Tag Archives: condo townhouse
Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
For several years, Tanya Davio, 29, lived with her parents in Pickering, saving a down payment towards a home of her own. But when she decided to take the plunge earlier this year, there was a problem.
“I would ask to see a house the day it came on the market, then wouldn’t even get a chance to look at it because it would sell within a day,” she says.
That doesn’t surprise Shaun Hildebrand, a senior analyst with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. He says Pickering had a high%age of first-time home buyers in 2009.
The very hottest areas for first-timers — with prices below the GTA average of $440,000 ($477,000 in the city; $408,000 in the 905 area) — were southwest and east Scarborough, downtown Toronto, Bayview Village, south Etobicoke, Milton, Willowdale West and Newmarket.
According to Jason Mercer, an analyst with the Toronto Real Estate Board, sales were brisk throughout the GTA in the first quarter of this year, as the economy picked up steam and there was pent-up demand, coupled with a shortage of listings. He expects conditions will moderate later this year, as the market becomes more balanced and more listings come on stream.
The east end of the GTA is where the cheapest prices can be found, although Hildebrand says buyers tend to buy closer to Toronto when interest rates are low, then move farther afield as affordability becomes an issue. Oshawa is the most affordable market in the GTA, with an average sale price of $255,808 in March, according to TREB figures.
Although Davio works downtown for the LCBO, she wanted to be close to her family and her horse, stabled just north of Pickering. But she eventually widened her search to next-door Ajax and found a two-year-old, 1,800-square-foot condominium townhouse with a garage and balcony.
She had her mortgage financing pre-approved, which turned out to be a savvy move when she placed her offer. Another potential buyer’s offer was higher, but Davio’s was accepted because there were no conditions on the financing.
Within the City of Toronto, neighbourhoods that have long proven to be hot such as the Beach, High Park and Bloor West Village remain so, says Toronto Real Estate Board president Tom Lebour. But the problem is that home prices start in the mid $400,000s for a modest semi or row house.
The luxury market has just started to rebound, says Hildebrand, with perennially popular areas such as High Park, Rosedale and Forest Hill remaining most desirable. But you’ll need at least half a million dollars to buy there.
“It’s more important to be able to spot emerging neighbourhoods, and there are two in particular up and coming,” he advises. “One is W6, Mimico and Long Branch. For years, it was considered a working class area, but no more. It has been gentrified and young buyers are recognizing the beauty of it. It’s close to the lake and hasn’t really caught on but is starting to.”
He notes that for the average GTA home price of $440,000, you can get a substantial entry-level home in Mimico, and you’re surrounded by high-end areas such as Bloor West Village and the Kingsway.
“There are condos along the water, townhouses and fixer-upper detached homes,” agrees Hildebrand, who also considers Mimico an area with good potential.
The second neighbourhood Lebour cites is a little pocket north of the Danforth between the Don Valley Parkway and Scarborough.
“It has some affordable homes and it’s close to the subway. More and more couples are looking for access to public transit so they don’t have to maintain a vehicle,” he says.
Downtown is a hot market, but Lebour says first-timers may have to settle for minuscule condo suites to keep within their budgets. CityPlace, the neighbourhood near the Rogers Centre, is popular with people who don’t own cars.
Other established “vertical cities” include the Distillery District and Liberty Village, as well as the King West district for more affluent buyers.
Lebour says Etobicoke offers good buys in condos, with more space for the money, and downtown is just a 20-minute ride from the Kipling subway station.
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Loft conversion projects are transforming abandoned factory lands into residential neighbourhood as local residents want redevelopment that integrates with the community.
About four years ago, shortly after developers tore down a derelict industrial building on Lansdowne Ave., local resident Dyan Marie decided it was time to get a cat. The rodent population in the neighbourhood exploded when the boarded-up eyesore, once home to the American Standard factory, was razed.
“No one wanted to touch those buildings for 20 or 30 years, so we were delighted when the developers moved in. But when they started cleaning it up, the mice and rats infested the neighbourhood,” the local activist recounts.
Adopting her cat, Pip, was a small price to pay to see Lansdowne Ave. redeveloped. New condominiums and condo townhouses are now replacing abandoned factories, and the influx of new homeowners is revitalizing the neighbourhood.
“The rodent infestation was just a passing phase,” laughs Marie, founder of DIG IN (Dupont Improvement Group: Improving the Neighbourhood.) “We’re delighted we’re getting these lands back on line. We do see the neighbourhood making huge improvements.”
A century ago, factories were drawn to the neighbourhood because of three railway lines that run through it. But most have since shut their doors and moved to cheaper, more accessible properties outside the downtown core. Like other former industrial sites in Toronto, such as Liberty Village, Lansdowne is now transitioning into a residential neighbourhood.
