July 13, 2011
This week we welcome real estate industry vet Mark Cohen to the BuzzTalk hive. Mark is the Senior Vice President and a founding partner of the Condo Store Marketing Systems.
For the uninitiated, the Condo Store was established to capitalize on the rapidly growing and versatile Canadian marketplace for in-house sales and marketing of pre-construction condos. A leader in marketing condos, the Condo Store provides services and offers expertise for first time home buyers and experienced real estate investors.
Mark possesses insight that one can only attain through decades of experience, so check out what he has to say about the Toronto condo market, investment and more.
BuzzBuzzHome: You’ve been involved in real estate for many years. What did you do prior to the founding of the Condo Store?
Mark Cohen: I spent 25 years as a senior marketing executive with four different companies. I started with Bramalea Limited and spent twelve years there. I started on the floor in sales and my evolution there allowed me to learn management and focus on some things that I had a passion for — design, architecture, marketing.
I think I was a natural salesman. I spent my first few years interning so I could evolve into management. I worked my way through marketing and sales and I eventually was responsible for sales and marketing there both locally and internationally. I was able to open up and get involved in sales initiatives overseas. Bramalea is a big company with a small company mentality, we had opportunities to be entrepreneurs, to work and to learn.
I spent five years at Menkes Development. It was a private company versus the public company I was at previously. They’re very involved in condominiums on both Yonge Street and Bathurst, so I was involved in the presale of a number of projects. I was also involved in bringing them back into the low-rise business.
Then I got the call from Concord Adex to be their founding VP of Sales and Marketing of Cityplace. It was the largest master planned community in the city’s history, so I thought it was a great opportunity. I really was working with the masters of the business.
So I spent a very successful five years there. I then made my last move as an employee and went to Tribute Communities, probably the second largest home builder in Canada. I wanted to exercise my brain and learn the fundamentals of low rise design and marketing. I also brought Tribute into the high rise world.
So I spent 25 years assessing products and fundamentally designing and marketing and selling products for four of the best builders who were behind some of the most integral communities in the city. I think it gave me a great education. It’s sort of like university. When you’re working there, you’re not sure what you’re doing and you’re scrambling to get things done. But years later, it all kind of sinks in and helps you go forward.
BBH: If you had to describe the Condo Store to someone who is unfamiliar with the company, how would you sum up the purpose and goals of the company in a few sentences?
MC: I think we’re a young, forward thinking, energetic firm, based on strong values of integrity and hard work. I think we’re not afraid to stick our neck out and think outside of the box, while still respecting the box. We size up projects very carefully, we pay close attention to research and we pay close attention to what’s happened. I think we try to focus more on what we think is going to happen and what we think we can make happen as opposed to what has happened in the past. We’re always thinking of ways to over-deliver and underpromise. We’re a sales and marketing firm that works on the assessments, design, marketing and outright sales of developments in and outside of the city.
BBH: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the condo market in the last five years?
MC: I think condos have clearly been accepted by the public as a home of choice. If I looked back twenty years, condos were for people who couldn’t afford homes and they represented a smaller portion of the new home market. Now more and more people are accepting condos as a viable alternative and a first choice. I think that people are putting more value on their time and they understand the concept of writing a cheque every month for maintenance fees. I think amenities both in the condominium and in the surrounding area are representing a larger portion of how people allocate their time. It’s really come of age as a viable alternative within all spectrums of the market.
BBH: Do you think investing in a condo makes sense in this market?
MC: I think investing in a condo, if you do your homework, always makes sense. Over 25 years I’ve been reading articles and hearing from people who think the city is overbuilt, who think that there are too many condos and dark clouds are always hovering. I think that if I look at everything I was involved in preselling over the last 25 years, most of the time it isn’t supported by values in that neighbourhood. It counts on an uplift in real estate values for it to make sense. Having said that, everything seems to make sense. Condos that are purchased before they’re built traditionally continue to increase in value.
Yet there remains a strong appetite for people to buy only what they can see. And they’re prepared to pay premiums for those products. I think, also, if you look at land values, and how things have appreciated in the city, it continues to appreciate and I’m of the opinion that the city’s going to have 7 or 8 million people before you know it. Low rise opportunities are tougher and high-rise is becoming a very viable alternative.
BBH: What’s your favourite area in Toronto and why?
MC: I live at Avenue and Lawrence. I like that area because my work takes me west in the city, east in the city, north in the city and sometimes outside of the city, so living in the middle is convenient. I like that area because, while residential and natural, it’s minutes away from more vibrant midtown locations. I like being downtown. Toronto’s downtown is very Chicagoan. It’s become a great place to play and a great place to live. It’s also a very safe place to live. But I don’t necessarily want to live downtown because it’s a bit too hustley and bustley. I have three children so I like the concept of being in a residential area.
Having, said that I spend a lot of time at Yonge and Eglinton and Bayview and Eglinton. I shop at Yorkdale and I’m handling a project just north of Yorkdale. I like being central and I think central Toronto allows you to escape to the north and downtown and jump on the highway. It’s a unique combination of city life and residential living. So my favourite area is where I live.
BBH: When you’re not working, what do you like to do during your downtime?
MC: I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t working. My mind always works. I like to run. I run for an hour almost everyday, though sometimes looking at me you can’t tell. I do volunteer work in minor hockey and am the director of the Forest Hill Hockey Association. I enjoy volunteer work because it’s very pure and refreshing. I used to love playing golf, but I find it to be a very long exercise. I’m trying to rejuvenate my tennis career. I taught tennis for about a dozen years. Although my tennis prowess is probably twenty years and twenty pounds ago, I find it’s like riding a bike. It instinctively comes back.
BBH: Sounds like you keep yourself pretty busy outside of work as well. Is time management something you have always been good at or did you have to learn that skill?
MC: I don’t think I was naturally a good manager of my time. I think as I went through the growing pains of adulthood, I probably looked for shortcuts and ways to get things done. I found over time that I needed to find some time for me, to be alone and do my thinking and planning. In my thirties and forties, that time was often late at night and that’s because I couldn’t get to the things I wanted to get to during the day.
But as I got older it became apparent that the best time to do things is early in the morning. The best time for me during the day is between 5am and 7am, that’s when I do a lot of work because my thinking is at its best. It’s become a routine.
BBH: What is your drink of choice during the working hours of the day?
MC: I need a couple good doses of caffeine to get me started in the morning. Tim Hortons coffee is usually my drink of choice early in the day. Sometimes if I have to meet somebody and have to impress them, I’ll get a Starbucks or Second Cup. Throughout the day, there’s nothing better to hydrate myself than water.
BBH: A big city view or cottage lake view. What is your preference?
MC: I love nature and I love the simpler things in life. So having said that, I appreciate the cottage country probably as much as the next guy. I think that there’s something about that, my heart beats slower, my mind works better. I try to keep manageable doses of cottage country. I don’t jump into my car every Friday and disappear.
I do appreciate being in Toronto. My wife is an event planner, so she works a lot of weekends. In our backyard we have a pool, so we really like that time around 5 o’ clock when the sun is setting. We’ve got our little cottage in our backyard.
Thanks to Mark for taking the time to buzz with us!