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Toronto housing bubble showing no signs of bursting

Dan Karpenchuk – WBFO 88.7 Buffalo

A recent survey by one of Canada’s big banks suggests that the cost of renting or owning a home in the city of Toronto is climbing out of reach of most residents.

The average price of a home in Canada is just over $400,000 and in Toronto, that number in excess of $575,000. Some experts say Canada’s biggest city is in danger of becoming the “New York City of the north.”

The report, by the Toronto Dominion bank, is raising concerns about affordability and availability of housing in Toronto.

Comment: It is of note that TD is the only one of the big banks with such a pessimistic outlook. The other 4 major banks don’t agree. The Bank of Canada and CMHC also think that Toronto housing is fine.

Toronto housing market
Experts say there is no end in sight to the  housing bubble experienced by Toronto, even while they insist prices are at least ten percent higher than they should be.

Comment: It is NOT a bubble. It is simple continued price appreciation for almost 20 years. Just because prices don’t fall doesn’t make it a bubble. And if price fell 10%, it would bring us back to where prices were last year. And last year they said price were over valued by 15%. So what is the “proper” value? It is what people will pay… it is a free and open market. Prices are set by buyers and sellers. There were 87,000 sales last year. That means at least 174,000 buyers and sellers. And another 174,000 buying and selling agents. That is over 350,000 people that set the prices in 2014. Never mind friends and family that gave advice or financial help. Plus 87,000 mortgages. I take the collective opinion of all of those involved in the market over what one economist thinks.

But real estate agents counter, saying as long as demand continues to outweigh supply, those prices will continue for the foreseeable future, even if there is a modest cooling.

Comment: But demand isn’t letting up, and supply is not increasing. In such an economic situation, prices don’t fall. I took that in Grade 9 business class.

The current situation, according to the TD Economics survey, is in danger of pushing prices beyond the reach of even high income residents.

Comment: Not true. If you start with nothing, maybe. But those moving up the property ladder have assets worth a lot, which they then sell. They put that money down on a larger house and use their high incomes to pay the remaining mortgage. Sure, even if you make $200,000/year it would be hard to buy a $1.5 million house without a large down payment. But that is playing semantics, which economists love to do.

“You’re dealing with a huge sticker shock and a growing gap between those larger properties and the smaller ones,” says Derek Burleton, TD’s deputy chief economist.

The TD report suggests that the boom in condo construction is partly to blame, at the expense of more single-family homes and townhouses.

Comment: Because condos are being built and houses aren’t? The market is speaking, buyers are telling developers what they want with their wallets.

“Removing some of the structural barriers that are driving up the cost of land, and leading to a housing stock that’s becoming very tilted toward small condo apartments,” Burleton adds.

Comment: How? As land becomes more scarce downtown, land values go up. Again, simple economics. Greenbelt legislation makes land in the 905 more constrained and thus more expensive. There are 100,000-120,000 people coming to the GTA every year, all of whom need somewhere to live. Demand is not letting up. Land is less available. People don’t want to commute, they are preferring downtown over the suburbs. So many factors are affecting the price of land and the type of housing being built, it is not as simple as “removing structural barriers” to magically make everything less expensive.

Toronto condos
But construction of new condo units has blossomed, in some cases making up as much as 80% of new residential construction, nearly half of it in Toronto’s core.

Comment: For the reasons I stated above.

With so little affordable housing, renters are getting hit hard as well, with many rents in the downtown more than $2,000 a month or about half of the income of the lowest 40% of wage earners.

Comment: But those lower wage earners can go to apartment buildings, where the rents are half what they are in new investor-owned condos. Just because some rents are high does not mean they are ALL high.

The TD survey says affordability has dropped to the point where Toronto is not far behind New York.

Economists say it takes 6.5 times the average income to buy a house in Toronto compared to 6.1 times the average income in New York City.

