The third home makeover by Luloo Boutique Homes will be rented, not sold by Pouneh Rouhani

By TESS KALINOWSKIReal Estate Reporter


When the renovations began about 18 months ago, the locals probably suspected a flip.

By the time the exterior copper cladding and three levels of floor-to-ceiling windows had transformed the narrow red brick, all anyone cared about was when the construction would end, say the owners of Luloo Boutique Homes.

The three-unit house won't be sold. Instead, it will be let in whole or in parts, on Airbnb, part of Luloo's 21-unit portfolio of short-term rentals that finance the family firm's remodeling business.

Neighbours were among those invited this week to the celebration of Luloo's third major home makeover — the second on Dovercourt Rd.

Sisters Pouneh, 32, and Laleh Rouhani, 35, along with mom Mahyar Nourbakhsh and dad Reza Rouhani, are treating their latest makeover as a trial for their longer term ambition of creating a boutique hotel, said Pouneh.

Luloo's back story could have been scripted by an Airbnb ad writer.

Pouneh, who has a background in advertising and marketing, started renting out her apartment to finance her travels. The family also rented her parents' place when they were still going back and forth to Iran. About three years ago, she acquired a second rental property as a source of income.

That led to more properties — some rentals she manages for others and some are owned by Rouhanis. Most of the properties are downtown, but there are some in North York in the Yonge and Sheppard area that attract many Iranian and Asian tenants.


Dad is the president and CEO and mom is the company controller. Pouneh, Luloo's managing director, has an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at U of T.

For about the last two years, Pouneh has worked full-time for Luloo. The day of the interview with the Star, she was at the house supervising the cable installation.

Laleh, who has an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, is the creative and acquisition director and still works as a realtor.

"We take the exact same positions in the company as we do in the family," said Pouneh.

Like the Dovercourt house, Luloo's furnished suites share a modern, light industrial aesthetic. The rental applications are rigorously vetted. Most of the properties require a minimum five-night stay. Some condo buildings insist on at least a month.

"Shorter terms tend to draw parties," she said, adding that she's "so specific about the type" of tenants she chooses that the most damage she has experienced was a spilled glass of wine.

Eighty per cent of Luloo's rentals are through Airbnb but a few come through the company's website. Pouneh said she's tried other sites but Airbnb's reviews and community "are such a strong platform" for the business.

Each of the three units in the latest Dovercourt property has two bedrooms and its own laundry. But the basement unit, which is as light as the one above it since the front wall was blown out to accommodate a giant window, does not have a kitchen.

"Nobody likes to cook when they're on vacation," said Pouneh.

Nevertheless, she will experiment with how to best let the home — either as one entire house or as two units, treating the upstairs as a separate rental to the combined main floor and basement. The entire house would likely let for about $1,200 to $1,500 a night and would have a minimum stay of at least five nights.

But each of the three units could also be rented separately for $250 to $290 per night or the main floor and basement could rent as one unit for $590 per night.

Luloo bought the home for about $750,000 two years ago. The makeover, including the back garden landscaping, cost about $500,000.

The interiors are open concept. Each level includes laundry and stylish touches such as sliding barn doors..

"We hire designers but it's 90 per cent my sister dictating to them," Pouneh said joking.

Laleh, who still works as a real estate agent and eventually wants to get into the business of building green homes, denies any suggestion she's a design diva.

Luloo works with JA Architecture Studio on Queen St. West.

But it's clear Laleh has a voice in the aesthetics of the properties.

"I wanted to go with a material that was vintage to go with the neighbourhood," she said of the home's copper exterior.

Read the full story in Toronto Star here. 

Not an ordinary motel, The Four Seasons was Toronto's first downtown motor hotel by Pouneh Rouhani

Motels are typically one or two-storey suburban structures announced with outlandish neon signs thatbelie the humbleness of the accommodations on offer. This basic rule certainly held true for the majority of Toronto's motels, which were once to be found in abundance in Etobicoke and Scarborough, the latter of which still boasts a dying strip of these roadside businesses.

Back in the early 1960s, however, there was one significant exception. The Four Seasons Motor Hotel opened at Jarvis and Carlton streets in 1961 and served as the first property in what would become a luxury hotel chain with almost 100 properties worldwide. No ordinary motel, it was designed byarchitect Peter Dickinson at the behest of company founder Isadore Sharp.

Dickinson borrowed from the hallmarks of motel design, envisioning a low rise structure that surrounded a central courtyard and pool. The ads of the day were true; it was Toronto's first downtown motor hotel, but the idea wasn't to provide cheap accommodations. On the contrary, this was to be an urban oasis, far more similar to a resort than your typical hotel of the time.

"People who came from out of town, they didn't know Toronto," Sharp told the New York Times in 2009. "What they saw was a charming little hotel, like an oasis, with a swimming pool, a courtyard. You create your own environment. It's all in the way you market the product."

