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Developers with a conscience

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For Sherard McQueen and Yaseen Nimjee, there’s a lot more to development than selling, building and walking away. The business partners at M5V Developments in Toronto aim to develop with a conscience. They offer education for first-time buyers and investors so they can make a wise decision and make sure their developments offer options to make them more affordable in the hot Greater Toronto Area market and beyond.

“We possess an innate ability to recognize unique opportunities and give access to larger projects individuals may not usually be able to participate in,” says the company website. “Our developments and investments are designed for bite-sized public consumption; our boutique real estate sales team is extremely client-focused. We are building our brand, our city and our community, inclusively.” M5V was established in 2008.

Four years ago, McQueen and Nimjee set their sights on the Niagara Region, recognizing the untapped opportunities the area offers. For people working from home, the secondary market offers a more affordable option to the GTA. It’s also connected to downtown Toronto by the GO Train.

Six of M5Vs current projects (350 units) are in Niagara Falls proper and one (150 units) is in Fort Erie in the Niagara Region. The projects are in various stages of development. More developments throughout the region are to come.

Sherard McQueen

Sherard McQueen

Getting more first-time buyers and first-time investors into the market starts with education to close the knowledge gap. It’s especially vital for new and younger buyers to have financial literacy, McQueen says.

With that end in mind, he offers educational videos and podcasts on social media and YouTube, explaining everything from terminology to where to get seed money to start to put a down payment together. (A YouTube video about using money from an RRSP for a home purchase had 2.3 million views.) He says it’s all about breaking down barriers.

To help with affordability, not all M5V buyers are expected to put down a full down payment in the first year. “We don’t need the entire down payment in the first year because we only need a certain percentage of sales to get construction financing from our lenders (usually 60 per cent). Therefore we keep another 15 to 20 per cent of the units for persons who cannot make the entire down payment. It can be spread (over) up to two years. The last 20 per cent we sell during construction up to completion of the project or we keep the units as rentals.”

The company posts prices, understanding the importance of transparency. Some developers don’t post prices so they can constantly increase them, McQueen says. “We have to do what’s best for the community.”

The quality of finishes offered also means no upgrades are needed, but if someone wants upgrades, the company keeps the mark-up low, he says.

Demand is growing in the Niagara Region. The Niagara, a development of 100 four-storey freehold townhouses on eight acres near Niagara Falls, has a waiting list of 400 people. Starting at $799,000, McQueen says it offers tremendous value. In the GTA, comparable properties would be $300,000 or $400,000 more.

The 150 stacked townhomes on four acres in Crystal Beach in Fort Erie will start at $299,900. That means someone can qualify for the least expensive units with a $50,000 salary, he says. Sales have not started. Construction will begin in the first quarter of 2022.

M5V’s diverse projects include the construction of 12 townhouses across from Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. “It will be used as vacation rentals and owned wholly by M5V, although our previous purchasers will receive discounted rental rates,” McQueen says. The units will serve families needing more space than what’s available at the lodge.

McQueen and Nimjee met in Grade 9 at Turner Fenton Secondary School in Brampton, Ont. in 1991. Theirs is a calling influenced by their matriarchs and families.

Yaseen Nimjee

Yaseen Nimjee

It was Nimjee’s grandmother who provided seed money to start M5V (the postal code for the downtown Toronto core). She lived with Nimjee after her husband passed. McQueen was also close to his late grandmother, sharing a duplex with her. His mother is a teacher. His father, a minister, also contributed to his desire to give back and be involved in the community.

McQueen helped his mother secure financing and renovated a warehouse in North Carolina into a school. “My mom has a PhD in education and wanted to open a charter school. (It would be publicly funded and privately mandated, serving those below the poverty line),” McQueen says. “But she couldn’t raise the money and asked for our help.”

They secured financing for the $500,000 project, renovated the warehouse and enabled the school to buy the building. The Torchlight Academy now serves 550 children, he says. It’s one of the projects of which he is most proud. “I donated the computer lab.”

McQueen and Nimjee also built a retirement home in Orillia, Ont. They had never owned a retirement home but decided to build one and become owner/operators because they wanted to give back, as well as have a sense of fulfilment.

The $16.2-million project, Sundown Lakeview Retirement Residence, has 70,000 square feet of bright modern space on four floors and is on eight acres.

“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t have any issues,” McQueen says. “We took the bull by the horns and got everyone vaccinated and had not one case of COVID.”

They named the residence Sundial Retirement Residence, a tribute to the hotel that once stood on the site.

Opportunities exist, it’s just about providing them, McQueen says.

M5V is co-operating with agents, paying commission on all sites even for agents who just place their clients on the waiting list.

The most up-to-date information is on Instagram.

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