Comment: And those numbers are simply wrong. Especially when the GTA is ranked 323rd out of the 360 most expensive cities and New York is number 16. It is a completely illogical claim. Median sales price in NYC is $1,310,000 USD ($1,629,600 CAD)compared to $510,532 CAD in Toronto. Price per square foot for condos is $1,450 USD ($1,804 CD) in NYC vs. $543 CAD in Toronto. And yet this person wants to tell us that Toronto is LESS affordable than New York? Really? This means that the average income in NYC would have to be $267,148 CAD for their math to work, vs. $78,543 CAD in Toronto. According to the US Department of Labour, income in Manhattan is $2,749 USD a week, which is $177,823 CAD per year. That means it would take 7.4 times than income to buy the average property in New York. And Toronto’s median income, according to StatsCan is $71,210 for 2012. Which then puts us at 7.2 times income to buy the average property. While much closer than I had thought, their math is still wrong.

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.


Proud to live in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood

This Junctionite knows the boundaries of his hood, and is annoyed when outsiders attempt to lay claim to his community’s good name.

Edward Keenan – Toronto Star

I live in The Junction.

Like many people who live in The Junction, I’m proud of my neighbourhood. In fact, a certain self-referential pride in living in The Junction is often a defining trait of local residents.

If you’re inclined, you can ride the Junction 40 bus route out to a party organized by The Junction Project social group, held at The Junction City Music Hall, where you could sip beer made around the corner at the Junction Craft Brewery and talk about how sad it is the Junction Flea has lost its lot, or perhaps discuss the proposed JunXion condo development — the news about which you might have read on the blog Junctioneer.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never lived in a neighbourhood where residents spend as much time talking about how much they like living in the neighbourhood. And saying its name while doing so. It’s fun to say. Try it: “Junction.”

Junction Railway History
One word for this characteristic might be “insufferable.” But we like to think of it as “having a strong sense of identity.”

But we’re not the only ones who like saying it, apparently. Another favourite topic of conversation around my house these days is the frequency with which people call other places The Junction. It comes up more and more frequently.

Comment: Sure, some of it is simple mistakes. Others want to borrow some neighbourhood “cool”.

An identity-deficient neighbourhood just to the east of us held a contest a few years ago to name itself, and settled on “The Junction Triangle.” This sound-a-like name for a near-ish place leads to all kinds of confusion. Headlines in the Star and the CBC and elsewhere recently have carried news of interesting people doing interesting things in The Junction — putting a curling rink in their backyard, for instance — but when you read the story, you often learn these people actually live in the Triangle. Or not even: often the neighbourhoods of Carleton Village and Wallace Emerson are said (by real estate agents, especially) to be in The Junction Triangle or The Junction, and as often as not those places now get called “The Junction,” too. In this newspaper.

Comment: But there have been all sorts of historical precedents for various names. From West Toronto Junction to West Toronto to The Junction to The Junction Triangle. As with many things, the names and boundaries have been fluid over time.

The Junction Keele and Dundas
I’ve been trying to explain to my editors why I find this annoying — why they should respect my insistence that these very fine areas of town not be confused with mine. I point to the history of The Junction stemming from its roots as the once-independent city of West Toronto Junction, its unique legacy of prohibition that endured until the local ban on booze sales was lifted less than 20 years ago. I explain about the preserved pre-war streetscape and the local salvage shops and park communities and sense of fierce, proud community.

What’s in a name? I explain that like Kleenex or Xerox protecting their trademarks once upon a time, we fear something we’re proud of is in danger of being rendered meaningless by overuse to describe similar but different things. Or that it’s like naming your baby something perfect and unique, and then having a close friend or family member choose the same name for their child. I appeal to the universal editor’s instinct for simple accuracy.

Comment: Wanna talk about The Beach/es? According to some people, it stretches as far north as Danforth. I mean, really?

But even as I rationalize my defensive pride, I can’t ignore that there’s also something else at work. I recall as a child living and going to school in what was then called South Riverdale (since rebranded “Riverside”), how insistent those who lived in increasingly desirable Riverdale insisted on their distinction from the ungentrified South. I recall how aghast residents of the Beach(es) were when real estate agents started branding Main and Gerrard “the Upper Beach.” I remember activist Annex sweaterheads scoffing at the suggestion that the area west of Bathurst Street had anything to do with them at all. And I remember what I thought of all those objections.

