Known as the "city jewel", High Park is the largest downtown city park in Toronto, similar to Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London. Bordering the park is a six-unit, walk-up building with high-end, furnished rental properties.
The building is owned by Sandra Godfrey, an executive coach, real estate investor and single mom with little savings but a lot of heart.
In July 2006, Sandra bought the multi-unit building in this "up-and-coming" neighborhood; she saw the building's unique investment potential. It had been built in 1957 and, while well-maintained, it had undergone no significant renovations. It also had tenants that were paying lower-than-average rents for the area. The building was simply waiting for some TLC, which, to Sandra, equaled ROI.
"The building still had the same 50s kitchens and bathrooms and oil-fired heating system it was built with," she says. "However, although the neighborhood was considered up-market, the building, tenants and rental rates were not. The rental income from the clients I inherited when I bought the building did not cover the costs of running the building even when fully occupied."
A couple of years into ownership and the "inherited" tenants now gone, Sandra knew the building was ripe for a makeover. It was time for her to unlock the building's full investment potential. As she pondered what to do with the building, one of her executive friends was staying in furnished accommodations in downtown Toronto. She saw this "type" of housing as an investment potential. It was the opportunity to do something "different," she says. That's when she decided to convert the units into fully-furnished, corporate housing rentals.
Sandra says the renovation was "grueling", but worth its weight in gold. "Using my own money and what I was able to borrow from the bank, I renovated the entire building, including restyling some of the units and extensive remodeling efforts," she says. "I was determined not to go the "Ikea" route; rather I wanted to make each unit unique and special, with each having its own sense of comfort and home."
Sandra says the first 18 months was "very frightening," as she was carrying a huge mortgage and a large renovation debt, plus Toronto was in the middle of a recession. "For a time there, I thought I was going to lose everything," she laments.
Sandra says the bookings have come in "thick and fast" and that she has even been host to pop groups, film production teams and business executives from all over the world!
To attract clients, Sandra markets her property on Craigslist.org and CorporateHousingbyOwner.com, a website that connects individuals looking for furnished housing with those offering it (her property ID#s on CorporateHousingbyOwner.com are 3559, 3558, 3557 and 6699). She says she believes the Internet brings huge marketing potential to her units.
Best of all, Sandra says being a "landlord" is actually "fun" this go round. She says she turned a building that was once a "drain" into one where she feels "engaged" and "excited" about who is going to turn up next.
"I'm Queen of my little castle and thoroughly enjoy providing the best in my little kingdom. Nothing makes me happier than to see the pleasure my tenants take in their accommodations. I'm even getting repeat business now and I'm confident the investment in my newfound business will support me well into my old age," she says.
While Sandra's outlook is rosy, she warns that it's important for any landlord to know their rights and the local laws before becoming a landlord. She also says that, in this business, you should trust your gut above all else.
"Many people warned me about going into the corporate housing business. I was told I was in the wrong location and that people would only be interested in furnished rentals if I was downtown. I'm pretty sure I have proven the naysayers wrong... and then some. Furnished housing is in demand everywhere - just know what your location has to offer and stay true to the kind of retreat you're trying to create.