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Housing Starts in Canada Feeling Winter’s Chill

Alberta remains resilient for the time being

Rahul Vaidyanath – Epoch Times

Homebuilding in Canada took a sharp turn lower in February as housing starts fell 16.4% month-over-month, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) on Monday, March 9. The drop exceeded forecasts by bank analysts.

The trend in housing starts, a six-month moving average of monthly figures, decreased for the fifth straight month.

Comment: Sure, but the standalone number rose 4.3% to 187,276 in January, up from 179,637 in December. That is also after 2014 ended with 189,401 actual starts, a 0.8% increase as compared to the 187,923 starts in 2013. How the trend keeps going down when the raw numbers are rising is beyond me.

Overall, housing starts fell to 156,276 annualized units in February, down from a revised figure of 187,025 in January. The tumble mainly came from multiple-unit starts (down 25.1%) as opposed to single-detached homes (down 4.1%). Multiple-unit starts dropped to their lowest level since January 2011, according to National Bank.

Comment: But the numbers vary widely and wildly from month to month. Note the chart showing the past 2 years of starts. The standalone numbers range from a high around 205,000 to a low of 155,000. That is a huge swing… so you can pick any month you want to try to make a point you want to make. Note also, that February 2014 was a very low point and Feb 2013 was not that high. Could be just that February is not a month developers choose to begin construction. For obvious reasons.

Housing starts chart
Regionally, most of the fall came in Ontario (down about 16,100), while Alberta fell only about 400. For Atlantic Canada and Quebec, the level of starts fell to their lowest level since February 1998 and December 2001 respectively, based on analysis from National Bank.

“The declining trend in multiple starts is helping to gradually erode the inventory of completed and unsold units, which is high compared to historical levels,” said CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan in a press release.

Comment: So that is good then, based on the panic everyone threw when it was announced that there were 1,600 condos that hadn’t sold.

Condo construction in Toronto got out of line with demographic demand in 2012, but the excess inventory is being whittled away.

Comment: When 31,000 condos complete in 13 months and 29,400 of them sell, that looks to match up with demand pretty damn closely. When 95% of a product sells, that indicates to me that supply is pretty well matched to demand.

RBC’s report on housing affordability in the fourth quarter of 2014, published on March 3, showed deteriorating affordability for all types of homes in Toronto, though condos showed the least amount of deterioration in affordability.

Alberta
As one might expect with such a big drop, the impact was broad-based across the country (eight of 10 provinces). But while the biggest shock to the Canadian economy – the drop in oil prices – has taken the steam out of home sales in Alberta, housing starts along with home prices have not followed suit yet.

Comment: Actually they fell 1.6% in February. But listings are falling, which should slow things down. Sales may still drop, but I think they are now stabilizing.

Bank analysts feel the record-breaking frigid February in Ontario and the Maritime provinces likely played a role in the decreased starts. Conversely, the mild winter in Alberta may have helped cushion the fall in that province.

Comment: As I said, look back, historically February is a low point for housing starts.

But BMO, in a research note, sounded a warning for Alberta as the slide in oil prices has yet to take effect on new home construction.

“If the resale market is any guide, a meaningful slowdown in new construction will hit the province any month now,” said BMO.

National Bank expects about 175,000 housing starts for 2015 (189,300 in 2014), but points out in a research note, “starts are set to be a drag on economic growth in Q1 for a second quarter in a row.”

The housing market is definitely facing some trying months ahead. It has received a bit of a boost from the Bank of Canada rate cut on Jan. 21, but it looks like the central bank feels it has done its job for now and it’s up to the housing market to sort itself out.

“The bigger picture is that homebuilding activity on a national basis is consistent with demographic demand,” states BMO.

The housing starts drop in February looks to be an outlier influenced by the weather, but the trend in lower starts is clear, though not problematic from a supply and demand perspective.

Comment: Exactly. Weather is underlying cause, nothing more.

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.

