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Canada Life halts redemptions on real estate investment funds – The Globe and Mail

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File photo shows a sign advertising office space available in downtown Calgary on April 13, 2016.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Canada Life Assurance Co. has temporarily halted all investor activity on its Canadian real estate funds as the novel coronavirus rattles global property markets.

Canada Life announced on Friday it was “in the best interest” of investors to place a temporary suspension on contributions, transfers and redemptions for its Canadian real estate investment funds.

The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has affected global property markets, making it difficult to value the properties with the same degree of certainty as usual, Canada Life said in a release.

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As a result, the market uncertainty affects the company’s ability to calculate the unit price and creates “a material risk” that investments may not continue to be valued appropriately.

To mitigate that risk, Canada Life has suspended contributions, redemptions and transfers from the Great-West Life Canadian Real Estate Investment Fund, the London Life Real Estate Fund (2.17G), the Canada Life Real Estate Fund and the London Life Real Estate Fund (5.191G).

The first two funds include holdings in office, retail, industrial and multifamily residential properties across Canada, while the other two funds hold assets in the first two funds and therefore have value tied to the underlying properties.

Unlike most retail real estate funds, which invest in public securities such as units of real estate investment trusts and shares of real estate operators, the Canada Life funds invest directly in real estate properties. For example, the Great West Life fund has approximately $6.4-billion in assets under management and invests in projects such as the Calgary Watermark tower and the Creekside Crossing complex in Alberta.

Kim Inglis, an associate portfolio manager with Raymond James, said drastic measures such as suspending redemptions help prevent fund companies from having to sell what they can at prevailing prices, as opposed to the price at which they would prefer to sell.

“[Force selling] can disrupt the balance in the underlying portfolio and end up exacerbating losses,” Ms. Inglis said. “It also obviously impacts those investors who want to continue holding the asset through the volatility. Temporarily suspending redemptions is an attempt to avoid that domino effect.”

Canada Life said the suspension will remain in place until market conditions have stabilized enough to “determine valuations with greater certainty” and the company is “comfortable” with the funds’ liquidity positions.

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“Our Canadian real estate funds have performed well over many years,” Canada Life chief executive officer Paul Mahon said in a statement. “The temporary suspension was put in place to protect the long-term interests of all unit-holders during this period of economic uncertainty. We have managed real estate funds for four decades, and we continue to believe they are an excellent component of a well-balanced, long-term investment portfolio.”

The risk of real estate funds being suspended across the entire Canadian retail estate asset class is low, said Dennis Mitchell, CEO of Starlight Investments Capital LP, an investment management firm that specializes in real estate securities.

“The vast majority of real estate mutual funds owned by Canadian investors allocate capital to shares/units of listed real estate companies, that in turn own properties,” Mr. Mitchell told The Globe and Mail. “These mutual funds are very liquid and should be at significantly less risk of suspending redemptions and distributions.”

This isn’t the first time Canada Life has had to suspend its real estate funds. In 2008, the funds were frozen for a period of time during the financial crisis.

Investors looking to access direct property exposure for their portfolios will have to live with the inability to get in and get out of the investment any time they want, said Dan Hallett, vice-president of research at HighView Financial Group.

“Stuffing an illiquid asset inside of a liquid structure will eventually lead to a liquidity freeze,” Mr. Hallet said. “That’s what’s happened here. And it’s at least the third time this has happened with retail real estate funds holding property directly.”

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Real estate publisher lets 70 go, blames coronavirus impact – Toronto Star

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Key Media, the Toronto-based publisher of trade magazines Canadian Mortgage Professional and Canadian Real Estate Wealth, has cut more than a third of its global workforce amidst the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, the publishing and conference company issued severance notices to 70 people, in offices as widespread as Canada, the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Australia.

Before the wave of cuts, the company employed almost 200 people in eight offices

One employee who received a severance notice said they’d been told by a Key executive that the biggest reason for the cuts was that the company’s conference business had dried up almost all at once, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current economic climate has had a huge effect on the company’s revenues, and we have forecast a significant negative impact on the company’s bottom line for 2020. This means that unfortunately, we are no longer able to continue your employment,” the severance notice stated.

Email and Skype messages to company CEO Mike Shipley, who lives in Antigua, weren’t immediately returned.

Key Media publishes 130 trade magazines devoted to real estate, mortgages and insurance. It also runs 70 annual conferences and trade shows.

Earlier this week, Saltwire Media, Atlantic Canada’s largest newspaper chain, laid of 40 per cent of its staff and shut down all of its weekly papers for at least 12 weeks, citing a plunge in advertising in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Real estate market in Lethbridge still open for business – CTV News

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LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. —
The economy has been slowing down since the province and city have declared states of public health emergency, but realtors are still doing their best to provide service to their customers.

