The high life

Indian-born, Hong Kong-raised Jamna Dayaram has become a success selling luxury real estate 

Jamna Dayaram

Being turned down for employment by major real estate firms turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Jamna Dayaram. 

A realtor with a multicultural global background and a strong sense of dedication and perseverance, Dayaram decided to start her own company, Avant Garde Realty Limited. And since 1998, she has developed a successful track record in the luxury real estate market in Toronto, including Yorkville, Rosedale, Harbourfront as well as Richmond Hill and Markham. 

Born in India and raised in Hong Kong, Dayaram immigrated to Canada more than 30 years ago. Her firm Avant Garde is a small, independent boutique that offers personalized service to clients looking for high-end homes, condos and lofts. “We’re unique because we’re small,” says Dayaram. “You have a lot of franchise real-estate branches, but very few are high-end boutiques like us. We offer exclusive personalized service and we’re very knowledgeable about our products.”

Dayaram attributes this type of personalized attention as being essential to Avant Garde’s success: “Clients play a big part. We go out of our way to make sure we have integrity; we are consistent and patient, and we understand their needs so we don’t waste their time.” 

Her success is borne by big sales. In the mid-1990s, she was the first woman ever to sell a penthouse in Toronto for $1 million. Some of her most prominent sales include a 3,800-square-foot Windsor Arms condo at the full listed price of $3,549,000, and a 2,455 square-foot parcel in the new Four Seasons at $3,175,000. Currently her favourite property to sell is a Yorkville Penthouse listed at $4,200,000. 

In spite of the recent economic troubles, the high-end luxury market in Toronto is very good. Dayaram says that demand even exceeds supply: “There’s a huge market for luxury condos, yet there are a lack of them.” 

Referring to buildings under construction like the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La, Dayaram says: “There are a number of new luxury condos being built, but they’re not going to be ready until 2011, 2012.” Dayaram believes that Canada’s political stability and prosperity make Toronto an especially desirable location for wealthy clients from around the world. “We have clients coming from all over the globe like the middle east, Russia, China and other countries, and local people who are downsizing and moving back to city.” Other factors like couples preferring to live downtown as opposed to the suburbs also contribute to increased sales in condos in downtown Toronto. 

Before she went into real estate, she ran an office supply distribution company, JDI Distribution. In 1991 she went to work as a real estate agent where initially she faced tough times during the recession. “When I started, I couldn’t sell anything; nobody was buying anything.” Eventually Dayaram was able to get some sales. However, when she wanted to work for major realtors to sell luxury real estate, she says she encountered some discrimination: “They were not prepared to hire me on the basis that I was an immigrant, an Asian. I remember them telling me I should go to the Indian community and sell to Indian people. I said, ‘Why? I’m a businessperson from Hong Kong and I felt I could sell to anybody.’”

Dayaram is pensive about her experiences. “It’s unfortunate that you do encounter some people’s lack of knowledge and understanding of immigrants. They think every immigrant coming to this country should be driving a taxi or working in a little restaurant. “When I came here, people had an attitude saying I didn’t have any Canadian experience. I was highly qualified. So I find that you always have the issue of cultural difference. It’s no one’s fault, but a lack of exposure. It’s a matter of educating people and being patient. People are basically good and Canadian people are excellent people.” She advises immigrants to be patient and be open to change. “It’s very important not to have a fear of change or exposure. People here are very genuine. If you work hard and are dedicated, you will get opportunities.”

—Hilton Yip

September 2010

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