Talk about making a statement. Chinese builder Aoyuan International doesn't exactly dip its toes into the waters of global condominium development. With signature projects in Sydney Australia, Vancouver, Hong Kong and now Toronto, Aoyuan goes all out.
M2M, Aoyuan's first development Toronto, is located in a prominent neighbourhood in North York – Newtonbrook. Located just north of the Yonge and Finch transit hub, this master-planned community is a statement, indeed, with easy access to the subway and GO Transit, and dining and shopping hot spots.
When completed, the 8.6-acre community will be a fully integrated neighbourhood designed for living, working and playing. Five towers and two podiums will host a total of 1,650 residential units, as well as hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space, a community centre, children's daycare, and even its own greenspace for a future park.
Condo Life sat down with Vince Santino, senior vice-president of development, to get a sense of how M2M is coming along, and what's next for Aoyuan.
How's business these days, in these unprecedented days of COVID-19?
While we experienced a temporary pause at our construction site, we've been pleased to see things begin to pick up again more recently. When the COVID-19 preventative measures were at their strictest, we saw this as time to get involved with our neighbourhood more deeply. Times like these are opportunities to support others, and especially as a newer member of the North York community in Toronto, we felt strongly that we should do what we can to help our most vulnerable neighbours. To support the North York community, we donated $25,000 to the North Harvest Food Bank, and we encourage our peers to do the same in their neighbourhoods. Since then, we've launched M2M Spaces, the newest inventory from the master-planned M2M community.
How has the market reacted to construction being allowed to resume, and things beginning to ease up? Are buyers running back? Are you seeing pent-up demand…?
Initially, when Ontario began its lockdown, we saw buyers exercising caution when it came to buying new real estate – and understandably so, there were restrictions placed on all of us, and a lot of uncertainty. Now, we're starting to see homebuyers come back and new sales since launching M2M Spaces, which shows us that there is still demand for great products and home offerings in Toronto and surrounding GTA communities.
How has the pandemic affected your plans for releases at M2M? Are things progressing as planned, phases being delayed…?
While we experienced some delays and pauses initially when Ontario was under the strictest lockdown measures, we have been very fortunate to get things running smoothly again, though we have had to make adjustments to ensure the health and safety of our team, construction sites, and sales centres. Our first few releases at M2M experienced an initial sellout, and we released the latest inventory (in early June). M2M Spaces includes two- and three-bedroom townhomes and tower suites.
What has the pandemic taught Aoyuan in terms of project sales or planning… using virtual sales techniques and so on?
Though we have always offered virtual signing opportunities, we have had to pivot to use these tools more frequently and earlier in the sales cycle and with a wider range of customers. Our M2M sales centre is being prepared for scheduled visits, with the intent for all visitors to adhere to all social distancing guidelines. We are setting up a video walkthrough and live stream presentation for our M2M Spaces model suite. Brokers and potential buyers can also utilize a cloud-based presentation system to view project information, our 3D building model and compare floorplans from the comfort and safety of their home.
Are you making any design changes at M2M to address changing consumer demands? Say, for example, more "working" spaces built into homes as a result of an expected increase in people working from home?
At Aoyuan, our philosophy has always been centred around living healthy lifestyles and building homes that allow its residents to do just that. To us, that includes giving residents options to make their homes fit their personal needs. We have always prioritized this and will continue to do so, which we know will be appreciated by homebuyers as our communities continue to evolve. Since we're all at home much more nowadays, our M2M Spaces offering comes at a great time for prospective homeowners with its flexible and functional floorplans. These residences are great options for multigenerational families and working parents, with added features and amenities to suit their lifestyles. For instance, we're proud to offer features such as our smart glass technology, which is an extremely beneficial feature for residents working from home. By simply flipping a switch, residents can change the transparent glass panels to transform to opaque, allowing for added privacy or increased concentration. You'll find this feature in a variety of suites throughout M2M.
What other fundamental changes do you foresee as a result of these unprecedented times?
It's tough to speculate on the future while we are still in the thick of things, but we can definitely see the increased importance of green and outdoors spaces for city dwellers who don't necessarily have access to backyards as you would in the suburbs. We will continue to prioritize amenities like this because we know the importance of our connection to nature as well as the importance of being able to use greenspaces for socializing, playing sports, or just relaxing. We'll also want to keep the idea of flex spaces which can be used as at-home offices or playrooms as families seek to make the best use of their homes.
M2M won the 2019 BILD People's Choice Award. What did that mean to Aoyuan Canada?
As newcomers to Toronto, we were very excited to receive this recognition. We felt that it reinforced and recognized the work we were doing specifically in Toronto and the GTA. When we began working in this city, we handpicked the team to make our approach hyperlocal to the area. By working with experts who understood the nuances of Toronto's development landscape, we were able to respond to the community's wants and needs. Our approach was clearly successful, as evidenced by our People's Choice win. I'm truly looking forward to the opportunity to showcase the excellent work our team has done in this award-winning community with this latest release of M2M Spaces.
What's next for Aoyuan Canada?
Tightly connected with our Vancouver team, we see numerous opportunities in both cities and we are not limited ourselves to any specific type of development. Our immediate focus here in the GTA is M2M. We're really excited to see how buyers respond to our new townhomes and exquisite tower suites. Because M2M is a multi-phased development, we're staying focused on the subsequent launches still to come in this vibrant new community. There are some really incredible amenities for future residents to enjoy, such as a courtyard terrace, an infinity pool, a dog spa and business centre. We really designed this community to make it simple for residents to get everything they need at home.
And on a personal note...
If I wasn't in the homebuilding industry, I would:
Pursue a career as a World Class Barista somewhere in Europe, making people happy with every cup of hand-crafted espresso!
My greatest inspiration in this industry is:
Our resilience. As an industry, especially here in the GTA, the "box" we work in is always changing and it forces us to be dynamic as a group, and I am inspired when I see great and practical solutions come to life via some of the best developers in the world in the form of vibrant communities – communities where people who come from all walks of life can truly live, work and play. It's a testament to how our industry responds to market forces and how well it works with all levels of government and regulatory agencies.
When I'm not at the office, I am:
Walking! On a GTA golf course with friends and colleagues as much as I can… a great way to enjoy the outdoors!