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The Globe and Mail

Mystery European buys 'the Castle' home for $17.5-million

Home at 174 Teddington Park Avenue in Toronto photographed on Feb. 9, 2011. A Canadian flag flies atop the pole at the front of the home, which has SOLD signs on the real estate signs posted at the front of the property.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

It's the ultimate house flip.

A historic stone mansion at 174 Teddington Park Avenue has been sold for $17.5-million, just three years after investors paid $13.5-million for the property and sunk another $5-million into renovations.

Kris and Margaret Isberg also severed a 100 x 190-foot lot from the site as part of the sale, squeezing another $6-million out of the property and ensuring a tidy $5-million profit on their investment.

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"I do believe that is a record price for a lot in Toronto," said Barry Smith, a Chestnut Park agent who represented the Isbergs throughout the deal along with colleague Michelle Jalsevac. "As for the house itself, it's easily the highest sale in Toronto for a very long time. There aren't too many that have ever sold for a higher price."

Built in 1931, the 15,000-square-foot home was designed by architect John Lyle for industrialist Frederick Cowan. Mr. Lyle's work is hard to miss in Toronto - it includes Union Station, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

It's in an area north of Lawrence Avenue and east of Yonge Street called Old North Toronto, considered one of the most elite districts in the city. Neighbours include Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts founder Isadore Sharp, and the upscale Four Teddington Park Avenue retirement home.

The house - which neighbourhood children have always referred to as "the Castle" - features eight bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, a library and a coach house which at 1,000-square-feet is larger than most Toronto condos. Anyone looking out the window would see not only the heavily manicured lawn and gardens, but the 18th hole of the Rosedale Golf Club.

W. E. Phillips of Argus Corp. once called it home, and its most recent live-in owner was Steve Stavro, former chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

The Isbergs - Mr. Isberg runs K.P. Isberg Construction and Mrs. Isberg is the former president of bond-manager PIMCO Canada - bought the home with the intention of modernizing it and selling it for a profit, and their efforts were rewarded just months after work finished late last year.

A European buyer put down an offer ahead of "a handful" of interested locals, and intends to immigrate to Canada because of the deal. While the buyer wishes to remain anonymous, he had been considering a house in Boston before opting to invest in the relative stability of the Canadian real estate market.

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While there are no statistics to back up the frequent claims, real estate insiders suggest that foreign buyers are increasingly drawn to the Canadian market because prices have rebounded from recessionary lows and the country is seen as a safe haven for investment capital.

The Teddington Park listing saw inquiries from agents in Germany, Malaysia, China and the United States. How big an effect these buyers are having on the market is difficult to gauge - some agents suggest as much as 10 per cent of Toronto's luxury house market is comprised of foreign buyers.

"Nobody really knows how many foreign investors there are," said Barry Lyon, senior partner and president of real estate consulting firm N. Barry Lyon Consultants Ltd. in Toronto. "But these are worldly buyers - they like the calm and safety of Toronto, they like the ongoing growth. And they certainly like the cosmopolitan nature of the city."

A ReMax report issued this week shows that on an annually compounding basis, prices in Greater Toronto have gained 5.35 per cent a year since 2000, at a time when stock markets have seen harsh drops and prices in the U.S. housing market fell by as much as 50 per cent.

Sotheby's International Realty Canada president Ross McCredie said high-end homes have drawn the attention of international investors who are looking to invest in hard assets as a means of diversification, and the market has picked up momentum in the past several months.

"I'm not saying there are busloads of foreigners driving around and buying properties," he said. "But I've dug into who these buyers are - they've already owned a few houses here, they have family here. They're willing to look across Canada and take their time to find something they'd like to live in, because Canada is still much more affordable than many other countries."

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