55C Condos – Interview with Gary Switzer & Noorez Lalani
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55C Condos – Amazing Investment Steps to Yonge & Bloor: Transcript
Roy Bhandari: Hi everybody, this is Roy Bhandari with talkcondo.com, and today we are at the amazing sales office of 55C Condos, one of the hottest new condos of the spring to launch. I’m joined today by Gary Switzer, the CEO of MOD Developments, and Noorez, the President of MOD Developments. Thank you very much for your time, we always appreciate to be able to sit down with you guys and chat about these new condominium developments.
Gary Switzer: Thank you Roy,
Roy Bhandari: We got a lot to cover. We want to start by talking about MOD Developments in today’s condo environment with the pre-construction. One of the first questions we get asked by any investor, any buyer is who is the builder? More so now than ever before with what’s going on out there. MOD Developments have such a unique story, so I’d love for you guys to talk to us about MOD Developments and what makes MOD Developments different from everybody else?
Gary Switzer: Okay, well, listen I can start off. We founded MOD Developments about 10 years ago. I had, previous to that, I had been running the high rise division of another builder right now for 21 years. I learned my experience in the field there prior to that. I’m an architect by training, I had worked in the planning department in the mid ’80s, and I think what I try to do when… the idea of starting this company was to try to do something differently but with a real focus on design, but also a focus on customer service and not treating purchasers lightly. But delivering what we promised, and it was always very important to us that what we would say, what the building is going to look like, what the suites are going to look like is exactly what we deliver.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent, and I think you look at the condominiums that you’ve already delivered. We talk about 5 St. Joseph and Massey, Water Works under construction. There’s always been an element of like they’re not the simplest towers to work with because you’ve always got the heritage component. Is that thing that you guys focus on or is it just happened to land like that?
Noorez Lalani: It just happened to be that way. You look at 5 St. Joseph, there’s a significant heritage restoration and facade retention that occurred there. At that time, one of the largest projects in North America in terms of heritage facade retention. But that was part of the uniqueness and appeal of the site, but then as you can see it’s obviously a high density site that we’re very proud of the tower itself as well. You then look at Massey, again, with Gary’s strong vision and perseverance, we looked at the site and thought to ourselves, “How can we unlock the value here?” Yes, there’s a large heritage component, but there was also, again, design excellence within the tower.
Roy Bhandari: For sure.
Noorez Lalani: Then, as you mentioned, our third project in line with a heritage component was Waterworks. Again, very significant heritage component but, again, it’s one element of what we do. We really like to design our buildings from the outside in and the outside in and the inside out. Livability is a very big factor, and not only from the suite that you enjoy as a purchaser or resident or a renter, but the amenities and the surrounding area that come with it. We strongly believe that buildings need to stand the test of time, and so we do pick sites that might have a little bit of difficulty but the location is critical. If there are elements such as heritage and so forth, we make sure that we tackle them in the best way possible to make sure that we keep designing buildings in the city that are memorable.
Roy Bhandari: You look at the three sites that you mentioned and location is second to none. We got Yonge and Queen, we got Yonge and St. Joseph, Waterworks, and King West. Obviously, when we talked about 55C, that theme continues, I mean, what a location this is. But I think you’ve mentioned the exterior design, one of the themes of all of them is that they all stand out in the skylight. Like Massey you can see from miles away, 5 St. Joseph you can see from miles away because they’ve got these unique elements that do stand out amongst the crowd. I think, again, that’s by design and you talk about your history as an architect, I’m sure that plays into all of that as well. So very interesting to see.
Gary Switzer: Well, we’ve always we’ve tried to push the envelope and not always look… Sometimes people use the expression with the Toronto condo industry, it’s almost like sometimes the race to the bottom in terms of how can we deliver that building as cheaply as possible? We’ve never taken that philosophy, and I think one thing that has appealed in terms of people wanting to buy a MOD Developments building is that the value has been there particularly for anybody that bought, the value has gone up. I’ve heard exponentially beyond what other buildings of the same era have gone up because the fact is they are great suites. There’s like zero vacancy rates in 5 St. Joseph, the kitchens are great, everything is beyond what you would normally expect.
