Smaller cities tempt boomers, millennials: Bridgemarq’s Phil Soper

IMAGE: Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal Lepage and Bridgemarq. (Image courtesy Royal LePage)

Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal Lepage and Bridgemarq. (Image courtesy Royal LePage)

A majority of millennials and baby boomers would consider moving from major cities to secondary cities across the country to purchase a home, says Phil Soper, president and CEO of brokerage Royal LePage and its parent company Bridgemarq Real Estate Services (BRE-T). 

“We are seeing older, millennial families and young Gen X families – people in their 30s – relocating to secondary markets, particularly in B.C., Ontario to a limited degree, and Quebec,” Soper said during a recent interview.

Demographic research by Royal LePage during the last three years has shown two groups at different points on the life spectrum could become part of a trend. The studies found 61 per cent of millennials, and 57 per cent of baby boomers who are now empty nesters, would consider relocating to a smaller city for their first or next home.

Baby boomers, who have been “a very quiet demographic” in real estate over the last 15 years because their kids took a long time to move out, are finally making moves, he says. 

As a result, both young families starting out and retirees are looking at Ontario cities such as Orangeville, London, Windsor, Kitchener, Kingston and Belleville: “Cities like this are receiving a material number of relocations from these two groups.”

“Relief valve” to shortages, high prices in big cities

Given the serious housing shortages in major cities, a movement of people into secondary cities will “be something of a relief valve that will take down the pressure off of home prices and availability.”

Soper spoke to RENX after being named Canada’s most influential executive in the residential real estate brokerage industry in the annual Swanepoel Power 200 listing. Across North America, he was rated 11th overall.

Soper runs Canada’s largest real estate franchisor and owner-operator, with more than 295 franchisees, 673 offices and more than 18,000 agent affiliates under the Royal LePage, Via Capitale and Johnston & Daniel brands. Overall, Bridgemarq (formerly Brookfield Real Estate Services) accounts for about one-fifth of the Canadian real estate market.

“We are the largest real estate firm in the country by a large margin and we’re the fastest-growing,” Soper says.

He notes the Swanepoel recognition is gratifying because “it shows we’re on the right track and it shows that we’re doing the right things for our clients, and we’re attracting the right kind of front-line practitioners.”

Early in Soper’s tenure at Royal LePage, he changed the tag line to “Helping you is what we do” to better reflect how Canadians like to work with advisors.

Brookfield rebrands to Bridgemarq

In the U.S., people are more comfortable with realtors saying “I’m the greatest, anybody else but me and you’re making a big mistake,” he says. “My feeling was what Canadian consumers want is the focus to be on them when they’re hiring a service provider. That notion of helping resonates with Canadian consumers.” 

Just a couple of months ago, Brookfield Asset Management (BAM-A-T) decided to rebrand Brookfield Real Estate Services as Bridgemarq Real Estate Services. Publicly traded subsidiaries around the world carried the Brookfield name, which investors confused with Brookfield Asset Management, Soper says.

The new Bridgemarq name is unique to Canada. Soper said there is no particular significance to the word Bridgemarq, though it does refer to a “bridge” linking a family of brands.

Soper sees volumes picking up in Canada’s housing market this year after last year’s national correction (except in moderately priced markets such as Quebec City, Winnipeg and Ottawa) and “full-blown correction” in Vancouver and Toronto.

However, an increase in sales volume will be offset by only a modest increase in prices. Price seems to be a lagging indicator, an “interesting phenomenon” in an era of low unemployment and low interest rates.

“Typically, when everybody’s working and money is cheap, all prices are escalating rapidly,” he says. Instead, there is a “rare trifecta” of high employment, flat house prices and low interest rates. 

Global uncertainty still a factor

Global politics and a recent softness in stock markets have weakened confidence, he says. “Uncertainty makes people back off from major financial decisions like buying a house. You’ve got this perfect environment particularly for first-time home buyers, yet there’s this cautious air that’s keeping a lid on things.”

Soper says condominiums continue to be the hottest sub-sector, predominantly driven by affordability as well as shifts in social desire. Young singles want to live in condos, as do couples until they start to have children.

Although condos used to be almost identical to rental apartments, they now come in all sizes, shapes and prices.

Retirees now increasingly feel comfortable about living in them. “Some of the most expensive homes that we’ve ever sold are condominiums in luxury condos in Vancouver and Toronto.”

The multi-residential rental market also looks favourable given the housing shortage in several major cities. Soper doesn’t see the three levels of government moving quickly to address the problem, either.

Trained as a systems engineer, Soper was running IBM’s consulting and professional service when he was recruited by Brookfield in 2001 to run its corporate relocation service in Canada. At the time, IBM wanted him to move to the U.S., but Soper, who had a young family, didn’t want to go.

A few years after joining Brookfield, its CEO retired “and I got the nod. It was a little bit of a fortuitous right place at the right time,” he says. “It’s been a great run since — real estate’s done very well over the last 15 years.”

Danny is a multiple award-winning journalist based in Montreal, who has written for about 75 magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. His credits include The Globe and Mail,…

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Danny is a multiple award-winning journalist based in Montreal, who has written for about 75 magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. His credits include The Globe and Mail,…

Read more

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