Comment: Hey, when I was a kid living at Broadview and Gerrard, we just called it Chinatown. Some might have called it Riverdale. But back in the early 1980s, no one really cared.

Keele and Dundas the Junction
I thought they were plain old snobs, who had invested money and some of their identity in a neighbourhood they viewed partly as a status symbol, a residential label that carried cultural cache. They saw their distinction diminished by the casual expansion of neighbourhood boundaries.

Comment: But there is financial gain to be had. Real estate in hot or trendy neighbourhoods is worth more than that in other areas. Having a house in “The Beaches” makes you sound like you have a nice place that is worth a lot of money. Selling your house? That listing looks better if it says your house is in The Beaches, The Junction or Riverdale. It wasn’t done for nothing, there is money and bragging rights riding on it.

One irony is that when my family and I first moved to the neighbourhood more than eight years ago, apartments right on the Dundas West strip were advertised as being in “Upper Bloor West Village” or “High Park North.” Perhaps that’s where part of the snobbery of longtime residents (and early gentrifiers like us) comes from: we recognized the value of the neighbourhood before anyone wanted to say they were from The Junction.

Yuck: sentiments don’t get any more hipster than “I was into that band before anyone.”

As I acknowledge the uglier impulses at work, I hope it’s clear that while my love of my neighbourhood is real, my objection to the democratizing of the name is mostly in fun. In a city of neighbourhoods like Toronto, the area rivalries and odd internal squabbles (Beach! vs. Beaches!) are — like professional sports allegiances — part of the fun.

And I might as well note there are plenty of Junctionites who would look down their nose at me in exactly the same way. We live north of the railroad tracks, in the part of the neighbourhood often called “The Stockyards” because of its meat processing history. Although it’s firmly inside the boundaries most neighbourhood (and historical) maps designate as The Junction, the psychological boundary of the tracks north of the Dundas St. strip are the end of many residents’ mental maps of the neighbourhood (and the local business association’s boundaries, too).

Comment: Which is true. And neighbourhoods are defined as much by people’s gut feel and mental images. Which means you are playing the same game. While living in an area most would NOT consider to be The Junction, you claim historical precedent to justify your use of the term. You just defeated your entire argument… Take Yorkville, for instance. Historically, it reaches all the way east to around Church and south to Hayden or so. Yet no one considers anything east of Yonge to be Yorkville. Heck, even a small part of The Beaches is technically Scarborough (once you cross Victoria Park), but no one is ever going to argue that the RC Harris plant is NOT in The Beaches.

Sometimes people will condescend, “Technically, you don’t really live in The Junction,” or “it’s nice you managed to stay so close to The Junction.”

To which I’ll just point to the street sign at the intersection nearest my house, which reads “Junction Road,” and explain a bit of history.

Comment: But then you would argue against people calling the area inside the 3 CN rail lines “Junction Triangle”. It is a triangle formed by rail lines, two of which form “the junction” for which your neighbourhood is named.

Go ahead and call me insufferable. Call me a snob. Just don’t tell me I don’t live in The Junction. And don’t try to tell me people at Lansdowne and Dupont do.

Comment: No one has EVER said that Lansdowne and Dupont is part of The Junction. Heck, that is Davenport Village, which they are VERY proud of. But in the same vein, don’t tell other people what neighbourhood they do or don’t live in.

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.


Ultra small condos will face first real test this year: experts

The Canadian Press

The appeal of so-called shoebox condos – no larger than the size of two average living rooms – will face its first real test in Canada this year, with an influx of the compact homes set to hit the country’s largest real estate market.

Comment: Um, what? People have been buying them from the builders, so what is new?

Investors are betting on big returns from young renters who can’t afford to buy in the red-hot real estate market and don’t mind living in a unit, about 500 square feet, where their dining table might have to fold down into a bed.

