Generic filters
Filter by Categories
All Condos
Ask Andrew
Hi-Rise (West) Inc.
i2 Developments
New Condos by City
Halton Hills
Port Credit
Square One
Niagara Falls
Richmond Hill
St. Catherines
The Blue Mountains
Baldwin Village
Bayview Village
Bedford Park
Briar Hill
Brockton Village
Canary District
Casa Loma
Church & Carlton
Church & Wellesley
Church St. Corridor
Clanton Park
Corso Italia
Danforth Village
Davisville Village
Distillery District
Don Mills
East Junction
East York
Eglinton East
Eglinton West
Entertainment District
Fashion District
Financial District
Flemingdon Park
Forest Hill
Garden District
High Park
Kensington Market
King East
King West
Liberty Village
Little Italy
Little Portugal
Long Branch
Moss Park
North York
Old Town
Regent Park
River District
St. Clair West
St. James Town
St. Lawrence
Tam O'Shanter-Sullivan
The Annex
The Junction
The Kingsway
The Queensway
Trinity Bellwoods
Victoria Park Village
Wallace Emerson
Yonge & Bloor
Yonge and College
Yonge and Dundas
Yonge and Eglinton
Yonge and Lawrence
Yonge and Richmond
Yonge and Sheppard
Yonge and St. Clair
York Mills
New Condos by Deposit
10% Before Occupancy
15% Before Occupany
20% Before Occupancy
5% Before Occupancy
New Condos by Developer
16th Avenue Development
Acorn Developments
Adi Development Group
Allegra Homes
Alterra Developments
Altree Developments
Amalfi Homes
Amexon Development
Andrin Homes
Angil Development
Aoyuan International
Aragon Properties Ltd
Armour Heights Developments
Artlife Developments
Arya Corporation
Ashcroft Homes
Aspen Ridge Homes
Balder Corporation
Ballymore Homes
Bazis Inc
Benvenuto Group
Biddington Homes
Blackdoor Development Company
Block Developments
Bloomfield Homes
Branthaven Homes
Briarwood Development Group
Brixen Developments
Brookfield Residential
Cachet Homes
Canderel Residential
Capital Developments
Capital North Communities
Carlyle Communities
Carriage Gate Homes
Carttera Private Equities
Castlebridge Development Group
Castleview Developments
Centrestone Urban Developments Inc
Centreville Homes
Chestnut Hill Developments
Choice Properties REIT
Choo Communities
Cityscape Development Corporation
Claireville Holdings Limited
Clifton Blake
Concert Properties
Concord Adex
Condoman Developments Inc
Conservatory Group
Constantine Enterprises Inc.
Consulate Development Group
Core Development Group
Cortel Group
Craft Development
Creek Village Inc.
Cresford Developments
Crown Communities
Crystal Homes
Curated Properties
Cystal Glen Homes
DC&F Corp
Diamante Development
Diamond Kilmer Developments
Dicenzo Homes
Distrikt Developments
Doornekamp Construction Ltd
Dormer Homes
Downing Street Group
Dream Unlimited Corp
Dundee Kilmer
DVLP Property Group
Eden Oak
ELAD Canada
EllisDon Capital
Emblem Developments
Empire Communities
Evans Planning Inc
Evertrust Development
Evertrust Development Group Canada
Fernbrook Homes
Fieldgate Urban
Fifth Avenue Homes
Firmland Development Corporation
First Avenue Properties
First Capital
Flato Developments
Forest Green Homes
Forest Hill Homes
FRAM + Slokker
G Group Developments
Gary Silverberg
Gemterra Developments Corporation
Genesis Homes
Georgian International
Globizen Developments
Gordon Wells Ltd.
Great Gulf
Greatwise Developments
Greenfield Quality Builders
Greenland Group
Greenpark Group
Greybrook Realty
Guglietti Brothers
H&W Developments
Hans Group
Harhay Developments
Harlo Capital
Haven Developments
Hazelview Properties
Homes by DeSantis
Hyde Park Homes
Icon Homes
iKORE Developments Ltd
IN8 Developments
Investissement SM Immobilier
Ironwood Bay
JCF Capital
JD Development Group
Kaitlin Corporation
Kaleido Corporation
Kalovida Canada Inc
Kaneff Corporation
KBIJ Corporation
Kingdom Development
KingSett Capital
Knighstone Capital
Knightstone Capital
Kroonenberg Group
La Pue International
Lakeview Development Holdings Inc
Lalu Canada
Lamb Developments
Lancaster Homes
Latch Developments
Laurier Homes
LCH Developments
Les Entreprises QMD
Liberty Development
Liberty Hamlet Inc
Lifestyle Custom Homes
Lifetime Developments
LJM Developments
Lormel Homes
Madison Group
Malibu Investments
Manorgate Homes
Mansouri Living
Marlin Spring Developments
Marydel Homes
Mattamy Homes
Mayfair Homes
MDM Developments
Medallion Capital Group
Mizrahi Developments
MOD Developments
Monde Development Group
Mutual Developments
Nahid Corp
Nascent Developments
New Horizon Development Group
Newgard Development Group
NOCO Development Company
Norstar Group of Companies
North American Development Group
North Drive
North Edge Properties
Northam Realty Advisors
Nova Ridge Development Partners
NYX Capital
Old Stonehenge
ONE Properties
One Urban
Options Development
Oxford Properties
Parallax Development Corporation
Patry Inc Developments
Pemberton Group
Phelps Homes
Pinnacle International
Platinum Vista
Plaza Partners
Podium Developments
Presidential Group
Primont Homes
Profile Developments Inc
Quadcam Development Group
Queensgate Homes
RAJACan Developments Inc.
ReBuilt Construction
Reids Heritage Homes
Rise Developments
Riverking Developments
Rivermill Homes
Rogers Real Estate Development
Rosehaven Homes
Rosewater Developments
Rowntree Enterprises
Royalpark Homes
Royalton Homes
Sapphire Construction of Niagara
Saxon Developments
Scholar Properties Ltd
Sequoia Grove Homes
Seven Numbers Development
Sherwood Homes
Shiplake Properties Limited
Sierra Building Group
SilverCreek Communities
Sina Development Inc
SkyHomes Corporation
Solmar Development Group
Solotex Corporation
St. Regis Homes
St. Thomas Developments
Stafford Homes
State Building Group
Sterling Group
Sundance Homes
Sunny Communities
Sunrise Gate Homes
Tercot Communities
The Brown Group of Companies
The Remington Group
The Rockport Group
The Rose Corporation
The Sher Corporation
Tiffany Park Homes
Times Group Corp
Townwood Homes
Treasure Hill
Tribute Communities
Tricon Developments
Trinity Development Group
Triumphant Group
Trolleybus Urban Development Inc
Trulife Developments
TVM Group
United Lands
Urbane Communities
VanMar Developments
Venetian Development Group
Vermilion Developments
Vintage Park Homes
Wabash Heights Developments Inc
Westbank Corp
Westbank Corp. and Allied Properties
Woodcastle Homes
WP Development Inc
Yorkwood Homes
Zancor Homes
New Condos by Occupancy Year
True Condos Approved
Filter by content type
Taxonomy terms