Roy Bhandari: For sure. One of the buildings I did want to spend a little bit of time talking to you guys about is Waterworks. Because I think more than any building it really speaks to the kind of developer that MOD is. That building could have easily been 500 square foot units and most builders would have built that kind of building there. But MOD went a completely different route with that building, so talk to us a little bit about Waterworks and how that ties into the MOD philosophy?
Noorez Lalani: Well, I think in respect with Waterworks, you’re correct, we could have taken the units there and taken a different approach, but we recognized early on that it was an end user market there. As such, the units had to be feasible for families, young families and the like to move in. We have a tremendous amount of unique suites there, there’s nothing that’s really repetitive and that was by design. Because we felt very strongly that for us to express our brand and for us to build the type of building on that site and honor that site with the type of livability factors that we pride ourselves on, it was important to build a bit of a larger product there that’s well thought out. Because it’s a truly mixed used site, we wanted to ensure that anyone that lives there has the experience that we wanted to express between European food Hall, the YMCA onsite, a little bit of retail, but just generally the park, the way it will interface with the park.
Noorez Lalani: It was all very well thought out, a little more brain damage than we probably wanted. But, look, any of the sites that you have seen and that you’ve mentioned of ours, they’re not cookie cutter sites and we’re really not going to be the type of builder that goes after those sites because we’re up for the challenge. Because we know at the end of the day we deliver something that is truly reflective of the philosophy that we carry through our business, which is design excellence and designing from the outside in and the inside out.
Roy Bhandari: Perfect. Again, ultimately it comes down for the investor, they know they’re getting a quality product that is going to be rented out and it’s going to trade at rates above the neighboring areas because of all these things.
Noorez Lalani: The proof’s in the pudding. Gary touched on it anecdotally, but I spent time scrubbing through the data quite a bit. The facts are there. If you look at 5 St. Joseph, you look at Massey, not only have we had in terms of our peer group that may have released suites at the same time, we’ve not only achieved higher per square foot pricing even in the resale market, but also higher rents. There’s a reason for that, I think people are willing to pay for a space that is truly inspirational, functional, and that they respect the value proposition that has been brought forward.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent.
Gary Switzer: Waterworks, we’ve had great partners throughout our various projects on Waterworks, we had Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, which is known for heritage. This was a first residential building that they partnered on. They shared a similar philosophy in terms of attention to the purchaser. I think we have 55 different model types out of our 200. As Noorez was saying, every suite is different and we agonized and agonized week after, like versions after versions of these suites to make them absolutely perfect. Even to the point of you know what, we should extend the balconies even further on when there were terrace to give an extra two feet to the terrace, this sort of thing. Which I know that a lot of my competitors don’t do things like that because they’ll just look, “Well, can I sell it for this and I’ll sell it for that.” We do look at it in terms of a very long term vision, in terms of these buildings which our landmark buildings are our calling card for the next project we do.
Gary Switzer: When we looked at 55 Charles, which is one of the first buildings we’re doing with no heritage component to it, which is nice and refreshing in a way. We also went to, “Okay, who’s the best architect for doing this? Who’s the best interior designer of doing this?” We went to Peter Clewes who had done a number of projects for me in the past like 18 Yorkville and X on Jarvis Street. I think he does some of the best towers in the city and he came up with a very innovative sculpted tower that results in absolutely amazing suites. It’s interesting how these discussions evolve because, as Noorez was saying, it’s outside in and inside out. We want the suites to be absolutely perfect and we want the towers, and how it meets the street, how does the front door look? What’s the landscaping like? These are all the things that we’d zero in on.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent. I do want to switch gears and talk now about 55C. I would say without knowing anything about the project, I think the thing that got a lot of our investors and a lot of the broker community very excited is the location. Talk to us a little bit about the location and what drew you to the location, and then we’ll talk about what makes this location amazing.
