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The Next Generation of Toronto’s Waterfront with Anson Kwok of Pinnacle International

Podcast Featured Image 32

Anson Kwok of Pinnacle International sits down with Andrew la Fleur and discusses Pinnacle’s upcoming mega project 1 Yonge, the differences between Vancouver condo development and Toronto condo development, and what’s in store for the next generation of Toronto’s waterfront.

Anson Kwok Interview Highlights

0:13 Who is Anson Kwok and What is 1 Yonge Street?
1:54 How Anson Kwok Got Into Real Estate
3:43 What Pinnacle Has Done in Toronto
5:40 Is There Still Money to Be Made in Toronto’s Condo Market?
7:15 Smaller Units in Condos & Building Types
12:08 Anson Kwok’s Personal Condo Investing Strategy
14:02 What’s Happening at Toronto’s Waterfront and Downtown Toronto’s Condo Culture
21:30 What’s Coming to 1 Yonge?
25:00 How Will Families Fit In?
26:35 What is the Sweet Spot Suite Size?
29:15 The 1 Yonge Timeline & Proposal
31:26 PJ Condos at Pearl & John Street
32:42 The Perfect Storm (Transit & Traffic in Toronto)
37:37 How to Reach Pinnacle and Learn More About their Projects

How to Leave a Review for The True Condos Podcast on iTunes

Anson Kwok Interview

Announcer: Welcome to the True Condos Podcast, with Andrew la Fleur, the place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market, and condo investing in Toronto.

Andrew la Fleur: Hello, and welcome back to the show. Thanks for listening. On today’s program, we’re going to be interviewing Anson Kwok. Anson is the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Pinnacle International. Pinnacle International is a very active developer here in Toronto downtown. They’ve got a lot of projects as well as in Mississauga, but they’re probably best known for lately or what you might have seen them in the news lately is they’re working on a massive project at 1 Yonge Street.

They purchased the land at 1 Yonge Street which is a very large parcel of land, and they’re planning on building approximately 7 towers, residential and commercial towers there, and that project is going to be also connected to the PATH network. The buildings there are going up to about 88 stories, I believe, so very, very exciting project. That one is going to be coming out soon. You’ll find out exactly when by listening to this interview, and that project is certainly going to be a game-changer type of a project.

A lot of people are watching very closely to see how that one comes about. Let’s get to the interview with Anson Kwok. For all the show notes on this episode, just head on over to, A-N-S-O-N, and you can get links to Pinnacle and everything else that we are talking about on today’s show. Here it is, Anson Kwok.

Announcer: Welcome to the True Condos podcast, with Andrew la Fleur, the place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market, and condo investing in Toronto.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay. It’s my pleasure to welcome to the show Anson Kwok. Anson is the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Pinnacle International. Anson, welcome to the show.

Anson Kwok: Thank you very much.

Andrew la Fleur: Anson, why don’t we start by just telling everybody a little bit about yourself, who you are, your background, and how you got started in the condo industry?

Anson Kwok: I guess I’ve been Pinnacle International for over 6 years now. I originally actually was in the hotel industry, so I was in the hotel industry for almost 10 years, mainly with Fairmont Hotels at the Royal York here. Then during that time, I took my MBA at the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Business, and then made the change over to real estate.

Lucky thing for me is that there’s a lot of commonalities between a hotel and condominium buildings, making sure that things are clean, the units are … The layouts are well done, and be able to move people in. The only difference is really, instead of room nights in hotels, we’re selling for keeps versus what we’ve done in the past. For me, it’s a pretty smooth transition actually.

Andrew la Fleur: Are you from Toronto originally though?

Anson Kwok: I’m originally from Vancouver actually.

Andrew la Fleur: You’re from Vancouver? Okay.

Anson Kwok: I’ve actually been in Ontario for about 15 years now. I did my undergrad here too.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay. Pinnacle is based out of?

Anson Kwok: Of Vancouver.

Andrew la Fleur: Of Vancouver. Yeah.

Anson Kwok: We’ve been … I guess our principle has been building for over 40 years now. For us, we’ve been pretty active in Vancouver, Edmonton, San Diego, and Toronto.

