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Retail's ongoing evolution: Intensify, diversify, technify – Real Estate News EXchange



Members of the retail panel at the Real Estate Forum in December in Toronto; from left Inge van den Berg of Cadillac Fairview, Don Clow of Crombie REIT, Jan Kestle of Environics Analytics, David Zietsma of Jackman Reinvents, and moderator Nurit Altman of RBC Capital Markets. (Steve McLean RENX)

“From the rise of e-commerce to the growth of the experience, the massive influx of luxury retailers into this country and the closure of some big names, the reimagining of spaces and the addition of new uses, the common thread is change.”


That was the message from RBC Capital Markets Real Estate Group director Nurit Altman, as she opened a panel discussing the evolution of retail at the Real Estate Forum at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in December.

David Zietsma, senior vice-president of strategy and performance for Jackman Reinvents, followed with a presentation on the changing role of bricks-and-mortar retail. He said e-commerce represents 10 per cent of Canadian retail sales, a number expected to hit 15 per cent by 2023.

Forty per cent of manufacturers sell directly to consumers, 47 per cent plan to add that capability soon, and 87 per cent see it as relevant to their products and consumers.

“The relationship that consumers have is to the brand and the product, not to the retailer,” Zietsma said.

“That’s pushing retailers to think about what roles their physical stores play in this. Is it about traditional fulfillment and making things easy, or is it about engagement?”

Zietsma said mall landlords can create better experiences and increased engagement for consumers through embracing convenience, curation and collaboration.

Using data to help retail decisions

Environics Analytics president and chief executive officer Jan Kestle followed with a presentation on retail disruption involving evidence-based decision-making.

“Over the past year, we have seen more organizations — on the investor level, the developer level and the retailer level — doing more exciting and innovative things with data in order to help deal with this challenge,” she said.

Kestle noted it was previously difficult to “get a handle on the consumer and understand how much power the consumer has, and how to make location decisions and investment decisions on the ground at the local level, and how to combine the investment in bricks and mortar with marketing.”

Now, however, the retail sector is doing “innovative and exciting” things with data.

Urban residents shop online at higher rates and spend more while they’re at it, according to Kestle. She attributes this to young people moving to these locations and embracing online shopping.

Smart phones provide information

There are many new ways to understand consumer patterns based on their smart phones, as long as permission is obtained and the data is collected properly, said Kestle.

“The opportunity for understanding who comes, when they come, time of day, day of week, what stores they go to, whether they park and how they come, it’s opened up a whole new world for actual retail location analysis.”

The information can impact decisions on where to invest, maximizing returns, finding the best tenants and efficiently engaging area consumers.

Such data was taken into consideration for the redevelopment of CF Richmond Centre in Richmond, B.C., which will include 2,297 housing units and 362,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space. Kestle said data enabled developer Cadillac Fairview to:

* validate the residential suite mix and amenities;

* develop the food and entertainment component;

* and tailor the retail mix to avoid over-exposure in high online shopping categories.

Similarly, Kestle said the overhaul of Midtown in Saskatoon was made easier by data that enabled operator and manager Cushman & Wakefield to:

* identify population segments driving market growth and mall visitation;

* devise a leasing strategy around the interests of target consumers;

* and develop local marketing to get those target customers shopping.

Cadillac Fairview retail innovations

Cadillac Fairview VP of strategic insights Inge van den Berg said she’s seen a higher rate of growth in many suburban shopping centres. CF is catering to local markets rather than using a one-size-fits-all model for its malls.

Part of the strategy is working with retailers to enhance a sense of community at its shopping centres.

This includes beta testing an application called CF Browse at CF Toronto Eaton Centre which allows consumers to use their smart phones to search brands, key words and retailers, use a way-finding system to direct them to a store and research its inventory, sizes, promotions and contact information.

Some formerly pure-play online retailers are now opening physical stores and van den Berg said 60 per cent of people placing online orders prefer to pick them up in stores.

“For every $100 that a person spends online, when they go to pick it up in the store on average they spend an additional $131.”

Crombie REIT and Sobeys

Crombie REIT president and CEO Don Clow thinks the Canadian retail sector is in good shape, noting more stores have opened than closed in Canada in the last three years. He also noted there’s 40 per cent less square feet of retail per capita in Canada than in the United States.