Why The High Rise Market is the Future of Toronto Real Estate With Brian Johnston of Mattamy Homes

Podcast Featured Image 50

Brian Johnston is the COO of Mattamy Homes – Canada’s largest home builder, and also a member of the Board of Directors of CMHC. Exclusively a low rise builder, Mattamy made big headlines in the high rise world when they bought out Monarch Group in December 2014 for $330 million. In this episode, Andrew la Fleur talked to Brian about Mattamy’s take on the high rise market and their vision for this market as a new entrant.

Brian Johnston Interview Highlights

0:23 How Did Brian Get Into Real Estate?
2:45 What Kind of Guy is Peter, CEO of Mattamy?
5:12 What Makes Mattamy Unique As a Company?
9:48 Why Is Mattamy Getting Into the High Rise Market Now?
14:22 What is Happening to the Monarch Buildings?
16:45 The New Yonge & Eglinton Site
19:16 What Opportunities Do You See In the High Rise Market?
22:09 Will Mattamy Get Into Rental Apartments?
24:02 What Is the Biggest Problem In the High Rise Industry in Toronto?
25:13 The Lack of Available Sites

Brian Johnston Interview Transcript

Andrew la Fleur: All right, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the show Brian Johnston. Brian is the Chief Operating Officer at Mattamy Homes. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Johnston: Thanks, Andrew. Great to be here.