Andrew la Fleur: San Diego? Interesting.

Anson Kwok: Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: Why? What’s the San Diego connection?

Anson Kwok: It was a pretty common … There’s actually a lot of buildings in San Diego that are built by developers from BC.

Andrew la Fleur: Really? Okay.

Anson Kwok: Right now, we’re actually just finishing 350 rental units, purpose-built rental units in downtown San Diego.

Andrew la Fleur: Here in Toronto, like why don’t you just tell everybody what Pinnacle has done here in Toronto, what they’re known for? Obviously, Pinnacle has got a lot of units completed here in Toronto, but maybe some people aren’t familiar with the builder, and so [inaudible 00:03:58].

Anson Kwok: Absolutely. Our first project here was actually Bellagio on Bloor. That’s on Bloor on west … In Mt. Pleasant, so that was our first building here, and then we built 2,000 units here at Pinnacle Centre at Bay, Yonge in Harbour. For most people that don’t know, I guess prior to these 2,000 units, really no one went south of the Gardiner. It was that … Buildings hadn’t been built in probably about 20 years down here, and we were the first person or the first company to come back down and build here.

Now, you see the south course really growing out, which is pretty exciting. We moved over to Mississauga. We’ve moved in 300 units at Pinnacle Grand Park. We’re moving in another 400 units at Pinnacle Uptown this spring. We’ve also moved in 600 units here downtown in Toronto at the Pinnacle on Adelaide in the Entertainment District.

Andrew la Fleur: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah, it’s … I find Pinnacle as one of those under-the-radar companies a little bit. Not tooting your own horn too much, but you quietly … Obviously, the company’s done a lot of great buildings right in the court here. Like you said, trendsetters, I guess, south of the Gardiner. Now, you’ve got how many buildings since you guys have started have come south of the Gardiner. It’s really interesting to see.

Anson Kwok: Yes. It’s been really fantastic to be able to connect like really the downtown court to the Waterfront which, for the longest time, there was a really big gap. Now, it’s really started being filled up, so it’s like tightening the laces and making it one place.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Question you probably get asked a lot. I’m not going to ask you the exact question that is, is there a condo bubble? I want to spin on that question and say, again, keeping in mind that most people listening to this are condo investors or thinking about getting into the condo market as an investor. Is there still money to be made in the Toronto condo market for the individual condo investor? What do you think?

Anson Kwok: I think there still is. I think there’s just a … I think the product needs to be a lot more diverse. I think the simple formula of the days of buying a one-bedroom and den, and just flipping it isn’t really there anymore, but I do think now you’re looking for an investment vehicle that actually has enough square footage to get the next generation of renters. I think there’s a size component that we need to reach, and I think now it’s … You’re seeing more people buy a smaller two-bedrooms to meet that, meet that market.

I personally call it the “second and third generation condo dweller”, I guess, because they need to be able to have enough space, and it’s probably that evolution of moving to Toronto when you’re in a one-bedroom or single, and then you get into a relationship, and you start a family, and it’s the evolution; but I think people really appreciate neighborhoods in their first condo, and then they just eventually get sized out and had to move to something bigger. I think that’s where investment is moving towards instead of, I guess, the opposite direction of going smaller.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. It’s something we talked about before we started recording. I thought it was interesting. Maybe you could comment on it. Just this sort of … We talked about it in other episodes as well, just this whole duality, you could say, in the business, in the industry where you’ve got a big trend towards smaller and smaller units, and that’s primarily, I think, driven … It’s driven by a few things probably, but affordability is a big one.

Anson Kwok: Absolutely.

Andrew la Fleur: Just to keep those prices down, developers have made the units smaller and smaller, and so you’re getting more and more buildings that are made up primarily of smaller units. The average size of the unit in a big building is getting smaller and smaller, 550 square feet. Then on the other hand, like you say, you’ve got this growing under … Underneath it all is this growing demand for more space and for move up opportunities for buyers who already done the small condo, or maybe they’re renting, and they want to get their first place, people who can’t afford to get into the housing market, the low-rise market.

