The founder of National Homes has real insight on what makes new homebuyers happy: Customer Satisfaction
BY GALE BEEBY
Rocky Pantalone started out in the business world as a real estate agent and in 1974 founded Pantalone Realty, a leading real estate brokerage.
That led, naturally, to becoming a developer and builder and, in 1992, he launched National Homes.
Because of his experience as a broker, Pantalone had unique in- sight into the buyer experience and National Homes has built its outside in. Dubbed “You are the Blueprint,” Nationals’ commitment to building homes that are designed by its customers has earned them numerous awards (10 from the Building Industry and Land Development Association) and an enviable level of customer satisfaction.
Condo Life: You’ve been in and around the building industry for years. Tell me a bit about how you got your start? What was your “big break?”
Rocky Pantalone: My initial role in the business was as a real estate broker/developer, where I found and sold land to a number of the builders across the GTA. My evolution into building came out of necessity. As a developer I had sold land to some builders who defaulted on these purchases during the recession in the early ’90s and I was in a position where the banks had to be repaid. I decided that the easiest way to deal with this issue was to become a builder myself. I found I enjoyed working in this side of the business and so National Homes was born.
CL: In your role as a lowrise builder, and given the province’s Places to Grow initiative, which encourages density and restricts building on the green belt and moraine lands, where do you see the new homebuyers market in the GTA in 20 years?
RP: The scarcity of land availability in areas with strong existing infrastructure is forcing lowrise builders to become much more savvy in identifying areas where for building volume. We, at National, see the future of lowrise building in the GTA to concentrate in the areas of Milton, Bradford, Burlington and Georgetown. Fortunately, these areas still encourage new lowrise development and are strong growth areas. We actually just launched a new project in Bradford that is doing extremely well.
In addition, as house prices continue to rise in the GTA, people are looking further afield for more affordable options to settle and raise a family.
CL: Housing affordability has become a buzzword around the industry of late, and that ties in with the lengthy approval process and escalating development charges and municipal levies. What do you believe the different levels of government should do to help reputation by designing new homes based on customers’ needs. With every new home site, National consults its intended buyers on what they want in a home and then designs the homes from the developers create safe and affordable housing, both lowrise and highrise?
RP: The most challenging issues for builders (and homebuyers!) are the tremendous levies and development charges imposed by the various levels of government. In addition, the approval process is frequently very protracted, significantly slows down the building process and adds hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees. As a result, builders have to carry the cost of the land for a much longer period than before. Collectively these variables all contribute to the final price of new homes today.
CL: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your professional life so far?
RP: The greatest challenge we at National face — as with the other builders in the industry — is the dearth of land available for build-ing highrise as well as lowrise homes.
CL: What have been the strongest influences in your professional life?
RP: I have been fortunate to have worked with a number of the pillars of the industry and each one has left an indelible mark on my approach to the business. Ore Fidani, Marco Muzzo, Freddy DeGasperis, Sr. and Stan Leibel were all people I worked closely with and learned from over the years. In addition, I was Max Tanenbaum’s exclusive real estate agent for many years and we spent countless hours driving the city looking for opportunities.
One of the key influencers in my life was my father-in-law, Larry Longo, who guided me as I entered into the building industry. He acted as a valued mentor.
CL: I understand you are a very good golfer. Tell me a little about how you started and what you do to relax?
RP: Golf is truly my ideal way to relax. I started golfing as a child and loved it. As I grew older, married and started the business, I had little time for golf and put it on the back burner. Now, over 20 years later and with the children grown, I have more time to enjoy it and try to go out two times a week.
CL: National Homes has a reputation for supporting a number of charities, especially St. John’s Rehab. What is your motivation for being such a philanthropist?
RP: We, as a family, strongly believe in supporting organizations that have a special meaning to us. POGO (the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario), SickKids Hospital and Best Buddies are all organizations that focus on children and we have worked with each of them in numerous initiatives. In addition, we are strongly com- mitted to St. John’s Rehab; it assisted my daughter Deena through a very challenging recovery after a severe ski accident.
CL: Has having family members join you in the business helped or been a challenge?
RP: For me, the best thing about National is having my family work- ing alongside me in all aspects of the business. They all grew up visiting construction sites and looking for land with me on the weekends. Both my sons and daughter are involved as well as my wife, Rene, each managing a different division of National Homes. And, it certainly gives us lots to talk about — or not talk about! — at the dinner table when we all get together!