Andrew la Fleur: Great to have you. Why don’t we start? You could tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background? How did you get into the real estate industry and to where you are today?

Brian Johnston: Well, I’ve been in the industry now just over 30 years. I started out a chartered accountant by profession, training. I joined Monarch Corporation back in 1984 as a lowly accountant in their finance area and kind of worked my way up through the ranks of that company, which went through a number of iterations. At one point, it was a public company and then it was taken private. It had substantial investments in the United States and I was there at the time when Monarch got into the high-rise business in the early 1990s. The company through, I guess its various forms, was essentially sold by its British parent about 5 years ago and it ended up being owned by a couple of equity funds, investors, two very large equity funds in the United States. It was part of a North American real estate entity.

At that time, I was President of the company, but I certainly got the sense after that change in ownership had taken place, that the company, and the parent company name was Taylor Morrison, was less interested in Canada and certainly a lot more interested in participating in the upswing in the US housing market and so sort of viewed Canada as a source of capital as opposed to a place to put capital. I felt it was unambitious as an organization, so I decided to join Mattamy and that was just over 3 years ago.

Mattamy’s definitely a different breed of cat in the sense that it’s a much more ambitious organization, has a significant amount of capital, and led by Peter Gilgan, who I would argue is a true entrepreneur, very much interested in growth, and so I thought this would be a very interesting place to rather than sit out my days and take care of a steady state organization at Monarch, I felt coming to Mattamy would have been a much more exciting place to work.

Andrew la Fleur: Speaking of Peter, what can you tell us about Peter as the founder and CEO of Mattamy? What kind of a guy is he and what’s his vision? What drives him?

Brian Johnston: Well, Peter, he built the company thirty-seven years ago, started out with two houses in Burlington and I would say he understands the home building business from soup to nuts and that would include land development, construction, customer service, land planning. He kind of came out of the recession from the late 1980s, well sorry, early 1990s and kind of ended up as the number one home builder in the GTA in the 1990s and kind of almost came from nowhere. Peter has a lot of drive, has a lot of ambition. I would say he’s almost fearless in some of the things he does, fearless in the sense that he doesn’t take risks foolishly, but he understands risk and he’s willing to forge forward whereas many others would not. I would say in the last ten years he’s become very philanthropic, because he’s made a lot of money in this business.

I think the latest tally I saw was that he’d given $150 million away to various charities including sick kids, Women’s College Hospital, the Oakville Hospital. It’s a long list of institutions that he’s been very charitable towards, so that’s been a big part of his life. Meanwhile, growing Mattamy. Mattamy was very dominant and continues to be dominant in Toronto, but he struck out to other markets. He went to the United States about eleven, twelve years ago, went to Ottawa probably not that long ago, maybe seven or eight or nine years ago, maybe. Went out west to Calgary and as a company we’ve been steadily expanding into new markets, and went into Edmonton last year, went into Tucson, Arizona, have been in Phoenix for probably eight or nine years, Minnesota, Charlotte, multiple cities in Florida. It’s very much a varied organization.

Andrew la Fleur: You mentioned most of your career was at Monarch, and now the past 3 years at Mattamy. What are the key differences or things that you notice or what really makes Mattamy unique as a company, as a culture?

Brian Johnston: I would say that Mattamy is much more of a … Well, let’s put it this way, much more sprawling organization, much larger. Incredible land bank in the Greater Toronto Area and it’s built up a land bank in other parts, including Ottawa and Calgary and certain parts of Florida.

Andrew la Fleur: Give us a sense, how many employees at Mattamy?

Brian Johnston: Mattamy would have about just under fourteen hundred employees, spread out. Throughout North America, and compare that to Monarch. At its peak, it had just over two hundred employees, so you can see it’s a much larger organization.

Andrew la Fleur: Absolutely, and in terms of the culture, what’s the vibe there? What’s the company like? What are people excited about? Does it all come from Peter and work its way down?