How do you see that sort of duality, and how do we solve that problem as an industry, or where do you see the condo industry going? It’s a bunch of questions all wrapped together, but …

Anson Kwok: I think that’s something that … I think, for the most part, we actually have done quite well. Coming from Vancouver, we’ve actually … Livability has really been a big part of unit sizes, so we actually build a lot of two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms. There’s a lot of times where … We know that we’re going to have to move in the building before we sell some of the two-bedrooms, but we’re very committed to building larger units, so that we have a better mix in the building.

For example, the Pinnacle on Adelaide, we built two runs. Probably like 80 units with a thousand square feet two-bedrooms which is quite uncommon, especially in the Entertainment District. The tendency is to go a little bit smaller with the affordability component, but we’re also getting a lot more people that are at that stage where they’re looking at couples looking for a place to stay to move into that can’t really handle the 4-year presale factor.

It’s that blend, and it’s a challenging in the marketplace right now because of the financing models for developers, which requires a certain amount of presales, so it … Typically, I guess, the less expensive unit sells faster, and I think that’s one thing that’s driven; but I think we’ve been pretty committed to keep a pretty high proportion of our units into that two-bedroom, three-bedroom range. It’s really actually, I think, for the most part, paid off for us because it’s … There is a niche market out there that’s looking for that. We may not be 100% sold-out after three months; but we also know when the people move in and they see the units, they’re … That quality is there.

Andrew la Fleur: Right, right. Yeah. It highlight two different philosophies and two ways that a builder can approach building high-rise in downtown Toronto today of, “Do I want to just sell it really quickly and get out of it, so to speak, as quick as I can, so I’m going to build the units as small and as cheap as I can, or take a different approach where I’m thinking about the end in mind and thinking about what kind of a building is it going to be like when it’s all set and done?”

Therefore, like you say, let’s put in some larger units that are going to be probably really hard to sell in the preconstruction stage because these are going to end-users that are going to move in, and they’re going to want to see the building up before they put their deposits down. In the end, is that creating a better building for people to live in, less units coming up for rent, and just a different to a building?

Certainly, I think something is great, great to think about that and just good advice for any condo investor to consider that certainly when you’re looking out which building to purchase in like if A versus B, looking at the suite mix, the average unit size.

Anson Kwok: I think that’s actually one thing that we do go back to. We go back, look at our buildings that we built 5 years ago or even, I guess, as much as almost 10 years now to actually see how the building is maintained because obviously, typically, if a lot more end-users are living in the building, that usually means there’s a lot more care in the building. Everyone is involved in the process to make sure that community really thrives.

Sometimes, when there’s a lot of turnover, it’s very really challenging to really maintain a great building because every year, you have so many move-ins and move-outs, and people might not care about the place as much as you want them to care if they were end-users living in the building. It’s definitely a great … I guess protecting your investment is a critical part of the investment process.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. I’m curious. Are you a condo investor yourself? Do you buy units yourself?

Anson Kwok: I do have condo investments, but actually I live in a condo. I’m actually, I guess … I’m in my third condo now, so I’m definitely someone that believes in. I’m an elevator commuter, so I tend not to go outside very much to go to work. At work, obviously, I go outside, but it’s definitely … I’ve experienced that progression myself from a one-bedroom and living in a three-bedroom now. It’s part of that progression of someone living in a condo. You just want more space.

Andrew la Fleur: What would be your advice if … Or what are you … If you’re looking for a condo to invest in yourself or you’re looking at the newest building that you’re working on, you’re thinking, “I’m going to buy one in this building. Which one should I buy?” Like what do you … What factor are you looking at? What criteria are you judging to pick the units that you invest in?

Anson Kwok: I guess for me, it’s making sure that’s a unit that can stand. I guess, a little bit more timeless in the sense that it’s a unit that if I do decided to sell it in the future, when it’s built, it has a great layout that can sell, but also, it’s attractive to rent. I think that’s one thing that people, they can spend a lot of time in, and I like to … I guess, my investment is actually a two-bedroom because I wanted the more professional tenant in there that was there for … Hopefully, for more than a year, a couple years, whether either going through a professional school program or working in the city.

I think that’s a … For me, a pretty important part of that investment vehicle is to keep it a little more consistent. I guess, in some ways, I guess, a little bit more low maintenance in terms of every year having to go back through the, “Let’s find a tenant, and let’s show the space.”

