Toronto’s housing market has become a target for money laundering or “snow washing,” thanks to anonymous property ownership, weak regulation and lax enforcement, according to a new study.
Since 2008, $28.4 billion worth of housing was acquired in the Toronto region largely through private entities where owners can remain anonymous, according to a report released Thursday by Transparency International Canada, Canadians for Tax Fairness and Publish What You Pay Canada.
In that period, $9.8 billion of housing was bought by companies through cash purchases, largely bypassing anti-money laundering checks on fund sources and beneficial owners, according to the study, which analyzed more than 1.4 million residential sales dating back to 2008.
“Canada’s lack of beneficial ownership transparency makes our entire country an attractive destination for money laundering,” according to the report. While some vacant properties in Toronto might sit as investments for legitimate money, a worrying amount slips past regulators who do not really know who owns what, nor how much is being used for money laundering and tax evasion, it said.
The report follows a similar one on Vancouver in 2016 that revealed almost half of the city’s most valuable property owners were unknown and hiding behind shell companies, trusts and nominee owners. This led to greater enforcement from the provincial government, including proposing a registry for beneficial owners for property.
The Toronto housing market has ranked among the least affordable in the world and became a target for speculative investment. The provincial government brought in a foreign-buyers tax in 2017 and instituted audits of real estate speculators in the region.
The report argues that more measures should be implemented to shed light on the extent of anonymous ownership in the market, which includes requiring disclosure of beneficial owners of real estate as a prerequisite for any properties transfers.
The federal budget tabled on Tuesday included a proposal to spend $16.9 million on strengthening the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada that would help boost scrutiny of the real estate and casino sectors with a focus on British Columbia.
Using detached homes as a bellwether, Landcor data shows that the value of a detached home in the city fell 11.3 per cent for the first nine months of this year compared to last, with the median price now being $1.825 million.
There were 1,172 detached homes sold from the start of January to the end of September this year, compared to 1,448 for the same period in 2018. The value of those sales fell from $3.8 billion to $2.76 billion. Almost 73 per cent of detached homes sold in Vancouver in the first nine months of 2019 went for below assessed value.
Condo owners in Vancouver saw a 3.3 per cent rise in the median price on 30 per cent fewer sales.
2. LNG boom in Kitimat leads to huge jump in home values
There’s an energy boom underway in northwest B.C., driven by a $40-billion LNG project in Kitimat. There are already 1,000 workers setting up the construction site at the mouth of Douglas Channel, with 7,500 workers expected from 2022 to 2024. That creates a big need for housing and its shows in the data.
In Kitimat, the price of a detached home jumped almost 50 per cent in the first nine months of the year compared to the same period in 2018. While the number of detached home sales actually fell from 99 to 91, the value of those sales soared from $28.1 million to $38.7 million, and only two homes sold for less than assessed value.
Nearby Terrace saw a 21 per cent increase in the value of a detached home to an average of $385,000.
3. How are things in Surrey?
While owners of detached homes in Surrey fared better than in Vancouver, condo owners fared worse. There were 2,201 detached homes sales in the first nine months of 2019, a 22 per cent drop on the same period of 2018. Sales volumes were $2.7 billion for the same period compared to $3.6 billion. Interestingly, that shows that the total sales volumes in Surrey and Vancouver for detached homes are about the same.
The median price of a detached home fell three per cent to $1.038 million, while the median price of a condo was down 9.3 per cent to $365,700. Just over 50 per cent of detached homes sold in Surrey for the first nine months of 2019 went for below the assessed value.
4. The beautiful Kootenays are doing OK
A common refrain in Vancouver is “I’d love to live in Nelson.” It’s the Jewel of the Kootenays, rural with city touches, a world-class ski hill nearby and a reputation for cool known around the world.