Brian Johnston: It’s a much more hard driving organization. At Monarch, it was land is a scarce resource. You’ve got to take care of it. Don’t sell it because it’s very hard to replace. At Mattamy it’s much more we have a very significant land base, land bank, and it’s not as fearful an event to sell quickly through a community because we’ve got lots more on the back shelf which we can pull down and just keep going, so it’s kind of in a different place in its evolution as an organization. It’s a volume builder, much more so than Monarch was. Monarch was more of a margin builder. That’s not to say margins aren’t important at Mattamy, because they are, but it’s more of a we want to move through the product relatively quickly and we’d like to build in sequence. We’d like to build down a street as opposed to here, there and everywhere in terms of selling off houses. That’s the ideal template. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s the plan.

Andrew la Fleur: The company, I understand, you’re moving headquarters from, is it Oakville to downtown Toronto? Is that correct?

Brian Johnston: Yeah. Our corporate office is moving down to the TD Center. We’re just sort of working through that one right now. There’s some remediation work required on the space that we’re taking. We’ve also decided to split up the operations side of the business. We’ve got a Holton Hamilton business which is essentially Milton, Oakville, Waterdown, we’re going to keep that as a separate division out in Milton, and then we’re going to have an operation up in Vaughan. Essentially 407 and Keele, what we’re going to do, the balance of the GTA and that’s where we’re going to put our high-rise team as well, when we’re through consulting all these offices and redistributing them as such, because obviously Monarch’s offices out in Dalton, it’s really at Victoria Park and 401 and we’re going to try and consolidate all of the offices to serve a sensible way that we can more easily manage the business.

Andrew la Fleur: The move downtown, is it also partly sort of symbolic, or partly sort of making a statement of saying, we want to have a presence in Toronto. We want this high-rise division that we’re starting to become a very big part of the business, or is it you want to just be closer to the flow of capital downtown?

Brian Johnston: The high-rise business is actually not going to be located downtown, so it’s not about the high-rise business. It’s really about, we’re trying to detach the corporate office, the administrative function, the executive offices from the businesses. Let the businesses do what they do best and it’s really about being close to the capital markets, the financial markets, I guess the accounting, auditing, the legal aspects of it. It’s really about creating a more professional, multi-national organization. It’s just really part of the evolution of the company, to sort of detach ourselves from the boots on the ground, so to speak.

Andrew la Fleur: What can you tell us about Mattamy’s move into the high-rise market? I guess the biggest question really, I think, is why now? Mattamy being such a huge company for so long, a dominant player in the industry for so long, they could have done this, I suppose, had many opportunities probably to move into this market over the decades, but why now? What’s the thinking behind getting into it now? I don’t know what you can tell us about how the deal sort of came together to purchase Monarch.

Brian Johnston: Well, in terms of the Monarch acquisition, it was comprised of three things that interest us; a significant land and housing operation here in the Greater Toronto Area, a significant land and housing operation up in Ottawa, and the high-rise business here in Toronto. Those other two things Mattamy does and does well. High-rise is not something Mattamy does at the current time. To sort of address the question of, “Well, why now?” Mattamy actually made a couple false starts, I would say, in trying to get into high-rise. It had a site tied up at Bayview and Eglinton, kind of up in the northeast.

It was kind of opposite of, well, it’s not too far from the CNIB building, which all that land’s been developed subsequently, but it did have a site tied up there and didn’t go forward with it. Has done one high-rise building up in Brampton on, I guess it’s Queen Street west of the 410. That was kind of its first foray and I wasn’t here when it was done, but everybody tells me it wasn’t terribly successful. The building was sold and built, but it wasn’t, I think we could all agree that maybe that wasn’t the best place to start a high-rise business.

Andrew la Fleur: Right, right.

Brian Johnston: Yeah, if I were sitting here trying to convince you to go up and buy there, you might sort of say, mm, no. Why there?

Andrew la Fleur: Right. Right.