The concept proved popular from the outset, and Sharp and Dickinson quickly paired up to build something even more grand on an empty plot of land at Eglinton and Leslie streets in the form of the Inn on the Park. This property also had motel-like elements, but added two high rise hotel towers (the second one was built in 1971) to increase the total number of rooms to over 500.

Read more at BlogTO here

The New York Times Names Toronto Seventh-Best City To Visit by Pouneh Rouhani

The New York Times calls Toronto Canada's "premier city."

The New York Times calls Toronto Canada's "premier city."

TORONTO — Travellers hoping to take a break from the Big Apple are being offered a Canadian alternative — the Big Smoke.

The New York Times has named Toronto as number seven on its list of 52 places to visit in 2016.

The newspaper touts the T-dot as Canada's "premier city," eclipsing the likes of Vancouver and Montreal.

The Times extols the virtues of Toronto's recently redeveloped waterfront and the revitalization of former industrial neighbourhoods such as the Junction as reasons to visit.

The article praises Toronto for its cultural diversity and mention's the fact that it plays host to major sports events and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.

What the article failed to mention is the potential cost savings to American travellers at a time when the Canadian dollar is valued at just 71 cents U.S.

"Canada's largest city is ready for its close-up," The Times article states, adding that a newly opened express train linking the city's downtown core with Pearson International Airport is yet another incentive to put the city on the travel itinerary.

Social media buzzed with Torontonians revelling in the recognition.

"#Toronto is number 7 on the @nytimes list of 52 places to visit in 2016," wrote one user. "Reconfirms how #awesome Toronto really is!"

At least one traveller appeared to have been sold on the newspaper's pitch.

"Toronto is such an amazing city. I am really considering that one. Especially in July. Weather will be great," tweeted a prospective visitor.

Others struck a more skeptical tone. 

"I think Toronto is wonderful but the seventh-best place in the world for a tourist might be pushing it."

"Benefit of a low $ — U.S. will love us again," quipped another.

Toronto placed ahead of such major tourist destinations as the Irish capital of Dublin, Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Spain and Sydney, Australia

Raad the full story on Huffingtonpost here


New York’s First Micro-Apartments by Pouneh Rouhani

New Yorkers are used to living in shoe box apartments. Now, more of them can see what it is like to live in something even smaller. Leasing begins Monday at Carmel Place, the city’s first micro-unit development, a nine-story, modular building at 335 East 27th Street with 55 studios ranging from 260 to 360 square feet.

The development, previously called My Micro NY, has tapped into a desire common among many singles to live alone. The building includes 14 units designated as affordable, for which some 60,000 people applied, or nearly 4,300 applicants per apartment. The lottery for these units was held earlier this month, and winners will be informed in January. The building is set to open on Feb. 1.

“It shows the need that people feel for affordable, private space in the city,” said Tobias Oriwol, a project developer for Monadnock Development, of the number of applicants. Monadnock is developing the building with the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association. Most of the affordable apartments will rent for $950 a month to tenants who meet income restrictions, less than half of what will be charged for market-rate apartments.

Apartments in New York City ordinarily can be no smaller than 400 square feet, but the city waived those restrictions for this development. A zoningproposal by the Department of City Planning could open the door for smaller living quarters, if it is approved by the City Council. It calls for eliminating the 400-square-foot minimum to allow for smaller apartments and loosening some density restrictions to fit more units into buildings. But even if these changes prevail, a building consisting entirely of micro units would still be illegal. For the foreseeable future, Carmel Place will remain an outlier and something of a social experiment.

The development is the product of a 2012 design competition intended to address one of the city’s more vexing housing problems: How do you build safe, legal and reasonably priced apartments for single New Yorkers who do not want to double — or triple — up with roommates?

Carmel Place answers that question with studios that were prefabricated in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, delivered by truck over the Manhattan Bridge and assembled on site in Kips Bay. Kitchenettes are outfitted with mini-refrigerators, two-burner electric stovetops and microwaves in lieu of ovens. Bathrooms are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but have stall showers instead of bathtubs.

Of the 12 market-rate apartments that will be available for leasing on Monday, eight will be furnished, and all will be on the second through fourth floors. Furnished studios will each include a pull-down bed, sofa, cabinets and tables.

Renters will pay a premium for a furnished unit. For example, a furnished 355-square-foot apartment on the second floor is listed at $2,910, while an unfurnished 360-square foot unit on the same floor is listed for $2,750 — a $160-a-month discount. The lowest-priced unit listed, at $2,540, is a furnished 265-square foot studio on the third floor. The remaining market-rate units, including a 323-square-foot studio on the eighth floor, with a 268-square-foot terrace, will become available over the next few weeks, and priced based on how quickly the first apartments rent, according to a spokeswoman for the developer.

