Centuries-old Grosvenor Group deepens West Coast CRE roots | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange
Grosvenor Group’s history in North America is rooted in Vancouver. So is its future, says the head of its North American operations.
The 342-year-old U.K.-based developer and operator’s first venture outside of the U.K. was an industrial project on Annacis Island near Vancouver in the early 1950s.
“We purchased the raw land and developed it, and redeveloped it, and turned it into an active industrial park,” said Steve O’Connell, Grosvenor’s chief executive, Americas. “We still have a significant holding there today, and in fact, in the last few months have made other purchases down there.”
He said the Vancouver region remains the foundation of the North American objectives.
Approximately 80 per cent of its North American investment properties are in the U.S., compared to roughly 20 per cent in Canada, but half of Grosvenor’s development pipeline is north of the border. Most of that is in the Lower Mainland, said O’Connell, who is from Ontario but has lived in California for the past 20 years.
“Roughly 50 per cent of our development is in Canada and 50 per cent in the U.S,” he said. “That’s a snapshot of our portfolio today.”
Grosvenor Group’s royal connection
The Grosvenor family’s multi-billion-dollar business history dates back to 1677 when Sir Thomas Grosvenor married wealthy heiress Mary Davies and began accumulating real estate. Sir Thomas is an ancestor of 28-year-old Hugh Grosvenor, now the 7th Duke of Westminster.
The company owns residential, retail, industrial and office properties in 60 cities and the private business remains a Grosvenor family affair.
“My vision for going forward in Canada would essentially be more of the same,” O’Connell said. “We have historically been a residential developer in Vancouver and I see that continuing. I also see us developing office again.”
It’s understandable that Vancouver’s office market would be attractive to the company.
Office vacancy in Vancouver is at, or near, the lowest in all of North America. Seventy per cent of the 4.2 million square feet of new office space now under construction is already pre-leased.
Portfolio focused on Vancouver area
Grosvenor’s existing B.C. portfolio contains eight properties, including sites in Burnaby, New Westminster, Vancouver, West Vancouver and Victoria. Among them are several facilities stemming from the initial Annacis Island development, as well as the open-air shopping centre Broadmead Village in Victoria and the first phase of Ambleside in West Vancouver.
It has also completed three residential projects since 2013 and owns a retail centre in Calgary.
Currently under construction are Ambleside Phase 2 in West Vancouver, The Pacific in downtown Vancouver and Polaris in Burnaby.
Polaris is a 36-storey condo tower with 313 homes in Burnaby’s Metrotown area. Designed by IBI Architects, Polaris is topped by a beacon lantern with articulating vertical lights along its side. Construction is underway and the building is expected to complete in 2022.
Grosvenor is also planning a large project in Brentwood, another of Burnaby’s high-density town centres.
“One of our Canadian development projects that we’re really excited about right now is a three-million-square-foot development that’s transit-oriented in Brentwood,” O’Connell said.
The Burnaby site is located across the street from a SkyTrain station in the densifying cluster of office and residential towers near the Amazing Brentwood project.
“We’re looking to do something really transformative with that site,” he said.
Meanwhile, Grosvenor Group has promised to achieve net-zero carbon operational emissions at its directly managed buildings around the world by 2030 (see Grosvenor Group vows net-zero carbon emissions by 2030).
Vancouver’s attractive fundamentals
O’Connell said the strength of the Vancouver port has continued to create demand from e-commerce and distribution companies in the region, and Grosvenor’s holdings on Annacis Island will continue to serve the firm well into the future.
Moreover, the region features attractive scenery, is livable and has a highly educated population driven by top-shelf educational institutions.
The city’s technology industry also continues to grow and has been attracting giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.
Those are important long-term fundamental indicators for the region, he said.
Times are more challenging in Calgary, a city in which Grosvenor has been active for 20 years, O’Connell said.
“We have taken the difficult decision of not pursuing our development opportunities in Calgary at this time,” he said. “However, we still are a landowner and a property owner for . . . four properties (in Calgary).”