About 24 hectares of land on Lansdowne between Bloor St. and Davenport Ave. were formerly home to Canadian General Electric’s Davenport Works, which set up shop in 1902. The Davenport Works churned out everything from locomotives and transformers to televisions.
Much of the land has now been purchased by developer Tom Falus. He has built about 210 stacked, two- and three-storey brick and stucco condominium townhouses on the southwest corner of Lansdowne and Bloor. Now, Falus is almost finished converting a century-old building into 100 live-work, two-storey lofts at a project called The Foundry Lofts.
“It has good bones. It will be brought back to its original glory,” he says, speaking excitedly about what is now known as The Foundry Lofts, which fronts onto Lansdowne. Falus, who has also built many rental units and houses in the area, sees The Foundry Lofts as his crown jewel.
Touring the dark, gritty interior, he boasts of its potential. Skylights that run the entire length of the building have been boarded up for decades. Falus plans to remove those boards and bathe the new lofts in natural light. He hopes to do a similar conversion on an identical structure, adjacent to The Foundry Lofts, rather than knock it down.
He also plans to spare a 216-foot-high smoke stack from the wrecking ball. It was once the second-tallest such structure in Canada.
For Marie, the best part of the development is seeing the toxic brownfields cleaned up. The former GE site is contaminated with such chemicals as trichloroethylene, a degreaser for metal.
“In the 1980s, this was the most toxic neighbourhood in Canada. A lot of work has been done to clean it up,” she says.
Ward 18 Councillor Adam Giambrone has his fingers crossed for the future of the site. “I’m really afraid that if you don’t do it right, you just put up boring condos. Historical renovations cost more. The cheapest thing to do is put up boxes,” he says. “There’s a potential there for the absolutely most amazing development.”
Giambrone is nervous because of some of Falus’ earlier work in the area, namely the replacement of the former American Standard factory with a six-storey rental complex. The building, aptly named the Standard, is covered in stucco and its back faces onto Lansdowne.
“It’s classic bad planning. There’s only one point of vehicular access,” Giambrone says. “What you have is an area that’s cut off from the surrounding community.”
Falus says he was constrained in building the Standard because he wanted to keep some of the old American Standard infrastructure intact. For example, he says he wanted to preserve some interior brick walls, and that meant having to insulate on the outside. The insulation, in turn, then had to be covered in stucco.
Marie is trying to get developers to work in tandem with area residents. “Development is going to overtake this neighbourhood, no matter what we do. We just want to moderate it so that it integrates into the community. Development is a powerful force here,” she says.
She and her group have been instrumental in lowering the height of some developments, and in promoting the existence of more green space. For example, they were successful in fighting to lower the height of a 1,600-plus-unit development on the site of the existing Galleria Mall, on the corner of Dupont and Dufferin.
“We’re not happy with everything developers are doing, but they are working to improve the neighbourhood. They’re taking big financial risks to move into the neighbourhood. It’s up to us to work with developers in a positive way,” she says.
An artist, Marie has also helped create public artwork in the neighbourhood. The Walk Here Project, a work in progress, is a walkway connecting area parks. It includes displays of works by area artists, including Marie.
She says the area is a haven for artists. “A lot of artists moved into the neighbourhood because Queen St. has become so expensive,” she says. “This is the most reasonably priced neighbourhood that’s still within the city.”
Marie notes that plans are in the works to open two art galleries in the area this fall – one on Dupont and another on Lansdowne. But as with all regentrified neighbourhoods made cool by artists, conflict inevitably arises when developers purchase the land for redevelopment and displace artists from their affordable digs.
Such is the case with a former industrial building Falus owns on the northwest corner of Lansdowne and Dupont, now home to more than 25 artist studios. The developer plans to knock down the structure and build a commercial-residential complex there.
It could become home to a drug store, a video store and a condominium tower. Falus is enthused about the project and hopes it will be among his proudest achievements, up there with The Foundry Lofts development.
Kitty corner to that is a new development that has met the satisfaction of both existing residents and developers. The new, seven-storey, modern glass building, known as the Chelsea Lofts, was ready for occupancy last year. “It’s a very urbane, contemporary design. We are very proud of our work,” says developer Rashmi Nathwani.
The units boast nine-foot ceilings and large, warehouse-style windows. The building also includes three ground-level retail units, one of which has already been purchased by a dentist.
“We go into areas in transition. That’s what we do. It’s where the land is most affordable,” says Nathwani, who specializes in infill projects. He says sales started off slowly, but picked up this summer. Asked about the slow start, he explains: “It’s not College and Clinton – yet.”
Indeed, Lansdowne has long been known for its problems with drugs and prostitution. But that’s changing, Nathwani says. He points to a similar transition he saw when he built a development on Jarvis and George streets 10 years ago. “There was a big problem with crack there, but as soon as we built, it went away,” he explains.