Canada’s retail sales are approximately $800 per square foot compared to $500 south of the border.

Clow said 90 per cent of Crombie’s business is in grocery-anchored strips, five per cent in regional shopping centres and five per cent in office.

Empire Company Ltd., the Sobeys grocery store chain owner, also owns 41 per cent of Crombie and accounts for more than half of its revenue. Clow said that just one half of one per cent of Canadian grocery sales take place online.

Looking to the future, however, Sobeys partnered with the United Kingdom’s Ocado Group on a grocery ordering, automated fulfillment and home delivery solution.

They’re developing two large customer fulfillment centres around Toronto and Montreal and will likely open two more in Western Canada. Portions of stores close to these centres may also have fulfillment hubs to mitigate home delivery costs, according to Clow.

Intensification of existing retail sites

“Our major markets and secondary markets are virtually the same from a retail point of view,” said Clow.

“The difference for us now is that we have a very large development pipeline, which is a different strategy about intensifying urban stores with multiple residential towers above.

“That’s not only driving retail performance, but also the value of those sites.”

Crombie owns about one-third of Sobeys sites, and the grocer can work with different developers for intensifying other sites.

Clow said grocery stores purchased in Vancouver for $30 million seven years ago now sit on land that could be worth up to $100 million and building residential above the retail could increase that value to $300 million to $400 million.

“Development’s a natural play for us and those sites. It’s really a matter of trying to figure out how you do it and at what pace you can do it. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Cadillac Fairview also owns large amounts of land adjacent to its retail properties. There are plans for intensification at these sites, according to van den Berg, since there’s “a need to continue to look at diversifying cash flows.”

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Interest rate hikes and how they'll affect Canadians: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail



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This week in real estate, the Bank of Canada’s latest interest rate hikes and how they’ll affect fixed- and variable-rate mortgagesEdwin Ham Photography/Edwin Ham Photography

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

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The Lilypad, home of Jen Abrams.The Agency Vancouver

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The 978 sq. ft. floating house is moored at Richmond Marina.The Agency Vancouver

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

  • Home of trhe Week, 202 – 384 Sunnyside, TorontoEdwin Ham Photography/Edwin Ham Photography

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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. $1,999,990

b. $2,299,990

c. $2,999,990

d. $3,199,990

a. The asking price is $1,999,990.

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Surreal Estate: $28 million for a humongous North York mansion off Bayview with a 40-seat home theatre



Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: kitchen

Neighbourhood: Silver Hills
Price: $28,800,000
Size: 21,000 square feet
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 11
Parking spots: 12
Barry Cohen

The place

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.

The history

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.”


The tour

Mature trees help camouflage the brick fortress in the summer, making it barely visible from the street.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: facade

A four-inch-thick front door intersects an elegant stone wall.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: foyer

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: living room

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: fireplace

The tennis court has an adjacent patio.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: tennis court

The family room’s south wing is really a 20-foot atrium, equipped with a wall-to-wall walk-out to the sprawling backyard.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: atrium

Here’s a view of the atrium from the landing above. The McCanns say it’s ideal for a library or meditation space.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: landing

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: bathroom

The glass-and-oak staircase serves as the home’s spine, contrasting with the rustic stone wall.

Toronto, Real Estate, Surreal Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: staircase

Upstairs, there are multiple walk-outs to the 72-foot wrap-around balcony.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: 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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: office

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: main bathroom

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: bedroom

The main bedroom features a huge oak cloakroom with bespoke cabinets.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: cloakroom

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.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: wine room

Behold: the basement bathroom, with heated porcelain floors, a quartz vanity and black-and-grey mosaic tiles.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: basement bathroom

Finally, the showstopper—an 8K Cineplex-grade theatre with a 177-inch screen, surround sound, a space-themed ceiling and capacity for 40 people.

Toronto, Surreal Estate, Real Estate, Silver Hills Mansion: theatre

Have a home that’s about to hit the market? Send your property to [email protected].  



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Real eState lays off real estate team and shutters business unit



Digital mortgage lender 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, 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’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. 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 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’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.



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