Why a Dublin real-estate firm is pitching 100 Toronto condo units to Irish landlords
By CHRISTOPHER SHULGAN
Saturday, December 3, 2005 Page M2
Special to The Globe and Mail
What was the Dublin-based newspaper The Irish Times doing running a recent story extolling the virtues of a Toronto high-rise?
The building in question: the Minto Midtown, an 858-unit, two-tower condo set to be built near the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton, where a Dublin real-estate firm reserved 100 units for Irish buyers -- enough to fill several floors.
And to lure them, the agents penned their usual breathless description of hardwood floors and granite "worktops" -- and a location only a 20-minute car ride from the "relaxing environment of Lake Ontario."
Was Yonge and Eg about to be inundated with leprechauns? Would the floors have hallways painted shamrock, and Guinness flowing from the kitchen taps?
Unfortunately, no. The real-estate firm, Hamilton Osborne King, specializes in marketing offshore properties to Irish investors. Thanks to a decision by the country's government in the late nineties to encourage high-tech investment, the Emerald Isle's economy has enjoyed a post-millennial boom, leaving some of its citizens with lots of spare income to invest. Real-estate prices in Dublin and other Irish cities have been increasing fast, but they've peaked lately, according to Helen Faley, an offshore agent at Hamilton Osborne King.
Consequently, she explains, property-hungry Irish landlords are looking to diversify to other cities with strong real-estate markets -- such as Toronto.
Ms. Faley's firm contacted the building's developer, Minto Urban Communities Inc., in August, Minto executive Chris Sherriff-Scott says. Minto ultimately agreed to set aside a block of 100 units in the 54-storey north building's upper half for the Irish investors -- at least until its own inventory runs out.
"We found it somewhat intriguing," Mr. Sherriff-Scott recalls, drawing parallels between the Irish and the Hong Kong magnates who invested in Toronto real estate in the eighties.
More recently, he says, Chinese investors also have been known to favour the Toronto market.
"But we don't see foreign investment as a major market. We're definitely not setting up an office in Dublin."
Neither company seems enthusiastic about future deals; Minto prefers to populate its buildings with owner-residents, and Hamilton Osborne King sounds underwhelmed with Dublin's response to the Toronto building.
Since beginning sales in mid-October, Hamilton Osborne King has sold only 15 units, all in the neighbourhood of $300,000 -- an amount that would buy an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom-plus-den unit around the 39th floor.
"It's a hard sell because there are a lot of other opportunities that are closer," Ms. Faley says, citing Frankfurt and Warsaw, where her firm has similar agreements.
Who's doing the buying? Purchasers don't really fit a specific profile, Ms. Faley says, aside from having enough disposable income to afford a place in Toronto. She doesn't expect any of the investors to actually live in the units, nor does she know whether any of them have ever visited Toronto -- or, for that matter, Canada.
Instead, she says, the purchasers will rent out the condos and maintain them with a local property-maintenance firm.
Many of the landlords, Ms. Faley says, probably won't ever set eyes on their properties.
Good thing. The advertising material the real-estate agent distributed was effusive in its description of the Minto building, championing in particular a skyscraping view from which one could spy over the Toronto skyline "the distant shores of New York State." Maybe on a clear day.
But given the city's increasing tendency toward cloud-ridden winters and smoggy summers, the shores of New York usually are about as likely a sight for tenants as a sober leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day.
Monday, December 5, 2005, Page A22
Toronto -- I am sick and tired of the stereotyping of Irish people (Oh Danny Boy, Yonge Eglinton Is Calling -- Dec. 3). I grew up in Ireland. Leprechauns and Guinness played no part in my upbringing. I deeply resent being defined as a leprechaun, drunk or sober. I am a teetotaller so Guinness flowing from taps holds no allure for me. My house is not decorated with shamrocks.
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