Brian Johnston: There was some other reasons behind it. It was part of a desire to address a concern by the Brampton city council that not enough high density housing was being built and why should we be approving more low-rise residential in Brampton. We said, we’ll do some high-rise if that’s what it takes to get our approvals. That went forward and when I came to Mattamy about three years ago, the company had the Globe & Mail site tied up, which is at Front and Bathurst.

Andrew la Fleur: Oh, really? I did not know that. Interesting.

Brian Johnston: Yeah, it was a big nut, too. It was like $115 million and I got here and said, holy crow. This is enormous, this site.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah.

Brian Johnston: I’m not arguing it’s not well located. I think it’s a great site, but it’s kind of putting a massive, enormous cart before no horses. We didn’t even have any horses. We had two people here, who were kind of at the front end doing the acquisition and market analysis, but we had no construction staff, no planning staff. We had some planning expertise but nowhere near the size of an organization necessary to undertake something like this. It was going to be a massive planning exercise and so we kind of tackled it and looked at it, but since we’ve decided that this wasn’t going to work and we dropped the deal. It was picked up by I think it was sort of a consortium, and it’s going to be a mixed use development. It’s going to have some retail and there’s office there and there’s going to be residential, but it’s more than three years later and you can see there’s still nothing there.

That was my great fear on that site is that they were going to tie up all this capital on a site that was going to take years and years and years and that’s proven to be correct..

Andrew la Fleur: Right.

Brian Johnston: …to get through the planning system and get open for sales and to build. At the rate they’re going now, they’re not going to be delivering a house probably, or condo, for three or four more years, so that’ll be sevem years since the day that Mattamy originally tied it up, so I think that was the right call. In order to get into the business, we could have done it piecemeal, one building at a time, and we were [crosstalk 00:13:57] but it’s just a whole lot faster and less, the theory being that we’re going to make nowhere near the number of mistakes and we’re not going to have to cycle through staff. The opportunity to buy an experienced, well regarded high-rise team as part of the Monarch acquisition was certainly viewed as an opportunity that should not be missed.

Andrew la Fleur: Right. What happens with Monarch, like you said, is known as a very good builder in the high-rise business. They’ve got a lot of great sites. What happens to their existing buildings? Is it just sort of just status quo? The buyers who bought there and investors, they won’t notice a difference? How does it work when it transitions from Monarch into Mattamy? The existing sites?

Brian Johnston: We commissioned a market study to try and understand what we should be doing. What was the market telling us to do? What would be the perception of Monarch versus Mattamy? Interestingly we found that Mattamy had an extremely strong name in the GTA. It is the preeminent brand within the GTA, generally, but in the high-rise space since Mattamy doesn’t do high-rise, the Monarch name was stronger, but not the strongest, interestingly enough. There are a couple other brand-names and you could probably guess who they are that have a more market awareness, generally.

Andrew la Fleur: Right. I have a few ideas.

Brian Johnston: Yeah, you’d take a guess and the first one would be right.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah.

Brian Johnston: We said, okay, what we need to do here is we need to translate some of that market awareness of Mattamy into the high rise space, but we can’t do it overnight, because that will not be successful, so essentially what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to build up the existing buildings that are underway, under the Monarch name, but we’re going to bring in the Mattamy brand, and then we’re going to transition over to the Mattamy brand, and we’re sort of debating our first new building under the, with the new team as to whether it goes out as a box as a Monarch, as a Monarch building or a Mattamy building, and I’m kind of inclined to think we should start it as a Mattamy building because its a stunning location up near Davis and Young, Davisville and Young, and so that kind of location, there’s not a lot of danger that we’re going to mess it up because it’s such a strong location that the Mattamy name will probably do pretty well up there.

Andrew la Fleur: Oh, that’s very interesting, so Davisville and Young, obviously great location, lot of activity happening lin midtown there with the LRT coming in. I’m very involved there myself. A lot of my clients are purchasing in that area. What else can you tell us about this site. I don’t know. Can you give us the exact location, or is it, you can’t say? Is it a high rise? A mid-rise?
Brian Johnston: It’s on the east side. It’s north of the subway station. It’s kind of a stretch that, I think there was a Rogers Building there. I think the Rogers was there, so it’s in that little stretch there…

Andrew la Fleur: Right.

