Today we’re buzzing with GTA land development pro, Gary Bensky, the President of Wycliffe Homes.
Gary has over four decades of experience in the homebuilding industry and most of those were spent with Wycliffe. The company has developments spread across the GTA and even have a collection of homes on Georgian Bay. However, the project that Wycliffe is receiving a ton of attention for right now is Fairground Lofts in Old Woodbridge Village — a condo and townhome community in one of the most beautiful areas in Woodbridge.
Gary is adamant in his belief that not all young people want to live in a high-rise in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood. There are many opportunities to build projects in communities throughout the GTA that will attract young buyers. We also chat with him about his humble beginnings in the land development industry and how a lack of inventory is affecting mid-sized developers.
BuzzBuzzHome: Tell us about how you got started in the development business.
Gary Bensky: I went to the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. Development was always something I wanted to do. A professional builder was always an engineer or an architect and architecture suited the way my brain worked. The architecture school at Waterloo always had a work term, the same way lawyers go to do articling as part of their schooling. One year I went to work and thought “This is fabulous”. How did it turn fabulous? The architect I was working for asked me if I wanted to go out in the field. I renovated a church at the corner of Scollard and Hazelton in Yorkville. The date on the church was 1893. Yorkville was just starting to clean up at the time.
So I gave up university for $130 a week. I think I also got married that year and I remember thinking “What could be better?” That was 1971-ish. By 1975 I got a job at Wycliffe and it turned into a career. It was a good career and I was working with guys who had the same kind of passion that I fell right into. They did the good stuff a little better and did the best stuff when they had the opportunity to do so.
BBH: How have been sales going at Fairground Lofts?
GB: There was a good reception to this kind of lifestyle. With a few exceptions it’s local. It’s mostly singles, both young and old. There’s the occassional move-down empty nester. But for the most part it’s young singles. It’s also predominantly women who have been purchasing.
We’re not sold out but there are deals happening now that the summer is over.
BBH: What do you think is enticing young people to purchase in Woodbridge?
GB: Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but who doesn’t want to live near their family? We started a campaign called “Generation Wycliffe”. There are grandparents who bought Wycliffe homes and their children may have bought Wycliffe and their children’s children are just coming into the market now. They grew up in the 905. What’s happening is the grandparents are around the corner, the parents aren’t far away and for that reason, it’s working. There’s a lot to be said for not living on King or The Beaches when your whole family is around Islington, the old centre of Woodbridge.
BBH: Wycliffe has other communities spread across the GTA. Are they also experiencing an influx of young people interested in purchasing?
GB: The phenomena of the 905 high-rise starts to tell you that the parents aren’t moving to Bloor or University. That’s because it’s their community. It’s where they grew up. It’s what’s familiar to them. If the parents are staying and the kids known Thornhill or know Vaughan, that’s where they want to stay, they don’t want to go downtown. I think young people will say “I gotta get out of the house” but they won’t say “I gotta get out of the community.” You’re not going to replace the core, but the clubs are in Vaughan, the clubs are in Markham, and Richmond Hill has exciting restaurants. You might try King West for awhile but you’re not going to raise a family there.
BBH: Some say there’s a lack of inventory for medium sized builders like Wycliffe. Is this true?
GB: The marketplace has changed for the medium sized builders like us. The big guys are buying up a lot of the inventory. Now there’s a lack of inventory because the government put a green belt on. The green belt may have been flawed. The line wasn’t even a line that made any sense. Now everyone is jumping over the green belt and winding up in Bradford and Innisfil. We have holdings in Innisfil that we hope to be building on someday in the not too distant future. 905 is soon going to turn into 705 and we’ll be talking about that the next time we see you.
BBH: Did your children make you get a smartphone?
GB: I couldn’t live without a cell phone! What happens in my son Jared shows up and tells me that I can’t have a flip phone anymore. I need to have a Blackberry. I say “Are you crazy?” When they changed the red button and green button from the left to the right side of the phone, I don’t know what they were thinking. In November I’ll have had a Blackberry for two years. I’ve got the Blackberry Bold now and before I had the Torch.
Thanks for buzzing with us Gary!