Small apartments are not new to New York. Thousands of apartments that predate the city’s 1987 zoning restrictions would be considered micro units by today’s standards. In Manhattan, some 3,000 apartments measure less than 400 square feet, according to Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the Miller Samuel real estate appraisal firm. Many of them are tucked away in prewar buildings, some converted from hotels or rooming houses.

“There’s all this concern and wondering, ‘Is it going to be accepted?’ ” Mr. Miller said of the new micro units. “But it’s really not about the physical size, it’s about how they’re priced.”

The smallest units at Carmel Place are about half the size of an average studio in Manhattan, which was 550 square feet in October, according to a report by Douglas Elliman. The median rent during the same period was $2,555, about the starting rent at Carmel Place. So renters will be paying considerably more rent per square foot for these micro units. But for some renters it might not matter — their rent check is about the same, even if the size of the space is smaller.

“It’s like buying a Prius, it’s a niche,” Mr. Miller said. “This is one of those things that the market will determine ultimately whether or not they’re accepted.”

Forty percent of households in New York City are not families, according to census data, yet most of the city’s housing stock is designed to house families. Studios account for only 7 percent of the housing stock, according to the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. Single New Yorkers often subdivide apartments, squeezing several roommates into configurations that are often illegal and unsafe. Adding locks to bedroom doors can violate fire codes. And a provision in the city’s housing maintenance code prohibits more than three unrelated people from occupying the same apartment, a rule that is often ignored and considered antiquated.

“There is this idea that bigger is better, and that we need housing for families,” said Sarah Watson, the deputy director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and manager of its Making Room initiative, which ultimately led to the city’s micro-unit competition. “But people change, lifestyle changes, technology changes and the housing needs to change.”

The micro units’ design, by nArchitects, tries to resolve the potential for claustrophobia with ceilings that are more than nine feet tall and sliding glass doors that open onto Juliet balconies. The building also provides communal space, including a gym, two lounges and an outdoor courtyard. A lounge in the cellar will have a pool table and a television, and the eighth-floor lounge will open onto a shared roof deck with a barbecue. “People don’t want to be limited by the size of their apartment,” Mr. Oriwol said.

A communal lounge might make tight living quarters more tolerable, but it does not make it any easier to squeeze a bed (and maybe a table and chair, too) into a tiny space. For that, Monadnock enlisted Stage 3 Properties to offer a brand of furnishings and services that it calls Ollie. The 17 market-rate apartments are furnished by Ollie with pieces distributed by Resource Furniture. Among them is a sofa designed by the Italian manufacturer Clei that allows a tenant to take off the cushions and pull down a bed from the wall, transforming a living room into a bedroom. A white lacquer desk can be extended into a dining table that seats 10. Tenants who are unsure about how to decorate such a small space can buy an Ollie Box, an assortment of décor options like throw pillows, rugs and table lamps.

All market-rate tenants receive an Ollie amenity package that includes weekly housekeeping by Hello Alfred, an app-based personal butler service; Wi-Fi; cable; and access to events, some of which are free. Tenants living in the 14 affordable units would have to pay $163 a month extra for access to these services. An additional eight apartments, furnished and supplied with the Ollie amenity package, will be set aside for formerly homeless veterans.

“The market has already decided that space is just one attribute that renters consider when they’re looking for housing,” said Christopher Bledsoe, a founding partner of Stage 3 Properties. Other attributes like housekeeping and free Wi-Fi, he said, might convince some renters to pay more for less room.

Read the full story here

To Airbnb or Not to Airbnb by Pouneh Rouhani

Proposition F, the contentious San Francisco ballot measure that would impose tighter restrictions on short-term housing rental services such as Airbnb, lost by a sizable margin Tuesday night.

According to the city's election website, the measure was defeated,  55% to 45%, with about 133,000 votes cast and all precincts reporting.

Airbnb raised more than $8 million to oppose Proposition F and put up a series of controversial billboards that touted the $12 million the company has generated in city hotel tax revenue. Supporters of the measure raised about $800,000.

Voters easily gave Mayor Ed Lee a second term after he faced scant opposition, and threw out Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi after one term. Several other housing-related measures were also on the ballot in a city where the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $4,000.

But it was the so-called Airbnb measure that generated wide interest beyond the city as well as fierce debate among local residents. On Monday, protesters in support of the measure stormed the Brannan Street headquarters of Airbnb.

The measure would have capped rentals at 75 days a year, whether or not they are hosted (meaning that the resident is at home during the renter's stay). Current city law limits rentals to 90 days a year for unhosted rentals, while hosted rentals face no such limit.

Proposition F would also have allowed “interested parties” such as neighbors or landlords to sue short-term rental companies such as VRBO and Airbnb if they violate the new rules.

