November 3rd, 2010
This week Buzz Talk brings you Ms. Barbara Lawlor, president of Baker Real Estate, one of Canada’s most successful real estate companies. Ms. Lawlor provides pre-construction sales and marketing expertise to new home and condo projects, for both Canadian and overseas markets.
As a registered Real Estate Broker and Real Estate Institute of Canada Fellow, she has honed a fine expertise that landed her a weekly column as The Condo Pro and made her a highly sought-after seminar speaker.
Thanks Barbara! Off to you….
What did you do before you joined Baker Real Estate?
I came to Canada in my 20s, touring all over North America with various bands. Eventually, after playing the bar and club scene for years, I wanted to do something different. I still love to sing, but I had been singing professionally in Ireland since I was 12. Back in Ireland, I was with an all singing girl group called Maxi, Dick and Twink.
So why did you choose Toronto, after touring all over North America?
I’m not sure what kept pulling me back to Toronto, because I was in the States as well and things would just happen…I got a television show here, and so I’d come back and do that, and go off and do something else, but I just kept coming back to Toronto. So I guess it was meant to be!
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started with Martin Atkins, who was the King of the Condo, back in the 80s. He was the guy who really started the condominium trend here in Toronto and got the line-ups going, and would ring the bell whenever a unit was sold (that was insane!) Well… it’s equally insane nowadays, but Martin had a tremendous thing going on.
Then he closed-up shop and went to live in the States, and I heard about this woman named Pat Baker who was starting up that kind of shop, so I ran right over and said hello! and I’ve been with her ever since. I joined Pat in ’93 and I’m still rockin’!
How does the Toronto market compare to other markets, internationally?
The thing about the Toronto market is that it is already international in nature. The fact that we have over 180 dialects spoken in Toronto, it gives you a little bit of insight into how many nationalities are actually living here. We engage with agents from all over the world.
Everybody knows that our economy is stable, our political climate is peaceful, our mortgage rates are the best they have been in 50 years….so there’s an awful lot to really encourage people to invest in Toronto.
And our dollar per foot is less than the west coast and most major cities!
Do you find that the demand is high from international clients?
Yes, I think that it has greatly increased, especially since the recession, because Toronto somehow managed to just fly under the radar, and recover really fast.
We are having an extraordinary year, with 11,500 condominiums selling in the first six months. Things did go quiet in July and August, when everyone took their toys and went home, declaring they weren’t playing because of the HST, but they got over that and we came out of the gate roaring in September.
It’s incredibly busy and already we are probably at about 1400 units sold, which is going to line us up as either the 3rd best year ever, or possibly, depending on how the rest of the year turns out, the 2nd best year ever. It is extraordinary! Condominium investment in the GTA is the place to be.
Can you tell us about your Condo Pro column?
Well, they put feelers out through our public relations firm and I guess I heard about it at the right time.
We started to write the odd column and then there was a pick up, which was really nice, and The Star approached me to write regularly and from there, other people started picking up on it.
So really you just sow a seed and it takes on a life of its own….well you know that already with BuzzBuzz! It takes on a life of its own and suddenly it mushrooms, and that’s what happened!
What’s your favourite vacation destination?
Portugal. I’ve been on the beaches of Portugal a lot, although not as much as I would like. I love the beautiful beaches and just the whole feeling of it, the ocean, the wine, the music. It’s just wonderful. Especially the Silver Coast of Portugal and places like Praia d’el Rey.
What part of Toronto do you call home?
Yonge and St. Clair. I’ve been there six years. Ever since I came to live in Toronto, I’ve either lived at Yonge and St. Clair, Yonge and Davisville, Yonge and Eglington, and back around…seriously! Those are the only places I’ve lived in Toronto. I like being at the ‘in’ hub.
Where is the ‘next’ area of Toronto?
I would have to think it’s down along the waterfront, going east. In fact, I think Toronto is due for a whole east-end explosion. And of course there’s the Distillery and the Athlete’s Village for the Pan Am Games, with a lot of really exciting potential.
What advice do you give to first-time buyers?
Oddly enough, one of the reasons I first got into real estate was because I found it very difficult to actually step-up to my first real estate buy. I was very timid about it.
I think first-time buyers need to do a lot of homework so that they feel like they are on solid ground when they put their toe in the water and part of it is knowing what you can afford.
A lot of first-time buyers go out and fall in love with a product, only to find out after that they truly can’t afford it. So I think the matter of affordability is really the first question you should answer.
And after that it gets easier, especially if you buy a condominium, because you have to beg or borrow the deposit money and pull that together, but after that you’re going to wait for two or three years while the project is being built and once it’s built you’ve hopefully established your career a little bit more, managed to save a little bit more, so you’re better ready and able when the time comes to close.
Just getting your toe in the door is the most important thing.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve personally seen in the condo market since you began?
Well, besides the percentages–when I started in ’87, we took 5% of the overall market and nowadays we take 50% on a regular basis, so, certainly there’s a huge difference in the percentage of people who are buying condominiums.
But after that, sustainability is probably the biggest change, and the interesting thing is that the industry is driving it: it’s the builders that are educating the buying public; it’s really like the cart is before the horse.
It is very important that the buildings we’re building today are sustainable so that our children can inherit buildings that make sense financially and are not going to cost the earth to run. Some of our older buildings, with the price of gas and electricity going up, may actually become very expensive. But the builders today are really working hard at efficiency and I think that’s the most important thing.
What advice do you give to young females that strive to be successful in real estate?
Well, I certainly encourage them to get into real estate because its a fantastic career choice.
Bring a good work ethic, and don’t expect to get the rewards if you don’t put in the effort. Be organized, work at it, and bring passion to it, because nothing great ever happens just to make money. Greatness happens when you are passionate about something.
And I would probably say the same thing to a guy!
What does the future hold for the Toronto condo market?
Well, I am very optimistic, but not just because I’m in sales and marketing. The condo market will continue to thrive and in fact will grow exponentially, especially in the 905, because the timing is right for a lot of new development in the 905, and we’ve been marketing quite a bit in Markham, Oakville, Mississauga and Etobicoke.
Prices are getting more expensive in the city centre, and there’s more affordability in the 905.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Variety!! Variety is the spice of life. I love that there’s always something new to get excited about, it keeps me going. And it’s a very competitive market place, and I thrive on the competition. I love a good fight, it’s the Irish in me!
Tune in to Buzz Talk next week for more interviews with the hottest who’s who in Ontario land development.