The real estate landscape in Montreal is clearly evolving fast with development projects moving into new territories all over town. To get a better sense of the market and flurry of new condo launches, we decided to talk to Debbie LaFave, Senior Vice President of Immobilier Baker, the French branch of Baker Real Estate which launched in 2011. Debbie started her real estate career in the Quebec’s ski country in the 1990s and has been at it ever since.
We chatted with the Montrealer about neighbourhoods to watch, the investor and end user breakdown of the city and how developers are creating entire new communities.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you first get involved in real estate?
Debbie LaFave: Back in 1994, I was living with my husband in the Laurentians here in Quebec. We had the good fortune of joining Intrawest then and my husband and I have never looked back. The two of us ended up being at Intrawest for about 17 years.
There was actually a development school at Intrawest. It was part of your career track. Everybody had to go to development school and it was amazing. That development school for me was really the foundation I built my career on.
Intrawest was sold and after that I ended up moving to Toronto and have been in condo sales ever since, working for leading companies like Sotheby’s in their project division and now Immobilier Baker in Montreal.
BBH: Was real estate something you were always interested in?
DL: People had always told me, in my late teens and as a young adult, you’ll always be in sales. It was kind of accidental when I joined Intrawest because as a skier I was attracted to the resort-side of the business. But once I had sold condos for 17 years, real estate had truly become my passion.
Our business was very much about launching projects and selling them out. That’s the really exciting part for me – launching projects. Even though I am an agent, I’ve never actually sold one residential home. My side has always been on the project side, marketing and bringing projects to life, giving them an identity and really working with the development team.
BBH: Montreal has a reputation of being a renters’ city. What’s it like working there and trying to get past that?
DL: That’s all changing now very much and that’s why Baker has come to Montreal. Compared to some of the other big cities, it does have a reputation of being a renters’ city because historically there’s been very little new condo development. But it’s booming now and we’re excited that a lot of the renters finally have new opportunities to buy condos in lots of different price ranges.
But just like in Toronto, a lot of the condo-buyers are landlords who expect to rent them out and they need a built-in market. The investors love the fact that there’s a population here that will never buy and wants to keep renting. It’s giving great opportunities for people who want to buy as an investment in Montreal.
BBH: Do you find it’s mostly investors looking to buy condos?
DL: No, we really have much more of a balanced market compared to our Toronto projects. We don’t hit the same investor percentages – not even close. It also really depends on the project. Some don’t appeal to investors at all, but appeal to a very particular end-user and a very niche market.
So some of our projects have zero investors. The big towers that we’ve done downtown appeal to investors and end-users. Our statistics are about 50/50 in the towers. But in Toronto, that same tower would likely be 80 per cent investor. We still have a healthy end user market.
We have a lot of empty nesters going into our luxury suites. Five, ten years ago, if you had money, the Montreal dream was to go out into the suburbs and own a house. But those people’s kids are all grown up and they’re now looking for a new space.
Plus the city is more vibrant than ever. It’s on fire with new restaurants and the arts scene is amazing. I left Montreal in 2000 and the contrast between then and now is like night and day. It was very depressed when I left and there wasn’t a whole lot of development of anything. People would come to the city to work and then go back to the suburbs. There was that huge exodus at the end of the day. But now the city is just alive and there’s new stuff popping up all the time, everywhere.
Areas like Old Montreal, the real estate is really attractive. Years ago, you’d never think of living here.
BBH: What condos are the end users and empty nesters choosing?
DL: Le Victoire really appeals to empty nesters, people 50 and 60 years old with an eye to retirement. This is where they want to be. It’s a boutique building in the heart of the financial district on the border of Old Montreal.
It appeals to the young, urban workers as well. It’s a very exclusive, boutique building so you’d get to know your neighbours.
BBH: What are some of the neighbourhoods to watch in Montreal?
DL: The Lachine Canal neighbourhood, where Myst Condos is, is a very hot neighbourhood. That’s fairly new. If you go back just five years, it was almost unheard of. The real draw there is the Atwater Market.
People love to go there on a Sunday and hang out and eat and shop. Developers saw that it was a really cool part of town with the special feature of the water. Projects like Myst have some of the best views of Montreal because you’re looking north to the city and the mountain across the canal. Plus it takes two seconds to get into the city for work. There’s kayaking on the canal plus a cycling path right beside it. It’s a peaceful little oasis in the city.
The other neighbourhood to watch is the Bell Centre area. There’s a whole scene going on down there for the hockey fanatics. The Bell Centre is the also the heart of downtown. You can’t be more central than that. A lot of people are walking distance to work and the train and Metro stations. So projects like L’Avenue Condos have been doing extremely well.
There are a lot of other condos going up around there and they’re all doing well – much to everyone’s surprise, but not to mine! We’re creating a whole new neighbourhood. We just announced that we’ll have a Provigo grocery store in L’Avenue and that’s huge for that area. Right now there’s not a grocery store in sight. It’s not really residential, but it’s all coming.
By the time all these condos are occupied in 2016, we’ll have a brand new neighbourhood that never existed. Every condo has some commercial component so you’ll have all these new residents and the shops and restaurants will also improve in the area.
BBH: We’ve also heard that the city’s downtown office market is booming. How does that affect the condo market?
DL: It has a huge positive impact on the downtown condo market. As more and more businesses expand downtown, there are more workers employed in the core.
The one thing that’s a bit of a downer in Montreal is that the infrastructure has never really kept up. We all know our roads and bridges are not really adequate. That really makes living and working downtown all the more appealing!
Thanks for buzzing with us Debbie!