Brian Johnston: The exact address is probably not as important as the size, that we’re probably going to do an eight or ten story building. I don’t have the exact stats with me, like a hundred and twenty or a hundred and forty units. It’s going to kind of sell itself, in my view. I mean, we’ve done quite a bit of work. We expect to go to market later this fall, and I’m fairly confident we’ll do well there.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, I would say a hundred and twenty units at Young and Davisville, hard to go wrong with that.

Brian Johnston: That’s what I think.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, that type of building in that type of location fits that market perfectly.

Brian Johnston: Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: Really, anything on Young Street obviously is always going to generate a lot of interest. What else can we expect from that first building, like, and maybe the first few buildings from Mattamy? Will you take a similar philosophy as you mention with your low-rise, where the goal is to move through product quickly and the implication being, for the investor, that they’ll be priced to sell. They’ll be priced to sell quickly…

Brian Johnston: Yeah. My observation, generally, is the high rise market is probably close to the Mattamy model, in the sense that because in high rise you need to get a certain level of sales before you get construction, builders are highly incentivized to move the product to get to that pre-sales level, whatever that is, seventy percent or so, relatively quickly and then the big hold-up appears to be the planning issue. You’ve got to get your working drawings. You’ve got to get them in for permit, and you’ve got to wait for that, and all that. I mean, certainly we’ve going to try to move things quickly. I don’t think we’re going to be able to move it any faster than others. I think the business model just kind of dictates that you move it relatively quickly and price the market to ensure that you keep the bankers happy, and keep the purchasers happy.

Andrew la Fleur: What opportunities do you see in the high rise market? Where do you see the biggest opportunity? There’s so much competition in the market. There’s so many people with different opinions on whether it’s, there’s a condo bubble and this kind of thing. You always hear these things. What is your take on the market and where do you see the most opportunity?

Brian Johnston: Well, I mean, you just spoke of it and you guys will be aware of this, but you track pricing of condos versus single family homes, or low-rise product, but really, with condo, the bubble story is kind of all moot, because prices have pretty well flat lined per square foot. I think, three or four percent year over year pricing.

That’s a fairly consistent story. If you just sort of follow those articles that come out in Toronto Star or even some of the other publications, that’s not the story. The story really is low-rise house prices continue to escalate well above inflation and if one is looking for a bubble, that’s the place to find it, but it’s just a building issue. There’s just not enough single family or townhouse product available. I mean, we can see that any time we open up for sales in any of our communities.

Our view on the high rise is that, right now more than fifty percent of homes being sold, or residential units being sold are high rise and I don’t think that’s going to change because if you go into the other areas it’s very difficult to get approvals for ground oriented, low rise houses, and we fight that fight every single day where in high rises, it’s much easier, it seems to be that it’s not, it doesn’t seem to be, it is government policy to intensify and so I’m optimistic and positive, like Toronto going to end up going through this evolutionary change and it’s being fueled by population growth, immigration.

We don’t build apartment buildings. We build condominiums and that’s the proxy for an apartment building and that’s kind of the one dynamic that a lot of people who are outside of Toronto don’t really understand is that, oh, no apartment buildings. No, no apartment buildings. It’s, for the most part, it’s almost all condominiums and investors tend to be the landlords, and so it’s really fueling that supply for the first time. Buyer or the urban liver, the person that wants to live close to where they work and where they eat. Anybody goes out in the roads these days, they know that driving a long way is frustrating and it’s becoming more and more difficult and the response to that is to find something that’s closer to quote, unquote, all the action, including schools and jobs.

Andrew la Fleur: Obviously, you’re probably aware that a lot of movement or money going into the rental apartment business now, you said Mattamy is not in that business, but do you see a day where perhaps it might makes sense for Mattamy to be in that market or is that just not something fundamentally they’re not interested in that?

Brian Johnston: Well, low interest rates are kind of driving that, and it’s really about cap rate, so if I can build a high rise apartment rate and sell it with a four and half percent cap, yeah, I actually can make some money, so it’s all, that’s highly dependent on interest rates, and so if you believe the narrative that interest rates are going to climb. This is kind of a short-term thing. I don’t see it as a long term trend, but at this moment in time, with low interest rates, it makes sense, and would we do it? I would not rule it out. It’s a different type of business model. It requires a little bit of different, the buildings are finished differently. We wouldn’t buy and hold. We would buy and sell.