The Landcor data shows several Kootenay towns doing well on the real estate front. In Nelson, the median price of a detached home rose 11.4 per cent to $440,000 — and despite the average assessed value of a detached home rising 16 per cent from 2018 to June 30, 2019, over 65 per cent of the homes sold in the first nine months of 2019 went for over assessed.
Salmo and Slocan saw a 27 per cent jump in detached home values, while Creston went up 10 per cent and Castlegar 11 per cent.
5. Victoria not so hot, but Langford is
Victoria has seen detached home values fall, though not as much as Vancouver. A detached home is now worth $790,000 on average, which is 4.8 per cent less than in 2018. Volumes are down slightly, with 171 sales in the first nine months of this year; almost 80 per cent of those sales were below the assessed value.
But west of Victoria, in Langford, detached home values soared 12 per cent in the same period, while detached homes in the Gulf Islands rose 19 per cent in average value.
Canadian real estate markets are on fire. Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) data shows sales across the country jumped in October. The rise was actually so large, last month was the biggest for the industry in over a decade. This is the opposite of what the government wants to see ahead of rolling out new demand stimulus.
The headline number used by the industry is seasonally adjusted, which downplayed growth. There was 42,970 seasonally adjusted sales in October, flat from a month before. Unadjusted however, sales reached 44,499 in October, up 12.9% from the same month last year. FYI seasonally adjusted numbers are compared using consecutive periods. Unadjusted numbers are compared on a year-over-year basis.
Canadian Real Estate Sales
The unadjusted sales for all home types, as reported through the Canadian MLS.
Source: CREA, Better Dwelling.
The growth rate is very high, and this is also a new record. The 12-month growth is the highest for October since 2011. The number of sales reported for the month is also the highest since 2007. Some of this is delayed demand from last year’s weak numbers, but it’s still a very large month.
Canadian Real Estate Sales Change
The annual percent chage of unadjusted sales for all home types, as reported through the Canadian MLS.
Source: CREA, Better Dwelling.
British Columbia’s Largest Markets Lead In Growth
The largest growth was in last year’s biggest losers – Vancouver and Fraser Valley. Vancouver reported 2,892 sales in October, up 45% from the same month last year – the biggest jump in the country. Fraser Valley, the neighboring board, followed with 1,500 sales, up 36% from last year. In a distant third was Ottawa at 707 sales, up 25.4% from last year. Both BC markets were near multi-year lows last year, so the jump was a little expected.
Canadian Real Estate Sales By Market
Canadian real estate sales in markets with more than 450 sales in the month.
Source: CREA, Better Dwelling.
Biggest Losses Were In… Wait, There Was None
That’s right kiddos, not one major market showed a loss from last year. Kitchener-Waterloo showed the smallest gain at 502 sales in October, up 2.7% from last year. London follows with 924 sales, up 2.8% from last year. Victoria came in third with 586 sales, up 5.4% from last year.
Canadian Real Estate Sales Change By Market
The percent change in Canadian real estate sales, in markets with more than 450 sales in the month.
Source: CREA, Better Dwelling.
All of Canada’s largest real estate markets pumped out massive gains. Curiously, the rise in sales is not isolated to “hot regions,” it’s a broad market gain. This implies a more macro change to buyer pressure.
Super fast 5G cellular networks are hot as major wireless carriers from Verizon to AT&T deploy the service, but it’s unclear if the infrastructure is in place for in-home 5G to replace current cable-based broadband.
The 5G-enabled future seems kind of distant. Real estate developers would need to put fiber-optic cables in homes and office buildings, since 5G doesn’t pass through walls, windows, or people. And most developers are not constructing projects or retrofitting existing properties that would allow 5G to be delivered to homes because it’s simply too expensive to implement.
“Not many developers that we speak to are taking 5G into account when constructing new ground-up developments,” said Chen Konfino, founder of Younity, a Tel Aviv-based company that installs internet infrastructure in multifamily buildings.