Andrew la Fleur: Great. Let’s shift gears and talk about 1 Yonge Street. Obviously, the big, big, big, big project that you guys are working on right now; but maybe before we talk about the project in particular, what can you … What do you seeing happening in the Waterfront as a whole? Like Pinnacle, you guys have been active down here, as you said, for many years now. Now, it’s interesting. You’re probably seeing all the other players, all your competitors all jumping onboard now, and you’re … Coming up right next to you on the east and the west. How are you seeing the Waterfront area, particularly east of Yonge Street develop over the next 5, 10 years?

Anson Kwok: It’s actually really exciting to see, I guess, all our friends in the neighborhood because there is actually … It’s really grown quite a bit even in the last … I guess, within 10 years; but in the last 5 years, it’s been a very popular location. I think that’s part to do with Waterfront Toronto doing a lot of work to revitalize our Waterfront here, but the great thing is it’s going to have all the amenities that people are looking for.

It is a pretty modern neighborhood that will continue to grow in the next 10, 15 years, and it’s just … I think people are looking for that modern convenience. They want things are close to them within walking distance, and you’re starting to see more people live without the car, so we need to be in that environment close to the financial core where people can really walk there, which probably 15 years ago being heard off that anyone would want to walk truly to work.

Now, I think that’s what … People don’t want to spend time doing that. For example, myself. I went up Guelph yesterday for an event at the University of Guelph, and that commute is probably equivalent to my one month commute with that …

Andrew la Fleur: One day. Yeah.

Anson Kwok: Yeah, going to and from, so I’m pretty impressed with how people do that every day because a lot of people commute from Guelph to Toronto. Once you get to a short commute, it’s hard to go back to a long commute. That’s the other evolution of changes. People want larger condos over time, people want shorter commutes over time as well. It’s hard to go from a 10-minute commute to an hour-commute.

Andrew la Fleur: Not too many people are signing up for that.

Anson Kwok: No, it’s … Yeah, it’s definitely the change of … Some would say it’s millennials, but I think it’s just a change of the cultural change that there are great housing options that are close to work, which is a good thing.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, I think … I totally agree. I think it’s more of a cultural-social change that we’re seeing, and I think it’s people. The greatest commodity that we have is time, and I think people are realizing that they want to save time. They want to be closer to work. They want to be closer to schools, and restaurants, and entertainment, and their friends. They’re realizing that life is … In a sense, life is short and you only have so much time. If you’re spending 10 hours a week in your car going to and from work, just wasting away.

Anson Kwok: I think the perspective is that, really. That’s the only fixed thing in everyone’s week, right? Is that there’s only 168 hours in a week no matter how you get it.

Andrew la Fleur: Yup. We’re all given them same. Yeah.

Anson Kwok: Yeah. Everyone only … There’s only 7 days in a week, and I think that’s the biggest change is that there’s a lot of other things that people can be doing with their time. I think people, the social norms have made it perfectly acceptable to be living in a condominium regardless of size. The advantage is, “Hey, I got to work in … I got to sleep in a little longer, and I got home, and you’re still on the road.” It’s a tough combination that I think people are starting to decide that, “Hey, you know what? Maybe it is easier,” which is a great thing, I think. That makes all the new employment options downtown. There are companies moving downtown. Really, it pairs up quite well.

Andrew la Fleur: You mentioned something earlier. You said how there was a … You alluded to the development, condo boom, that happened on the Waterfront probably in like the ‘80s, early ‘90s kind of thing. Then, there was a big gap until recently where not much has been done. Now, we’re going through another boom over the next decade along the Waterfront here. How do you … What are the differences between the ‘80s Waterfront and the Waterfront that we’re going to see moving forward?

Anson Kwok: I think there’s a lot more detail and design. I think some would say that the buildings that are built in the ‘80s and ‘90s are a little bit heavier and maybe a little bit … Too much precast and blocking the Waterfront, but I think there’s been a lot of discussion about making sure that view corridors and so forth are kept, and I think there’s a … The great thing is, I think, there’s a lot more discussion about mix of heights and so forth to really change the skyline or the postcard of Toronto.

