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In Conversation With… Zev Mandelbaum, President and CEO, Altree Developments

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In Conversation With… Zev Mandelbaum, President and CEO, Altree Developments

Imagine growing up – quite literally – in the development industry, and becoming a third-generation builder. The lessons imparted by your father, and grandfather before him, and how such family mentoring would help shape who you are today and how you view not just developing projects but growing communities. Zev Mandelbaum, president and CEO of Altree Developments, is one such builder. We caught up with him to discuss two of the company’s new signature projects, and more.

Condo Life: What made Altree decide to choose The Queensway area in Etobicoke for your latest project, Thirty Six Zorra? Was it more a product of land availability, or is there something about the area in particular?

Zev Mandelbaum: Altree chose The Queensway for two principal reasons – ability for high-density development and ample surrounding amenities and entertainment for the public.

As Toronto expands and becomes a larger and more metropolitan city, fewer places are designated to allow for high-density development, and The Queensway was an area we could develop a community of this size. The land that spans from The Queensway to Islington, trickling into the Gardiner, is designated to allow for high-density condominium towers. So, when I saw that opportunity, I knew we would have the ability to build an entire neighbourhood from scratch.

In addition, the neighbourhood already has ample amenities, including the Cineplex Cinemas and Sherway Gardens just down the road, many restaurants and a tremendous parkland that was already planned and under construction at the time. We felt The Queensway would be the most optimal neighbourhood to live, work, play and grow a family. It’s the perfect opportunity to expand on a loyal community that was already present within the area.

CL: What do you foresee as the typical buyer profile? Singles, young families…?

ZM: As urbanization increases, condominium living will become the norm for the city dweller and lead to a whole new way of living. As people change their mindsets to own a home with a white picket fence and large backyard, the shift will be to a more urban lifestyle where amenities are at the tip of ones’ fingertips, with less worry about the maintenance of the property.

Thirty Six Zorra is going to contain a wide selection of amenities that will target all different types of buyers, from singles, to young couples, as well as those looking to downsize. This building will also cater to a larger mix of buyers because of the price point and affordability that will come with these units (compared to those found in the downtown core). Toronto is seeing a year-over-year increase in price per square foot of condominiums within the core, making condo options downtown less and less feasible to many working Torontonians. As a result, we also see a lot of Millennial demographic and end users gravitating to this particular building.

CL: Amenities are becoming an increasingly important part of any condo project – features that speak to the character of the local area and the target buyer demographic. What are the key differentiating amenities at Thirty Six Zorra?

ZM: The way we’ve approached this project is recognizing that The Queensway already has a great mix of retail amenities. For Thirty Six Zorra, we wanted to communicate that this building is really somewhere where prospective buyers can live, work and play on a daily basis. The Queensway offers a plethora of shopping and culinary experiences, and we wanted to bring this vibe into the building. We wanted to create something that really unites people by adding amenities focused on enjoying the company of others – getting off our phones and tablets and hanging out with one another. The building features a gym, a dry sauna, outdoor pool, and a rooftop patio ideal for throwing a great summer party.

The most unique amenities include a rec room that features a social space with various games for everyone to relax with friendly competition after a long day of work. We also added in a demonstration kitchen to allow for a communal space for future homeowners to share their passions and creativity through cooking. With the freelance working economy becoming so popular, there will also be multiple cohesive working spaces where buyers can base their office and hold meetings from the co-working space, the lounges, outside patio or parks that surround the project.

CL: You recently entered into a strategic partnership with EllisDon for Thirty Six Zorra. What are the reasons behind this decision, and how will it benefit the project? 

ZM: As a developer, ever since childhood I have loved to watch buildings being constructed and grow. I sought a partnership with EllisDon Capital – the best to do just that – build this community. My goal has not been to merely build a building, but to team up with someone as part of a strategic partnership where we could align our values and goals, leading to a long-term working relationship.

EllisDon is the number one leader in the construction industry in Canada, has built more buildings than anyone else and is set on building the best buildings for communities. Being able to have a strong alliance with EllisDon, not only as a constructor, but also as a fully dedicated partner in the project, gives us the longevity not only to do this project spectacularly well, but also to create more fantastic buildings in the city of Toronto.

CL: Etobicoke certainly as a price point advantage over downtown Toronto and elsewhere in the 416. How long do you think this will last, given more and more developers are seeing the potential of the area?

