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Financing rush makes real estate the hottest sector on Bay Street

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RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust is the latest to announce a share sale, launching a $200-million offering late Thursday.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian real estate investment trusts are capitalizing on a growing hunger for yield-driven stocks, tapping investors for fresh cash in an unexpected flurry of financings.

REITs have raised $1.3-billion through share sales since the start of September, outpacing any other sector in Canada and extending a string of deals over the past year that now totals $6.2-billion.

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust is the latest to announce a share sale, launching a $200-million offering late Thursday. The market is so hot for real estate that Bay Street has seen six REIT financings this month and apartment-focused Continuum Residential Real Estate Investment Trust is attempting a $300-million initial public offering.

With so many deals, the real estate sector this year has raised roughly triple the amount brought in by the once-soaring cannabis industry in 2019.

Falling interest rates have largely fuelled the REIT rally. Bond yields have tumbled around the world and US$13-trillion worth of debt now trades with negative yields. In this environment, the S&P/TSX Capped REIT Index’s average yield of 4.4 per cent looks rather compelling.

This index has delivered a total return of 24 per cent since January, while the S&P/TSX Composite Index has delivered a return of 18 per cent on the same basis.

Canadian REITs have also lured investors with their strong fundamentals, dispelling worries that slower economic growth would hurt their bottom lines. “REITs have very attractive cash flow per share growth driven by pipelines of internally generated projects,” said Sante Corona, head of equity capital markets at TD Securities.

Apartment-focused REITs have been one of the hottest corners of the real estate market, buoyed by high occupancy rates and strong rent increases whenever one tenant vacates and another moves in. There is also strong demand for these types of property owners because population growth has been outstripping the new supply of rental units in many large Canadian cities.

Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust, the largest publicly traded apartment owner, had an average occupancy of 98.3 per cent across its entire portfolio at the end of its last quarter, and some apartment REITs have shown that their rents can jump 25 per cent on tenant turnover.

Since going public in the first half of 2018, Minto Apartment REIT has watched its unit price jump 55 per cent. The REIT recently raised $225-million on the same day that its units set a new high, and the offering was priced to yield 1.9 per cent, an uncommonly low level for a Canadian REIT.

Continuum is attempting its IPO at a 2-per-cent yield on the back of Minto’s success.

Because pricing has been so advantageous, many REITs are rushing to finance while they can. “Our real estate clients have been taking advantage of the positive backdrop to raise equity to finance accretive acquisitions and property development,” said Tyler Swan, managing director of equity capital markets at CIBC World Markets.

Even retail REITs are winning investors back. Despite fears that digital giants such as Amazon.com Inc. will steal business at an alarming rate, retail landlords secured tenant renewal rate increases of roughly 4 per cent on average in 2018, according to a team of analysts at CIBC.

“We believe that the headwinds facing the retail sector are indeed real; however, the operating performance of the underlying real estate appears to be at odds with the significant unit price underperformance relative to other REIT sub-sectors,” the analysts wrote in a note in early October.

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Centurion follows opportunity, buying 6 W. Canada apartments

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Centurion Apartment REIT is both following the opportunities and continuing to diversify its portfolio with the purchase of six apartment properties in three Western Canadian cities, president and CEO Greg Romundt says.

Centurion is making the purchases in four transactions in Regina, Edmonton and Victoria. The properties total just over 1,300 apartment units and bring Centurion’s total assets under management to about $2.9 billion.

Three of the properties are new builds, while three of the Edmonton acquisitions are established properties.

“We’ve seen lots of opportunity in the new construction space in Western Canada, and in general. We’ve been pursuing a strategy for years of diversifying, not being just an Ontario-based shop, doing deals in Western Canada,” Romundt told RENX in an interview.

“We’ve been pretty active in B.C., Alberta particularly this year, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba have gotten a lot of our attention in the past couple of years.

“Part of it is certainly driven by the desire to have a diversified portfolio but the other is just the opportunity set.

“The stuff we’re doing in Western Canada not only is it hitting our dollar metrics, but we’re finding it easier to find, source and complete deals out there without having to pay through the nose to do it.”

The properties are: The Apex at Acre 21 in Regina; Grand Central Manor II and III, Oliver Place, Riverside Towers and The Mayfair on Jasper in Edmonton; and Hockley Corners in Langford just outside Victoria. Closing dates range from early December through March 2020.

Centurion’s $200M equity raise

Centurion is quickly putting to work funds from a successful three-phased share offering which was designed to raise $150 million.

