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Toronto Real Estate

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GTA housing affordability falling; ‘we’re not far behind New York’

Ontario’s “laudable” push to higher density housing has gone too far, says a new report, driving unprecedented construction of condo units typically tailored for shorter-term living.”

Susan Pigg – Toronto Star

The GTA is fast becoming the New York of the north and even if house prices cool over the next few years, relief will be “modest,” at best, for beleaguered home buyers, says TD Economics in a report released Monday.

Comment: Toronto house prices are not going to cool. And how is it bad to be compared to New York? NYC is a highly desirable place to live. I would be happy to be in the same league as NYC.

The GTA is facing “growing structural challenges” that are pushing both renting and home ownership increasingly out of reach of even high-income residents, it warns. Top among them are government regulations and taxation.

The Ontario government’s “laudable” push to higher density housing has gone too far, driving unprecedented construction of tiny condos “typically tailored for shorter-term living,” while seeing the supply of more affordable, family-friendly townhouses and single-family homes plummet across the GTA.

Comment: Small condos are not caused by the government. More people want to live downtown, which drives condo construction. Land costs and overall housing costs are rising, making condos more expensive. Builders create smaller units to keep prices down, so that more people can buy them. It actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the government or taxation.

Toronto housing boom
This dramatic shift in the housing market is “contributing to poor housing choice and reducing mobility of residents,” TD notes, urging the need for a regional approach to housing problems, as is now happening with transit.

Comment: As I noted before, we have housing choices running from rooms for rent for $400 to rental apartments and rental condos for $1,600 a month. Through to houses in rough shape in non-trendy areas in the $300,000s to $600-800,000 for decent homes in cool neighbourhoods, through to $1 and $2 million luxury homes. And that is just in the 416. There are TONS of choices out there.

“Housing affordability has decreased in the GTA to the point where we’re not far behind New York,” said TD economist Diana Petramala, co-author of the report.

In Manhattan and its surrounding suburbs, it now takes 6.1 times the average income to buy a house, down from 7.9 times the income it cost in 2006 before the housing market collapse.

The more than decade-long GTA housing boom now has us outpacing New York, requiring 6.5 times the average income to buy a house here, up from 4.8 times the average income in 2006, Petramala said in a telephone interview.

Comment: Show us the math. What are the average incomes in both cities and what average housing prices are you using? I don’t believe your results without seeing how you got there. 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.

New York City
“The stakes are high surrounding the fortunes of the Greater Toronto Area housing market,” adds the report. “A healthy housing system is critical to a region’s economic fortunes. And with the GTA key to Canada’s economic engine, the success or failure of housing in this region carries significant national importance.”

Comment: And 87,049 sales last year, with probably 20-30,000 new condo sales – plus 20,000 MLS condo rentals and another 20,000 private rentals – indicates a VERY healthy market. If the prices were that out of whack, we would not have record sales and rentals.

Even renters are struggling, with monthly lease costs eating up almost half of household income for wage earners in the bottom 40%, “and the share of those in core housing need remains unacceptably high,” TD notes.

Comment: Their cherry-picked bottom 40%… with no mention of the top 60%.

At the same time, higher land costs, development charges, the HST and “restrictive government regulations,” such as the lack of proper zoning for higher density housing in many parts of the region, have added to costs and stretched build times to as much as seven years.

Comment: Housing cost are not connected to lack of proper zoning. Remember, this is all coming from the only major Canadian bank with a negative opinion of housing. Their CEO predicted house prices would decline in 2014, remember? So take anything they say with a few grains of salt.

The report largely echoes what the GTA development industry has been warning provincial and regional politicians for years — that the intensification policies of the province’s 2005 Places to Growth legislation come at a cost, and it’s largely being borne by homeowners.

“This has been 10 years in the making,” says George Carras, president of RealNet Canada, which provides sales and other new home and condo research to the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the umbrella group for GTA home builders.

“The report has shone a light on the changing complexities in the approvals process that has brought with them increased costs and delays.”

The price gap between low rise homes and highrise condos hit another new high in 2014, says Carras, and now stands at $251,337. Even in areas like Vaughan, a new detached home can cost about $1 million and the alternative, semis and townhomes, are also climbing out of reach.

The price of townhouse land, for instance, climbed 22% in 2014 alone, notes Carras, to an unprecedented $1.9 million per acre.

Comment: What exactly is the definition of “townhouse land”? And where does it cost that much? Are there areas where it costs less? I bet development land in Oshawa costs less. Vaughan is known to be expensive, so it is a loaded stat.

vaughan house construction
The TD report only confirms the worrisome spikes in new home costs that RealNet is seeing, said Carras. The average cost of a new home across the GTA hit a new record in 2014, it reported Tuesday, up 8% from 2013 to $705,813.