ZM: As Toronto and the downtown core continues to grow and pierce new heights within the price range of condominium projects, the affordability of units in this area becomes a farther stretch for many people. The multiplier effect means that once a city gets more attention, it gets more amenities and attracts more people who want to live there, just like New York City.

An economist once told me, 30 years ago Manhattan was overpriced, 20 years ago Manhattan was overpriced, 10 years ago Manhattan was overpriced and it’s still overpriced today. I believe the lesson in that was when you have a city that is desirable and continues to g row, it just builds upon itself. As it happens, when the price in Toronto becomes more and more unaffordable, people are starting to look just outside the core to acquire something that is within their price range. Since the pricing in the downtown core is so high, it is only reasonable to think that a market just outside the city, where average square foot prices are in the mid $8 00’s per sq. ft., there is more room to grow.

However, even with this room to grow, these areas will still remain at a $300 to $400 per sq. ft. discount from the downtown core. This is exactly where The Queensway market is, and future homeowners will see this value as well.

CL: Altree has plenty of other projects in the Toronto area. What are the common qualities or characteristics about these that speak to Altree’s mission, vision… that really say, yes, this is an Altree project? 

ZM: Altree is all about understanding neighbourhoods! When we decide on a neighbourhood, we place importance on understanding the character and feel that is already in place, so we are able to blend in. The common denominator of all our projects is that we are generally not coming into an area where there are other buildings in the immediate vicinity, meaning that the architecture of the area really has no identity. We need to create an identity within that building that is unique to the character of that neighbourhood. Essentially, we marry a building with the neighbourhood around it.

The most important vision to Altree, is we look for where a community is going to be in the next five to 10 years, not where it is today. It is difficult to do this, as humans are very “touch and feel,” where if something is not there, it’s hard to visualize. When we first look at a site, we analyze the area and really understand the core values and characteristics of a neighbourhood and build on how we understand it to be in the future. Once we understand this, the sky’s the limit. So, if you look at all our projects, we are entrenched in neighbourhoods that have the fibre of growth already existing.

CL: Forest Hill Private Residences is another milestone project from Altree Developments, in a high-profile neighbourhood. What is it about Forest Hill that will stand out from other projects in the area?

ZM: Forest Hill Private Residences is a unique building. When we first saw the project and the piece of land and understood how the zoning would come to be, we noticed that this was a project that would not only be on the cusp of Forest Hill but would be a statement to the neighbourhood.

Seeing that every floor from the third to the ninth has terraces – units with tremendous outdoor exposure – this aspect is one that is missing in buildings in the area and elsewhere in Toronto. Usable personal outdoor space while not having the responsibility of a lawn or backyard. There seems to be quite the gap between condominium and lowrise housing living. There are towers that span up 30 to 40 storeys with great views and exposure, but without much personal outdoor space. There are lowrise houses that have large lawns and backyards, but have become completely unaffordable. Forest Hill Private Residences is a project where we are marrying that outdoor and indoor space. Merging that indoor-outdoor lifestyle together in condominium living is a type of living that is missing in Toronto. It’s the missing middle between a home and a condo, and we are so happy that Forest Hill Private Residences will be able to bring this happy medium to the future homeowners.

CL: What is the current status, in terms of planning, sales launch, suite sizes and price range? 

ZM: Currently Forest Hill Private Residences is at the tail end of its zoning. We hope to have that completed by the end of the year and be in the market early next year, with units starting from 900 sq. ft. and up, so there are units catering to everyone.

On a Personal Note…

CL: You’re a third-generation developer… how has essentially growing up in the industry, with a strong family legacy, formed who you are and what you want Altree to become?

ZM: I have learned everything I know from my family. It all started with my grandfather, Sandy Hofstedter, who started H&R Developments 70 years ago. All I remember from a young boy was talk about buildings, neighbourhoods, construction and development. Dinner table talks were all about neighbourhoods in Toronto, the planning context and what we were doing to change it. So, to me, the only thing I have ever dreamt of was building buildings that add to Toronto – buildings that have names that people would look at. The satisfaction of being involved in developments that added to the city skyline, is something words can’t describe. My goal is to make sure Altree continues that legacy for my children for generations to come.

CL: You’ve had some other executive level stops in your career, at Marlin Spring and Lanterra Developments, for example. What did you learn – about development, housing or homebuyers – that aids you in your current role at Altree?

