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It’s all about people – Mitchell Goldhar: The Giver

I’m building this unique luxury tent and cave resort concept in the Caribbean, and as most of my friends and family will attest, I live, breath, and sleep it.  My days are spent inspiring people. One day it’s our engineer who is designing the hydraulic system that will support our tents (and fold them up in case of hurricane), and on another it is our architect who has to figure out a design that will keep our cave units dry and bright.  And almost every day I work to inspire investors to believe in me and my concept of a luxury cultural “safari”, where affluent guests can stay in a peaceful natural setting, yet still access golf, fine dining, shopping, movie theatres, and all the urban amenities they love.  

I’ve never had to search for investors before. In the past, I’ve relied on bank loans and my own funds to build my businesses. So when I started out, I made some mistakes. I learned from them and carried on.  

One of my first investment pitches was to Mitchell Goldhar.  His background can be intimidating.  At the age of 28, Walmart recruited him to secure locations for their warehouse club division in Canada. He believed that expensive landlords were driving up the cost of goods and he was determined to bring fair prices to Canadians by building facilities with lower rents. But, Walmart changed their strategy and decided to go to Mexico instead. Goldhar, like most passionate entrepreneurs, refused to give up. He continued for almost a year, bringing together more properties and leaving voice messages for his Walmart contact – messages that didn’t get returned. Sure enough, almost a year later, Walmart finally called him back to say they had reconsidered.  Goldhar became their development partner and led conversion of 122 Woolco locations into Walmarts.

Through his company, Smart Centres, he has developed more than 200 shopping centres across the country. His enterprise was founded on his desire to give back to the world by creating conditions that help the average family get better prices on the goods they purchase.  He understands the power spaces  have to shape habits and actions. He’s a community builder. Needless to say, I was very nervous going into my meeting with him.

But, Mitch came into the room in jeans and a t-shirt, he put his phone on the table face down and asked me about my background, my history, my family. He put me at ease. In hindsight, I wonder if he could tell how nervous I was and wanted to help me find my footing before giving my pitch.

Over the years, I’ve begun identifying people, putting them into two different categories. I call them the “takers” and the “givers.”  The takers are people who are driven by status and shackled by fear.  They build walls around themselves pretending to know everything, but their lack of real engagement in the world shelters them from the mistakes and harsh realities that build wisdom. They tend to undermine anyone with a strong spirit, anyone who might challenge or question them.  They are easy to identify – they avoid direct, intimate conversation, and in meetings they check their cell phones every five minutes to avoid real engagement. They take from those around them, and waste their opportunity to significantly contribute to the world. I try to avoid these people as much as I can.

Then, there are the “Givers.” These are people who are driven to do things that will make the world better. Mitchell Goldhar is a giver – he believes in people and isn’t afraid to show it. Mitch understands how just a little bit of encouragement can go a long way. His encouragement and interest in my concept is something I hold on to whenever I come up against negativity.

Mitch is a true leader, but he is also very humble. He doesn’t place himself above those pitching to him, but listens intently and thoroughly.  This is perhaps the key to his success.  He heard everything I said in my pitch, and the questions he asked filled in the information I hadn’t yet given him. His ability to understand and intuitively pick up on my vision was startling.  

Givers draw strength and confidence from their actions and interactions. They have courage and engage with the world. They make mistakes and learn from them, and this produces confidence. Mitch exudes confidence, he is wise, but not too wise.

My father used to say that courage is about facing life and all its adversity with honour. And being honourable is about living up to a moral code that protects and enhances civil society.  Mitchell Goldhar has a lot of courage, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the very near future.

Inflated Toronto housing market prevents buyers from going green

High housing prices in Toronto are affecting homebuyer’s pockets and effectively preventing them from investing money in building sustainably instead.

The real estate market has skyrocketed, with expensive homes and low availability for people looking to buy. A detached single-family home in the GTA costing between $2 million and $4 million rose 77 per cent compared to 2015. Single detached homes in the GTA between $1 million and $2 million rose 64 per cent compared to the prior year. Homes have become unaffordable and are causing homebuyers to pool all of their available funds into buying a house at an extremely inflated price.

When homebuyers use every penny to invest in their home and begin paying their mortgage, much needed sustainable building practices such as solar panels or geothermal energy are cast by the wayside. Homebuyers often view sustainable practices as expensive and not worthy in the long-term. Though sustainable energy can be expensive initially, the long term investment is actually less expensive. However, many people aren’t even considering green energy investment because of current astronomical costs of housing.

Solutions are being discussed though to remedy the inflated real estate market and assuage the housing issues at hand. The federal government is discussing a speculative tax targeted at foreign investors. Many properties in Toronto and Vancouver — the two Canadian housing markets that have increased — are owned by absentee owners. The Canadian government has made it fairly easy for foreign investors to purchase property without paying taxes as a local citizen and it has helped inflate the market significantly.

One idea that has been presented to help Vancouver’s housing market is the B.C Housing Affordability fund. House owners would be charged a 1.5 per cent property surcharge on residential real estate, which would amount to $15,000 on a $1 million property. If the homeowner paid over $15,000 in income taxes though, they would be exempt from the surcharge.

Another issue that is driving housing prices upwards is a loophole in the real estate board that allows investors to flip properties without being taxed, which drives up the property value at a fast rate without repercussions. In Vancouver, the provincial government has promised to intervene in the real estate board to ensure they are following fair practices, but Toronto has not moved forward with any commitments of their own.

The federal government is also discussing forcibly cooling the housing market by increasing the mandatory down payment for houses under $1 million to 10 per cent. This would dissuade most first-time buyers from purchasing a house and decrease competition in the Toronto and Vancouver markets. At the same time, measures need to be taken to ensure that the rental market doesn’t accidentally drive prices up. There is also a fear that cooling the market would harm Calgary and Montreal’s housing markets, which aren’t doing as well as Toronto and Vancouver.

Preventing first-time buyers from purchasing homes to cool the market has been criticized as an unfair practice, and another option might be more profitable for everyone. Creating affordable housing in key areas would allow first-time buyers to purchase homes and wouldn’t continue to increase current house prices. Calgary launched a program called “Attainable Homes” that allowed buyers to purchase a home for $2000 as long as they could manage the mortgage. These homeowners were required to take financial training to properly understand the market and to pay the organization a certain amount of the property value increase when they sold the house. People are also prevented from flipping their house because if they try to sell too quickly, they would owe “Attainable Homes” a higher percentage of their property value increase.

The housing market has been a popular topic of conversation at the dinner table and the chosen solutions don’t seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how government intervention will cool the market, and if affordable housing becomes a priority. No matter what, cheaper housing prices will allow people to focus on sustainable building practices and invest in the future of green living.