Toronto condo developers head directly to China to court buyers

In the Fairmont Hotel in Beijing, couples walk across the marbled floors to an elevator, riding it to a small conference room where a group of Toronto real estate agents have come to sell them condos in Canada’s largest city.

As they settle in, Toronto real estate sales mogul Tony Ma walks to the front of the room, speaking rapid-fire Mandarin in his Henan accent.

Then he goes for the kill: “Canadian houses are so cheap. Why not invest?”

Mr. Ma is among a group of real estate brokers and agents from Toronto, many of them originally from China, who travelled to Shanghai and Beijing last month for a two-week tour to showcase three condo projects under development in the city core.

Canada’s largest city has more than 115,000 condominium units under development and the city has seen record-breaking sales of development lands over $1-million this spring, many intended as future condo development sites. With lenders usually requiring builders to sell 70 per cent of their units before construction financing, many developers now see Chinese investors, who usually prefer to purchase far in advance of construction, as an important growth market.

Traditionally, developers looking to court overseas buyers have relied on networks of local real estate agents who have connections in other countries. But faced with an increasingly competitive market for sales of new condo projects in Toronto, the city’s real estate industry is now heading directly to China.

“All the big [builders] are certainly interested in developing an international presence,” said Barbara Lawlor, president of Baker Real Estate Inc., a brokerage specializing in selling pre-construction condos that led the China road show last month. “The whole thing for our developers is to sell units because if they can’t sell, they can’t build.” Baker also recently partnered with Vancouver-based broker Macdonald Realty Inc. to join its existing sales office in Shanghai, which will now sell condos in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Along with marketing their projects through brokers with ties to China, several Toronto condo developers are also travelling overseas themselves in hopes of raising awareness of Toronto as an attractive real estate market, both for investors and for families who might be planning to immigrate some time in the future.

“What is really changing or evolving over the last couple years is that, instead of waiting for the investors to come here, more and more of us as developers or sales organizations are going to places like Shanghai and Hong Kong and Singapore and offering product directly,” said Christopher Wein, president of developer Great Gulf Residential. The company’s Moshe Safdie-designed waterfront condo Monde in Toronto was among the projects featured in Baker’s China road show last month. Great Gulf also took the project to Hong Kong on a separate trip last summer.

Source: The Globe and Mail TAMSIN McMAHON AND Nathan VanderKlipp Published Tuesday, Sep. 08, 2015 5:26PM EDT

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