Comment: We have had 400-500sf condos for quite some time now, they are not new. And they sell.

Smart House Condos
Although developers are pitching micro condos as an affordable entry point into the market, brokers say it’s mostly investors – catering to a demographic of young professionals increasingly flocking to the downtown core – that’s driving demand.

Comment: Says who? Sounds like an assumption more than anything. Without proof, that is just someone’s guess.

Micro suites tend to fetch higher rents per square foot than larger units, as many renters are willing to live in a slightly smaller space in order to save a bit on costs and live closer to the city core.

Comment: All property commands more per square foot as size goes down. To buy or rent, this is also not news.

Shaun Hildebrand, vice president of condo research firm Urbanation, says condos under 500 square feet can bring in well over $3 per square foot, while the rest of the market averages around $2.50 or $2.60.

Micro condos
There are nearly 3,000 micro condo units under construction in Toronto that are slated to be completed this year, Hildebrand says. If investors snatch them up, that could spur developers to build more of the micro units to satisfy demand from investors.

Comment: And if they are being built, they have already been bought and paid for. They aren’t being built on spec by the developer, hoping to list and sell them once they are complete. They have already been snatched up.

“This is something that the market and developers are going to be paying very close attention to in 2015,” Hildebrand said. “Sometimes we don’t know how strong demand is until we’re shown the supply.”

The challenge comes in securing a mortgage for the micro units. Brokers say Canada’s five biggest banks are hesitant to provide financing for units below a certain minimum square footage, concerned that investors will sell off the properties if the housing market starts to slide.

Comment: What brokers are these? Banks are hesitant to lend on a variety of properties, for a variety of reasons. If the banks had any concerns about future price drops, they wouldn’t lend to anyone, would they?

Ultra small condo
“If there’s a downturn in the housing market, is the lender going to be able to sell and recover the mortgage financing they provided?” said Christopher Molder of Axess Mortgage.

“Because these units under 500 square feet are relatively new, no one’s tested the market to see how desirable they are.”

Comment: That does not figure into the thinking of any bank. That is just stupid.

The major banks say the size of a property is only one several factors in the decision to offer financing.

“There are minimum square-footage guidelines that vary market to market, but the most important factor is the condo’s marketability,” CIBC spokeswoman Caroline Van Hasselt said in an email.

Comment: And it would have to do with size as compared to price.

Marketability is determined by factors such as the building’s location, whether the unit has a separate bedroom and whether it comes with a parking spot.

Marcus Tzaferis, the founder of mortgage brokerage MorCan Direct, says some buyers end up turning to credit unions or private lenders who charge higher interest rates.

Comment: Only because they want to buy a small condo? Or are there other reasons people turn to a lender that is not one of the big 5?

It’s not only the banks that are leery of micro-living. In Vancouver, city bylaws dictate that condo units can be no smaller than 398 square feet, although city council has occasionally loosened the restriction down to 320 for rental-only units.

Jon Stovell, president of Reliance Properties, would like to see the restrictions scrapped.

“Vancouver has this tremendous affordability problem and yet the city of Vancouver has just gone completely tone deaf to these needs,” the developer says. “They’re keeping a lot of young people out of the market.”

Stovell has proposed a development at Davie and Hornby Streets that would feature a number of “nanosuites” measuring under 200 square feet. But the proposal is mired in bureaucracy, as the city decides whether the units, which fetch higher rents than larger spaces do, could drive up land values, and exacerbate Vancouver’s affordability problem.

Vancouver and Toronto were identified as among the most unaffordable real estate markets in the recent international Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. In Vancouver, the report said the median home price was $704,800 while, Toronto, it was $482,900.

Comment: Median property price in the GTA was $602,110 as of mid-February. In the 416 it is much higher.

Latif also wants to ensure that any communities where micro condos are built have the services needed – from parks to libraries to late-night coffee shops – to support a population of condo-dwellers who will be spending a lot of their time outside of their homes.

“It’s about making sure you’ve got a vibrant community around you that can support you living in a smaller unit,” he says.

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.