<p class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” type=”text” content=”Fiber-optic cables, which run through the walls and the floors of buildings, are required to receive 5G signals indoors, according to Dan Littman, principal of technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte Consulting LLP. And only some developers like The Related Companies are willing to pay for the infrastructure. Related’s massive Hudson Yards 28-acre mixed-use development in New York City is wired for 5G.” data-reactid=”18″>Fiber-optic cables, which run through the walls and the floors of buildings, are required to receive 5G signals indoors, according to Dan Littman, principal of technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte Consulting LLP. And only some developers like The Related Companies are willing to pay for the infrastructure. Related’s massive Hudson Yards 28-acre mixed-use development in New York City is wired for 5G.
“Installation is too pricey” data-reactid=”39″>Installation is too pricey
Most builders just opt for traditional internet solutions because it’s affordable. Between conduits, splices, cables, and installation, 5G capability can be a five- or six-figure investment.
From 2003 to 2017, the median budget for a fiber-optic cable installation project, ranging from .6 to 10 miles of cable, was $66,940, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation survey of 150 fiber optic installations. Konfino said he recently completed two fiber-optic cable installations in 30- to 40-foot buildings for about $100,000 each.” data-reactid=”41″>From 2003 to 2017, the median budget for a fiber-optic cable installation project, ranging from .6 to 10 miles of cable, was $66,940, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation survey of 150 fiber optic installations. Konfino said he recently completed two fiber-optic cable installations in 30- to 40-foot buildings for about $100,000 each.
Even retrofitting existing buildings is a pricey endeavor. It costs about 30% more than a regular renovation, taking into account demolition, renovation, and improved telecommunication closets, said Konfino. And the costs skyrocket when a building is more than a mile away from the closest fiber-optic internet line, according to a post by Atlantech, a Maryland-based fiber optics and telecommunications company.” data-reactid=”42″>Even retrofitting existing buildings is a pricey endeavor. It costs about 30% more than a regular renovation, taking into account demolition, renovation, and improved telecommunication closets, said Konfino. And the costs skyrocket when a building is more than a mile away from the closest fiber-optic internet line, according to a post by Atlantech, a Maryland-based fiber optics and telecommunications company.
“The return on investment” data-reactid The return on investment
As one of the few developers making 5G-enabled properties like Boston’s Lovejoy Wharf luxury condominiums and New York City’s Equinox Hotel, Related said the high costs are worth the investment.
“Expense is always a factor. We would never mindlessly invest in infrastructure that we didn’t think would be foundationally important,” said Scott Evans, chief digital officer of Related. Fiber-optic cables will only become increasingly necessary as the infrastructure behind future innovations, added Kenneth Finnegan, chief technology officer of Related.
Fiber broadband cuts down on long-term maintenance costs for building owners. It also allows owners to charge more rent and increases the value of properties. According to Connected Real Estate Magazine, owners can increase rent by an average of 8% and property values are boosted by an average of 2.8%, if the properties are 5G-enabled. ” data-reactid=”66″>Fiber broadband cuts down on long-term maintenance costs for building owners. It also allows owners to charge more rent and increases the value of properties. According to Connected Real Estate Magazine, owners can increase rent by an average of 8% and property values are boosted by an average of 2.8%, if the properties are 5G-enabled.
“I think there’s going to be a price concern for landlords and property owners, but I think there will be a demand for this infrastructure,” said Mike Baumstein, deputy head of Barings’ Private Equity and Real Assets team, an investment firm that recently bought Gigasphere, a fiber-optic telecommunications company serving the multifamily and commercial real estate industries. “Eventually, they [building owners] will have to make an investment to keep their properties updated and competitive.”
But smaller developers still say the cost is too high. Josh Schuster at New York-based Silverback Development uses traditional methods like routers and cell phone repeaters that allow only 4G into buildings, according Schuster.
“There is a cost-benefit analysis. Right now, there are inexpensive ways to include technology in design and construction,” he said. “We definitely incorporate that.”