The average new condo price also hit a new high, up 4% over 2013 to an index price of $454,476.

Comment: So people who want to pay less can buy resale.

Local governments, including Toronto’s real estate arm, Build Toronto, have been too slow in freeing up surplus land that could be used to build more affordable housing, says TD Economics.

And it may be time to consider an “idle land tax,” for land owners who are leaving lands undeveloped, hoping values will climb further.

Comment: That would be stupid.

BILD maintains the much bigger issue is the need to simplify approvals and provide more municipal infrastructure, like roads and sewers, that will allow projects to get off the ground.

Comment: Simplifying the entire planning department would be a start.

The province declined to comment on the TD report, other than to note that a public review of Places to Grow and greenbelt policies is expected to start sometime next month. It will include public meetings across the province, aimed at ensuring continued protection of prime agricultural lands but also planning decisions that support “healthy living and shorter commute times.”

More GTA residents are expected to be pushed into renting, both because of costs and aging demographics, TD says.

TD predicts that house prices could start flatlining this year after gains averaging 6 to 8% the last few years. But demand remains so strong for single-family homes that it could be 2021 until enough seniors and aging homeowners opt to cash out and move into smaller houses, condos or rentals, and boost the supply of houses for sale, says Petramala.

Comment: TD said prices would fall last year… uh huh.

Toronto Condo Construction
Challenging housing affordability, as well as a transportation system that is “struggling,” requires more of a regional approach and new government tax and incentive programs to get developers and the non-profit sector actually building the type of housing that demographics warrant, says TD.

The report adds that rising home costs “have been instrumental in driving up average debt-loads in the region, leaving households vulnerable to any unanticipated negative economic shock.”

Purpose-built rental has accounted for just 4% of new construction the last decade, yet demand has risen dramatically, notes TD.

Comment: And yet no one wants to build new rental stock. There has to be a reason. I don’t know what it is, but the demand is obviously there and no one – other than private condo owners – is trying to supply it.

“Helping these individuals most in need will require government subsidies,” says Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at TD Economics.

Comment: The government should build apartment buildings and rent them out and subsidized rates.

Why the climb?

Key reasons behind increased housing demand and prohibitively higher prices, according to TD Economics:

$409,000 - Amount of combined mortgage and consumer loan debt carried by the average GTA household thanks to rising house prices and lure of low interest rates, according to consumer credit reporting agency Equifax.

Comment: Sure, but there is a HUGE difference between mortgage debt and credit card debt. The two MUST be separated to provide proper context.

5% - Average percentage a year that mortgage carrying costs have climbed in the last three to four years, just because of rising house prices.

Comment: If you are talking about buying a house today vs. 4 years ago. For people who already own, their mortgage carrying costs have not changed at all. Likely gone down, as they renew at lower rates.

$1,700 - Average monthly rent in the GTA of investor-owned condos largely geared to middle-income earners.

Comment: No, that is wrong. The average for a 1-bedroom condo is $1,609 and a 2-bedroom averages $2,165. They are not “geared” to anyone, those are simply the market rents out there right now.

$18,000 - Average development charges now levied on a new condo in the City of Toronto, which has increased fees more than 100%. The 905 regions charge even more, citing the costs of new infrastructure.

$28,000 - Development charges for a single-family home in the 416.

$140,000 - Annual income needed to finance a single-family home in the GTA, which TD says now costs about $740,000.

Comment: Or you could pay a $400,000 house in Ajax with an income of $80,000. Or a condo for $300,000 with 2 people making $30,000 each. There are all sort of options.

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.


Toronto skyline’s ‘absolute transformation’ captured by two photos taken 13 years apart

Emily McWilliams – National Post

For Brooklyn-born Ken Greenberg, this heady era in Toronto is akin to a certain New York moment.

In New York City in the late 1920s, an explosion of people and skyscrapers, and especially the addition of iconic structures like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building to the skyline, “drew people like magnets” from all over the world.

“People were exhilarated by the fact that we had the technology to build buildings like that, but then they came to symbolize a kind of excitement about the place,” said Mr. Greenberg, Toronto’s former director of design and architecture and the Toronto-based principal of Greenberg Consultants.

“We love the iconic Manhattan skyline, because what we’re really doing is associating that with what we know happens on the streets.”

If Torontonians have stopped noticing the cranes that have similarly transformed their skyline — and downtown itself — since the turn of the millennium, a recent Reddit post likely stopped them in their tracks.

It combined two Toronto skyline snapshots, in 2001 and 2014, and captured the quick change the city has undergone.

