Which would you rather have in your next condo: an enclosed den, or a full second bathroom instead of just a powder room?
Would you prefer a large fitness area, or a smaller gym plus a party room? Would you prefer a pet spa or a car wash? A kids’ play area, or a co-working space for adults?
And how interested are you in your next home offering voice-activated technologies, electric-vehicle charging stations, automated parcel delivery or car-share services?
In the capital-intensive world of homebuilding, nothing stays the same, and homeowner surveys asking questions such as these are just one way that Mattamy Homes stays current on new tastes, technologies and consumer lifestyles. As Canada’s largest homebuilder, Toronto-based Mattamy has grown consistently, year over year, for more than four decades by understanding its customers, aligning its employees with its mission, prioritizing the oft-conflicting values of quality and speed, and otherwise mastering the art of change.
“Go slow to go fast” is one of the guiding philosophies at Mattamy, handed down by founder and CEO Peter Gilgan, who started the company in 1978. “We take our time to get things right, right out of the gate,” says Mattamy Canada’s CEO, Brad Carr. “That means researching the project, getting approvals, understanding what type of product people want, and figuring out how big the house should be.”
Building a culture that cares has paid off. Gilgan built the company’s first house, in Burlington, Ont., 42 years ago; this spring, Mattamy will hand over the keys to its 100,000th home. In 2019, from Calgary to Ottawa, Mattamy closed on 4,000 new homes, which Carr says is a new record. (Mattamy Group’s fast-growing U.S. subsidiary, operating mainly in Sunbelt states such as Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, also built 4,000 homes last year, making the combined company North America’s largest privately owned homebuilder.)
Innovation has always been a hallmark at Mattamy. Under Gilgan’s leadership, it was decided early on that the company’s business was building communities, not just homes. It buys large tracts of undeveloped land and turns them into neighbourhoods, with a mix of housing types, as well as schools, parks and retail space.
As land prices soar in Canadian cities, Mattamy has had to evolve. In 2014 it expanded into high-rise development by buying venerable Monarch Corp., a Toronto-based homebuilder with high-rise condominium experience. The challenge now is to integrate Mattamy’s “community thinking” into higher-density developments. “Normally you build one tower at a time, but we want to look at things from a community perspective,” says Carr. “We’re considering how people learn, play and connect. We’re building projects that include rentals, retail and office space, all in the same thoughtfully designed master plan.”
Carr is also leading the company into new technology frontiers, from exploring the potential of built-in “smart home” automation (for controlling lights, thermostats and appliances) to transforming the sales experience. New-home buying is a journey—Mattamy has sales staff, builders and customer-care representatives contact homeowners and invite them to site visits and orientation meetings throughout the long construction process. “We [also] have to make it easier for consumers to relate to us with technology,” says Carr, so Mattamy is building an app to assist home buyers through the home-buying process from sales to closing and beyond.
Meanwhile, Mattamy faces a new challenge: institutionalizing Peter Gilgan’s entrepreneurial values even as he pulls back from day-to-day leadership to run a new investment company, Mattamy Asset Management Inc., to diversify the group’s revenue streams. Carr says the secret will be to maintain the corporate hustle instilled by Gilgan’s mantra: “How can we make things better?” Mattamy emphasizes values such as teamwork, collaboration and customer service, incentivizing its 1,250 staff through such perks as on-site childcare, a home-ownership financing program, and paid time off and matching grants for employees who volunteer for or donate to charities and non-profits.
But only time will tell if Mattamy can move fast enough to keep up with tightening markets. With a shrinking supply of vacant land in Canada’s urban centres, developing communities will only become more difficult. “We’re constantly on the lookout for the right pieces of land,” says Carr. “But now it’s coming with a higher sticker price. We’ll probably do more joint-venture partnerships, working with other organizations and financial partners to create larger opportunities.” Asked if such deals are in the works, Carr says, “We’re building capacity. It’s an extremely exciting part of the business.”