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Alterra CEO returns to his roots with new condo in Toronto’s transforming Garment District

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As a boy, Robert Cooper would visit his grandfather’s pants manufacturing company in Toronto’s old Garment District centred on Spadina Ave.

“I saw people from all different parts of the world working in his factory,” he recalls. “It was their first job, after coming here to make a better life for themselves.”

Rob Cooper, CEO and president of Alterra, points out features of Rush Condos on the scale model to designer Kelly Cray, centre, and buyer Alex Johnson.
Rob Cooper, CEO and president of Alterra, points out features of Rush Condos on the scale model to designer Kelly Cray, centre, and buyer Alex Johnson.  (Cole Burston / Toronto Star)

Cooper, now 60, didn’t know it at the time but those early experiences helped lay the groundwork for his development company’s downtown residential projects decades later.

Before they build, says Cooper, president and CEO of Alterra Group of Companies, they study the neighbourhood “from the ground up” to get an in-depth understanding of its amenities, attractions and services, and of the people who live and work there.

With their latest project, Cooper has, in a sense, come back to where he started Alterra’s new midrise project, Rush Condos, is located at 520 Richmond St. W. between Spadina and Bathurst Sts., right in the heart of his childhood haunts.

Playing a role in the area’s transformation is particularly gratifying, he says. “These great neighbourhoods you see downtown today — immigrants started out there. That’s what makes Toronto so interesting and diverse.”

After creating communities in the GTA for more than 30 years, he and Alterra “really know the city well,” the developer says, relating more “vivid memories” of his adventures in the urban core.

“I grew up riding the subway. My friends and I rode it end-to-end for 10 cents on Saturday mornings,” he recalls. “We’d always try to get in the front car” for the best vantage point.

Construction of 15-storey Rush Condo, at 520 Richmond St. W., is expected to begin next spring.
Construction of 15-storey Rush Condo, at 520 Richmond St. W., is expected to begin next spring.  (Alterra)

Back then, the Spadina and Queen Sts. area was a magnet for workers in the needle trade who endured a “rough and tumble” life, he says.

He speaks with pride about his Polish grandfather, Abraham Cooper, whose successful garment manufacturing business operated from the 1920s until the late ’60s. Eaton’s department store and Tip Top Tailors were among his customers.

“He did OK. Put two sons through university and created quite a legacy,” Cooper says of the patriarch who died in 1988. “There are 80 of us (in the family) now.”

With the influx of young professionals living in the downtown core, “it’s come full circle,” Cooper says of housing trends since his grandfather’s time.

Cooper's grandfather, David Fine, on Richmond St. W., in the 1940s.
Cooper’s grandfather, David Fine, on Richmond St. W., in the 1940s.  (rob cooper)

And Alterra is in that loop with Rush Condos, whose suite sizes, layouts and amenities should be right up their alley.

“They’re on-brand for what I’m looking for,” says Alex Johnson, a 31-year-old IT professional who’s just bought a one-bedroom, 490-sq.-ft. unit for $608,000.

“It’s a great area, where the action is,” he says, referring to the vibrant arts and entertainment scene where he’s lived for a decade.

Nowhere is art more visible than famous Graffiti Alley, extending for several blocks parallel to Richmond St. W. and behind the condominium site on the lane that shares its name with the new development. The colourful corridor was the backdrop for CBC personality Rick Mercer’s popular walking rants on his weekly TV show, recently ended after 15 seasons.

Rob Cooper of Alterra, right, with designer Kelly Cray and buyer Alex Johnson in front of a mural at Rush Condo's presentation centre.
Rob Cooper of Alterra, right, with designer Kelly Cray and buyer Alex Johnson in front of a mural at Rush Condo’s presentation centre.  (Cole Burston for the toronto star)

In a nod to the urban artists who created the murals, Alterra is incorporating black-and-white graffiti feature walls in Rush’s public areas.

The two tones will bring “high-contrast energy” to the lobby, party room, fitness centre, says interior designer Kelly Cray, creative principal at design firm U31 Inc.

The contrast theme continues through the common areas with the use of exposed concrete, warm woods and white marble, says Cray, who describes the look as “sleek, sophisticated with refined industrial accents.”

While the building will interest a mix of buyers, it will be especially appealing to cyclists and walk-to-workers, according to Cooper, himself a committed two-wheeler.

“For me personally, there’s no better way to get around the city and neighbourhoods,” he says, pointing out that Rush will have just 23 parking spaces but 125 bicycle storage lockers — one for each unit. There are also plans to provide a bicycle repair and maintenance station.

For non-cycling days and forays, public transit is just steps away. Purchaser Johnson needs a car for work but welcomes the walkability features of Rush’s location.

“Walking is key,” says Johnson, who’s also enthused about Rush Condo’s climbing wall — “an unexpected bonus” — as well as a new YMCA community hub opening across the road in 2020.

Rob Cooper's firm will soon build Rush Condos in the neighbourhood where generations of his family lived and worked. The 1951 tailor shop on the right, at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., belonged to his Uncle Louis.
Rob Cooper’s firm will soon build Rush Condos in the neighbourhood where generations of his family lived and worked. The 1951 tailor shop on the right, at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., belonged to his Uncle Louis.  (Toronto Star archives)

Getting their graffiti on

The inspiration for black-and-white graffiti that will enliven walls at Rush Condos was a Montreal mural that caught the eye of Toronto interior designer Kelly Cray.

Created by artists’ collective En Masse, “it seemed like the perfect fit in a boutique building that has a bit of an edge (and is) in the hippest part of Toronto,” says Cray, whose firm U31 Inc. did Rush’s interior design.

Plans call for feature walls of graffiti in the lobby, party room, fitness centre and outdoor terrace overhang. The condo’s presentation centre at 545 Queen St. W., with exterior and interior murals, offers a hint of what’s to come.

Most of the artwork was impromptu, “like creating jazz on the spot,” says lead artist Jerry Rugg about the five artists who collaborated.

Featured prominently in one mural is the fabled white squirrel of nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park, although Rugg notes several families of Queen West’s “unofficial mascot” live there.

Working in black and white — which En Masse does exclusively — was a departure for the artists.

“These projects are quite exciting for the artists, getting out of their comfort zone and working with other artists,” he adds.

Rush Condos

Developer: Alterra Group

Location: 520 Richmond St. W.

Architect: Quadrangle

Interior designer: U31 Inc.

Size: 15 storeys, 125 units with suites from 482-sq.-ft., one-bedroom to 939-sq.-ft., three-bedroom plus den layouts

Starting price: From the low-$600,000s

Amenities: Fitness centre with yoga stretch area and climbing wall, party room with dining area, outdoor terrace with barbecue, dining and lounges, pet wash area, bicycle repair/maintenance station

Occupancy: Winter, 2022 (tentative)

Contact: alterra.com, http://www.alterra.com/registration/rush 416-323-1500, info@rushcondos.com

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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