With a philosophy of creating a community with every development, and a mission of making a positive impact with every community it creates, LJM Developments is drawing home buyers with sensational condominium developments at attainable prices.
In life, some people wait for opportunities to arrive, while others, like Liaquat J. Mian (LJM), carve out their own destinies. A chartered accountant in Canada and in Pakistan, Mian gained experience working at the Pakistani Charitable Trust Fauji as its Chief Financial Officer and Project Manager for 25 years.
Engaged with major financial institutions across Germany, France, and Canada, Mian then embarked on a year-long posting in the United States, coordinating with the World Bank and USAID. The move sharpened his skills of coordinating and consulting with key consultants and negotiating the funding of mega-projects in the $300 million to $500 million range. Understandably, exposure to these high-level dealings fuelled a strong wish to become a developer in his own right.
“That was a great experience I carried,” recalls Mian. He took on additional training with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and other institutions in Dallas, Australia, and Asia, building and polishing his project management skills.
Around this time, Mian’s children became eager to attend university in the west, which saw his wife move to Canada in 1998, with her husband following a few years later.
“The only thing I knew when I arrived was the project management and development business,” he says. The result was that, in 2001, he founded LJM Developments Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, with the vision of investing, developing, and managing residential and commercial properties in the province.
Building the future
Now, under Mian’s leadership as President and Chief Executive Officer, it looks like the company could be closing in on its goal: “To become the leading real estate development company in North America.”
Back then, soon after arriving in Canada, Mian purchased property at Derry Road and Highway 10 in the City of Mississauga, creating a successful commercial plaza in 2004. And in 2004 and 2005, he bought more land in the scenic town of Burlington, Ontario, shortly before a substantial increase in prices, along with niche properties in Mississauga for developing townhouses and detached homes.
“I wanted to give myself the experience of all four segments of construction, namely commercial, low-rise townhome, detached, and vertical construction,” he says. “I found vertical construction the most challenging, and most motivating. So we decided to build the tallest building in Burlington – called Ironstone.”
The city balked, not quite ready for 16 storeys of condominiums in Burlington. Not deterred, the team at LJM persisted, and persuaded officials to change their minds. “That was a great success,” says Mian of the large-scale project, which also has a mall on six acres, now zoned for residential.
The success of Ironstone soon led to other projects, including Burlington’s Appleby Gardens, completed in 2016 with 71 suites including lofts, one and two-bedroom units, and penthouse apartments.
With a population of over six million, Toronto is loud, crowded, and a traffic nightmare. Very little land is left for development – which is not the case in areas just outside Canada’s most populated city.
“I always wanted to get out of big cities, go to small municipalities, give vibrancy, revenue, and economic uplift to places which are sitting quiet,” Mian says. Places like Grimsby and Burlington are perfect examples, he claims – and he was right, with both locations making a number of “best-of” lists.
Prior to LJM Developments, there were no high-rises in Grimsby; today, the town is seeing $150 million in investment. Similarly, in Cambridge, LJM will be the largest builder, with $750 million worth of projects.
These are remarkable achievements, especially considering that when Mian came to Canada – as he explains – he could have retired and taken it easy, supported by the family properties back in Pakistan. Instead, he has created an imposing and valuable legacy in his new homeland.
Other Ontario municipalities like London and Kitchener are benefiting from the company’s investment and development expertise, a point of great pride for Mian and his team. Every single day some 200,000 cars on the way to Grimsby along the Queen Elizabeth Highway see LJM signs on both sides.
“They look at them, and say ‘Well done, that’s what I want to know,’” Mian says. “That’s the contribution of an immigrant coming from a small country. We contribute so much in development charges, registry, income tax, and millions of dollars into smaller municipalities. So, we have great respect in the Niagara region because we are giving them an uplift. And it’s a model to be repeated.”
Range of buyers
Recognized for the quality of its many past projects – such as Eleven Superior in Etobicoke, and Trelawney Estates and Lorne Park in Mississauga – LJM Developments is also being hailed for its more current works, like LJM Tower, Waterview, and Kings Park.
Popular with over-50s looking to downsize but who still want a community-style way of life, the company’s projects are also attractive to younger couples and families getting into the market for the first time.
“At this point, the entry to detached homes or townhomes is very challenging for young people,” says Mian. “In Grimsby, for example, people want to be in the area, but it was hard to find the right places. Now they are selling their bigger homes and moving to a comfortable location.”
With plenty of nearby parks and waterfronts and a stress-free way of life, small wonder many are exiting larger cities for communities in Grimsby, London, and Cambridge and other locations outside of Toronto.
In Cambridge, one of LJM’s works in developments is an innovative series of five, 15-storey towers set to include 991 units in one, two, and three-bedroom configuration priced below market rates. From Cambridge to Hamilton, and London to Newmarket, the company is actively creating high-rise buildings to meet the needs of Canada’s growing population, including with affordable housing.
“Recently we got building approval in London, and donated four units worth over $2 million to the City of London for affordable housing,” he says. Generously, LJM is also donating $2 million – over three years – towards the construction of a new hospital in Lincoln and Grimsby, which will also see the dedication of a city park in the Mian family name.
For Mian, giving back to the country which has been his home for two decades is of the utmost importance. As well as the hospital building donation, the company has offered five units to Cambridge for affordable housing and donated a unit to Habitat for Humanity in Grimsby.
As Liaquat J. Mian is quick to point out, LJM is more than a developer: they are a builder of communities. At present, the company is active in 12 municipalities throughout Ontario including Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener, London, Chatham, Burlington, Hamilton, Stony Creek, Grimsby, Lincoln, and Niagara Falls, and has comprehensive plans for expansion over the next five to 10 years.
LJM chose its beautiful new sites through Mian’s wife, a broker who specializes in land acquisition with RE/MAX. This includes the company’s latest project, the luxurious LJM Harbourfront in the Town of Lincoln, in the province’s Niagara Region.
A twin tower condominium with striking views of Lake Ontario and Jordan Harbour and Niagara’s vineyards and wineries, one tower of LJM Harbourfront will measure 23 storeys, the other, 20 storeys. With about 400 units in total ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet, LJM Harbourfront will also boast a penthouse unit of 6,000 square feet.
“We have about 10,000 people registered for that already,” says Mian of the $300 million project, which LJM will launch at the end of October. As with other LJM developments, he expects it will sell out in 24 hours.
Focus on quality
Even with the skyrocketing cost of building materials, LJM Developments has been able to keep prices reasonable while maintaining quality.
One reason is trade loyalty. Working with two dozen trusted trades subcontracted to install windows, kitchens, floors, drywall, and every other necessary building service, Mina, nevertheless prefers not to have in-house architects and consultants.
The reason, he says, is that while architects are visionary people, their visions are not unlimited, and they’ll be out of ideas after four or five buildings. “But we need fresh ideas! Always fresh. So we engage different architects, and get the best out of them.” Rounding off his team of about 25 staffers are specialists in finance, customer service, marketing, and construction management.
Another key guideline to staying competitive: don’t sell all your product at once. Early on, Mian realized it was better to hold back about 20 percent of the stock to be sold later to recover some of the inflationary increases in cost.
While keeping prices reasonable is becoming more of a challenge with spikes in prices for steel and other building materials, the developer refuses to compromise on quality. “Everyone is welcome to see our product, what we produce,” he says.
“We don’t want to do volume; we want to do quality while creating a legacy for ourselves. So that is our goal as a highly educated developer. We are trying to help customers and purchasers with affordability – a quality building at an appropriate price that they can enjoy. That is our promise to them.”