Andrew la Fleur: Right.

Brian Johnston: We wouldn’t hold an apartment building in our portfolio. We would essentially hold the site, and you really have to design and then build and then rent, and that represents risk too, so one of the ways to deal with that is to get a sales price, like a contract when you can end construction with the end users, and there’s lots of those people out there, whether they’re pension funds or [inaudible 23:41] or even private investors, so, that’s one way out. It’s certainly not a business where saying, hey, we’re going to get into that business, and this is just my personal opinion, I don’t see it as a long term trend, just because of interest rates are so low now, but I don’t think that’s going to continue.

Andrew la Fleur: Very interesting. What do you think is the biggest problem right now in the high rise industry in Toronto and is there something that Mattamy is planning to do to address that problem?

Brian Johnston: I think the problem is probably a lack of good available sites, but you probably could have asked me ten years ago the same questions and I might have said the same thing.

Andrew la Fleur: Right.

Brian Johnston: I think that it really is, I think, becoming systemic. I mean, the sites that we’ve looking at now are generally smaller, because the good, well-located sites that will take density are harder to find. Can we solve that problem? No, I don’t think we on our own can solve it, but I think it’s just a question of always monitoring the market, being aware of what’s for sale, and you also have to be patient in this business. To take a piece of land through the planning process is time consuming and complex, and it’s just a question of just taking your skill set that allows you to actually do that, go through the planning process and get the zoning that you want and want the market wants.

Andrew la Fleur: A lot of builders have mentioned the exact same thing to me, lack of available sites. Do you see that as a precursor to something in the city? Do you see that as an opportunity for people who are buying today, especially in the core, at these prices, where things are at, do you see sort of a Manhattanization effect, where there will come a time in the near future where these prices of five, six hundred dollars a square foot are just unheard of because there’s just nowhere else to build, particularly in the core?

Brian Johnston: Yeah, I wouldn’t say in the short term. I think longer term. I mean, when I take a look at the Urban Nation reports and it looks like there’s lots of buildings coming to the market. There’s a lot of completions that’ll steadily supply the market, so in the short term, no, no. Medium or longer term? Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I mean, and the sites are going to be moving a little bit further away from the subway lines, because everybody wants to be near a subway.

Andrew la Fleur: Yes.

Brian Johnston: There are areas that, where people are just going to have to get out and they’re going to have to walk a little distance to get to the subway, and it’s going to open up other areas as well, like if you look at the subway line that’s going up into Vaughn, I can see high rises being built up there along the subway lines, because those are un-built on areas, but all the planning will, required to get a high rise approved will take some time, but it’s forever that’s its been.

Andrew la Fleur: Is Mattamy actively looking to acquire downtown sites, like how would you describe your behavior in that market? Is it very aggressively looking for more sites downtown in particular, or focused on other things right now, just building out the Monarch sites that are existing?

Brian Johnston: Oh, no, no, no. No, we definitely want to build up the Mattamy business, the high rise business, so we’re looking at everything that comes across our desk, trying to decide if we can make the numbers work, and what are the planning challenges? What’s the market like? So, yeah, we’ve been pretty clear in our direction to the Monarch high rise ,seeing that we want to grow that business, so yeah, we’re looking everywhere.

Andrew la Fleur: That’s great. I mean, I sort of picture the Monarch theme, you said, about the two hundred employees and you’ve got the fourteen hundred employees at the big mothership of Mattamy. I’m sort of picturing the Monarch team just salivating at all this influx of new capital and new resources to sort of exponentially grow the business overnight. Is that sort of what life is like over there right now?

Brian Johnston: Yeah, in particular the fact that Taylor Morrison is only residential home building in the United States and they felt they would reluctantly go along with high rise proposals whereas we’re not reluctant at all.

