Steve Laver, Sotheby’s Realty

Steve Laver, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, talks about the luxury realty market, his new role, and his move from Intrawest.


Steve Laver, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, talks about the luxury realty market, his new role, and his move from Intrawest.

It’s been a dramatic few years in the real estate business, particularly at the luxury end of the spectrum. For Steve Laver, former president of Intrawest ULC’s Playground Destination Properties, the roller coaster of the recession was made even steeper and faster by the fact that it followed Intrawest’s 2006 blockbuster sale to Fortress Investment Group LLC, a deal he helped craft. Now at Sotheby’s in Vancouver, he is focused on a new batch of big deals, this time as the sales and marketing force behind projects such as the new Four Seasons in Bangalore, India.

What do you like about the real estate business?

The energy, the whole transactional nature of it, doing deals. It’s always interesting; it’s always creative. You’re matching needs on one side with space options, house options, office building options on the other side. It’s always fun to be in that space and figure that stuff out.

So you’re a deal guy?

Yup, totally.

It must have been an interesting time for a deal guy to be at Intrawest.

I joined right before Fortress purchased Intrawest and was part of the transition with them and I partnered with them after they bought it. I saw both sides of the deal and they were both very interesting. 

What was your role in putting that deal together?

I was part of the due diligence team with Intrawest when the owners were selling it. And then when Fortress purchased it they asked me to run one of the businesses and take it over and be their partner in that business. 

What was it like to be working on such a high-profile deal? 

It’s very interesting to deal with one of the iconic Canadian companies in Intrawest and also one of the top hedge-fund and real estate private-equity groups in the world in 
Fortress. They’re both really at the top of the pyramid in their respective areas so it was a lot of things learned on both sides and a lot of fun.

Why the move to Sotheby’s? 

Fabulous brand, fabulous opportunity. I love the brand quality, the business in Canada has had a successful start and I thought I could add value to it. And then, globally, we do project work, sales and marketing connected to Sotheby’s. Those two activities, the coming together of that brand with the kind of business that I quite enjoy, made it natural for me to become a partner in this business.

How is the Sotheby’s model different from some of the others out there?

Well, Sotheby’s, as a residential brokerage, is similar to several groups, but it’s at the high end. We typically serve the top 40 per cent of any market that we’re in. With the group that I’m involved with, we take that brand and do several high-profile projects around the world, selling residences in concert with the local Sotheby’s offices in those markets.

Any of those projects that stand out?

We’re doing the Four Seasons in Bangalore, India, right now. We’ve just been selected to do the sales and marketing for a city centre in Las Vegas. And in Canada, we’ve been involved in the Ritz Carlton in Montreal, the Four Seasons in Toronto and the Hotel Georgia here in Vancouver. 

How would you describe the difference between your role as president of an Intrawest division and a COO at Sotheby’s?

They’re very similar. I was president of a group, Playground Destination Properties, which was a fully-owned subsidiary of Intrawest and I do a very similar role here. The difference is I’ve got two partners, one of whom thankfully takes on the responsibilities of president, so he’s our public face more than I am. I get to do more stuff behind the scenes and that’s always more fun.

What are you looking forward to in the 
new job?

Really it’s two things: continuing to grow and build Canada and the second thing is to participate in the global recovery of real estate. Canada has continued to be quite strong, and the U.S., we think, is poised for a recovery in many markets, so we’re going to be participating in that. And then, frankly, it’s being involved in some of the iconic projects around the world. It’s a lot of fun to be involved in those kinds of things, like the Four Seasons in India. 

How would you say the luxury real estate game has changed globally, post recession? 

The number one thing is that the speculation is absolutely out of the marketplace, so when you’re selling you’re selling to real users, real owner-occupiers. In the last boom, even in the luxury sector, there was quite a lot of speculation. People who never intended to own for the long term and were just trying to participate in the appreciation of real estate. That type of buyer is now virtually out of the marketplace, especially in North America. 

So what are buyers looking for now?

Well, it’s more that they’re buying for their own use in general. You don’t see people who are buying it to sell it to someone else before the project completes construction, which was quite often the case in the mid-2000s.

Is Vancouver a good place, strategically, for you to have as a foundation for your business?

Yeah, it’s a great market by itself. It’s got a fabulous airport to connect to anywhere. It’s close to Asia and it’s not that much farther to get to Europe than being on the East Coast. For us it’s a real natural hub. And from an employment standpoint, it’s an attractive place to draw talent.