“We decided to accept $200 (million) in three closes,” said Romundt, noting the first close on Nov. 1 was for $110 million. “It’s all allocated. We originally went out for $150 (million), we had subscriptions for $300 (million) and we accepted $200 (million).

“The apartment sector has been doing very well and I think there is a lot of recognition that it still has a lot of strong tailwinds behind it. Vacancy rates are low, interest rates are low, performance has been excellent but also, (in) portfolios across the country the market rent gaps are so large that forward-looking returns are still pretty attractive, too.”

Romundt said two years ago he hoped to build Centurion (Centurion Asset Manager, Centurion Real Estate Opportunities Trust, Centurion Financial Trust and other divisions) to $3 billion in assets within three years, $5 billion within five years.

Centurion again eyes Toronto market

IMAGE: Greg Romundt is the president and CEO of Centurion. (Courtesy Centurion)

Greg Romundt is the president and CEO of Centurion. (Courtesy Centurion)

“When all those complete, we’ll be at about $2.9 billion. We seem to be on schedule for that and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re ahead,” he said, noting conditions have been ripe for portfolio expansions.

“We got in early into the new construction space, helping builders finance new developments.

“We weren’t the only guys who saw this, obviously, and there’s been a lot of product that’s now coming available. We’ve positioned ourselves very well to have this very deep pipeline of things we finance, also relationships from that effort that is spinning off into lots of new acquisitions of new product.

“So much being built today is being built by merchant developers, so they want to sell it. That’s perfect for us.”

In the near term, rapidly rising rents across Canada might reopen markets which have been difficult to access. Romundt said its focus has been on secondary markets, or regions just outside the biggest metropolitan areas because of pricing and intense competition in the cores.

Even markets like Toronto might soon be in play.

“We’re partners on a lot of builds. . . . In fact we are even looking at product in Toronto, deals that we’ve worked on for years and couldn’t make the numbers work,” he noted.

“Because rents have moved so much, some of these locations now are starting to make financial sense. I am actually getting a little more optimistic for areas where we would love to be able to build and own.”

Here are some additional details about Centurion’s pending acquisitions:

The Apex at Acre 21

Centurion is acquiring a 50 per cent interest in this new build, on which it was a development partner with Devereaux Group. It will bring Centurion’s portfolio to five properties and 571 rental units in Regina.

Completed in May 2019, the property is in the Greens on Gardiner neighbourhood in southeast Regina.  The Apex at Acre 21 includes three buildings with 176 suites.

Apex offers one- and two-bedroom suites with dens and large living spaces. Condo-style finishes include luxury vinyl flooring, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, private balconies, ensuite bathrooms and walk-in closets.

The property has 233 surface parking stalls and a 2,400-square-foot Resident Clubhouse.

The Mayfair on Jasper

The Mayfair on Jasper is a class-A, mixed-use property completed in late 2016 at 10803 Jasper Ave. NW. It was developed and owned by ProCura Real Estate Services.

The 10-storey, 238-unit property has a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom suites with luxury interior finishes. It has a smart-key system, premium concierge, parcel pending automated delivery system, fitness centre and dual rooftop parks. It also has 196 parking stalls and 24,901 square feet of main-floor commercial space.

Grand Central Manor II & III, Oliver Place, Riverside Towers

This family-owned portfolio of three high-rise buildings has 832 units and 38,702 square feet of commercial space. The acquisition would increase Centurion’s Edmonton portfolio to 1,278 rental units (including The Mayfair on Jasper).

The 17-storey Grand Central Manor II and III at 109th Street and Jasper Avenue offers 306 suites with one or two bedrooms, plus penthouses. All feature spacious balconies and six full-size appliances.

The 18-storey Oliver Place, also along Jasper, is a mixed-use building with 234 residential units, a four-storey parkade and a 37,788-square-foot commercial space on the main floor. It also has a fitness centre, social room, outdoor pool and resident lounge. The suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows, spacious balconies, in-suite storage and full-size appliances including dishwasher.

The third property is just east of downtown near the Brewery, ICE, Financial, and Government districts. Riverside Towers comprises twin apartment buildings with 292 units, a 914-square-foot commercial space on the main floor and a common recreational area connecting the two 21-storey towers. Units range from studios to three bedrooms and penthouse suites. All suites overlook the North Saskatchewan River Valley.

Hockley Corners

The newly constructed Hockley Corners is adjacent to five other properties Centurion purchased in July and will bring Centurion’s portfolio to 10 properties and 664 rental units in the Greater Vancouver Area.