Real estate offices like Sutton, LethbridgeRealEstate.com and RE/MAX may have closed their office doors to the public, but thanks to new technology, it doesn’t mean their business has been suspended.

“We take the necessary precautions,” says Jennifer Brodoway, real estate agent for ViewLethbridge. “Some realtors are wearing gloves, we have hand sanitizer with us and we are doing any documentation by email. We can even do virtual tours.”

Real estate remains a vital part of Lethbridge’s economy, with over 2,500 properties sold last year.

Surprisingly, some realtors are even busier than ever now, despite the social-distancing measures imposed by the province.

“I think (I have seen) a slight increase in showings on houses that are vacant,” Brodoway explains. “People feel more comfortable going to vacant houses. They know they are not disturbing anybody and they know these houses have been cleaned are ready to be shown.”

Brodoway also says some of her clients are looking to buy out of caprice, but rather out of necessity.

“Some people have already sold their houses and they have nowhere to live and we are happy to help those people,” she said.

The federal government has announced this week people who have been temporarily laid-off may be eligible to receive $2,000 a month until this summer. The government hopes this aid will help Canadians to keep their homes to avoid a similar crisis the United States and the rest of the world suffered in 2008.   

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How Toronto's Real Estate Industry is Dealing with the Impact of Coronavirus – Toronto Storeys

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In just two weeks, the world has changed drastically. We’re now living in the face of major business closures and shutdowns, stock market declines, and even fights in the aisles of grocery stores over toilet paper.

The novel coronavirus or the COVID-19 outbreak, whichever you prefer, has drastically affected the day-to-day life of everyone around the world and impacted every industry in one way or another. But has this global virus truly impacted the real estate industry in Canada’s largest city yet?

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The first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced in Toronto on January 25, and in the days that followed several additional cases began to be reported throughout the province. And while the real estate world took note, it largely continued to operate in its normal way. Now, that normalcy has changed, and a different approach is needed.

Brokers, buyers, and sellers are now navigating the unfamiliar territory together amid the pandemic and an industry that thrives on in-person showings and meetings is now charging forward digitally, with brokers turning to virtual house tours as opposed to traditional open houses.

And yet, despite everything that’s going on, Toronto’s real estate market continues to show how strong it is, with February being a record month for new home sales. In fact, a total of 4,665 new home sales were made last month, a 211% increase from February 2019, demonstrating that it’s still business as usual – for now, at least.

At least that’s the case for Elliott Taube, president of International Home Marketing Group, a leading new home brokerage that specializes in the pre-construction industry and supports medium to large developers in the GTA with integrated sales and marketing solutions. Taube says that while International’s sales offices are currently closed, the company is still busy as always and continues to help clients and customers by moving things digitally – through FaceTime, Zoom, phone call meetings, and emails.

Yet, despite the uncertainty of what’s going on, Taube says International is still moving forward with getting the thousands of units ready to hit the market in the coming months.

“We’re working as if things are still moving forward,” said Taube, adding, “but we’re still trying to be as responsible as possible, so no more face-to-face interactions.”

And in light of it all, Taube says his team is still getting the same amount of work done as they are learning to be more efficient, with in-person meetings that may have once taken 1-2 hours now lasting just 45-minutes, saving the team immense amounts of time. Taube also says that since the industry is considered an essential business, International will continue to work as usual and looks forward to when he can have his team back together under one roof.

Meanwhile, Debbie Cosic, founder and CEO of In2ition Realty, also echos a similar tune, saying that while there’s no question the real estate industry has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t been impacted as much as one might think.

“Ontario’s list of essential services includes supply chains, construction, real estate agents, moving companies and land registration services. This is because the real estate industry is critical to our economy, as well as to people’s lives in general,” says Cosic.

“Keeping construction on new homes going translates to the movement of materials and badly needed jobs for workers in these areas. The selling and buying of resale homes keeps owners moving… and moving forward. There may be delays, but we have faced those in the past and persevered.”

Cosic explains that consumers, while practicing social distancing responsibly, of course, can do most of their home shopping online. The same goes for the real estate industry and consumers can now take virtual tours of resale homes and visit the websites of new home and condo builders to find out just about everything they need to compare.

“With open houses cancelled, we agents may not be able to meet in person, but we have fantastic electronic options at our fingertips: phone/video calls and conferences, apps, email, and e-transfers,” said Cosic.

“Investors, in particular, may choose to make their purchases strictly through electronic means – which is an option we’ve offered for years.”

Cosic says that even if there is a dip in sales, with consumers postponing home shopping, she knows that from history it will only be temporary in the long run.

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