ZM: I started off working in all the family businesses, from H&R Developments to Lanterra Developments, until I formed Marlin Spring along with my two brother-in-laws. In each role, I specialized in the development industry, from acquisition to zoning to marketing to sales to construction to registration to warranty and all the way to the end. At each phase, I was able to delve deep into each aspect of condominium development. Anyone who regularly develops land can tell you that, when you’re a builder it’s all about perfection! It’s all about specialization, working the kinks out of the design, taking that design and tweaking it until it’s perfect.

Working at Lanterra allowed me to see massive projects at macro levels and being able to work alongside the team. When I formed Marlin Spring, I was able to take everything I learned from my family and work on different projects and partnerships. Now with Altree, I’m able to work on specific projects that interest me, allowing me to put my own stamp on this world.

CL: Your greatest inspiration in the development industry is:

ZM: My father and grandfather. For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired and awed by what they have accomplished – from so many great buildings in Toronto and so many artistic styles, to communities that have changed the landscape of the way we live. From ICE Condominiums to Maple Leaf Square, which has totally changed the south core of Toronto, to Murano and Burano that has completely changed the Bay St. strip, to many other areas that both H&R Developments and Lanterra Developments have been involved in shaping.

CL: When not at the office or in the field…:

ZM: I’m spending time with my three children and wife, exploring Toronto’s neighbourhoods and parks and exploring off beaten tracks of Toronto’s gorgeous ravine systems.

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The four seasons of condo living

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The four seasons of condo living

How does the song go? “Summertime, and the living is easy” – in a condo, that is! When exterior chores such as lawn mowing and weeding are left to the professionals, suite owners have more time to spend with family and friends. They also have the opportunity to enjoy a lifestyle of ease, convenience and activity year round.

Whether you live in the city or the Greater Toronto Area, if you are in a condominium, your summer includes basking in the fresh air on your balcony, rooftop garden or in the courtyard your building might feature. Some condos offer an outdoor pool with loungers for soaking up glorious sunshine. Landscaping is in full bloom, and the views of your building’s surroundings are incredible. Entertaining on the rooftop brings a whole new level of elegance and fun to any gathering. Those who indulge in container gardening can walk out to the balcony and harvest fresh herbs for dinner. Of course, summer is a time of festivals in most every section of the city and in the suburbs. The possibilities are endless and exciting, and when you live in a condo, you are likely within a quick stroll, bike ride or public transit ride away.

Come fall when the air turns crisper, urban views transform to autumn colours, and well-placed landscaping around condominiums morph to take on the new season. We always still have some beautiful weather in the fall, so condo residents will make the most of outdoor barbecue and dining while they can. Sitting on the balcony watching the stars and city lights may require a light jacket, but it is well worth the effort. Of course, as thoughts turn to interior activities, condo residents are fortunate to have wonderful amenities under their roof. School gets underway again, and families appreciate the time condo living frees up as their hectic lifestyles resume.

Winter in a condo is akin to living in a resort, with opportunities for swimming, playing pool, watching the big game in the theatre, hosting a party in the chic multi-purpose room, working out in the exercise facilities, and/or reading the latest bestseller in the cosy library. Today’s condo developers spend time and effort working with landscape architects to ensure that plant material is attractive all year long. Some ornamental grasses and other choices remain attractive during the winter. And for those suite owners who opt to go down south to escape some of the wintry weather, it’s simply a matter of locking their suite doors and leaving worry free, as snow clearing and maintenance of common areas are handled for them.

As spring approaches, there is the refreshing metamorphosis from snow to colour as the world wakes up to longer days and warmer temperatures. Green thumbs ready their balcony containers, and plants go in with the promise of another lush summer. The cycle continues, as condo residents revel in their day-to-day lifestyles. A condo is truly a home for all seasons.

BARBARA LAWLOR is president and CEO of Baker Real Estate Inc., winner of the pinnacle 2017 Riley Brethour Award from BILD, and an indemand columnist and speaker. A member of the Baker team since 1993, she oversees the marketing and sales of condominium developments in the GTA and overseas. Keep current with The Baker Blog at blog.bakerrealestate.com

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Active Home: Leisurely Living

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Active Home: Leisurely Living

Redefining the condo market in rural communities

By Tania Richardson

Photography, Melandro Quilatan of Tomas Pearce Interior Design

Condo living is no longer for city dwellers, only. More and more developers are shifting their focus to rural and suburban communities throughout Ontario.

