What are luxury real estate buyers looking for now? They’re pretty much looking for whatever they want, says Toronto luxury real estate broker Janice Fox of Hazelton Real Estate.
“That’s really the epitome of luxury, isn’t it?” says Fox, who represents Menkes Development’s 77 Clarendon boutique condo project in the South Hill neighbourhood of Toronto.
“Affluent customers are increasingly well travelled and sophisticated about what they’re looking for and they have the money to demand it,” she says.
Elevators that open directly into the suite. Windows that run from the floor to ceiling. Concierges who might help with party planning. Blinds and lighting systems that are fully automated. Flexible design plans that can be shaped to clients’ specific needs. Fox is familiar with all these requests and more.
So, what steps are developers and real estate agents taking to really understand who their clients are and what they want?
The old-school methods of networking, advertising in print media, relationships with past clients, knowing who lives in what neighbourhoods and perseverance in teasing out exactly what the client is seeking remain key to finding the right fit, Fox says.
On the one hand, affluent customers who are seeking luxury properties require less hand holding because they most often have a precise idea of what they want, but on the other they want that personalized service that comes with a bespoke purchase.
“When we’re at the planning stage, we really try and understand the basic demographic of who our buyer will be and then we do some interviewing with them,” Fox says. “We start the research and then we listen.”
Word of mouth is still important, regardless of the advances in technology that allow developers and realtors to reach out to potential buyers online and in social media.
“Our buyers are often going to the same clubs, they are involved in the same charities, so when we speak to them, we often know who they are,” Fox says.
Reaching out to brokers and agencies in the Far East and Middle East through established networks also reflects Toronto’s consistently growing diversity and prominence on the world stage.
But some developers and real estate agents have a hyperlocal focus, for clients who want to stay in or near the neighbourhoods where they have lived for years, and sometimes even for decades. That allows these companies to really understand who they are building for, what their clients’ tastes are and what they expect.
Jordan Morassutti, co-founder and partner of boutique Toronto developer North Drive, which specializes in well-established neighbourhoods, jokes that the one “foreign” client he’s had recently was someone moving from Rosedale to the company’s One Forest Hill project in the Forest Hill neighbourhood.
“We focus on mature, constrained locations and cater to a hyperlocal buyer who knows the neighbourhood,” Morassutti says.
“We’re marrying the space and privacy of a home with the convenience of a condo and the service of a hotel.”
North Drive goes through the conventional channels for advertising to reach its target audience, which tend to be baby boomers and empty nesters, including print media ads, site signage and niche publications.
Morassutti says his clients aren’t necessarily looking to downsize, but rather seek to move into a thoughtfully designed, contextually responsive building that offers a single-level living space. North Drive strives to understand how clients have lived so the company can offer something best suited to them.
“It’s a tremendous leap of faith to buy something in the pre-construction stage and we do everything we can to provide the purchasers with a degree of comfort to move forward,” Morassutti says.
Mitchell Abrahams, president of The Benvenuto Group/Malen Capital Corp., says he agonizes over every feature that goes into his projects, including the Monza Condos at 863 St. Clair W.
“We think about everything that goes into creating a great space as if we were moving in there ourselves,” says Abrahams, a mid-town Toronto specialist. “We know you have to be more about the steak than the sizzle.”
Reputation carries a lot weight, with news about projects travelling by word of mouth, but even so, sales centres still figure prominently in reaching his buyers, regardless of what generation. The quality of online offerings such as video walk-throughs has improved over the past several years, but affluent buyers still want the personal touch.
“A local luxury buyer wants to know who they are dealing with,” Abrahams says. “They want the see and feel and touch of a project, and to know that even if it’s the shower we’re building, it’s built with care and they’re getting value.”
Those considering Monza Condos know the St. Clair location and can see its potential to get even better, but it’s not just about making an investment – they are buying a lifestyle, Abrahams says.
When Minto Communities undertakes such projects as its Oakvillage condos in Oakville, it goes through many steps of market research, including demographics and psychographics, industry and expert reports and surveys, focus groups, design centre consultant feedback, trend analysis and more.
“As the number of investor customers has increased, the broker partners representing them have become a larger part of the research and testing component of understanding the buyer,” says Matthew Brown, Minto’s director of product development.
A start-to-finish process known as the ‘Minto Home Owner Journey’ measures customer satisfaction and other aspects throughout the entire homebuying experience.
While Minto has moved entirely to digital collateral, virtual appointments and signing amid the pandemic, Brown says most customers aren’t yet fully accustomed to making such a significant purchase virtually.
The Daniels Corporation, which is selling Field House EcoUrban Towns at River Street and Wyatt Avenue in Toronto, hosts homeownership workshops that help purchasers understand what to expect in the homebuying process.
“Data analytics tools help us understand if our marketing is working,” says spokesperson Tiffany Wood. “It can save a lot of time and money when we know which campaigns are working. This will help better target audiences and give them the information they are seeking.”
Technology has played a key role in bringing transparency to the marketplace, creating a savvier buyer and enabling companies to reach the right clientele.
“Having more digital assets readily available gives the buyers the information they want quickly and effectively, giving them the freedom and time to really research their available options,” Wood says.
Neighbourhood location and suite design are increasingly important to buyers, particularly within the context of the pandemic, which has necessitated a renewed focus for marketing.
Riz Dhanji, president of RAD Marketing, which is leading the sales and marketing efforts for Canderel Residential’s 900 St. Clair West boutique development, says design is an important element for affluent buyers who currently live in homes in such surrounding neighbourhoods as Forest Hill, Cedarvale and Wychwood. Canderel gets to understand prospective luxury buyers through long experience as well as extensive research and data collection about the neighbourhoods.
“The pandemic has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what’s important to them and the different functions our homes can have,” Dhanji says.
Affluent clients need more time than other buyers of real estate, he says. They are more likely to do their own research and visit multiple sites in the neighbourhood that they are interested in.
“The trend of rightsizing versus downsizing is likely to become more important in a post-pandemic world. More than ever before, purchasers are thinking about what is non-negotiable to live comfortably in their homes after we all experienced our first lockdowns.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.