Alessandra and Rica Crecco are principals at Creccal Investments Ltd., a company incorporated in 1977 by their father, Alberto Crecco. The privately-owned, Montreal-based, real estate investment company owns and operates multi-residential, retail and office holdings totaling more than three million square feet including 1,908 apartments, 450,000 square feet of office space and 426,000 square feet of retail space in both the Toronto and Montreal markets.
Alessandra and Rica share their perspectives about the Montreal and Toronto markets, where they identify opportunities, their vision for future growth and why First National’s advisory role is vital to the company’s ongoing success.
Q: What are your perspectives on the Montreal and Toronto markets?
AC: Montreal is a budding market. The diversity of the two languages and the European flair give the city a distinctive character. During the past three years, we’ve been blessed with a lot of immigration particularly from the large influx as a result of students attending the world-class universities in the city. Real estate in Montreal is booming, particularly new apartment/condo construction and seniors housing.
RC: The Toronto market is growing even more so as a result of immigration. Quality apartment rentals are in huge demand, and there isn’t enough supply. People from all walks of life want to live and work in the city. More and more people are trying to achieve work-life balance, so they want to live in good quality rentals near their place of work or public transit.
Q: Where do you see the opportunities?
RC: There will always be demand for housing because people need places to live. It’s a necessity of life. Renting is more affordable for the most part, so apartment rentals have always been a great niche for us.
AC: In Montreal, rentals are and have always been in high demand. With growing immigration, many new Canadians are settling in apartments first as they get acquainted with the city. In many cases, renters have such a positive experience living in our properties that they end up staying with us for the long term.
RC: Our father has been investing in apartments and office in Westmount for more than 30 years. So we understand the opportunities inherent in well-located assets with turn-around potential. Our acquisition of Westmount Square is a great example. When that landmark office tower came on the market, we knew that we could leverage our knowledge of the sub-market, tenant base and hands-on operational experience to add value.
Q: What is your vision for growth?
AC: Our lives revolve around real estate, which is the direct influence of our father Alberto. He is a real visionary. When he drives around a city – Toronto or Montreal – he’s always surveying buildings and trying to understand why people live, work and shop where they do. He loves figuring out what makes a city great. His passion for real estate became our passion as well, and we manage our portfolio with that same dedication. Our approach is very hands on, and we always focus on what’s best for our tenants and our portfolio. Ultimately, we have a long-term vision. We have a formula that works and we don’t deviate from it – which is our strategy for continued growth.
RC: We look for diamonds in the rough. The ideal building is one that we can reinvest in, elevate the quality and achieve full occupancy. Buildings with that type of potential get us excited. For example, there was an ailing building in a pristine location in downtown Montreal. Approximately 30 apartments were vacant, and the commercial component was practically empty. We purchased the building at an attractive price, and within a year and a half, we rented the commercial space and filled all of the residential units with quality tenants. The building needed strong capable management and some capital, and we provided that, polishing it to become a shining star.
Q: How is First National supporting you in your vision for growth?
RC: We have a 10-year (and counting) relationship with First National. The expertise, market knowledge and CMHC proficiency available to us is unprecedented. The team that we work with understands us as a family and is very well versed in our portfolio. As our financing professionals, they know how we operate and want things done. Most importantly, we always feel comfortable and relaxed working with First National. The trust and faith that we have is mutual -- our team there respects our operational proficiency, and we rely on its proven financing advice and expertise.
AC: We always turn to our First National team for advice and input. When we present a building for financing, we want to feel proud of that building, and want First National to feel that same pride. It is very important to us that our First National team sees what we see in each property and believes in its growth – especially because so much of our strategy rests in finding and nurturing those diamonds in the rough. As our lending partner, First National supports us, seeing the growth and potential that we see in each property.
Q: From your experience, how does First National deliver on the concept of being “more than a lender?”
AC: First National is based in Toronto, but the financing professionals that we work with have extensive experience in the Montreal market. They know the city and its nuances. For them, it’s not about looking at an address on a map. They have a deep knowledge of locations and keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on.
RC: I’m very impressed with how our First National team assesses our portfolio and structures deals to cater to our specific needs. With other lenders, if you don’t fit the box, you’re out of luck. It’s never cookie cutter at First National. It’s more of a big picture approach. The numbers and bottom line are important of course, but there are others factors that come into consideration as well. When we have an opportunity, we sit down together to discuss our needs and requirements. There is an effort to structure financing for us, while maintaining rigor and the right amount of process.
Q: What stands out to you about working with First National?
AC: For me, it’s our relationship. It’s a business relationship, but it’s also a family relationship. We’ve been working with First National, and specifically Andrew Drexler, for 10 years. He’s become an extension of our Creccal family.
RC: Agreed. We have such a deep trust in the relationship and are grateful for its longevity. Andrew works with the same level of passion and care as we do, so there is like-mindedness there. When Andrew comes to Montreal, he’s the type of person that always makes an effort to visit us and our properties. We are proud to show him our buildings and how they have progressed. We discuss roadblocks and accomplishments. It’s always a very positive experience when we get together.
AC: We are looking forward to a future of dynamic growth. Having First National as our lending partner propels us forward. We know that we have a trusted resource to rely on and exchange ideas with. Instead of turning away from opportunities that may seem riskier or require exceptions, we embrace them with the support of First National. Working with First National – the relationship that we have and the confidence that we feel – allows us to think beyond the boundaries when it comes to growth.