I think the original was almost purposely built just for residential. I think that’s where it’s going to change. It’s really going to change to a more mixed-use type of environment where people can actually go to a grocery store. They can go to restaurants, and it’s actually accessible without having bus service or other modes of like transportation to get them to and from to get to those things. I think here, you’re going to see a lot more office close it. There’s a lot more office coming down to the Waterfront. Obviously, the high-speed internet. With all that stuff, it’s really … It partners really well versus just a strict one-use community.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Talking about the high-speed fiber optic lines that, I guess, the city has been working on for a number of years for this Waterfront area.

Anson Kwok: Yeah. I think it’s really exciting to see all the office buildings that are coming in because that’s just going to create such a, like you said, that whole live-work, walk to work kind of community. Whereas before, the Waterfront was … It was like … The whole thing with the Waterfront was, yeah, it’s a great place to be in the summer, but the rest of the year, it’s just dead, and everyone just stays inside, and there’s not much life going on. Now, you’ve got so many office buildings coming in south of the Gardiner. I think that’s the most exciting part for me.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Before, it was really just a summer destination. It’s a summer destination, and the rest of the year, everyone that lived in this neighborhood just did their own thing. Now, it’s no longer just a tourist location. It’s actually going to be a vibrant neighborhood. Actually, we’ve already seen that with Pinnacle Centre with 2,000 units. You actually seen so much more activity and life that not just for activities that are centered. Just on a day-to-day basis, there’s … You see people walking, interacting. It’s a much better scene than before when I think it was a … I think this entire stretch which is empty parking lots.

You just … People just cross all these dark parking lots to get to the other side which obviously is not as visually appealing. I know things are still in the early stages, but what can you tell us about 1 Yonge, like what can we expect? What are you guys working on? I know it’s probably … Maybe you could give us some insight into the process in terms of how long it takes to get a massive project like this to market.

Anson Kwok: We’ve been actively working our proposals in with the city, and we’ve been actively working with them to continue to enhance the project. I think that just takes some time for the growth of it and things continue to constantly change and … Which is a phenomenal thing because I think the Waterfront is not a stagnant place. There’s definitely a lot of things happening in this Bayfront that’s constantly become different variables for us; but one thing is for sure is that we’ll definitely have residential towers partnered with couple of office buildings, which I think is a great thing for the live-work.

For us, we’re looking at retail multiple-grade … Sorry, multiple floors of retail linked together, and also bring the PATH down. For us, bring the PATH is looking at it, so that we can really open up that entire gateway to the east Bayfront, and hopefully, make it a lot easier for even existing places like George Brown and Corus where people can actually walk underground if they need to, to get all the way over there, so experiences.

Andrew la Fleur: Like in terms of the PATH connection, like what … Where would it be coming from exactly, or what …?

Anson Kwok: It’d be actually … It’d be above grade, so via Plus 15 coming across. Right now, there’s couple other routes that we can take; but right now, it’s going to go pretty close to Yonge Street across, so underneath the Gardiner. There’s couple of places that we can connect to, whether it’s 45 Bay Street, which is the new development coming through, or the connection close to … I guess, with Backstage and L-Tower. There’s a couple of options. I think it just depends on timing and sequence.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay, but it’s above-ground tunnel? Something similar visually to what we see at …

Anson Kwok: Harbour Plaza, yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: With Harbour Plaza has got recently opened up there? Wow.

Anson Kwok: Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: Ten years from now, we might … There might be this interesting above-ground labyrinth of these glass tunnels all around this whole area?

Anson Kwok: Yeah, I think making … I think it’s important for us to try make both street retail and other locations active. I think it’s … Like you said before, it can’t just be a summer destination. It needs to be a place where businesses thrive all year round, and I think that’s what we’re … I guess we’re trying to do our best to accomplish that.

Andrew la Fleur: Is it potential then …? I’m just thinking out loud, but is it potential that the existing Pinnacle buildings that we’re sitting in right now could be connected in that same network?