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Condos become the preferred choice

Neil Sharma – QMI Agency

Ever wonder what factors drive Toronto’s high-rise condominium market?

Location figures into nearly every real estate adage imaginable, and for good reason. Why? Well, in congested Toronto, living near public transportation, primarily subways, is a far greater privilege than being canonized. Secondary transportation like buses and streetcars figure into the equation, too.

Comment: Some of the reasons downtown living is taking preference over the suburbs for many people, especially Millennials.

“Any location that is next to, close by or walking distance to a subway station is number one,” said Barbara Lawlor, CEO & president of Baker Real Estate Inc. “People love to be in the thick of things, people have to be able to get to work easily, people love if they can get to cultural events like movies, theatre, art galleries. They don’t want to have to go too far.”

Toronto condos
And, according to Paul Golini, co-founder and executive vice-president of Empire Communities, LRTs are equally important, particularly along Eglinton Ave. where the track will be submerged from Mount Dennis to Don Mills. Buoyant external amenities and high walk scores also drive interest in location.

“Projects along the existing and soon-to-be LRTs and subways are still experiencing traffic and good response in terms of sales,” he said. “Developers are having success across Eglinton because of the LRT. People don’t realize the LRT will be buried in that part of the city, so it’s going to feel like a subway.”

Comment: Watch prices rise along Eglinton as the LRT finishes. And then condos will be built along the route, much like Sheppard filled in after the new subway track was completed.

As condos slowly but surely supplant houses as the housing of choice — condominiums accounted for 55% of new construction in the GTA in 2014 — adequate living space becomes increasingly important.

“A lot of young families are priced out of the low-rise market, and they do want brand new,” said Lawlor. “Condominiums are starting to appeal to young families. It isn’t just affordability; families want to be in the middle of cultural venues, of transportation, of heartlands and being able to walk to amenities. We’ll see this trend grow. There’s already been pressure on builders to build three-bedroom units.

Comment: Not a lot of pressure. And more from politicians and pundits than from consumers. But we will get there, it takes time and the buyers have to start to demand it.

“We’re becoming more and more like international cities, like New York, where it’s commonplace for families to live in apartments.”

End-users aren’t the only buyers paying attention to family-sized units, either. Investors, typically bulk purchasers of bachelor-sized units, have started diversifying their portfolios with larger units.

Comment: Are they? Do you have proof or is that just an assumption? With around 3% of new condos bought by foreign investors, they just don’t make up enough of the market to be buying small units in such vast quantities. Many are bought by those who don’t need more space, who can’t afford more space or those who want to make the smallest impact on the environment.

Erudite in the ways of the market, they, too, have observed sprouting demand from families.

Amenities are a staple of any condominium building. However, where once developers raced to outdo each other by dressing buildings to the nines in amenities, they now adhere to a ‘less is more’ ethos. Building amenities might be fewer, but they’re top notch.

“It’s about picking a couple of key amenities and making them great rather than numerous,” said Golini. “Amenities speak to condo fees and there’s an issue of affordability, so if we can keep condo fees in check by not burdening projects with amenities then that’s a way to go with affordable alternatives.”

Comment: Now, if we can just get developers to put solar panels on every condo roof, wind turbines, grey water recycling, etc. How about a cell tower on the roof (Rogers pays handsomely to rent that space). Public spaces on the first few floors, something municipal like a library and a school. Get those condo fees down and create amenity spaces that can be shared by the residents and public alike. Connect the buildings to the public space.

While party rooms and gyms are practically omnipresent throughout the condos market, outdoor space is also in high demand. Both Lawlor and Golini said buyers flock to projects with outdoor lounges, BBQ areas and green space.

Toronto’s condo boom can partly be attributed to an historic low in the mortgage rates set by banks, and with speculation of the so-called bubble bursting existing in perpetuity, buyers are taking the plunge.

Comment: People aren’t buying real estate because they are afraid of a non-existent bubble bursting.