The six-storey, purpose-built rental developed by Design Build Services of Langford at 765 Hockley Ave. was completed in August 2019. Hockley Corners has 63 residential units with underground parking and optional out-of-suite storage.

The suites offer one- and two-bedroom units, some with dens. They feature nine-foot ceilings, condo-quality finishes, stainless-steel appliances, individual heating and cooling system, and in-suite washer/dryer.

Hockley Corners is close to Millstream Village Shopping Centre, transit and Bear Mountain Golf Resort

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Guelph real estate agents to trek 100 km in Sahara Desert

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Four Guelphites will be trekking 100 km across the Sahara Desert in Morocco this month to raise money for the Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis.

The venture organized in support of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation will see local real estate agent David Halls along with his wife Robin-Lee Norris, real estate agent Ariana Chhina and John Van Buskirk trek for five days straight, seven hours a day across the sand in the hot and dry desert climate.

“Truly it’s about supporting our local shelters. All of us who are participating, we cover 100 per cent of our own costs, our own flights, our own hotels. Every penny that we raise feeds through the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation and then ends up coming back to shelters,” says Halls.

Halls indicates that as a real estate professional, his job is to help clients find the perfect safe place to call home.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 552 residential facilities for victims of abuse across Canada that have seen 68,000 admissions in 2017 — 60.3 per cent of them being women and 39.6 per cent being their accompanying children.

On the snapshot day of April 18, 2018, 3,565 women, 3,137 accompanying children and eight men were staying in residential facilities due to some form of abuse. Over 80 per cent of women on that snapshot day reported abuse as their primary reason for seeking shelter.

The trek this month will include 120 agents and hikers across Canada representing The Royal LePage Foundation where they will be divided into four groups between 29 to 30, reside in large group tents, use camp-stye bathroom facilities and live without electricity, cell phone service and the other comforts of a modern-day home.

To participate, members must raise 5,000 each and cover their own travel costs. Each agent raises funds in any way they can.

“Royal LePage corporately pays all of the overhead expenses, all the staff salary so that every penny raised goes out directly towards a shelter or to education programs against violence,” says Halls adding that each city supports their local shelter.

The trek to the Sahara desert will be Halls’ third trip with the foundation. In 2017, he travelled over 100 km across some of Iceland’s most actively volcanic areas and in 2015, he travelled to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco and visited Ina ruins and Spanish colonial churches where he hiked through remote areas that have been the same for centuries.

“I think part of the experience is that you’re putting yourself in such an uncomfortable position. Most of us are blessed to never have to leave our house and go into a shelter,” says Halls.

“You’re putting yourself in a position that’s uncomfortable for a little period of time just to try and remember there are ladies out there and kids out there who have to do this regularly.”

To date, the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation has raised over $30 million in support of Canadian women’s shelters and violence prevention programs.

Halls says he continues to see a passion from everyone involved in the project to support the charity.

“We have a thing through Royal LePage called the commission where every single deal we do, we have a slice of our commission that goes towards this charity. So collectively again across the country its millions of dollars raised. It’s phenomenal,” says Halls.

So far, Halls’ campaign raised helped raise $12,141 which is 1 percent over their goal before he officially kicks off toward the middle of the desert on Nov. 20.

Executive director Sly Castaldi says the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation has been extremely supportive throughout the years and are huge community champions for which the Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis is extremely grateful.

“Their impact has been immeasurable to us,” says Castaldi

“Any funds they raise go toward our overall operation which we depend on in terms of overall fundraising goals and managing the organization,” she said adding that the impact is both national and local.

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Richmond-based Chinese real estate company targeted by false posters

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An online posting announcing the bankruptcy of a Richmond-based real estate agency is fake news, according to the owner of the company. It has just relocated to Vancouver.

Photos showing posters on the window of Maxcel Westcoast Realty, a real estate company located at 6020 Blundell Rd., began circulating on Chinese social media sites, including one of the biggest Chinese language online forums VanPeople.

These posters, dated Nov. 5, 2019, printed in Chinese characters, stated “the company has closed, which means it doesn’t exist anymore, please stop knocking on my door.”

However, when the Richmond News visited the office on Thursday, all the posters had been removed from the office windows.

According to Kathy Xu, owner and co-founder of Maxcel Westcoast Realty, the online posting isn’t real. The company is still operating and the whole team relocated from Richmond to Vancouver office earlier this week.

Xu isn’t aware of who hung these posters on the window.

A spokesperson from the Real Estate Council of British Columbia (RECBC) also confirmed that the company is licensed and they have just moved to Vancouver.

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