There are few people who can claim they began their career at the age of 13. That’s when Ralph Fox, now a broker for Sotheby’s International Realty, started a business selling golf balls. Years later, once he graduated from university, Fox launched a manufacturing company out of the trunk of his car, eventually selling to retailers across North America. It wasn’t until Fox started investing in real estate that he was drawn to the industry, and seven years ago he decided to become an agent.
Fox is now heavily involved with the Harmony Village projects located in Toronto (Harmony Village Sheppard) and Barrie (Harmony Village Lake Simcoe), which caters to the baby boomer generation. We caught up with him about the development’s facilities, the growing need for senior long-term care and his favourite haunts in the city (he is an expert, after all!)
BuzzBuzzHome: Can you start off by telling us about your background, and how you got involved in real estate?
Ralph Fox: I started out as an investor. When I originally got my license, it was with the intention to do my own transactions and maybe move into development. Overtime, I found that there was a true need for professionals who could provide solid, hands-on advice. From the day I got my license, people just started coming to me for guidance, and they haven’t stopped seven years later.
BBH: How did you end up working as a broker for Sotheby’s?
RF: I moved to Sotheby’s because I saw that it offered something special. While Sotheby’s has been in Canada for a relatively short period of time, it has significant global presence and brings a unique offering to the marketplace.
The brokerages, brand recognition, marketing, international reach and professionalism take things to a whole other level, to which the market is clearly responding. Outside of the US, Canada is Sotheby’s fastest growing market.
BBH: What would you say is most rewarding about your job?
RF: I have always been highly entrepreneurial and I like helping people. Being a broker affords me the ability to do both. There’s a great quote by Zig Ziglar that says, “you can have everything you want in life by just helping others get what they want.” As a broker, in a market like Toronto, there is so much opportunity to affect people positively. If you do that, everything else just flows and business takes care of itself.
BBH: In saying that, I read that you believe success lies in long-term thinking. Can you expand on that?
RF: When I speak of success, I think of every facet of life not just business and dollars. I believe that everything in life is integrated. It’s very interesting, I read a study by a Doctor Banfield, who was a Harvard sociologist, and he looked at the elements that make people successful in life over a ten-year span. The one commonality he found was the ability to think long term.
One real-estate example, is the Canary District which was just a pile of rubble a few years ago — and now, buildings are going up, green space is being developed and public transit is in play. It is well on its way of becoming a brand new community that will be the focus of the world during the 2015 Pan Am games. To some people it’s very hard to understand — but it’s the ability to see in your mind what things could look like five years from now. Having this vision gives you an edge. It allows you to see opportunities that others do not.
BBH: You are also involved with Harmony Village Sheppard. What is it about the project that stands out to you?
RF: I got involved in this project because of an experience I went through with my grandmother. I was her primary caregiver, and it got to a point where she was going to have to move out of her home. We started looking at what was out there, and what we found was long wait lists, expensive accommodation and places that were not very nice or welcoming — certainly, not the kind of places where you would want your grandmother to live.
Harmony Village appeals to the Boomer generation who wants to downsize their home and upgrade their lifestyle. In Ontario, there are two million people over the age of sixty-five and by 2036, this is going to double to four million. Right now you’re looking at a huge demographic bump of baby boomers that will significantly impact residential options around 2021. It’s not that far off.
In terms of Harmony Village itself, there have been a lot of polls that look at what seniors want. The message has been clear. Seniors want to live in an urban-village type community. They want more than what is truly being offered. Harmony Village is the exact opposite of everything we imagine baby boomer and senior’s living to be.
BBH: What are the specifics of the project, and why is it important to Toronto’s real estate sector?
The first Harmony Village is set to launch at Sheppard and Warden in Scarborough, with other sites planned across Ontario. Thanks to a partnership with St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, Harmony Village Sheppard will offer more than 100 programs, either funded or partially subsidized by the government, many of which will be open to the community.
Harmony Village is not your traditional life lease type of condo. It’s actually a condo that you can build and hold equity and sell at any time just like a traditional condominium suite. It affords people the ability to age in place but still have everything else they need. So if you’re sixty-five and with no health concerns, and you don’t need any of the resources available, that’s fine. But, if all of a sudden you require a nurse to knock on your door at eight in the morning with medications or you want to visit health services on the third floor — it would be available to you. Residents of Harmony Village will have a menu of service options that caters to you within a boutique condo environment.
Not only is Harmony Village a great place to live, it’s a great opportunity as an investment. With prices starting in the mid $200,000s, the price per square foot is significantly lower than a condo in downtown Toronto, and the achievable rents and potential appreciation will be higher and more significant. Investment aside, Harmony Village will be a phenomenal opportunity for an end user who is looking to downsize and find a residential community catered to their future wants and needs. Something like this just hasn’t existed in the marketplace until now. It’s a fantastic concept and project.
BBH: There was recently a comprehensive study released by the United Nations, stating that the world isn’t ready for the aging population, since baby boomers are now entering retirement.
RF: Yeah, the resources and options especially in the residential real estate market just aren’t out there right now for this type of demographic. Harmony Village is the long-term solution to meet this growing need.
BBH: Harmony Village also seems to be centred around green living and leading an eco-friendly lifestyle. Is this something a lot of your clients seek in a home, more so now than in the past?
RF: You can’t go anywhere without hearing the word green or sustainability. It is generally more of a younger generational thing, but now you’re starting to see it with the baby boomers. From an economic standpoint, prices of energy will continue to rise over decades to come, so everything at Harmony Village will be more cost effective due to geothermal heating. In addition, overall health and well-being will be positively affected as the materials, finishes and building practices are in line with Gold Leed certification. Not many existing retirement communities can claim to be Gold Leed Certified. It is one of many the things that makes Harmony Village so unique.
BBH: City Core Developments other Harmony Village project is in Barrie. How are the two different from one another?
RF: Well, obviously there’s location. I think the most significant thing about Barrie is that it’s actually going to be located right on Lake Simcoe steps away from downtown. The initial renderings are stunning, and it will be a vibrant mixed-use community.
Harmony Village Sheppard is in Scarborough, right on the new proposed LRT line. Its first phase is 273 units with approximately 600 more units to follow in future phases. There are a lot of upward trends going on at Sheppard and Warden. The response from the communities on both projects is overwhelming with a lot of consumers registering for both projects.
BBH: Since you started working in the industry seven years ago, has there been a change or trend in the market that has surprised you most?
RF: Since I’ve been involved, the market has for the most part been incredibly strong and resilient. That’s directly attributed to the fact that the GTA market fundamentals have been and continue to remain rock solid. Strong immigration, tight land supply due to the Greenbelt and a near zero percent rental vacancy rate in the core have lead to a “perfect storm” of sorts. Thinking long term, expect these trends to all continue. As a result, the Toronto real estate market will afford for some amazing opportunities for years to come. I feel very blessed to be working in this business right now. I think we are in the midst of the Golden Age of Toronto. This is Toronto’s great time, much like Chicago and New York at the turn of the 20th century.
BBH: What are your favourite spots or neighbourhoods in the city?
RF: My offices are in the East, and I love the communities in the area such as Leslieville, Corktown and the Furniture District. I also think the Distillery District is amazing. There are also some amazing and diverse pockets in the West End. I think Little Italy and the whole College Street vibe is fantastic, Kensington Market is also a great spot.
My favourite restaurant is Campagnolo on Dundas West. In my opinion, it’s the best Italian restaurant in the city and you just might happen to see me there on any given Saturday night.
Thanks for buzzing with us, Ralph!