Noorez Lalani: Sure. Well, you can see from our past projects that we’re big believers in transportation nodes. We think that for the investor and user resident, you have to have ease of access to get to work, to get home. But when you get home, you want to also have an environment where you can really enjoy where you live, and that means ease of access and amenities that go beyond the walls of your suite. Starting with the building, I think we’ve always prided ourselves on having excellent amenities but at 55 Charles, we’ve got a cut above. Not only are we going to have a great indoor outdoor space, but I think the rooftop lounge that we’re going to be creating will be truly exceptional.
Roy Bhandari: Amazing.
Noorez Lalani: We live in a beautiful city, Toronto is a top class city, it’s a world class city, and you should enjoy the views, and we will definitely be very excited to unveil those views to you guys pretty soon. When the building is finished, we look forward to people really enjoying that aspect. In terms of the neighborhood, it speaks for itself. Your glory workflow, we like to say at center ice, it doesn’t get than that. You’ve got-
Roy Bhandari: We talked about transportation nodes, this is the transportation hub central that you’re next door to two subway stations.
Gary Switzer: That’s right?
Noorez Lalani: Correct. Besides ease of access to transportation, you’ve got a mix of people that are going to be looking to be here. You’ll have students, you’ll have young professionals, you might have the empty nester, the move down patcher. All these different potential patcher groups need to be thought of, and when we saw the site, the bells had started ringing. Everyone can tick the box from access to universities, to the world class shopping, to restaurants, to your everyday amenities. Things like an Italy opening in the neighborhood to Whole Foods to cultural aspects, the artistic aspects. It’s just a great neighborhood to live and play.
Roy Bhandari: Yorkville, everybody knows Yorkville, everybody knows what Yorkville has to offer, but I look at Yorkville and I say where Yorkville is today versus where it’s going to be tomorrow, I mean, you mentioned Italy. We look at buildings like the one coming up, like these kinds of buildings and Italy and the future of Yorkville is just as exciting as what it is today. When you talk about room to growth for investors and being in this hub of probably already the number one neighborhood in the city. But seeing that there is so much more coming, I think is really, really exciting.
Noorez Lalani: Well, we both saw the excitement level when we were looking at the site.
Gary Switzer: Listen, I will be providing you with all the information that will help you in terms of when you look at the stats, in terms of the average income is higher in this neighborhood, the vacancy rate is lower, the rents are higher. The number of students that are attending U of T that have to live off campus because there’s not enough residents, all these numbers go together. But I think also underlying all that is, listen, I’ve lived in Toronto all my life and Charles Street has always been a beautiful Street. It’s beautiful as a residential street, it’s gotten even better, I think, in terms of with the new buildings on there. Charles also has a proven track record in terms of quality buildings that are selling at the highest prices, renting at the highest rates, lowest vacancy rates combined with all that stuff. But even aside from all the statistics, it’s a beautiful street to just walk on and to live on. Again, it’s like you’re five minutes from everything.
Roy Bhandari: I think the location speaks for itself. It really is one of the best locations in Toronto and I don’t think you’re going to get too many opposition on that. I think it really is an amazing location. Let’s talk about the building itself, you already alluded to some of the amenities and the views. Give us the top down overall picture of what 55C is? Give us the height, give us the unit count, give us the top down bird’s eye view of 55C?
Gary Switzer: Well, it’s a 48-story building and made up of roughly 550 condominium units, and we’ve got in terms of it’s a podium design with a tower above it. On the podium level, probably about 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor amenities, which will be… Noorez and I have always had a philosophy that this is like that commercial, this is not your grandfather’s condo from the point of view of, “Oh, there’s another party room and there’s your limp gym that with four treadmills kind of thing.” What we’ve looked at it is living in this building should be like living in a five or six star hotel. You’ve got lounges, you’ve got dining rooms, you’ve got areas where you want to just go down and with your laptop and have a view, you go there. You don’t have to book and think of it in a more conventional way.