* Grosvenor Group vows net-zero carbon emissions by 2030
* Burnaby suddenly Metro Vancouver office hot spot
* PC Urban builds industrial strata in Burnaby Brentwood
* LCRE partners on Burnaby’s The Amazing Brentwood
Interest rate hikes and how they'll affect Canadians: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail
Here are The Globe and Mail’s top housing and real estate stories this week, with the lowest mortgage rates available in Canada today, commentary from our mortgage expert and one home worth a look.
Bank of Canada raises interest rate by a quarter percentage point
The Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point on Wednesday, restarting its campaign to tighten monetary policy after it paused in January. The move is in response to stubborn inflation and surprising resilience in the Canadian economy, reports Mark Rendell. Canada’s policy rate is now at its highest level since 2001.
Higher interest rates are coming for more than just mortgage borrowers
The central bank’s decision to increase its trend-setting rate to 4.75 per cent will immediately affect Canadians, writes Erica Alini. It will likely drive an uptick in consumer delinquencies and weigh on a recent rebound in home prices, experts say. It could also have ripple effects in the rental market, forcing some landlords to off-load investment properties. The first people to feel the sting will be those with debts that have variable interest rates: adjustable-rate mortgages and those who have lines of credit.
Floating your way into Vancouver’s housing market
Vancouver real estate is famously expensive, but there are some non-traditional ways into the market, writes Kerry Gold. Jen Abrams has lived for seven years in a 978-square-foot float house called the Lilypad, moored at Richmond Marina and walking distance to the SkyTrain station, which brings her downtown in 15 minutes. The Lilypad, one of three dozen float homes in the marina, is two floors, with kitchen, laundry room, dining and living rooms, one bedroom and den, patios, garden, storage and light filled rooms.
Home of the week: A converted church near Toronto’s High Park
384 Sunnyside Ave., unit 202, Toronto
In 2009, a century-old church building in Toronto’s leafy High Park neighbourhood was transformed into 24 residential lofts. This unit provides approximately 1,836 square feet of living space on two levels. The primary bedroom retains some of the character of the old church with wood rafters and a large arched window. There’s also a guest bedroom and a powder room on the main level.
What do you think is the asking price for this house?
a. The asking price is $1,999,990.
Surreal Estate: $28 million for a humongous North York mansion off Bayview with a 40-seat home theatre
Neighbourhood: Silver Hills
Size: 21,000 square feet
Parking spots: 12
Agent: Barry Cohen
A massive Silver Hills estate on Old Colony Road (a short walk from Bayview), with its own cellular antenna and underground filtration system. Nestled on a one-acre lot surrounded by greenery, this fortress—designed for a wealthy buyer who loves both entertaining and privacy—has so far piqued the interest of business moguls, celebrities and members of the Toronto Raptors. The mansion is loaded with over-the-top amenities: a family room the size of a dance hall, a Cineplex-grade home theatre, a 360-degree camera system, built-in face-recognition technology and voice-activated locks. In total, the place has over 15 kilometres of wiring within its walls.
Architect and designer Lisa McCann considers this state-of-the-art marvel her magnum opus. She spent the past six and a half years on the project, collaborating with her husband, Michael McCann, as well as more than 100 tradespeople. “I didn’t want this to be a subdivision on steroids,” she says. “I wanted to bring as much functionality as possible so that residents would never want to leave.”
Mature trees help camouflage the brick fortress in the summer, making it barely visible from the street.
A four-inch-thick front door intersects an elegant stone wall.
The foyer gives way to this Gatsby-like living room. The floor is limestone, and the outlets are painted custom off-white to hide even the smallest imperfections.
Moving through the space reveals the voice-activated fireplace, which can be turned on from any room. Modernist floor-to-ceiling windows lead to the side-yard tennis court.
The tennis court has an adjacent patio.
