This week we buzz with Jeanhy Shim, VP, Sales and Marketing at Toronto’s acclaimed Streetcar Development.
Jeanhy has nearly two decades of experience under her belt working in the Toronto real estate market. She’s seen the highs and lows of the market and it’s given her a well-informed view of the current real estate landscape. Jeanhy has also been recognized for her professional achievements in residential sales and marketing, taking home the Riley Brethour Award at this year’s BILD Awards.
Read on as we talk marketing strategy, technology and the Leafs’ tendency to always lose.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get started in the industry?
Jeanhy Shim: I got into the industry in 1992 when the housing market crashed and we were still in an economic recession. I’d graduated from McGill and I was looking for a job just for one year because I was going to grad school after a year off.
The only real estate that was selling at that time was stuff that was in receivership. I was living in Mississauga with my parents and there was a building that was fully completed, but they’d built it without pre-sales. By the time they had completed it, the market had crashed and the few people that had bought units walked away from their deals. Basically the bank was left holding the bag and that was the case with a lot of buildings across the city in the early 90s.
I was hired by Milborne Real Estate to do site administration. Milborne had been retained by the receivers of the site to get rid of the inventory. That’s how I fell into the business. It was great because I got to do everything and learned the business from the ground floor up.
When I came back from grad school, my old boss had started a brokerage called Market Vision Real Estate. The day after I got back, I started a job as VP, Research and Operations. I was taking advantage of all the receivership opportunities in the city for banks that were left holding onto these huge buildings with no one living in them.
BBH: You’ve been in the industry for awhile and it seems like you’ve seen the two sides of the spectrum of the Toronto housing market — from a housing crash to a recovery to the boom that’s going on right now.
JS: It’s interesting seeing the evolution of the market. When I started with Market Vision in 1994, we were involved in a few projects. Then in 95-96, we started seeing conversions, so when the market started to pick up again it was led by conversions in the 416 area because it’s lower risk.
The market started improving in the late-90s and then you saw a bunch of projects come to the market, but then it panicked and pulled back a bit. But now, since 2000, things have been mostly very positive except for a little blip in 2008.
It’s been interesting to see these new developers come into the market and see the old guys out there still surviving. There’s also a lot of agents involved in the market today who don’t have the experience of things getting really bad.
It’s interesting from a product perspective too. Seeing how the finishes have changed, the suite sizes and layouts, and the designs of the buildings. We have one of the best condo buildings industries in the world — if not the best — because we have so much experience. We’ve been able to deliver such a high quality product while the bottom line stays the same.
BBH: What would you like to see change in the industry? Do you think there are new technologies that will be invaluable to real estate sales that haven’t been mastered yet?
JS: What social media has done is added another layer to the ways of reaching people. The question is still how to you get your message to the consumer when there’s so much out there. Everyone is being bombarded today, but technology is playing an important role because it’s a way to disseminate your info a lot faster.
I was up at Aareas getting a demonstration of the latest and the greatest technology and it was just incredible, especially for pre-construction with the way you can help people understand floor plans and the buildings that they’re buying. That’s been invaluable for this industry because it helps with pre-sales and there’s so much of that in Toronto’s market. You can demonstrate your product much more clearly and people can have a better understanding of what they’re getting. But at the end of the day, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need a model suite or sales office since the touch and feel is still important.
I’m always asking Shakeel of the Walsh Group about doing a scale model that isn’t a built scale model, but more like a hologram out of Star Trek. According to Frank at Aareas, the technology is almost there, but it’s still super expensive.
JS: We’re very conscious of the design and the architecture of the neighbourhood, so we can make sure to fit in our building. We’re not going to design it in a way that it sticks out. With 8 Gladstone we took that to the next level. We wanted to make sure that the marketing of the project took advantage of its location. It’s West Queen West, the arts and cultural hub of Toronto.
We did the type art map with Dave Murray, a local artist. We invited Skam!, a very well known graffiti artist, to do a custom piece for the sales centre. John McGovern, a very talented local filmmaker, did a neighbourhood story video. It’s not your typical neighbourhood story video. We really wanted it to reflect the culture of the neighbourhood.
Even in the sales centre we had a magnetic wall with floor plan displays. We printed the floor plans to scale and then went to all the great furniture retailers in the West Queen West neighbourhood and selected various pieces of furniture to build to scale. People can stick the furniture onto the floor plan. It’s really low tech and retro and I think that’s the vibe of West Queen West. It’s one of the most popular aspects of the sales centre.
We had a bunch of other ideas we wanted to do, but the reality of a construction schedule and delays played into it, so we weren’t quite able to unleash the full range of innovative ideas we had. We have another phase coming up in Queen West so stay tuned!
BBH: The area surrounding another Streetcar development, The Carlaw, is hot right now. Why did you choose this site for development?
JS: Leslieville and the Film District is still an area in transition. It’s so close to downtown and only one block up from Queen Street. The Carlaw will be the biggest project that Streetcar has ever done in terms of the total number of units, so that’s quite exciting.
Because of the scale of the property, there’s an opportunity to do something that gives back to the opportunity. The whole ground space will be for non-residential use. There’s no hub in Leslieville. A lot of neighbourhoods have their centre, so the opportunity here with the ground floor space is to have something that will be accessible to the public. It could be anything. It could be an art gallery or a theatre or a farmer’s market.
BBH: How do you identify an up-and-coming neighbourhood?
JS: The character of the street changes, the retailers are changing, you’ve got people coming into the neighbourhood with new retailers, businesses, restaurants, cafes — kind of like what you’re seeing in Parkdale. It usually starts on the main streets. The same thing is happening with the stretch of Dundas, west of Ossington, where there are a lot of new restaurants popping up. You can also see it happening with Leslieville, though there’s still a lot more potential there.
BBH: What’s your ideal vacation?
JS: In the mountains mountain climbing.
BBH: Leafs game or night at the theatre?
JS: Well it depends on what the theatre is… And the Leafs always lose… Night at the Leafs game! Does that mean I get tickets? *laughs*
Thanks Jeanhy for taking the time to buzz with us!