This week, the Toronto Star’s NewInHomes.com sat down with Ben Myers of Urbanation to learn all about the condominium market, but also to find out about his history in the industry. For those unaware, Ben is probably the most knowledgeable person to ask about the Toronto condo market. He lives and breathes condo data, and has all the tools to give an honest read on the Toronto market.
This is just Part 1 of our interview with Ben Myers – stay tuned for more!
On to the interview!
NewInHomes (NIH): So, how did you get your start in Real Estate?
Ben Myers (BM): I graduated university in Dallas on a baseball scholarship. My focus was economics, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do long term. I ended up working for a company that did statistics on the housing market in the Dallas Fort Worth area. That company ended up having some financial problems, so I ended up moving back home. I worked for a few market research companies, but soon enough Urbanation came calling, and here I am five years later.
NIH: So what attracted you to Urbanation?
BM: Well, they called! Truthfully, the condo market is much more interesting to me than the low-rise. There are so many more moving parts and a more diverse portfolio of projects. It moves at a much quicker pace. When I was first recruited to come to Urbanation, Jane Renwick (hired Ben) let it be known that eventually I would be able to run the company, so I viewed it as a great opportunity. Here I am today.
NIH: How long has Urbanation been evaluating the Condo Market?
BM: It’s been around since 1981. Funny enough, it started out as Eve Lewis’ Masters’ thesis. Back then, there were only five or 10 projects in Toronto. She started tracking information and it went from there. Now, we also do a lot of consulting with developers in the downtown core.
NIH: It must have been a big jump once the condo boom occurred.
BM: Definitely. We had to add more staff just to keep up with the information. We also added a few part-time people to go out and grab brochures and visit sites to ensure our pricing is up to date. It’s a huge undertaking.
NIH: So, what does Urbanation offer to the industry?
BM: Our main report is the Condo Market surveys, which is a 500-page report that we produce, which, as you can imagine, is a huge amount of information. Our top clients are both developers and lenders, who are obviously the ones who have the most at stake in the real estate industry. We also have new sale brokers, resale brokers, appraisers, and insurers. Basically, anyone who has some stake in the industry, who wants to know what’s happening, subscribes to our reports. We also have the “Urban Rental Report,” which is tracking the condo rental market. We found an obvious need for this with the major expansion of investors in Toronto. We are getting a lot of people who subscribe to our market surveys now subscribing to our Rental Report.
We also do a lot of consultation work. Most of what that includes is market studies. A developer or third party has a piece of property, and they want to know what they can go to market with. We help them determine what kind of amenities should be offered, what kind of suite layouts, and what kind of offerings should be included in their project. We answer questions like, “Who should we target?”, “Who would our purchasers be?” To answer those questions, we use all kinds of data that we acquire from a large number of resources.
NIH: What makes Urbanation so dominant in Toronto?
BM: I think that the biggest advantage we have is the fact that we have been around for so long. We have established relationships with people in the industry. They understand that without hard data, the lenders would not be putting out millions upon millions of dollars – billions really – into construction financing. I think that if they know what someone else did wrong, they won’t make that mistake themselves. And vice versa: if they see what someone does right, they want to do that. No one wants to see failed projects. You are competing against someone, and if their project fails, it’ll look bad. We help them based on our experience and years in the industry.
Buyers are smart; they understand. If your project across the street fails, will they want to put a deposit down with you somewhere else? Have it sit there and not be sure if the development will ever start? Why would they put themselves through that risk when they can just buy resale? So those are areas that we can help them with.
NIH: Sounds like Urbanation data has some serious depth to it!
BM: Without a doubt. CMHC subscribes to our reports. It’s funny, some of the other markets that CMHC looks after are jealous of the amount of information that they get from us. We have one client that is active in a number of US markets, who told us that this is the best real estate research report that they subscribe to anywhere in North America. It’s great feedback for our team to hear. I’m happy with the information that we provide, and we continue to improve our offerings, including our website.
Stay tuned to the Toronto Star’s HomesAndCondosBlog for Part 2 with Ben Myers, where Ben talks about the Toronto condo market, the future of condominium building in our city, and obstacles developers might encounter moving forward.