Today we buzz with a real force of nature in the Toronto real estate scene. Eve Lewis is the founder of Urbanation and MarketVision, two companies that are integral to market research, analysis and strategy in Toronto’s burgeoning development industry.
She’s been in the business through three recessions, written a seminal thesis on condominiums and just worked on one of Toronto’s most successful projects ever, Massey Tower.
We’re glad Eve had some time to share her wisdom attained through years of experience with us. Read on…
BuzzBuzzHome: What drew you to the real estate marketing and land development industry?
Eve Lewis: I did an undergraduate at Queen’s in economics and geography and I got interested in city building. I ended up taking a few course in the graduate program in Queen’s and found it very fascinating. I ended up doing a Master’s at the University of Toronto in Urban Planning. I think maybe it’s living in the city, breathing the city. It was always a passion of mine.
BBH: Do you think the Master’s degree in planning helped you get where you are today?
EL: The program in and of itself was very interesting at the time. You could take a lot of your courses outside of it. I ended up doing four or five legal courses and I took some courses through the business school. I did my thesis on condominiums. That was in 1981 and it got published by the university. It was probably the stepping stone to starting Urbanation. Was it incredibly important to my future? Yes, because I created a business out of it. But I think I was the only person that graduated who went into the private sector. If I had not done my thesis on condominiums it probably would not have been so fruitful. I kind of put my finger on a niche that was underdeveloped at the time and I guess the rest is history.
BBH: How does it feel to see Urbanation enter its fourth decade?
EL: Urbanation represents how I do business. It represents how I think you need research and analysis and you have to be continually on top of the market trends. There’s no better vehicle for those in the industry — whether they’re bankers or developers or marketing companies — to keep a pulse on it and having access to the information that Urbanation provides. I take it as a base to all the other companies I own and the other businesses that I do.
BBH: You’re definitely a condo expert then.
EL: I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been through 3 recessions. I started my first recession when I graduated from university which was a short one but a pretty severe one in 1981. The next recession probably started in the Spring of 1988 and that was a long hard one because it lasted for so long. I started MarketVision in 1993 and that was still in the recession. It’s been uphill since then except for that small one we had in 2008.
BBH: How do you feel about the “condo craze” in Toronto?
EL: What has been said in the media recently has also been said in the last 3 years, there’s just a higher frequency to what is being said at this point. I don’t believe there’s any question that there’s an oversupply potential in the market place. However, I don’t believe it will be anything like the hard crash we had in 1988. I don’t believe we had the economic fundamentals that make the current Toronto housing market strong in 1988. Certainly when I saw the numbers — in terms of the high absorptions last year for Urbanation and the fact that we were increasing the inventory that was on the market — I believed six months ago that we’d be softening. But I also believe that we’re softening to normal. This is not softening to a recession.
BBH: What was the landscape like in Toronto when you started MarketVision? Do you feel like you’ve played a role in shaping it since then in the way projects are marketed?
EL: In 1993 we were still in the recession. For most of the projects we did at that time, we were either working for banks or working for developers who had picked up bankrupt projects. You had to be very creative. You had to create something for a market that had really been on ice for about three or four years. I think it’s a great training ground to be in the market when it’s really tough. A lot of the people in the business today have never been in a down market and they’re not going to know what to expect when that comes.
MarketVision also has a philosophy of not doing as many projects as other companies like ours do because we believe to do the best job for a client you need to give 120 per cent. I’m very fortunate to have Jennifer Bowman and Man Ling Lau working for me. They’ve worked for developers in the past and understand what it takes to get a project to be successful, not only in terms of sales success but in terms of profitability.
BBH: You recently worked on Massey Tower. Can tell us more about that project?
EL: It’s one of Toronto’s most successful projects ever. It represents all my loves. It has a historical building that’s going to be restored which my other company, Woodcliffe, is involved in. It brought a very human, interesting factor to what in the end is a beautiful 60 storey building, but if you look at all the components of it — across from the Eaton Centre, historic building, beautiful tower, unsurpassed views of downtown Toronto — it had an attraction that very few projects have. I think because of our hands on relationship with brokers and people who work in the industry, everyone has really embraced it. The developer [MOD Developments] also has a great reputation.
BBH: What are the golden rules of real estate marketing that every company should follow?
EL: If you have a synergy between the architect, the interior designer, the advertising company, and if you have a developer who’s willing to think outside the box, I think you can build something special. If you build something unique and you’re addressing your target market, you can be successful. Let me put it this way: your success can be greater than anyone’s who doesn’t have that golden rule.
You also have to do a lot of research and analysis. To find out what your target market is, you have to analyze the existing resale market, the projects that are currently on the market, what people are paying in rent and what will attract people to the project. It’s just really carefully crafting something that will be spectacular.
BBH: What’s on the horizon for Woodcliffe?
EL: Woodcliffe is a company that I inherited from my husband that died a year ago. We worked in the same office for the last 18 years so I knew a lot more about the company than I thought I did. My husband, Paul Oberman, had left a legacy of beautiful historic buildings that he had carefully restored and renovated and in large part added a modern component to it. He also had a way of dealing with his tenants and looking after his buildings that I think is second to none in the city.
Paul had assembled 3 historic buildings and built a modern building on Market Street across from the St. Lawrence Market. We’re just completing that. We finished the first privately initiated sidewalk widening so now the street will be closed at some points and we’ll have terraces for all of the restaurants that were leasing in the market place. There are also our development sites at Summerhill that we’re starting the planning process to get them re-zoned.
BBH: We hear you’ve lived in Toronto all your life. Why do love Toronto so much?
EL: I’ve traveled a lot and you bring back a lot of what you learn in other cities. There are other more beautiful cities because they have heritage components that go back a thousand years. You have cities that have better access or transportation. Maybe even some that have better restaurants. But I don’t think that there’s any place in the whole world that has a culturally diverse community that we have here. It’s so amazingly vibrant, interesting and collaborative.
I think condominiums have represented a huge influence in making downtown Toronto interesting. I lived downtown 25 years ago and I don’t think any of my friends lived downtown. Now, everybody I know and their children are living downtown and walking to work. Nobody even has cars and they’re out to interesting restaurants all the time. I don’t think there’s anywhere better than Toronto.
Thanks for buzzing with us Eve!