Christopher Invidiata is standing in an opulent centre hall. One floor above him, a gallery encircles the space. One floor higher than that, a glass cupola stands as the crown on this Oakville mansion.
The realtor is pointing out the elements that might tempt a buyer to pay the asking price of $6.998-million. Around him, workers are polishing floors and placing furniture for that weekend's big event: Mr. Invidiata will host an educational seminar for Chinese buyers of Canadian real estate. Interest is rising from overseas investors at the same time confidence is strengthening among local business titans and entrepreneurs, says Mr. Invidiata. He is seeing the first signs that people are ready to move after a very slow few years in high end real estate in this historic town on Lake Ontario.
“This will be the year the big inventory gets sold.”
Mr. Invidiata's inventory includes a dozen or so listings with asking prices between $3-million and $19-million. Members of his team at Re/Max Aboutowne Realty Corp. handle another sheaf of listings in the $1-million to $2-million range.
Since 1987 he has made a career of real estate sales among the 278 properties on a slender strip of waterfront known as Oakville's Gold Coast, with occasional forays into Burlington and Mississauga.
On a recent drive along Lakeshore Road in his black Mercedes sedan, he explained Gold Coast dynamics. Anybody driving regularly along that road for the past few years has seen one ‘for sale' sign after another, he explains. “That made you discouraged and worried.”
Even very wealthy buyers need to feel that they're making a good investment on a principal residence, he adds. The cottage or country property is the family heirloom; the city property should increase in value.
With that, well-off buyers will wait for evidence that the market has turned.
“I'd rather pay a little bit more in a rising market than to rush in and buy in a declining market,” he says of the mind-set.
Asking prices on some properties in the upper echelons have been cut by 10 or 20 per cent or more in a stagnant market, he says. When they dipped below replacement value in some cases, buyers stepped up.
Suddenly he points to one “sold” sign in front of a large spread on Lakeshore, then turns the corner onto Maple Grove Avenue and gestures to another.
“Look at that. Tell me that doesn't build confidence.”
The house at 124 Maple Grove was built on spec by a local developer. Some of the five-star accoutrements in its 10,000 square feet include a library panelled in mahogany, a home theatre room and a kitchen by the English bespoke cabinet maker Clive Christian. The grey veins in each slab of white marble have been painstakingly matched.
“It becomes art,” he says of the craft involved in laying polished marble floors. “They're so smooth.”
The house provides a good backdrop for the seminar for Chinese buyers, says Mr. Invidiata, who will introduce them to an immigration lawyer and a banker. Of approximately 100,000 immigrants who arrive in the Greater Toronto Area annually, about 22,000 will go to Halton and Peel. About 2,000 of those are deemed high net worth. The largest groups are from China and India.
In many cases they're buying a second or third home and they are attracted to Oakville for its good private schools, two of which offer lessons in Mandarin, he adds. Other buyers in Oakville tend to come from neighbouring Mississauga and Burlington.
They are drawn to a historic centre where the 19th-century houses are preserved under heritage protection rules. The water's edge is lined with the former summer estates of Toronto's aristocracy.
“It's a very safe, predictable community experience,” he says in comparing the town today to Toronto's mix of wealthy and gritty pockets. “It's got the character and the charm. It's got the true community atmosphere.”
Marc Hewitt is an Oakville-based developer who is working with Sotheby's International Realty Canada and Mr. Invidiata to sell a condominium development called Edgemere Estates on Lakeshore Road.
Mr. Hewitt agrees that sales are picking up for carriage trade properties. Three units at Edgemere have sold in the past two months at prices between $3-million and $4-million dollars.
Potential buyers in the past have taken as long as 12 months to make up their minds, he says. In one recent transaction, a couple came on a Sunday to see the buildings under construction.
“Within 10 days they had purchased.”
He brought in Mr. Invidiata because of his focus on that extremely narrow niche.
“He's made a specialty of the waterfront. It's more analytical than you get from most agents.”
Mr. Invidiata likens investing in high-end real estate to dropping a few thousand on a designer bag.
“When you buy a Gucci handbag for $2,000 or $4,000, that's not a necessity. That's a want. It's a feel-good moment,” he says. “Luxury real estate is not driven by necessity. It's only driven by want.”
It's the same thing that sells boats, planes, clothes and cars. “It's about giving yourself pleasure. Buying gold stocks or bank stocks doesn't do it.”
Buying the house on the waterfront fulfills a dream. But once people have achieved it, they don't mind cycling back down because they want a smaller house.
“Want, not need.”
Mr. Invidiata says he has built his business by talking clients out of buying houses that he thinks will prove to be poor investments. In one case he sent an agent down to the Turks & Caicos to do reconnaissance on a property that a client had his eye on.
It turned out the house was on a gorgeous cove but it didn't have a private beach. The closest beach was a 10-minute drive away.
“I told him ‘don't buy it. I wouldn't spend one dollar on it.' ”
He figures that a house his client buys today is one that he'll end up listing a few years down the road and he doesn't want to be stuck with a property that's difficult to sell.
“Trust is the biggest thing. Once you've earned it, that's the glue.”