Anson Kwok: We’ve had obviously discussion. Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated with ownership and with individual condominium owners and so forth, and how it connects through, but that’s never a … The discussions obviously still are out there. We’ve met with all the condo boards, and they’ve been very cooperative in trying to figure out what’s the best opportunity is, but a lot of it has to do with timing. It might had to be us creating … Finishing 1 Yonge and maybe connecting back to it afterwards versus the original plans.

Andrew la Fleur: Right, right. Right. How do you families fitting into the residential component. Is this going to be … There’s going to be a focus on getting families into … Family-sized units because I’ve heard other interviews where you’re talking about really that whole live-work-play, drop your kid off at daycare, the whole experience all in one building or one complex essentially?

Anson Kwok: Yeah. I think we’ve already been … We’re very committed to building a daycare there where … Exactly. I guess we have a daycare here at Pinnacle Centre. I think it’s a pretty important accessory, I guess, to living downtown. I think with our proposal for … The amount of residential we’ve proposed, I think we’re going to be having quite a wide variety of unit sizes; so I do think that there is going to be quite a component that’s looking at family-friendly units.

That’s something that, I think, we’ve always been committed to, and I think we’re going to continue to do that because I think two and three-bedroom units, it’s important for us to build them, but I think it’s also important that they’re … There’s no size for it, so just saying it’s three bedrooms …

Andrew la Fleur: At 700 square feet.

Anson Kwok: Yeah. It’s not as functional as making sure that there’s three bedrooms that people can comfortably live in. I think livability is first and foremost, and then obviously bedrooms are important, so that everyone has their own space.

Andrew la Fleur: What do you think is that sweet spot because I had this conversation too for a three-bedroom unit? Like what do you think is that size that makes it a comfortable space? Like you I said, there’s a lot of these buildings that got these 800-square-foot three-bedroom units where the third bedroom is really just a throw-in just to satisfy the city’s requirement or something.

Anson Kwok: Yeah. I think a lot of them, I think you’re probably going to need to be in that 1,200-square-foot-plus. I think you can comfortable do it in 1,000 square feet. I think I’ve seen 1,000 square feet that are quite functional, but I don’t know if you can do entire floor plate of those because it’s a … Just from the ins, and outs, and entrances. I do think with 1,200 square feet, I think it can be quite comfortable.

Then, obviously, as you go larger because it really just depends how many rooms you need and what your comfort zone is because definitely, you need a pretty big component of living and dining space when it comes to a three-bedroom unit that we have to take into consideration because most people are using … The way lifestyle is changing is that in their bedrooms, it’s really just their bedrooms.

Also, the activities actually in the main great room, I guess, as we call it, so it’s fine. Making sure there’s enough space there because it can get a little tricky when it’s … Like you said, 700-square-foot for a three-bedroom, it’s really difficult to even fill like your clothes in, so it’s something that we got to continue to be conscious of because it’s a marketplace that continues to grow, and the city has to continue to evolve as … I think it’s very simple to look at New York, for example.

The larger units are actually at a premium compared to the smaller units, and I think we got to continue to …Obviously, we’re not New York, but we got to continue to evolve because that’s what people are going to look for when they’re moving downtown. Like I said before, second and third generation condo dwellers are going to go, “Hey, you know what? My last place, this is what was missing; so in my next place, I want to make sure I have a walk-in closet, or I want to make sure we have three bathrooms.” That’s going to continually grow.

Andrew la Fleur: Right, right, right. Interesting. Take us through if you will, when did you guys purchased the 1 Yonge site? It was …?

Anson Kwok: July 2012. That’s when …

Andrew la Fleur: July 2012. Okay, so 2-1/2 years ago.

Anson Kwok: Yeah, so that’s when we …

Andrew la Fleur: Still working with the city to get … Like how long from … Just curious, like for a massive project like this, from the time you purchased it till the time the last unit might be delivered, what kind of a timeline are you looking at? Is it about 10 years, or more, or less?

Anson Kwok: I guess Pinnacle Centre is a probably a good example because it’s 2,000 units. For us, it was probably about … I think it’s probably close to … I guess from when we purchased the land, it was probably about 10, 10 years. It’s actually a … And the only difference now is that the buildings are taller, so it’s probably going to take a little bit longer than 10 years. Because here, our first building is 40 stories, the second was 29 stories, and then you’re in the 50’s here. In the next evolution in the city, everything is going to probably be in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, which is obviously a … It’s going to take longer to build.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Remind everyone again what the proposal that you have put forward for 1 Yonge. The heights are …?

