There are fabulous perks for those living the life in Vancouver, and there are also the tips that go along with them.
Bruce Langereis guesstimates he spent about $10,000 on tips over the holidays, and he says it was worth every penny.
Mr. Langereis lives at the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, where staff meet his every need throughout the year, whether it’s fetching a potato from Urban Fare or a hot water bottle from London Drugs down the street.
He has a vested interest in keeping the staff happy and at the top of their game. He is also president of Delta Group, the developer for the 48-storey, 156 unit project, which still has six luxury units left to sell, priced between $7.7-million and $18-million for the 6,832-square-foot penthouse.
As he guides a visitor through his condo-hotel at Howe and Georgia, Mr. Langereis is like the building ambassador. He knows everybody and everything about the place. We glide from a staged 45th-floor, $8-million sub penthouse to the hotel spa next door, to the salt water indoor pool, to the new, basement-level Prohibition bar that is almost ready for its opening day – all the way through the kitchen doors of Hawksworth Restaurant, where chef David Hawksworth’s team looks on as Mr. Langereis shows off the goods inside the walk-in refrigerator. We end the tour in the penthouse, which is only partially finished because he expects that it will be purchased by the sort of buyer who will choose their own layout, flooring and materials. As a result, the one perfectly staged room has the feel of a film set.
When asked about some of the more decadent perks a resident might expect when he or she buys in to the Private Residences, Mr. Langereis doesn’t miss a beat.
“You get me as a neighbour,” he says, laughing, reclining on a Minotti couch worth about $20,000. He’s not entirely joking. Mr. Langereis knows everybody, and he’s hands-on with all the details, right down to the $250,000 crystal chandelier in the Private Residences lobby, and the way the floors in each unit go from indoor to outdoor without a jarring step in between.
We are perched high in the sky, surrounded by glass walls that give us unobstructed views of ocean, mountains, islands and sky. It feels as if we’ve been airlifted onto a cloud. The height and openness of the triangular balcony that juts out like a precipice give some people vertigo, Mr. Langereis says. But he’s comfortable with it. The man owns a helicopter.
Mr. Langereis is also happy because he’s in the final, albeit slow, stretch of a project that began back in 2007. It was beleaguered by a chain of setbacks, including the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, the introduction of the HST in 2010, and then the cancellation of the HST in 2013. When you’re paying 7 per cent on top of several million dollars, that sort of thing can turn a buyer off.
“We started at a very dark time, and we persevered. And we worked through all the rumours,” he says. “Do you know how many times I heard that this project wasn’t going to be built? It never stopped once. But Vancouver is brutal with rumours. We had problems, but our problems were solved by money. I had to go to my investor group and say, ‘there’s no bank loans so you’re going to have to pay cash.’
“So we presell, we dig the hole, we renovate the hotel – we took all the risk out of it. And then all of a sudden the bank says, ‘Do you want to borrow some money?’ It was awesome,” he says, laughing.
“You’ve got to have conviction. You have to believe in it, and do it. It hasn’t been easy. Right now we’re seeing the joyful part, with the [Hawksworth] restaurant, the hotel doing well, the [Prohibition] bar opening, people living here. But there were a lot of dark nights,” he says.
“It was one of B.C.’s biggest pension funds that ended up lending us money, and they are paid out. We’re debt free, and we’re sitting here with the last units.”
Part of the problem in selling those units has been that the market isn’t in a rush to buy, he says. He’s getting buyers who might return to look at a unit 10 or 15 times.
“This is where you have to be patient, especially with local people, because they are not in a hurry to make a buying decision. They will buy when they feel like it, when it’s right. Pre-2008, there was a lot of pressure and demand. They were quicker to the mark.”
He’s also against discounting the remaining units, like other developments have done.
“If you do that, you lower everybody’s value. All the people who bought early, you’ve just undermined them. We won’t do that.”
There is a strong market for high-end condos, and that market has steadily grown in the past decade. In the downtown core, there were only 79 $1-million-plus condos sold in 2004; by 2014, that number had grown to 484, according to Landcor Data Corp. Those numbers don’t include the hotel-condo hybrid that Vancouver has seen in recent years.
And in the high-end market, they don’t get more luxurious than a condo tower with a hotel attached. There are two other such projects, including the Shangri-La and the Fairmont Pacific Rim, both by Westbank. Holborn Group’s 63-storey Trump International Hotel & Tower is also on the way, and will up the decadence factor with a pool bar nightclub, private jet and a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce service among its perks.
Because views are pretty much a requirement in the luxury market, they are also among the highest towers downtown. The entrances for hotel and condo tower are kept separate, too, so that residents aren’t stepping over luggage on their way to the elevator.
A condo-hotel is appealing to the resident who wants 24-hour service on top of the extra amenities already offered by a hotel. They want the spa, the elegant dining and the indoor pool, but they also want concierge staff who will dog-sit for them when they go away, or rush to help them unload the car. As we toured the Hotel Georgia Residences, a blonde-haired woman in a Range Rover was unloading her shopping bags and kids while staff rushed to help her. Another major perk of living there is that, if he’s available and you can afford the price tag, Mr. Hawksworth himself can cook you a private dinner, says Mr. Langereis.
“If you need a screw or a nut or a bolt or your tire is flat, the maintenance guys will help you. It’s all the amenities you get in a hotel plus services way over and above you’d see in other ones,” Mr. Langereis says.
At the Fairmont Pacific Rim, there are four BMWs used for shuttling guests and residents around. The Rosewood Hotel Georgia has a Bentley available for guests and residents, too, if they’re in a pinch.
Like the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, the services are charged a la carte, instead of as part of a monthly fee.
“Some people don’t want any of them, and then some people go to the max, and have a daily housekeeping service and order room service every day,” says Michael Braun, marketing director for Westbank.
Michael Braun, marketing director for Westbank, says the multimillion dollar condo market downtown has been brisk business, even in the past few weeks. He’s seen prices in Coal Harbour go from $600 a square foot to $1,500 in the past decade, so prices are on the rise. The Fairmont Pacific Rim mostly sold out by 2010, and in 2013, its top floors, including the penthouse, were purchased by the Crown Prince of Dubai for close to $60-million. It was reportedly the biggest real estate deal in the history of Canada.
Condos can help cover the high cost of a luxury hotel. He says the average 550-square-foot luxury hotel room costs about $750,000 to build.
“The residential market is very strong and you can absorb the condos, but the hotel business is harder,” says Mr. Braun. “The only thing that makes these hotels possible is to build is the condos on top. That’s why you haven’t seen a stand-alone five-star hotel built almost anywhere in a long time.”
The majority of their residents are over 45, and there are seniors, too, who find hotel-style living appealing after a lifetime of maintaining a house.
“Some people treat this as luxury assisted living,” he says. “If you are older and unable to take care of a house and want to travel more, you might not need a nurse to take care of you, but you like the peace of mind of having someone there. That’s what these properties are, for some people. It makes total sense if you don’t need to be in a care home, but need more assistance.”