We talk modernist architecture, get an agent’s perspective on whether Toronto’s market is oversupplied and finally get a straight answer on the existence of the secret real estate sales rep club.
BuzzBuzzHome: When did you decide to hop into the real estate world?
Paul Johnston: I got licensed in real estate just a little over six years ago, after doing all sorts of careers I loved. I’ve been doing it full time for six years now.
BBH: Why did you end up choosing the career in real estate?
PJ: I’ve always been involved in industries and jobs that had some kind of cultural significance. I’ve always had a fascination with the urban lifestyle. When I looked at real estate, the opportunities that existed to become involved with the developments and the exposure and promotion of unique urban homes in Toronto, I recognized that it was a great opportunity for me in something I cared quite deeply about both aesthetically and culturally.
BBH: We’ve heard that you’re big on box houses. How do these houses fit into Toronto in an aesthetic sense?
PJ: I think that what I’ve become known for is contemporary modern housing. A lot of that certainly are volumes that are much more rigid and lack a lot of the flourishes that so many Victorians and Georgians in the city have. To put that simplistically as possible, I’m deeply committed to the architecture of our time.
I’m committed to promoting and being involved with people who want to bring to market homes that represent the modernist aesthetics of the last 50-60 years, but also with some of the signature design elements of our generation. A lot of those homes are decidedly modern, they privilege a lot of natural light by virtue of over-scaled windows. They tend to have flat roofs, but that’s not an absolute necessity for modernist homes. They tend to reflect exactly what architecture internationally is doing in the world.
PJ: Abacus is a terrific example of the possibilities of modern infill. Richard Witt (of RAW Design) has crafted a building that is iconic. It’s a modestly scaled building of only 39 units that’s been injected — and I use that word quite specifically — into a vibrant and exciting existing community. I think what Richard has done is he’s identified a site where the architecture can really stand out.
The articulation of the front of that building, the way it pivots from the easterly edge, is really quite a remarkable visual component. This is the type of building that I know will become known to anyone who’s downtown and sensitive to modern architecture.
We’re bringing new residences into an area that already has the infrastructure — the bakeries, the restaurants, the bars. We’re not creating the neighbourhood around a building, we’re putting a building into an existing neighbourhood and I think that’s really existing.
BBH: What are the classic characteristics of a poorly planned infill project?
PJ: At the end of the day, the people who are passionately committed to urban infill and people who are trying to further ignite interest in existing neighbourhoods. More often than not, it fails when one of two things happens.
The developer either fails to recognize what really engages the buyer and what creates a really liveable home environment or they try and create a pastiche version of the neighbourhood. They’ll create homes that emulate the prevailing architecture of the area but those types of infill projects that are “Disney-esque” and harken back to times gone by more often than not fail.
We cannot build a new Victorian home any more than we can build a new French chateau. It’s just an illogical thing to pursue. That’s where developers often get it wrong.
PJ: From the word go, I’ve been really invested in promoting Trinity Bellwoods as a neighbourhood and I think I helped bring it to the forefront by having some really terrific listings in the neighbourhood. The park itself has changed so much in the last 5 or 6 years and the area has changed so much in the last 5 or 6 years as a result of some really intelligent city building.
Edition Richmond is a remarkable development because it’s providing modern family-sized spaces in close proximity to the park on an extremely quiet street. So yes, these are homes that, for some people, will be seen as transitional perhaps between a conventional high-rise or mid-rise condo or eventually the purchase of a single family dwelling. Or for people who want a really striking 3 bedroom, 2000+ square foot home with all the conveniences of not having to shovel snow and not having to worry about day-to-day maintenance.
BBH: There’s plenty of experts who say that Toronto’s housing market is oversupplied or will be soon. Where do you stand on this?
PJ: I think it’s important to point out that I sell real homes to real people. My entire career has been about providing opportunities for people to live in engaging and exciting spaces in the city. As a result, a lot of the speculative froth and a lot of the industry that has been developed that has really very little to do with people actually living in spaces but rather purely investment money finding a place to sit isn’t stuff I have anything to do with.
What I see is a city centre that never suffered the internal gutting that many of the cities in the US suffered and as a result we’ve maintained these really eclectic, exciting neighbourhoods where people really want to live. There’s only a limited supply of land and there’s only a limited supply of neighbourhoods in the city. Anyone today who decides to purchase a smaller scale home in an existing and engaging neighbourhood in the city is making a really wise lifestyle decision.
BBH: Is there a secret real estate sales rep club where you guys get together and talk shop?
PJ: We don’t meet in the back of any pizza shops late Sunday nights to set prices. I can’t say that there’s an insiders’ club. It’s a fascinating business to be in though. At the highest moments, we get to celebrate with our buyers when they find a terrific new home and at other moments it’s the day-to-day grind of helping to develop some hopefully engaging communities.
It’s also a business that’s filled with almost-mercenaries. In this business, some agents are very protective of their own interests and their brand and reputation. That’s something I take outrageously seriously. I recognize that the type of trust you place in a real estate agent is quite special. You’re engaging someone to perform a service where you have to be comfortable that the buyer’s best interest is also that of the agent. I think that’s the cornerstone of what we do.
BBH: What’s the perfect real estate agent fuel? Coffee? Diet Coke?
PJ: Optimism! Sure everyone likes coffee, but let’s face it, we are going through something in Toronto that’s virtually unprecedented here and unreplicated in the rest of the world. It’s a development boom that’s lasted for quite awhile. It does encompass a great deal of people investing for the sake of investing, but one of the other aspects of the business is that it’s creating some great opportunities for people to live in some great places in the city.
Being involved in this isn’t just an honour, it’s a fuel. It gets me out of bed in the morning after working late nights because it’s bloody interesting to watch.
Thanks for buzzing with us Paul!