Unlike the condo footprints in urban centres, which seem to be getting smaller, rural condo buildings offer more space, luxury design and well-appointed interiors. New home buyers of all ages appreciate the additional square footage and large walk-out balconies, as well reconfigured layouts in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Urban condominium projects are all about maximizing the available square footage for top dollar, and many are geared towards the first-time home buyer or the investor market. When it comes to rural condominium buildings, the focus is on spacious floorplans, in addition to a better quality of life for the end user. Builders are also offering custom alternatives in terms of layouts and suite finishes to accentuate personal living styles.

For home owners who are looking to downsize, there are many features and benefits that come with community condo living.

LOCATION

Developers spend a great deal of time and money choosing prime locations that will attract purchasers. Even in rural locations, they tend to look for sites that are adjacent to retail, dining, public transportation and outdoor green space.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE TO TRAVEL, THERE’S NOTHING LIKE LOCKING YOUR DOOR AND KNOWING THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE WELL LOOKED AFTER WHILE YOU’RE AWAY.

LIFESTYLE

Without the added responsibilities of maintaining a home, condo living offers a sense of freedom from day-to-day chores and upkeep – both inside and out. Not only do you save on unexpected maintenance costs, but you have more free time for family, friends, hobbies and travel.

AMENITIES

Many condominium communities are allencompassing, in that they have a gym, pool and/or spa on site, in addition to scheduled programs, workshops and social gatherings. Some have guest suites available, as well as private spaces that can be rented for family celebrations or parties.

SECURITY

Most buildings employ a concierge or security guard, providing the condo owners with peace-of-mind. Knowing that entry doors are secure, and that strangers won’t be knocking at your door unannounced, is a great comfort. In addition, packages or deliveries can be received while you are away.

SIMPLIFIED LIVING

Because condominium units are generally smaller than a freehold dwelling, they are easier to clean and maintain, which also translates into monetary savings. For those who love to travel, there’s nothing like locking your door and knowing that everything will be well looked after while you’re away.

For some, condo living requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to break free from the maintenance and responsibilities associated with a larger, freehold property. For those who are looking to embrace a simplified lifestyle, with a better quality of life, condo living is an obvious choice.

Tania Richardson is CEO and Co-founder of Tomas Pearce Interior Design Consulting Inc. tomaspearce.com

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Finance: The Pantry Challenge

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Finance: The Pantry Challenge

The Pantry Challenge is what every condo owner needs to do now.

One of the bonuses of living in a condo is having a smaller space to manage.

Less square footage means less area to clean and maintain, but one of the biggest draw backs can be the lack of storage. For this reason every condo owner would benefit from what’s called the pantry challenge, an exercise that helps to clear out all the extra stuff that has been accumulating in your kitchen. Not only does it free up space but it also saves money. I tried it; here’s how to get started.

What is the pantry challenge?

This exercise challenges you to use up all the odds and ends you have in your pantry. If you’re like us, a busy household that loves to cook new and exciting recipes, you probably find you often have a pantry full of ingredients you don’t know what to do with and a freezer of items that never seem to make sense. Like for example, frozen steam buns from an Asian tapas night, falafel balls and maraschino cherries were in my kitchen when I started my challenge. The test is to eat through all those odds and ends one meal at a time.

Getting started

First step is to take everything from your pantry and fridge and do a quick inventory. Start to build meals based on the food you already have. The pantry challenge is about being mindful with your purchases to compliment what’s already in your kitchen. For example if you have half a box of pancake mix but nothing else, go out and buy a small syrup and berries and finish that box off for Saturday morning. If you dig out frozen preogies buy a small tub of sour cream and have them for dinner that night.

Staying on track

The pantry challenge takes a while. Getting though all the extra things you have is not going to happen in one week. For me it took around three weeks. Also, in the beginning it will be easy to work through some items, a bag of corn tortillas shells for tacos and orzo pasta, easy dishes to work with. But there will come a point where the pantry challenge gets, well, challenging. Like trying to fit miso seasoning and tahini sauce into a meal.

The pitfalls

The hardest part of the pantry challenge is only buying small amounts of food each time. It can be hard to resist a sale on the value size box of the cereal your family uses. While doing the challenge buy nothing extra. This is the key point. When shopping only buy what you need for that meal or dish. Don’t have any leftovers. The best way to make this happen is to shop for one day of meals at a time. This can be harder if you live far from a grocery store, but as best as you can buy only food for the next few days that will help finish items in your pantry.

