"I don't like the way we've come to talk about housing and development," David Hirsh explains. "When I hear people talk about real estate, more and more of the conversations are along the lines of 'how many units did you buy or sell this year?' It's transactional, the way we perceive it, and the conversation is almost never about places to live. It's as if we're talking about something intangible, when what we're really talking about is people's homes. I don't want to think of it that way, though," he tells me, "and I don't want to think of myself as that kind of developer."
Drawing on over 30 years of experience in real estate and development, the Brandy Lane Homes CEO feels that too much of Toronto's current investor-driven market does not deliver livable spaces. "I won't knock investors or investor-oriented projects, they're very important" Hirsh stresses, "though I think that—especially from an end-user's perspective—it seems like the desire for real homes, for good places to live, isn't really what drives the market. It should be."
"Would I live here?" For Hirsh, "that's the question I ask myself every time I start working on a new project." The developer highlights Avenue Road's The Davies condominium as an embodiment of Brandy Lane's approach. Designed by SMV Architects, the luxury 9-storey condominium is meant to combine the tailored comforts of a single-family home with the density and centrality of urban living.
"For each unit, we allowed buyers the opportunity to extensively customize the layouts, and we worked with each of them to understand their needs, and ultimately to provide exactly the kind of home they want to live in," Hirsh explains. "I personally met with each of the buyers, and I tried my best to understand their lifestyle and their needs."
"Dealing with customization and individual buyer preference in high-end projects is something that I think frustrates a lot of developers," Hirsh contends, "but it's a part of the process that I really enjoy. I want to make money, of course, but I want to do it through establishing personal connections and working with buyers directly," he adds, stressing that the personalized approach stands out in a market where the size of projects—and the volume of condo sales—typically leaves little room for direct interaction between the buyer and the developer.
"I know better than to ignore the numbers, but I'm not really a numbers guy," Hirsh continues. "I'm a salesman; I want to give people homes, help them find a place to live. That's the satisfaction," the developer explains. "I'm not talking about moving units or hitting percentages—not that I can ignore that—I'm talking about the feeling that comes with providing people something important, something vital."
For a very high-end, boutique project like The Davies, Hirsh's dedicated, personalized approach is realistic. But what about the company's less luxurious developments? Can the same approach be applied. Not quite, Hirsh concedes. "With The Davies, it was possible because it's such a boutique, high-end project. That's a big part of why I really enjoy doing luxury development," he explains. "But every project starts with the same question: would I live here?"
"When we did The Station in North York, it was a different type of project," Hirsh explains, describing a 388-unit development—also designed by SMV—that did not target the same high-end market. It's not always possible to deliver the same kind of personalized attention, he admits, but it is possible to apply the same general principles. "Whether it's a high-end unit or not, and whether you're selling to an inventor or an end-user, the fact of the matter is that it's going to be somebody's home." In designing the building, the amenities, and the individual layouts, "the goal of building a home is always at the forefront."
"We have to understand that the home is, in some sense, a sacred space," Hirsh elaborates. "There's a warmth to it. It's not just a 'unit,' it's a valuable part of—and a reflection of—your life. I can't claim to understand the intricacies of the market, and I don't have any background in finance or academia, but I do understand that feeling. I know what home is, and how much it means to us," he stresses. "I know that much."
More information about recent Brandy Lane projects—The Davies and The Station Condos on the Subway—can be found in our dataBase files, linked below. Want to share your thoughts about Brandy Lane's approach? Leave a comment in the space below, or join one of the ongoing conversations in our Forum, which features dedicated threads for both projects.
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