Anson Kwok: The tallest tower that we have proposed is 88 stories.

Andrew la Fleur: Eighty-eight stories, wow. Which would be the tallest?

Anson Kwok: It’d be the second tallest.

Andrew la Fleur: The second tallest.

Anson Kwok: Right now, I guess there is approved building for 92 stories this year.

Andrew la Fleur: Right. Yeah, right.

Anson Kwok: Seventy-eight is the … Under construction. Seventy-eight is tallest residential in Canada.

Andrew la Fleur: Right.

Anson Kwok: Yeah. It’s a different scale, and it’s going to take longer to build. I think we’re definitely aware with it. Definitely with the negative 30 weather, it’s going to be a little bit … Take a little bit longer, but yeah. We’re probably looking at a good 15, 20-year cycle probably from … Because of the size of the property.

Andrew la Fleur: From start to finish, wow. When … I know it’s early, but when are you targeting to come to market? Is that … Or is it even too early to even know at this point?

Anson Kwok: Yeah. I think it’s probably a little bit early. Hopefully, it probably be at something … Hopefully, sometime in 2016; but definitely, will not … Don’t expect it to be a 2015 exercise.

Andrew la Fleur: Don’t expect it this year, okay.

Anson Kwok: Right now, we’re still in the master plan community component to it, so we still have a lot of work to do with suite layouts and really the details of the individual buildings.

Andrew la Fleur: Right. Then, you’ve got another exciting project coming downtown. It’s PJ Condos at Pearl and John Street in the Entertainment District. What can you tell us about that building?

Anson Kwok: It’s right across from the Pinnacle on Adelaide, so the location is something that we’re quite familiar with. It’s a 48-story building. Great plaza at grade level that really connects our plaza that we have in our building across the street. Part of the John Street Cultural Corridor were going to become the part of the, I guess, two gathering places for John Street Cultural Corridor when they close down the street for events. We have retail at grade, outdoor swimming pool. It’s going to be quite a unique building, brick at the base. I think it’s really going to just fit that style of the Entertainment District.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Certainly, the brick at the base have … You seen the renderings are very unique look compared to anything else that’s out there.

Anson Kwok: Yeah, so we’re extremely excited. We have a 3D model there on the table there.

Andrew la Fleur: Nice.

Anson Kwok: It’s something that we’re working through, and I think it just going to grow that great neighborhood.

Andrew la Fleur: It’s great. Is there any question …? I know you get asked lots of questions about the market and what you think. Is there any question that nobody has ever asked you about the market or about condo development that you wish somebody would, and what would that question be?

Anson Kwok: That’s an interesting question. I think the main thing is actually … I think it’s very easy to always ask about if there’s a bubble and so forth. I think really, it’s … I have a pretty positive outlook about Toronto’s real estate industry, and I think the most common thing that I usually talk about is obviously the … We have a perfect kind of … I call it the “perfect storm” in terms of traffic and transit are both challenges that are a little bit out of reach in the next … In the foreseeable future that I don’t think people really realize.

Because I think when people come to Toronto from outside of Toronto, I don’t know if that’s a dynamic that people really appreciate because I think Toronto is a really unique city in terms that people have a high tolerance for driving. Whereas coming from Vancouver, I think if you ask anyone in Vancouver to drive an hour, they’ll probably be a little bit confused.

Andrew la Fleur: They look at you funny?

Anson Kwok: Yeah. That’s like a trip. That’s like a trip going on for a weekend, so … And people do it every day here, so I think that’s …

Andrew la Fleur: Here, it’s … Yeah, I’m just going to the mall to pick something up. It take me an hour to get to Yorkdale or wherever.

Anson Kwok: For me, like growing up in Vancouver, going to Whistler is 2 hours, and that’s like a big deal. That’s like a multiple week discussion. Here, it’s like people do it every day. I think that’s actually what’s driving the real estate industry here that I don’t … It is a very unique thing to Toronto because I think you look at some of the bigger cities in the world, whether you’re talking about New York, London, Shanghai, transportation is a pretty … They have their systems quite well done to be able to shift people around and even in a dense environment.