In the latest number available from Statistic Canada a family of four spends more than $8600 on food every single year. This includes grocery store shopping and restaurant visits. Another report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, says Canadian households waste about $1,450 in food each year. When condo owners take the pantry challenge they’re not only freeing up some much needed storage space, but also saving money, by consciously trying to eat the food that’s on their shelves right now.

EASY GO TO MEALS

  • Stir fries: you can put any frozen vegetable in a pan, add rice and noodles to make a great stir fry.
  • Casseroles: all is forgiven when it’s baked and saucy out of the oven.
  • Curries: with an onion garlic ginger tomato base to start, you can add anything and make it taste good.
  • Bottom of the box dry cereals are great as a coating for any protein

RUBINA AHMED-HAQ is a journalist and personal finance expert. She is HPG’s Finance Editor. She regularly appears on CBC Radio and TV. She is a contributor on CTV Your Morning and Global Toronto. She has a BA from York University, received her post graduate journalism diploma from Humber College and has completed the CSC. Follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney.

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Keep It Together

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Keep It Together

Condo-living storage solutions

Condo living is a great option, especially if you’re always on the go. It’s convenient for homeowners who want a turnkey, hassle-free lifestyle. If you have the travel bug, there’s nothing like turning the key and not having to worry about outside maintenance, and the like, while you’re away. However, condo life can have its draw-backs when you are at home, and living with the baggage of everyday life. And when I say baggage, I don’t just mean the traveling kind.

STORED AWAY

A condo-sized home often correlates with living with less. Whether you’ve downsized from a large household to a smaller space, or like me, you just prefer the maintenance-free condo lifestyle, it can take some creative solutions to make room for all of your stuff.

I’m a big fan of built-in cabinets, as these pieces offer the most versatility. I know a couple who looked at the plans for their condo unit during construction and realized that there just wasn’t enough storage. Their solution was to line an entire wall, floor-to-ceiling, with custom-made cabinetry. They chose flat panels with no visible hardware so that it resembled a regular panelled wall.

Drawers are an easy way to access stored objects, because you can see everything at once when opened. Remember that the inside of each door offers more valuable surface space where you can incorporate hooks for long jewelry storage, keys, bulletin boards or a mirror. In fact, hooks are a great addition throughout your home. You’ll gain more towel storage in the bathroom, and extend your closet space for coats, clothing, keys, a dog leash, etc.

Many buildings are touting architectural details like high ceilings, so be sure to take cabinets as high as possible to provide compartments for infrequently used items like wrapping paper, seasonal decorations, linen, dishware, etc. For higher cabinets, install flip-up doors, rather than those with side hinges, for easier accessibility.

ORGANIZATION IS THE KEY

NEW & IMPROVED

Not to take away from the always handy step stool, but new ideas are always being introduced, like pull-down clothing racks. Japanese appliance and home goods manufacturer, Panasonic, offers an entire line of unique space-saving products. They’ve introduced a soft pull-down shelf system that brings everyday items to you. With a simple pull, the entire shelf lowers. They’ve also created a mechanized rotating system for hanging clothes – similar to what you would see at the dry cleaners. You can store, view and remove clothes with little effort, and it’s designed for narrow, deep, often wasted spaces. Adding a pullout or pull-down shelving to deep cabinets, as well as turntables to upper cabinets, and pull-down, ceiling-mounted laundry drying racks that tuck away when not in use, all help to simplify life’s storage dilemmas.

“When we clear the
physical clutter from
our lives, we make
room for inspiration
to enter. ”
– JANE LOCKHART

DOUBLE DUTY

A Murphy-style bed can be custom designed to fit with your decorating style, and to include added storage space built around it. Built-in storage drawers, or rolling boxes that fit snugly underneath, are included on select bed designs. The bottom cushions of some sofas lift to hold storage within the base frame.

Convert the den in the classic ‘one-bedroom plus den floor plan’ into a walk-in closet or an office, and add more floor-to-ceiling storage. However, I do need to add a caveat – make sure that it’s attractive, as well as functional. You don’t want to look like you live in a warehouse.

I love my condo and all the benefits that go along with it. Having multiple storage solutions helps me to feel organized, which helps me to enjoy my time at home.

Jane Lockhart, B.A.A.I.D., Founder & Principal Designer Jane Lockhart Interior Design. Jane is a multi-award winning designer, spokesperson, author and television personality, including six successful seasons as creative director and host of W Networks’ top ranked Colour Confidential, currently in reruns and airing on HGTV U.S. JaneLockhart.com

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