking for a place to ease into retirement.
“They’re very sophisticated people who, instead of going to New York or London or Paris, are looking for a secure place with great restaurants, theatre, lovely people.
“They never would have thought of Toronto, say, eight years ago, because it was a kind of backwater. Now they see it has a lot to offer.”
Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960
Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto Realtor 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.
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