The family room’s south wing is really a 20-foot atrium, equipped with a wall-to-wall walk-out to the sprawling backyard.
Here’s a view of the atrium from the landing above. The McCanns say it’s ideal for a library or meditation space.
Next to the atrium on the main floor is the kitchen, which features rows of Lutron pot lights, laminate white cabinets and funky fluorescent counters. The glowing island anchors the room.
The main-floor bathroom comes with a ceiling grid light and dual powder stations with Boffi faucets sourced from Italy.
The glass-and-oak staircase serves as the home’s spine, contrasting with the rustic stone wall.
Upstairs, there are multiple walk-outs to the 72-foot wrap-around balcony.
Lisa’s favourite room on the second floor is what she calls the Frank Lloyd Wright office, inspired by the architect’s love of looking out at nature while working from his desk.
Down the hall are the two main bathrooms. First, the man cave: a grout-less porcelain wonder with a glass shower and a nine-foot vanity featuring Versace detailing.
And here’s its feminine counterpart, with a soaker tub, tons of storage and veined marble everywhere.
Here’s one of the house’s five bedrooms, each large enough to fit a king-sized bed, an entertainment unit and an office.
The main bedroom features a huge oak cloakroom with bespoke cabinets.
The wine room is something you’d expect to find in a Yorkville restaurant, built with help from Halpern Enterprises. Naturally, it fits 1,000 bottles.
Behold: the basement bathroom, with heated porcelain floors, a quartz vanity and black-and-grey mosaic tiles.
Finally, the showstopper—an 8K Cineplex-grade theatre with a 177-inch screen, surround sound, a space-themed ceiling and capacity for 40 people.
Have a home that’s about to hit the market? Send your property to [email protected].
Better.com lays off real estate team and shutters business unit
Digital mortgage lender Better.com is exiting the real estate business.
The struggling fintech startup laid off its real estate team on June 7, multiple sources confirmed to TechCrunch. The company is said to be shifting from an in-house agent model to a partnership agent model.
One person who was impacted by the move told TechCrunch that the agents had received “little to no severance…after getting a more than 50% salary cut in November in order to ‘ensure’ our jobs to come.”
TechCrunch reached out to Better.com, which declined to comment on the record. It is not clear how many people were impacted.
The news is not shocking considering that rumors of Better.com’s plans to exit the real estate business have swirled for some time as the housing market has experienced a major slowdown driven by rising mortgage interest rates. As early as April of 2022, TechCrunch reported that it was suspected that all of Better Real Estate could be scrapped. The unit was at one time the “baby” of the company, sources said, and where a big chunk of investment dollars were going to go toward in 2022.
Better had been vocal about its desire to build out its purchase experience and move beyond digital lending to help people find and purchase homes — hence changing its name from Better Mortgage to just Better. It was also working to expand value-added offerings like title and homeowner’s insurance as part of its product suite.
“They wanted to touch every part of home ownership,” a source close to the company who preferred to remain anonymous told TechCrunch at the time. “The company invested resources in building out consumer experiences and agent-facing tools for the Better Real Estate business, including its first native mobile app, not all of which came to fruition, given the trajectory of the business.”
Better Real Estate aimed to be competitive with the likes of Zillow and Redfin, and the company had reportedly followed the same salaried-agent model.
Better.com has been making headlines for its layoffs since it first gained notoriety by laying off about 900 employees over Zoom on December 1, 2021. It has since been laying off smaller groups very systematically, say sources. Last August, TechCrunch also reported the fact that Better.com had conducted its fourth round of layoffs since the previous December.
The company is not exactly known for its tactful approach to letting employees go. In less than a nine-month period, it let go of thousands of workers, saw numerous senior executives step down and delayed a SPAC that it still claims to be working toward.
In March, TechCrunch reported Better.com’s SPAC deal with Aurora Acquisition Corp. got a new lease on life, extending its timeframe to close the transaction through the end of Q3 2023.
Interest rate hikes and how they'll affect Canadians: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail
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