Whereas for us, we’re trying to get there, and I think that’s where people don’t … They don’t realize that we’re … In Toronto, it’s the infancy stage of getting to that population where everyone’s living downtown, working downtown, and it’s going to take time. I think that’s … The condo boom isn’t really about … It’s a magical formula. It’s because we’ve shifted the mentality of … Torontonians have shifted that, “Hey, you know what? We don’t want to be … We don’t want to drive 2 hours anymore because you know what? It used to only be an hour and a half, but somehow, now it’s become 2 hours.”

Andrew la Fleur: Five years ago, it was an hour and a half, and now it’s 2 hours. Five years from now, it will be 2-1/2 hours.

Anson Kwok: I think that tolerance has changed, and I think that’s where people are shifting through. I think that’s the … Probably the most interesting thing that unless you live in Toronto and experience it, I don’t know if you really appreciate that because it is a really unique quality to it. Unless you’re … I think the other day, I was driving back from Mississauga, and the sign said 73 minutes from this point on the Gardiner to get to Yonge Street and 35 minutes to Lakeshore. It’s like, “Where else would you see a number like that?” It’s baffling.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. Tens of thousands of people are doing that every day.

Anson Kwok: And they’re comfortable with it. I just don’t know if … And I think, as speaking to a lot of students and a lot of new graduates, it’s … Unfortunately, the expectation at work is a little bit different now. Working hard is somehow correlated with hours worked. If you work more hours and you commute more hours, it’s cutting in to that 168 hours we were talking about, and it becomes a quality of life issue and work life balance, so it’s one of those things.

I know those are really key points to why the city is changing so much, and I think it’s not about the condo boom. I think there’s actually … In some ways, it’s actually a condo need here. It’s not going to sell any papers, but it’s one of those things where I think it is a reality of how our society is working, and that’s why we continue to build bigger units because the next generations of people living in condos are going to continue.

What we’ve built now are … There’s a lot of great buildings in the city; but they’re going to be here for a long time, so we got to make sure the product is something that’s timeless, and people can really live in there for a variety of cycles that we’re going to experience here in the city.

Andrew la Fleur: That’s great. Traffic and transportation, I like it. If people want to get a hold of you, and send or learn more about Pinnacle, and 1 Yonge, and all the projects you got coming up, what’s the best way to do that?

Anson Kwok: We have multiple ways. Obviously, we have our website at, but we actually have an iPad app as well that shows our projects with floor plans, and views, and locations. I guess, I’m personally on Twitter and LinkedIn that I can definitely be reached at.

Andrew la Fleur: Great. Okay. We’ll definitely include links to all those things in the show notes for this episode. Anson, thank you very much for being on the show today.

Anson Kwok: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay. There you have my interview with Anson Kwok of Pinnacle International. I hope you enjoyed that. Once again, for all the show notes on this episode, just head on over to, A-N-S-O-N, and you will be able to see links to everything that we talked about on today’s show and get a hold of Anson as well. Yeah. I really liked what he had to say. It’s some great points, especially his point about traffic and transit, transportation.

Very interesting to hear his take on things and always interested to hear just from outside point of view, somebody who’s from Vancouver, their take on our city here in Toronto because obviously, it’s always good to get outside perspective on how we do things as a city and how we can do things better. You need to have that outside perspective just the same as in investing, in real estate investing.

If you’ve never looked at condominium investing before or you’re starting to look at it, then yeah. Hopefully, you found the view points on this podcast and on to be helpful to you. Maybe we’ve given you some things to think about that you haven’t thought about before. Thank you very much again for listening to the show. If you want to leave a review for the show, I will greatly appreciate that as well. Just head on over to iTunes and do that.

Also, I just wanted to get some feedback from the listeners. Right now, the show is only on iTunes. It’s not on Stitcher, which is a popular network for Android users. Would you like me to put the show on Stitcher? Would that be helpful to you? Is that something you’re looking for? Let me know. Send me an email,, and let me know if you’d like to see the show also go up on Stitcher. Okay. Thanks very much, very much for listening and have a great week.

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