Gary Switzer: At the same time, the gym, we’ve hired a specialized gym designer looking at, “Okay, what’s the next generation of gyms in terms of functional training rooms? In terms of movement/yoga studios, ability to do boxing, to do cycling, to do…” Still you have your weights and your cardio machines but something that you really don’t have to belong to a gym if you’re living in this building. I like the fact that it’s got this 24-hour philosophy that you want to go up to the 49th floor and have your 20 foot high ceiling lounges up there with outdoor seating, with the fire pit and barbecues and loungers and things like that, or there’s also the part of the design philosophy of the entire building. There’s that kind of Zen look kind of Asian influenced serenity.
Gary Switzer: We’ve also got quiet spaces for if you really do want to, because I noticed that a lot of buildings today, particularly, if you’ve got university students that are living there, sometimes all they really want is a place to study, a nice quiet place. There’s enough variety of spaces within this building for that.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent, and it’s interesting and we often find that the buildings that do the best on the resale side are the ones that have thought through, “Okay, who’s going to live in this building? What amenity will attract them? What suite mix will attract them? What kind of floor plans will attract them? Lobby design is becoming an increasingly important piece of the puzzle and we find time and time again that those buildings that have thought through all of this are the ones that stand the test of time, and get the highest rates and get the highest per square foot price. That’s why we love hearing from your perspective like the amount of attention to detail that goes into this stuff, I love hearing about it.
Gary Switzer: It’s a very holistic approach too, it’s not just a question of separating all the different categories. Everything has to be the sum has to be greater than the parts.
Noorez Lalani: Well, you’ve got to really you’ve got to look at… Both Gary and I we sit down and start working with our designers and the team, you really put yourself in the shoes of living in the building yourself. When you talk about resale value and the-
Roy Bhandari: I know you say that like a passing thing, but it’s not how every developer necessarily thinks.
Noorez Lalani: No, that’s the core focus of our [crosstalk 00:17:29]-
Roy Bhandari: Just that mindset, having that mindset from day one is I would think is a big thing.
Noorez Lalani: Well, look, we’ve seen the evolution in our own buildings. For example, I think we can all agree that parcel delivery, not only hot and cold, has become the future, right?
Roy Bhandari: Yeah.
Noorez Lalani: People are happy to sit on their computer and order their everyday essentials as opposed to stepping out to the grocery store or going to buy that new sweater in a retail outlet. We’ve increased our parcel storage, the mail room, everything has to be redesigned to accommodate that people live busy lives now. We’re all well aware there’s grocery delivery has become the norm. Now, you need a proper storage to account for that, we need to have cold storage, we need to have hot storage, we need to have proper identification so that we can use technology so you’re not always relying on the concierge to say to you, “Hey, you’ve got a package.” But you’re getting notification electronically so you can manage your life on your own time. You know when you come home, your parcel’s waiting for you, it’s very seamless access feature. We also believe when you move through the building itself, times have changed. People are very comfortable leveraging technology and their phone is their everything.
Noorez Lalani: To now use that as an access point and allow you to integrate with the building without having to rely on someone else, it’s a great way to manage your lifestyle within a building as well. We’ve thought of those things, as buildings evolve, we need to evolve, and to your point, make sure that the longevity of the value is there.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent. One of the things I wanted to talk about, and again, is probably one of the most important things that an investor looks at now is the suite design. We’ve spoken a lot and it’s another area that I sense that an enormous amount of attention to detail has gone. Talk to us a little bit about the suite designs inside out outside in, you mentioned that, talk to us a little bit about the suite designs and the importance of?
Gary Switzer: Well, listen, and you know we look at it from the point of view of there are also a lot of builders out there that want to go to the smallest unit as possible to have the lowest price points. We’ve taken the philosophy every suite has to be livable, you’ve got to have proper bedrooms, you’ve got to have proper storage, you’ve got to have a proper kitchen. We joke around, it’s like with the cars, you can have a BMW Series 1 or you can have series 7, they’re all BMWs. We treat every suite in this building with that level of detail. We’ve actually done a model suite that will be revealed when the sale center opens, and what we’re showing is that we’ve tried to take with our designers the kitchens to the next level. What we’ve got is we’ve got not just your conventional run of a 10 foot kitchen with the appliances, we’ve done it with a built in breakfast area with shelving, with storage, that comes with the suite, the table comes with a suite.