Ross McKerron, who works with Falus, agrees. “Development changes the tone of a neighbourhood. When you talk to planners, they talk a lot about having eyes on the street.” During the years that buildings sat idle on Lansdowne, there were no eyes on the street.
“It becomes an attraction for vagrancy and squatters,” he explains. “Not that anyone is putting out the welcome mat for them, but no one is saying you’re not welcome either.”
Area residents are hopeful that a new police station, planned for the west side of Lansdowne just north of Bloor, will serve as a deterrent to crime. “You’re going to see more police presence… and I think we’re going to see an actual reduction in the drug and prostitution trade at Bloor and Lansdowne,” Giambrone says.
Marie bristles at the media’s fixation on the area’s crime problems, choosing instead to focus on its assets. Attractions include the Wallace Emmerson Community Centre, the Joseph Picininni Community Centre, Corso Itialia and Earlscourt Park.
Marie also points out the neighbourhood’s vast array of quality eateries, including Piri-Piri Portuguese Churasqueira and Grill House on Dupont, Caldense Bakery and Pastries on Symington, Soul Food on Lansdowne and South Indian Dosa Mahal on Bloor. A new cafe, called Yasi’s Place, is set to open on Wallace Ave. in the fall. The restaurants reflect the neighbourhood’s diversity. Many residents are of Portuguese and Italian heritage, while many people of South Asian and Southeast Asian heritage are moving in.
The area has always been a draw to new Canadians because of its affordability and proximity to the Lansdowne subway station and Bloor GO station. The new condominiums are attracting a lot of young, single first-time buyers. Nathwani says the majority of purchasers at Chelsea Lofts are young urban professionals.
Many young people are moving onto Bloor St., just west of Lansdowne, where several condos are sprouting up, such as the Bloorline Lofts, Bloor West Lofts, Bloor Street Station, Be Bloor and The Bloor. McKerron says the neighbourhood is ideally situated between the Annex and Bloor West Village.
“It’s still in the early days of its transformation. People who buy here now are ahead of the curve,” he says.
Giambrone agrees. “If I had to buy a house today, I would probably pick right in the Bloor-Lansdowne area. There are still a lot of challenges and I don’t think we can underestimate them, but the area is incredibly undervalued in terms of property values,” he says.
“You can still buy a house in the area for $250,000, which is pretty amazing for being that close to the subway,” he adds. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the median price of single detached resale homes in this area (W2) has increased by a whopping 52% since July 2000.
The median price of a single-family detached home in the area in July was $439,500, up from $290,000 in 2000.
“That area is only getting better – with a new police station going in, with condos going in and with the price of land continuing to go up in Toronto,” Giambrone suggests. “I think if people are looking for an area that’s going to be changing, that’s it.”
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Toronto’s existing home market surprised economists with a better-than-expected resurgence in June
Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
Remember last winter when the Toronto real estate market pulse could barely be detected?
The patient is not only recovering, but appears to be returning to robust health, according to five of top Toronto real estate brokers and marketing consultants.
There was plenty of optimism at a recent round table discussion the Star held with these experts, who shared their views during a candid and wide-ranging discussion on the current state of the Toronto real estate market.
The participants included moderator Barry Lyon, senior partner and president, N. Barry Lyon Consultants Ltd., and panellists Barbara Lawlor, president of Baker Real Estate Inc.; Debbie Cosic, partner in In2ition Realty; Michael Wilson, principal of International Home Marketing Group Ltd.; and Andy Brethour, president of PMA Brethour.
All agreed that December, January and February were “a deep freeze” for sales as Lawlor described it, but since then, sales have picked up. In fact, she pointed out, sales in May and early June have outdone May and June of 2008, according to Toronto Real Estate Board figures. And the average price for an MLS resale home was $407,716 according to TREB, up by 2% compared to last year.
“Let’s put in it perspective,” said Lyon. “New homes sales down about 60% for the same period – why are resales so hot and why are new sales lingering somewhat?”
“The biggest difference is the vendors in resale are flexible,” said Cosic. “They listen to their clients, they listen to the marketplace . . . the new (home) clientele is sometimes not as flexible.”
Cosic said recently, there has actually been a short supply of listings, and many people listing are getting 95% of their asking price.
Comment: Actually, in many areas the average price is over 100% because there are so many bidding wars. Some neighbourhoods see multiple offers on almost every new property. I would be surprised to see selling prices under 98% of list.
“If it’s sharply priced, people are coming in and bidding up,” added Wilson.
Developers don’t have the ability to respond as quickly as resellers in dropping, said Wilson, because if they have sold a large number of units that under construction, “they have to make sure they don’t devalue investment past purchasers have made, so they are not about to tamper with price list.”
Brethour said in every recession, the consumer moves to certainty and that’s what the resale market offers: “It’s the seeing and believing, the touch and feel, being able to close in 60 days or 90 days.”
