Investors avoiding condominiums, developers market to end users, which means changing everything from balconies to rooms

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COVID-19 has transformed virtually every business in Toronto – from restaurants now serving beer and take-out wine to manufacturers producing personal protective equipment. Even the condominium sector is not immune, according to developer Camrost Felcorp.

When COVID-19 took over Toronto in the spring, Camrost, like most home builders, transferred its Residences of Upper East Village project to Leaside in a virtual sales center in search of buyer buyers for the first phase of the project of 295 condos and 13 townhouses.

But he is emerging from the crisis with a different objective. He wants to sell the remaining units to end users – buyers who will actually live in condos and townhouses on Eglinton Avenue East near Laird Drive rather than renting them for income.

The underlying conditions for the Toronto hot condo market – high employment and population growth – are healthy, said Vice President of Development Joseph Feldman.

But until consumer confidence returns to the economy and investors are not ready to return to the market, “end users are the lowest fruits” coming out of the deadlock.

It’s a market that requires a completely different approach, he said.

“It’s a population that you have to market differently, you have to sell differently and you have to build different products from the majority of condos you see in the city,” said Feldman.

Camrost has reconfigured the configuration of its units and its sales and marketing strategy to appeal to these buyers, many of whom already live in Leaside and wish to be within walking distance of the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is scheduled to open in 2022.

Investors are interested in efficiency, return on investment per square foot.

“With end users, this is the flow of the suite and the way it is presented. You find yourself squared in a room even if it is less efficient. All of a sudden, you have a corner that you can install in a built-in TV, “said Feldman.

“Instead of having 10 x 10 ‘bedrooms, which are generous for investor products, we are looking at how you can set up a king-size bed and perhaps a desk in your master bedrooms or how to separate your space from entertainment of your personal space, “he said.

The outdoor terraces extend outside the living spaces instead of the private spaces.

“We are not looking at the square footage, not the price per square foot, any of the measurements, but how do you design the best possible living suites,” said Feldman.

Although the company has built more condos for end users in the past few years, Feldman said they only account for around 30% of total sales. These are generally units over 1300 square feet.

“We have always had penthouse collections but in some buildings it was almost an afterthought,” he said.

Sales in the Upper East Village, under construction and scheduled for occupancy in mid-2021, are managed by luxury residential real estate broker Johnston & Daniel, who sells resale homes and condos in pre-construction .

Some investors are buying larger suites, but most are focusing on smaller units with a lower initial capital cost, said Kevin Crigger, who leads the Johnston & Daniel sales team.

“Rental yield, plus appreciation, are the two parameters they look at,” he said.

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The pandemic has given potential buyers, especially size reductions, time to consider what they really want in a condo.

“It’s a clientele that has thought about this transition and this move. They evolve in personal circumstances and, from a trajectory point of view, they are more likely to move quickly, “he said.

A buyer collecting the equity in his house wants to continue living at the same level.

“We have reconfigured the suites to make them larger. Many customers, even retirees, like to have home offices, ”he said.

They are also looking for high-end finishes and attention to detail.

Upper East Village housing costs $ 1.3 million. About 40 units remain, Crigger said.

Gladstone Media was hired to market the project with an approach heavily dependent on what principal Jeremy Gladstone called digital storytelling.

The testimonials and video he built are more substantial and informative than usual marketing materials, he said.

“When people were rushing, they had less time to digest the content. We used to give these bite-size extracts. Now they’re more substantial, ”said Gladstone.

“It just happened in the last three or four months, there are about 10 times more people watching the screens,” he said. “For 10 years, many people have been digesting content on phones. In the past three months, it has been completely reversed. Now the majority digests it on their desks. It gives us a different campus to tell our stories. “

It’s a more expensive approach to sales and marketing because you spend more money going into detail, said Feldman. But that means the end user, who could have visited the sales center six times before buying, can get the same information in two or three visits.

In terms of health and safety features in new homes, Camrost builds units with self-contained air systems rather than rooftop HVAC boxes that send fresh air in the hallways. The Upper East Village also has four elevators for a relatively small number of apartments, so wait times will be less than 50 seconds, he said.

In high-end buildings with good elevator service, concerns about social distancing are minimal, said Feldman. Residents tend to adopt an informal protocol whereby if someone is in the elevator when they stop on your floor, you wait for the next one.

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