For all the experts on the Toronto condo market, few real estate insiders can boast being in the business for decades. But Hunter Milborne, CEO of Milborne Real Estate Inc. has specialized in the suite life since the boom – the 1970s condo boom, that is.
We chatted with the “Dean of Condos” about what the city’s first units were like, the infamous Hunter billboard and why we should look to New York City for price predictions.
BuzzBuzzHome: Do you want to start from the beginning and fill me in on how you got your start in the real estate business?
Hunter Milborne: We were lucky enough to decide to specialize in marketing and selling condominium developments in the mid-1970s in the GTA, when there were pretty only much four condos – Harbour Square and Hazelton Lanes which were two of ours and then Palace Pier and 150 Heath.
Harbour Square and Palace Pier were both about $60 a square foot, on average, and the expensive ones were about $100 a square foot on average. That’s surprising for young people to hear today but that’s what happens to prices in a generation.
If you think today about the top-tier market, if you think of the suites at Yonge and Bloor, you’re looking at $1,500 a square feet. Some sales are even over $2,000.
BBH: What were the condo suites like back then?
HB: They were a lot bigger, but the finishes weren’t nearly as nice. They were more like rental building finishes.
BBH: We actually just put together a timeline of the condo’s history in Canada. It was really interesting to look at old ads too. In Toronto, what did people think of the condos as they were first coming onto the market?
HB: People forget that condo legislation was enacted in British Columbia in 1966 and in Ontario in 1967. So for the first ten years, it was still kind of in its infancy. It wasn’t until the mid-70s that it kind of took off.
But there was still apprehension. People said, ‘How can you buy this little piece of the sky? How can you own it without the land? Who’s ever going to buy it from me?’ There were a lot of questions that you don’t even think about today. There was a lot of skepticism because it was a relatively new concept then. However, now it’s definitely mainstream with thousands of resales and new sales every year.
BBH: I heard you lived in a condo with your family in the 1980s. Do you think families are warming up to condo living now?
HM: Not as much. I think they have in a city like New York, in Manhattan, where there are lots and lots of people who live in apartments. But I think here there’s still a desire for people with kids to have ground-oriented housing like a house or a townhouse. in Toronto. It’s going to change slowly, I think, but for now, it’s still mainly single-guy, single-gal, young couple, empty-nesters and investors buying. Those are your main purchaser groups.
BBH: What are some trends in condos you’ve noticed over the last few years?
HM: I think in about 2007, 2008, you started to see the emergence of these super luxury brands like the Shangri La, the Ritz, the Four Seasons. In about the last six or so years, there weren’t a lot of homes sold for a $1,000 a square foot or in the millions. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon.
I think the Four Seasons really broke the mould, being a big community with two hundred suites and basically everything sold for about $1,000 a square foot.
BBH: A lot of your projects are in the downtown core. Why focus specifically on central Toronto?
HM: There seems to be the biggest demand for condos in the downtown, near the subway or on the waterfront. But you know, we have a lot of projects coming up in North York or along the Yonge Street subway line. If your project is subway-related, then that’s what the main purchasers are looking for.
BBH: I have to ask about the infamous“This Hunter eats lambs” billboard. Do you want to tell me a bit about what inspired that?
HM: That was something I knew nothing about! It’s actually a funny story. It was done by an advertising guy and one of my senior people who got together one day and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we did this?’
The billboard actually never existed. What they did was, they took a digital photo of Brad Lamb’s billboard and photoshopped it. Then they emailed it to one of the developers that was a client of Brad’s and one of ours at the time. Because it looked like a picture, he emailed it to Brad and said, ‘Look what Millborne did.’ He phoned our office and was quite unhappy – let’s put it that way. It wasn’t an actual billboard, but it’s an urban myth that we like to perpetuate (laughs).
BBH: Do you have any predictions for the future of Toronto’s condo market?
HM: Well, one of things we’ve always studied is the New York market. We follow the New York market by about 18 to 20 years, price-wise.
My opinion is, if you want to get an insight into what prices will be like here in 18 to 20 years, just go online and see what condo prices are like in Manhattan. It sounds crazy that some of them are going for $1,800 a square foot or $1,200 a square foot, but it would also sound crazy in the 1970s, when people were questioning whether this concept would even work. The average condo is around $600 a square foot and the expensive ones are as high as $2,000. That’s more than ten times what they were averaging at the time.
It’s partly because of supply and demand and partly because of a built-in inflation in the system. But there’s a saying, “You can’t out-save real estate.” I think a lot of people realize they’re better off owning than renting, so they strive to become a homeowner.
Thanks for buzzing with us Hunter!