Comment: Which is incredible, only 13 years apart. I remember when the CityPlace sales centre first went in, around 1998 or so. There was nothing there, just empty land. Now… wow…

Toronto Skyline Change

Photo Credits: Sanjin Avdicevic, top; Ashton Pal, bottom

“The growth — the absolute transformation of the skyline before your very eyes from year to year, and decade to decade — is pretty powerful,” said Paul Bedford, a former chief planner for the City of Toronto.

“I think what draws people to a skyline is all the different shapes, the sizes, the colours, the buildings — how they all merge together into a representation of humanity.”

Population growth, represented by the numerous condominiums now clustered along the waterfront, has had a dramatic impact on Toronto’s skyline. The downtown has added more than 300,000 new residents, making Toronto a global city, said Mr. Bedford.

“People want to live there, and they want to work there.  Not only from around the region, but people want to come here from around the world,” he said.

The city’s skyline had largely been defined for decades by the CN Tower, which once dominated nearly all by itself. Now, new office towers and particularly high-rise condominiums, such as the residences at the Ritz Carlton that carve into the sky at a staggering 209 metres, offer some competition — and perhaps even a little magic.

“It may be partly, even largely, an illusion, but when you see the skyline on a clear night, especially from the air, you can believe this is the right time and the right place be alive,” said Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy at The University of Toronto.

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.


Stollerys and the slaying of a building

The ignominious demolition of a men’s clothing store that has graced Bloor and Yonge since 1901 doesn’t bode well for that corner’s future.

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

If we treated people the way we treat buildings, murder would be legal.

Comment: Amen brother.

The comparison is absurd, of course; bricks and mortar are not blood and guts. But on the other hand, buildings do possess character, even personality. They are part of our lives, for better or worse. We form relationships with them. We avoid some, seek out others. Most we barely notice.

Comment: And we allow architectural holocausts on a continuous basis. Witness the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Stollerys - old
Stollery’s, which has occupied the southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor since 1901, was in the last category. There was never anything particularly engaging about the two-storey structure, let alone exciting. On the other hand, its handsome exterior carvings, limestone cladding and large display windows were a reminder of just how urban the Edwardians were, how they valued the street and the importance of putting the best face forward.

So to see Stollery’s vandalized by its new owner, Sam Mizrahi, is enough to make a militant preservationist out of even the most indifferent Torontonian. Though the city gave the developer a demolition permit last week, and the tear down is perfectly legal, his arrogance is hard to take. To send in the wrecking crews on a weekend — before the hoardings are even up — is as succinct a way as possible to give the city the middle finger.

Comment: It is the distinct lack of giving a s**t that really gets me. The rush to destroy, why?

Would it have hurt to wait a while to see if anyone came up with something brilliant?

Stollerys - current
The misguided landlord has sent all the wrong messages and made himself the latest in a long line of developers whose contempt for the city is more than returned.

But Mizrahi isn’t the point. Stollery’s has been living on borrowed time for years. It happened to occupy one of the city’s most important corners, the intersection of two subway lines and the start of the Mink Mile. Even with its third-floor addition, Stollery’s was clearly a retail and urban anachronism. Though it was never the most important example of architecture in Toronto, the building deserved consideration and respect as a piece of heritage.

The city, as usual, arrives on the scene just after the crowbars have been brought out and destruction underway. The heritage designation process is so slow, haphazard and inadequate that it might as well not exist. The Stollery story has unfolded countless times.

Comment: Heritage is simply a joke.

It doesn’t help that the city hands out demolition permits like parking tickets. Not only does heritage not enter the picture, the city doesn’t even need to know what will get built next. It amounts to a de facto system of approval that allows demolition to proceed with few, if any, questions asked.

Stollerys - demo
The rush to reduce Stollery’s to rubble is unseemly, disrespectful and, without sidewalk protection, even dangerous. Such business practices won’t win Mizrahi any admirers.

Comment: But it won’t stop him. Few enough of us care what he did, it simply doesn’t mean anything.

Clearly, that doesn’t bother him, and in his defence, he claims to have hired British superstar architect Norman Foster to design his project. Let’s hope Foster comes through. His design had better be good, not just because Yonge and Bloor is a major corner, but because his client has a lot to make up for.

So does the city. Chances are that even if it wasn’t thoroughly inept, the city would have settled, as it always does, for the retention of a façade or two. How many condos in Toronto include the front wall of some unfortunate 19th-century predecessor? In this case, there’s nothing else to save.

But the corner demands more than a remnant of a store that has been marooned by time and the city of which it is part.

All we can hope for now is that city hall suddenly lurches back to life and does what it can to ensure that what replaces Stollery’s isn’t as tacky as its builder’s behaviour.

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.