“There’s no denying the fact that historic low-interest rates are a big part of why people are saying it’s time to invest in a condo and get out of rentals or mom’s basement,” said Golini. “Rates are only going to go up.”

Comment: Funny, people have been saying that for years. And rates have fallen from 4.75% 5 years ago to 2.79% today. Don’t assume they will stay low or drop further. But don’t assume they will jump to 10% tomorrow either.

Toronto’s downtown east side, long an industrial wasteland, is slated to become the city’s next hot market segment. The 80-acre CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Athletes’ Village near the Don River has renewed interest in the area, and a plethora of affordable family housing is expected to ensue.

Comment: I have been saying that for years.

“The east side will come into focus in 2015,” said Lawlor. “I know there are fabulous developments coming up and they’re more affordable than products on the west side.”

Added Golini, “Post-Pan Am Games, people are going to discover the east side of the city, around the East Bayfront. It’s going to be big.”

As the transit system continues expanding, expect high-rise residential development to follow suit.

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.

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Oil price to push down home sales 1.1% in 2015: Real estate association

Alexandra Posadzki – The Canadian Press

The Canadian Real Estate Association is predicting that the impact of declining oil prices on consumer confidence in some provinces will push down Canadian home sales by 1.1% this year, to 475,700 units countrywide.

Comment: By averaging out the decline in Alberta across the whole country.

CREA also estimates the national average home price will grow by 2% to $416,200 this year, a smaller increase than last year, as Alberta’s average home prices slip by an estimated 3.4% this year to $387,600.

Comment: So what is the price rise if Alberta is removed? Last year everyone liked to show that values were lower if Toronto and Vancouver were removed, so remove the negative values in Alberta and lets see where we are at.

Calgary
The association had earlier predicted home sales would be 0.8% above 2014, rising to 485,200 units, but revised its outlook lower to reflect the falling price of oil.

Provinces with significant oil production will see lower home sales. Alberta is expected to see sales fall by 19.3% in 2015, Saskatchewan by 11.2%, Manitoba by 2.2% and Newfoundland by 1%.

However, RBC Economist Robert Hogue said the oil price-related turbulence in Western Canada looks like it may subside soon.

“It is encouraging to see possible signs that the worst may soon be over in Calgary and Saskatchewan,” Hogue said in a note. “In particular, we point to the drop in new listings in these markets as a positive development that, if sustained, would suggest to us that panic is not setting in and that activity may be close to reaching a floor.”

Canada’s other provinces will continue to see higher sales and relatively stable or higher average sales prices, according to CREA.

British Columbia is projected to see the number of home sales increase by 4.9%, Nova Scotia by 3.7% and Quebec and New Brunswick by 2.5%.

Ontario is expected to see a 1.9% boost in sales levels from 2014, while Prince Edward Island is projected to see sales activity rise by 1.4%.

The B.C. average home price is expected to rise 3.4% this year over 2014 to $587,600 and Ontario’s average price will grow 2.5% to $441,900. Apart from those two provinces and Alberta, prices elsewhere are expected to be within 1% of last year.

TD Economist Diana Petramala said although rock-bottom interest rates will fuel housing demand over the short term, “the impact is likely to fade as 2015 unfolds.” Overall, Petramala predicts sales will remain relatively flat over the course of the year and price growth will slow down to about one to two%.

“A stable housing market means the Bank of Canada will be in no rush to raise or lower interest rates over the near term,” Petramala said in a note.

Comment: “No rush to raise interest rates”

Meanwhile, home sales in February were up one% from January after several months of back-to-back declines, though the picture was dramatically different in various regions.

The overall increase was led by the Vancouver and Okanagan regions in B.C. and Toronto. However, CREA said sales were lower in more than half of all local markets compared with January as buyers on the Prairies stayed on the sidelines amid low oil prices.

Compared with a year ago, sales last month were up 2.7% from February 2014.

The number of newly listed homes fell 2.5% in February compared to January.

The national average price for a home sold in February was $431,812, up 6.3% on a year-over-year basis.

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.

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