Read the full story here

This futuristic apartment transforms five rooms into one by Pouneh Rouhani


YO! Home is a modern convertible apartment, designed to compact a luxury apartment into a 40-square-meter space.

It's the newest venture from YOTEL founder Simon Woodroffe and features a bed that descends from the ceiling, a kitchen hidden in the wall, and a table that emerges from the floor.

You can find out more about YO! Home on its websiteFacebook page, or on Simon Woodroffe's Twitter.

Read more:


The Toronto Sign has moved locations by Pouneh Rouhani

Yes, the Toronto sign has moved. But before you freak out and start mourning the loss of our city's multi-coloured marquee, the sign has moved just a few metres away and now resides at the east side of Nathan Phillips Square next to Bay.

According to a CTV News report, the city moved the sign for the Parapan Pan Am Games closing ceremonies, which are happening in the Square at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.

Along with musical entertainment, the Games will conclude with a fireworks show. But don't look southward towards the CN Tower because these fireworks will erupt from atop City Hall.

While the Pan Am Games wrap up this weekend, the sign will be relocated again for another year, meaning you still have plenty of time to photograph it in its rather iconic location.

read the original article on BlogTO here.

25 hacks to make your life easier in Toronto by Pouneh Rouhani

Photo by Agnieszka Gaul/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Agnieszka Gaul/iStock / Getty Images

Knowing a few life hacks in Toronto will make it a whole lot easier to get the most out of this vibrant city. From expertly navigating the TTC to knowing where to get free stuff, there's a host of little tricks that'll save you time and money and make you feel like you're the master of your domain.

Here are 25 hacks to make life easier in Toronto.

1. It's pronounced "Churrono" not "Tor-on-to": the quicker you lose the proper pronunciation the quicker people will think you're a local.

2. Download Rocketman to plan TTC routes. Never wait in the rain at a bus or streetcar stop for 13 minutes again.

3. Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card. A Toronto Public Library card not only gets you access to in-house resources, you can also use it to download e-books and digital albums - you can even use it to get free access to the Zoo.

4. You get six free bagels at What a Bagel on your birthday.

5. Buy all your kitchen stuff at Tap Phong. They have absolutely everything you could need and the best prices in the city.

6. There's an easy trick If you get disoriented coming out of a subway station. Generally downhill is south, uphill is north. Left of the CN tower is east, right is west. You'll never get lost again.

7. Look at the seams of streetcar seats before you sit down. If they're darker, it's probably wet or someone peed on them.

8. You can book a Toronto Greeter for free. Whether you're new in town or you've been here your whole life, you can use a Toronto greeter to fill you in on your neighbourhood and answer any questions you have.

9. At the end of the month people put their old furniture out on the street because they're moving. You can furnish an entire apartment this way. 

10. Sign up for DanceBreakNights OutC-Stage, and HipTix to get majorly reduced tickets to theatre, opera and ballet. Provide your email and you'll have access to all the hottest tickets for reduced prices.

11. Spadina Road and Spadina Avenue are NOT the same thing.

12. You can go to free yoga classes almost every day around the city at Toronto Public Library and Lululemon locations. Check the Share The Love Yoga site for a full schedule of free or donation-based classes. Namaste.

13. When getting on a streetcar at a busy intersection, walk one block east or west and get on without the crowded changeover.

14. There are free shuttles to Vaughan Mills, Toronto Outlets, Ikea and the Brick Works. When you have an itch for discount Kate Spade bags or reasonably priced furniture, it must be scratched.

15. Never transfer at Spadina. People will tell you it can be done. The little map dot will flash green. Do not be fooled.

16. Avoid these tourist traps.

17. Linger around Yonge & Dundas Square and you can get free stuff almost everyday.

18. Public garbage cans have pedals at the bottom. Use them to open the flap and save your hands from having to press against other people's waste.

19. When looking for a specific address remember even numbers are on north and west sides and odd numbers are on south and east sides of the street.

20. Plan your late night drinking around events with extended last calls. TIFF, NXNE, Nuit Blanche, Pride and Fashion Week all have extended 4am last call permits extended as part of their programming.

21. You don't have to pay for on street parking until 1pm on Sundays. Leave a car overnight on a main street between 9pm Sat until 1pm on Sunday for free.

22. You get a free coffee at Jet Fuel on your birthday. Take it home and drink it with one of your free bagels. Birthday celebration complete.

23. The TTC efficiency guide will move you through the subway way faster by showing the best places to board and exit trains.

24. Don't sit in the empty seat on a busy streetcar, there is a reason it is empty. The reason may not be readily apparent but trust your fellow transit-goers.

25. Avoid going outside in the winter at all costs. Hibernate like a bear. It's not worth it.

Read the original article on BlogTO here