Natasha Penzo is the complete realtor package — plus.
She offers more than just a complete package; she also offers a family-sized package, as part of the Debbie Penzo Team. The team, led by her mother Debbie — and her 25-plus years of real estate experience, also includes Natasha’s husband, Graeme McIntosh.
The family affair extends beyond that team to yet another complementary family business making its mark in Toronto real estate: Urban Blueprint, a design and build company she co-founded with her brother Luca.
Owning a company that specializes in urban residential construction management and design, gives Natasha the unique ability — or unique abilities, as it were — to remodel your home, sell it, and build you a new one. This places all the necessary resources at her disposal, in one of the most competitive real estate markets in the country.
So how does this enterprising and family-oriented businesswoman navigate the line between personal and professional — and the lines between her different companies? And how does this help both buyers and sellers? Let’s find out …
What initially got you into real estate?
I started in real estate only about three years ago. I grew up in a family of builders and my mom is a real estate agent. Growing up, I just watched her and my dad on job sites always talking about real estate. The profession was just sort of immersed in my lifestyle from a very early age. From a young age, I’ve constantly walked the city. I can walk for hours and hours and I remember doing that as a teenager. I just love to observe the design and aesthetic around me and how people live in their environment, so that’s a big thing for me— that’s from a very early age.
I’m also the co-founder of Urban Blueprint, a design and build company, with my brother, so I work with my whole family. I work with my mom on my real estate team and my brother on the design and build company.
What is it like working with your family?
I’ve had to set boundaries when it comes to being professional and respectful because when it’s family you can be brutally honest with each other. In a lot of ways, that’s what enables us to succeed. We can just be that honest because we are family. But definitely setting boundaries, as far as how you talk to people in a professional setting, has been a challenge because just because you’re my brother it still has to be kept very, very professional.
I think that’s something I always try to keep top of mind. Also, knowing that there has to be a difference between work and family time. That is the biggest challenge because we’re all so passionate about what we do. We go on family vacations and we’ll just be talking about real estate or development.
What is the story behind Urban Blueprint?
Urban Blueprint was co-founded by my brother and me. I worked for about eight years in marketing and PR, in the fashion and beauty industry working on luxury brands. I absolutely loved it, and then I did my MBA in finance and entrepreneurship. At the time, my brother was doing his construction project management degree at George Brown. We had always talked about doing something together and that just felt like the best segue into it. We have such a complementary skillset, so it really worked. He’s been on job sites since he was 14, following in my dad’s and grandfather’s footsteps. My brother had always been on job sites and I’m really into design and lifestyle, so it just was a natural progression for us to do something together.
With integrating the real estate, I just kept noticing we would go on consultations with people and to bring that whole service offering to a consumer, I hadn’t really seen many people do that. People would always ask, “How much would it cost me to renovate my house? And what’s the cost-benefit analysis of selling versus renovating?” … I thought, why not integrate the two businesses and be able to answer all those questions for someone. We could provide a one-stop shop for the full life-cycle of a person’s real estate needs.
What are your impressions of the Toronto real estate market right now?
My team covers off a wide-range of demographics. My mom is in her early 60s and has been working in the industry for over 25 years. My husband is in his early 40s and has a network of people who are in the epitome of their careers and their children are growing. And I’m in my early 30s, covering off the first-time home-buying millennials.
We cover a pretty wide range of customers and clients, so I think what we’ve noticed is a “wait and see” vibe in the air. There’s definitely been a bit of a reality check since the spring when the prices were inflated. I think it has adjusted, but I think the city is continuing to get more exciting. And people are comparing Toronto to other world-class cities.
The market is also hyper-local, so you can’t really look at the GTA in general and compare it to specific neighbourhoods in the city. The market is still very, very strong in the downtown core and we’re seeing a strong demand from buyers still. But not a lot of product in the neighbourhoods we work in, which are primarily south of Yonge and St. Clair. You’ve got this whole cohort of millennials wanting to buy and there’s not a lot of supply in the downtown core.
Given the scarcity, what is your advice for buyers?
Honestly, keep looking. It takes on average four to six months to find a home. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working with your agents and going to open houses. Become educated to what the different neighbourhoods are like and be open-minded to explore neighbourhoods that you might not have necessarily thought you wanted to live in. I moved to Riverdale with my family a few years ago, and it’s a neighbourhood I never thought I’d want to live in, but I absolutely love it.
Sellers seem to have all the power right now, what’s your advice for them?
Staging is everything. I’m a big believer in hiring a professional staging company to assist you with your home. It will definitely assist in getting top-dollar for you. It’s a lot of work to sell your house. I would give yourself at least a month to fine-tune the home, look at every nook and cranny and make sure it’s as polished as possible.
What does your team mean to you?
I love working with a team because we each have such a different skillset, and I think that offering all of those skills to our clients are really valuable. With my mom having over 25 years’ experience, she’s very credible and knowledgeable about the market. My husband is more of the operations guy, so having someone who can do the administration is really good. We each bring something to the table and I think having a team is amazing, because doing it by yourself makes it so challenging to try and fill all those roles.