We’re saying, go, go. There’s a building on the waterfront down at New Park Lawn and Lakeshore where Monarch is building and it’s called Reba Del Lago and it’s a hundred and fifty-seven units and they had about, let me think, about eighty sales, and so it’s just over fifty percent, and we said, you should start construction on that building and they kind of looked at us said, well, we don’t normally go until we’re about seventy or eighty percent pre-sold, and I said, so that would have been a hundred and ten to a hundred and twenty units. They’d need to get thirty more and we kind of said, well, we know that location. This is premium real estate. It’s right at the front.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah.

Brian Johnston: It’s a building that faces the water. There’s no building that’s going to be in front of it. There’s a park. There’s a trail. We know that real estate will sell, so you should just go ahead, and, so that kind of surprised them, and they sort of said, well, what about financing, and I said, well, financing will take care of itself, because it’s going to take you awhile to get your building permits. You’re going to have to do this. You’re going to have to do that. By the time we need financing, you’ll be at your seventy or eighty percent pre-sale levels that the banks require so we’re not worried about it. They never would have had that conversation with Taylor and Larsen.

Andrew la Fleur: Right. Right. Absolutely. Great anecdote there. Brian, thank you so much for your time. Is there any other question that you think that nobody’s asking about the high rise market, but sort of you, as a new entrant into the market, you might see things in a different way from everybody else, and I think that that could be a refreshing thing in the business, like is there anything that, any question that people are not asking you about the market but that you feel should be asked and what is that question?

Brian Johnston: Well, I think that the market is evolving and it’s, how do we as an industry address the buyers that want to grow older. We seem to have been consistently addressing the buyers that are younger and the seven hundred square feet, and let’s see if we can cram two bedrooms in there, and it’s like the older buyers, and how big should those buildings be? What should they look like? Where should they be located? What is it that we as an industry need to do to appeal to that type of buyer, and I’m not saying I have the answer to it, but I think it’s a wave that coming of people who like in Leaside. They can sell their house for a million, two. Can we get them a condo for seven hundred thousand dollars that’ll address their needs?

There’s a whole bunch of buyers out there and what do these buildings need to look like to address that buyer profile? It’s a tricky question because I think that’s the one part of the market that has kind of been left behind in terms of…and you can hear people talking about it, but it’s generally not really been addressed holistically is what I’ve determined.

Andrew la Fleur: Absolutely. I think, like what you’ve said, there’s a huge movement to where it’s building smaller product and there’s very little, very few builders in the business who are focused on the larger product for the more mature buyer, particularly the down-sizer buyer, yeah.

Brian Johnston: Yeah, the other thing is how do we get them to buy off paper, because they won’t off paper.

Andrew la Fleur: Yes. Yes.

Brian Johnston: They’ll just say, I’m not buying. I mean, I want to see what it looks like. Well, if you don’t buy, I can’t build, because I can’t get financing so we’re locked.

Andrew la Fleur: Dance, yeah.

Brian Johnston: Yeah, it’s a stalemate, so how does the industry address that issue?

Andrew la Fleur: Well, yeah, I guess one way to do it is, like you said, with your Reva Del Lago is just build it.

Brian Johnston: Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: If you build it, then they will come.

Brian Johnston: Build it. Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: Obviously, then, you as a builder take on all the risk and you don’t like to do that, but I guess that would be the easiest way to solve it is just build firs and sell later and that would certainly make for a very different product in a very different industry, but it has a lot of challenges to use that model and a lot of potential pitfalls like we’ve seen in the U.S. market.

Brian Johnston: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Andrew la Fleur: When they took that model. Yeah. Brian, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. What’s the best way for people to learn more about Mattamy Homes, particularly Mattamy High Rise Division?

Brian Johnston: Well, we’ve got two websites. We’ve got or, so either one, and since we’ve got a much wider assortment of product at, we might even sell somebody a townhouse in Jacksonville for under two hundred thousand dollars.

Andrew la Fleur: There you go.

Brian Johnston: I always say, we should just throw a townhouse in with some of our houses in Oakville, but we’ve got, it’s kind of interesting to see the breadth of the company, but or

Andrew la Fleur: That’s great, Brian. Thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate your time.

Brian Johnston: Okay, Andrew. Thanks.

Thanks for listening to the True Condos Podcast. Remember, your positive reviews make a big difference to the show. To learn more about condo investing, become a True Condos subscriber by visiting