And while the resale market may have been quicker to respond, that doesn’t mean new home and condo builders aren’t willing to compromise.
“I have never seen developers so eager to make deals and negotiate as they are now,” said Lawlor.
“We hit a reset button and have had to reset our packaging, our product, our pricing. You can reset much faster in resale,” said Brethour.
First-time buyers are leading the market, they said, spurred on by record low interest rates and the greatest affordability of the last decade.
“I think right now is first-time buyer paradise. We have droves of first-time buyers coming into our sales offices, along the Sheppard corridor, anywhere there is a subway and what we find is if we send 20 people a week to get qualified, maybe 10 of them are going to come back qualified,” said Lawlor.
“There’s a great desire for home ownership, not necessarily the pocketbook to make the deal happen. The first-time buyers are driving the market at the moment.”
What’s not going over as well, she said, are luxury condos, and her firm has had to turn to overseas buyers.
She also said mid-range builders are the ones most eager to offer incentives currently.
Wilson described the downturn as a “millionaire’s recession” saying “they were the ones who lost all their money in the stock market and that’s why higher end is affected.”
Affordability is key to be successful in the current market, the panellists said. Some lowrise builders have introduced new smaller, streamlined homes that have been popular while condo projects will also likely get smaller, with fewer amenities.
Toronto condos will continue to be an integral part of the market, the brokers agreed.
“What I’m seeing happening is consumer acceptance of the lifestyle, whether it’s 416, 905, Toronto condos have arrived like you can’t believe,” said Lyon.
What the panellists have found is that a lot of owners are not Canadian-born and come from countries where highrise living is a normal way of life. The continuing large influx of new immigrants, many of whom are committed to home ownership, will help to fuel the Toronto condo market.
Incentives offered by developers, despite being rather modest in some cases, have also helped produce a flurry of sales.
The panelists also talked openly about “something we often tiptoe around,” Lyon said – that’s investor buyers. He said no one is exactly sure how many there are, but there is general agreement they make up 25% to 30% of the Toronto condo market.
“We had a launch two weeks ago in the pouring rain and we had people sleeping outside overnight,” said Cosic. “They were predominantly investors, who were South Asian, Korean, Eastern European. They are not that sophisticated, they are not people who deal in the stock market, they have had 10 years in a good economy and have some money saved away. They are good, long-term investors.”
Wilson agreed. “They are not high rollers, they are not playing with disposable income, this is real money they’ve saved and they are not going to walk away. This is an investor who is going to close.”
Despite the high number of new condo units, the five were confident that Toronto can continue to absorb the numbers of suites that will be ready for occupancy now through 2011.
Brethour pointed out that no rental housing stock of any consequence has been built since rent control came in during the 1970s – and with 100,000 new immigrants arriving in the GTA each year, rental condos are needed. The rental market can easily absorb these units and Lyon pointed out that while the vacancy rate among traditional units is 3%, it’s less than half a per cent for rental condos, which command higher rents.
The panellists had their doubts about the feasibility of three-bedroom family units in condos, promoted by city councillors like Adam Vaughan.
“We introduced 30 units in Mississauga with Daniels (Corp.) and didn’t get the feeling that there’s a tremendous appetite for it,” said Lawlor.
“Even though we get families coming in to sales offices in droves, it’s not because they are going to live there with little kids, they are usually there to support a family member.”
Cosic said nonetheless, more condo projects are including family-friendly amenities.
Wilson said a three-or-four bedroom apartment-style condo in the city costs $400,000 to $500,000 “and that opens up a lot of opportunities in the suburbs.”
Highrise living is not particularly conducive to family living, they said, but what they did feel would be a popular trend was stacked houses and condo townhouses, catering to families who want ground-oriented housing.
Not only market demand will drive this trend, said Brethour – because highrise developers will have more challenges getting financing, they will look to less costly projects that can provide almost the same densities.
Because of the scarcity of serviceable, lowrise land in the GTA, there will be more intensification in the 905 to keep product affordable.
The topic of municipal development charges brought groans.
“The same governments that are encouraging us to build more efficiently are taxing the bejesus out of multiple family housing,” said Lyon. “We’re paying for all that sprawl, parks, schools, aging pipes in the ground. Developers are being made to pay through the nose to support the lower density housing habit.”
Indirect taxes have a huge impact on buyers, all agreed. Wilson said that drives people either to resale or to areas outside of the GTA.
The panellists said Toronto’s market cannot be compared to others such as Calgary or Vancouver, as this city did not see the wild price jumps.
What also bodes well for consumers, they said, is the choice for the consumer, with 320 new sites in the city and GTA, ranging from urban to suburban, small and large.
“We’ve been bombarded by CNN and other publications about how the bad recession is and it’s not that bad,” said Wilson.
“It seems to be in a V-shaped recovery and we need to stabilize people’s thinking, need to get good news out there.”
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