"We’ve had some not-nice people looking at the penthouse,” Bruce Langereis said in a stage whisper during the elevator ride up to the unsold $18 million penthouse at the top of the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia.
Langereis, president of Delta Land Development Ltd., is on the hunt for a very specific kind of luxury condo buyer.
They need to be wealthy. They need to be nice. And, preferably, a full-time resident of Vancouver.
“We’ve avoided this trend to go to China and offer sales in China or elsewhere in the world,” Langereis said. “We’ve stayed home because it’s our belief — it’s something I learned in school — real estate markets are very local in nature.”
Langereis is on a last push to sell the remaining seven unsold units in the 48-storey building. Pre-sales for the high-end condo tower began in 2007; then the global financial crisis hit. The building was completed in 2012, one year later than planned.
Luxury condos in several high-end buildings lost value during the recession, leading to lawsuits from buyers, including those who had bought pre-sales at the Hotel Georgia development.
Langereis’ strategy contrasts with that of other luxury condo developments in the city, such as the under-construction Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, which is being marketed in Asia to buyers there.
The developer clarified that what he means by “local” is someone who has lived in Vancouver for at least five years and has a commitment to making this city his or her home.
East Vancouver upbringing
Langereis’ own roots in the city are deep. He grew up in a working-class family in East Vancouver and worked as a heavy-duty mechanic before deciding to take the real estate program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
“I applied one day in my coveralls — I was working at Neptune Terminals on bulldozers,” he recalled.
He has two children, both in their early 20s, neither of whom are interested in following his footsteps into real estate.
“My daughter’s all about permaculture and my son is [training] to be a machinist,” he said proudly.
As comfortable as Langereis is in his well-appointed kingdom — bantering with the concierges and greeting building residents cheerfully in the elevator — he also regrets how some things have changed.
Langereis is working on planning a new community in the Soo Valley near Whistler, which he hopes will provide an affordable alternative to the internationally renowned ski resort.
“I went to Whistler in the ’70s and there was a beautiful culture there and sense of community,” he said. “But that sense of community’s been pushed away. … The main centre of town is retail, it’s become a very coveted place, it’s become monster homes. It’s lost a lot of that original charm.”
While many have suggested that government could curb the erosion of housing diversity and sense of place by limiting foreign ownership or by trying to influence the market through taxation, Langereis balks at the idea.
“I believe in the free market, that notion of globalization,” he said. “The moment you do anything that infringes on what that notion of globalization is, I think you’re fighting nature.”
It’s not difficult to sell Vancouver to the world, he said.
“Think of the world as one big Monopoly board. The most coveted locations — everyone wants Boardwalk and Park Place. If you think of every city that you know, every city has a place to work, a place to shop, a place to do industry and a place to live.
“So if you think of the world as a city, well, we’re the nice residential district of that city.”
But he acknowledges that, as attractive as Vancouver properties are, it can take patience to connect with the right buyer. During a tour of the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, Langereis showed Business in Vancouver two four-bedroom units on the 47th floor, both priced at $8 million.
“The person who bought [unit] 4701 paid $8.8 million in 2012. I’ve had offers for these for $6 million or $7 million, but what am I doing to that person? I won’t sell it,” Langereis said. “I like to make sales, but I also have my integrity.”
The building’s 6,830-square-foot penthouse on the 48th floor is being sold in a mostly unfinished state, leaving the final design largely up to the future owner. Langereis said he is in talks with a potential buyer he describes as “a prominent local business guy.”
Malcolm Hasman, a realtor who specializes in the luxury market, and who sold a penthouse at the Fairmont Pacific Rim for $25 million in the summer of 2013, questioned Langereis’ insistence on finding locally based buyers.
“That is not realistic at all,” Hasman said. “Many of the buyers that I see in the high-end luxury real estate market reside in Vancouver two to six months a year and have international business.”
Very wealthy buyers who will plunk down upwards of $20 million for a penthouse are rare, Hasman said, and there are more luxury condos on the market now than there were a few years ago.
He cited the Trump tower, which has three penthouse units; Vancouver House, the “twisty tower” designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, now under construction at Beach and Howe; and resale units that come on the market from time to time from buildings like the Shangri-La Hotel.
Hasman said the $25 million penthouse, sold to “a Middle Eastern royal family,” isn’t the most expensive property he’s ever sold. That honour goes to a $52 million Point Grey house he marketed that sold to a businessman from China.
Sense of community
Langereis, who lives at the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, maintains he’s trying to create a community in the building, not just sell to the highest bidder.
He previously developed three buildings in Coal Harbour and lived in one of them, and he said he’s seen how condo culture can go bad.
“In any building, whether it’s luxury or mid-market, if the building is really, really unfriendly and litigious and toxic in terms of its culture, it doesn’t matter how nice it is,” he said.