Gary Switzer: It’s almost like all you need is bring your bed and you’re ready to move in with this whole approach to detail and mill work that you walk in and you just think this suite is absolutely amazing. We’ve often found that if the suite is well designed, it could be a 500 square foot one bedroom, somebody walks in and they think, “My god, I feel like this is 650 square feet.” I’ve had that literal reaction from people where they can’t believe when I say this is how many square feet because there’s no wasted space, there’s no endless corridors or anything like this. People are getting the true value for what’s in the suite.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent. We talked about MOD Developments’ very unique philosophy on building, and we see that the results play out in real-time on the resale market. We talked about the location, again, I don’t think anybody could argue that this is one of the best locations in the city. We talked about this building itself, amazing amenities, amazing suite design, a very modern architecture. Is there anything I missed? Is there something or anything I missed that you feel like we should have covered it?
Gary Switzer: Well, the only thing I’d add from a design point of view is, yes, the tower is very, very contemporary and very striking in terms of the way that Architects Alliance has done it. But the inside, we’re using Cecconi Simone, which is known for very cutting edge modernism. We’ve gone in a direction that’s very warm and very tactile with a lot of wood, with a lot of stone. That this is very comforting because I think part of the thing is, yes, you’re living there Bloor and Yonge, it’s a very busy place even though you’re on a quiet street like Charles Street. But you want to have that kind of warmth and feeling of sanctuary as soon as you walk in the front door.
Gary Switzer: The feeling that we’ve got in the sale center is going to be the same feeling in the lobby and in the hallways because we even we get down to the level of like I want to know what the elevator cabs look like, I want to know what the corridors look like, what’s the lighting like in the corridors? Because we’ve been in some other buildings where you walk in and the corridors are so bright, you feel like you got microwaved or something. But I think it’s very important that every detail is spot through.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent.
Noorez Lalani: I guess I would add to that, that especially in this day and age of Toronto’s rapid growth, there’s a lot of developments, we all read the papers that perhaps aren’t delivering on what they promised and/or, unfortunately, we’ve had projects that are canceled. I think the main thing to add to the discussion is that we have a proven track record. Not only do we put up the buildings that we promise, but they are reflective of what we rendered and what we promised when people are buying off plan. I would welcome you to speak with any of your past investors that have purchased in 5 or in Massey and ask them, “Do you remember the sale center, and does your suite reflect exactly what was promised?” I think in this day and age, your purchaser would then feel comfortable that they are buying a product with a developer that will deliver what they promised and that they’re going to get that product and that we will deliver the building that we said we will. I think that’s a key point for all of us to appreciate in the marketplace.
Roy Bhandari: For sure.
Noorez Lalani: Thank you.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent. Well, we’re really excited. I know our investors are excited about this kind of project. If our investors are interested in buying a unit at 55C, what are they going to do?
Noorez Lalani: Well, look, right now you obviously have Platinum access, we’re very happy to working with you again. We look forward to you bringing your investors in, and because of your top performance and your partner’s top performance, you’ll have the first access. Meaning first opening day pricing, the ability to spend some time with your purchasers and analyzing the marketing and collateral and suite designs and all the rest of it. We’re lucky to be working once again with Market Vision. Their team is second to no one. They’ll walk you through what we believe is a truly great living experience. When your investors are ready to go and we’re ready to go, hopefully, a little later this month, come in for the process. Come see the sales center. You’ve got access, so make use of it.
Roy Bhandari: Excellent.
Noorez Lalani: Great.
Roy Bhandari: Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Noorez Lalani: Okay.
Roy Bhandari: Thank you.
Gary Switzer: Thank you.
Noorez Lalani: Thank you.