TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian pension funds are seeking to boost their real estate investments, betting the slumping property market will recover as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and office workers and city dwellers return to downtown properties.
Canadian pension funds held $278.7 billion in property assets in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the Pension Investment Association of Canada, making them the country’s largest real estate owners.
In a world of slower economic growth, very low interest rates, volatility in equity markets, real estate offers an attractive opportunity for pension funds, which take a long-term investment horizon, say market participants.
“We’re looking for buying opportunities,” said Hilary Spann, Head of Americas, Real Estate at CPP Investments, which manages $456.7 billion. CPP’s real estate portfolio generated 5.1% return for the year ended March 2020.
CPP announced a U.S. joint venture with Greystar Real Estate Portfolio to build multiple separate housing units this month, a deal that was initiated pre-pandemic.
In November, it signed an agreement with Hudson Pacific Properties to acquire an office tower in Seattle. Spann said a lot of buyers that would have been competitive in the Seattle deal were temporarily on the sidelines. “So we were able to step in and pick up that asset at yields that we thought were quite attractive.”
OFFICE VACANCIES CLIMB
As the pandemic forced many staff to work from home, the office vacancy rate in Canada hit a 16-year high of 13.4% in 2020, according to data from broker CBRE. Downtown offices were hit harder.
“I think pension funds are very well aware that…there are times when values dip a bit and vacancies go up but overallreal estate assets are a great part of any pension fund portfolio,” Paul Morassutti, CBRE Canada Vice Chairman said.
CPP’s Spann said while both rental markets and office may suffer in the short-term, it was expected that both markets would return when the pandemic comes to an end.
“Office may fall in the short term but in the long term, as everybody does start coming back to the office, I think it’s fair to say you may see a reversal,” she said, adding that the things that made places like New York and San Francisco vibrant will remain.
Kristopher Wojtecki, Managing Director, Real Estate at PSP Investments, told Reuters the fund had been increasing exposure in select sectors including single family rental and production studio real estate during the pandemic.
However, Canada’s second-largest pension fund, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, is taking a contrarian approach. A spokeswoman for Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate subsidiary of Caisse, said the fund is cutting exposure in traditional asset classes and prioritising opportunities in growth sectors which include logistics and residential office buildings among others.
Grant McGlaughlin, partner at law firm Fasken, said he did not see any drastic moves on pension funds getting rid of their real estate portfolios.
“I think that’s the right thesis that there is no point selling into a low,” he said.
Reporting by Maiya Keidan; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio
Toronto real estate trends point to pandemic's unequal impact: CMHC – NOW Toronto
Demand for expensive homes in Toronto real estate is the result of the pandemic’s economic impact
The record prices in the Toronto real estate market over the past year is just another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates issues rooted in social inequality, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The crown agency’s 2021 Housing Market Report says the growth in real estate markets like Toronto and Vancouver reflect the uneven distribution of the pandemic’s economic impact.
While higher-income households could quickly adjust to lockdowns and maintain income while also benefitting from historic low mortgage rates, low-income workers like restaurant staff were often left with fewer employment options. The impact on the real estate markets such as Toronto is that demand for rentals and other less-expensive housing options declined, while prices for townhomes and semi-detached and detached houses are higher than ever.
When the pandemic took hold last spring, the CMHC’s housing market reports predicted a nine-to- 18 per cent decline in house prices before Canadian real estate began its recovery in 2022. A follow-up report doubled down on the estimation, estimating that the average home price in Toronto could dip as low as $825,000 in Fall 2020, before falling somewhere in the range between $739,000 and $840,000 by Fall 2021.
The average selling price for a home in the Greater Toronto real estate market in January 2021 was $967,885. The CMHC chalks up the unexpected results to pent-up demand and less spending during the pandemic that pushed up household saving. The extra household cash combined with the expectation that low mortgage rates would sustain during the pandemic drove Toronto real estate prices up.
“The fact that the most severe economic consequences of the pandemic were felt more by lower-income households helps us to understand the dynamics of the housing market over the same time period,” says the report.
CMHC points out that the financial burden of the pandemic hit younger people and people who work in the accommodation and food services industry the hardest. There is significant overlap among the two. The pandemic also halted immigration.
“These three groups – the young, lower-income earners and new immigrants – tend to support demand for less expensive housing, including more affordable homeownership options as well as rental accommodation,” the report adds.
The CMHC explains that these factors contributed to shifts in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal, where sales from March to October 2020 trended towards more expensive properties.
Jane and Finch, Malvern and Rexdale condos outpace downtown by 20 percent
While demand during dropped for less expensive housing across the city, some Toronto neighbourhoods bucked the trend.
The CMHC housing market report arrived a day after real estate site Strata.ca revealed that Jane and Finch, Rexdale and Malvern had the highest appreciation rates in Toronto.
According to Strata, the city’s average condo appreciation rate is two per cent year-over-year. But prices in Malvern and Jane and Finch went up 14 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, while downtown condos depreciated six per cent.
According to Strata.ca broker Robert Van Rhijn, immigrant populations are driving the appreciation in these traditionally-overlooked neighbourhoods.
He adds: “As prices rise, we’ll undoubtedly see the typical signs of gentrification occur.”
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Latest Mile End Real Estate Listing Reignites Discussions of Gentrification – Eater Montreal
An “à louer” (for rent) sign from notorious Montreal real estate firm Shiller Lavy spotted in the window of beloved second-hand bookshop S.W. Welch on St-Viateur Street has reinvigorated concerns about the impact of gentrification on the Mile End neighbourhood and its dining scene.
Well-documented — and massive — rent hikes have over the past several years brought on the exodus of places like queer café and performance space Le Cagibi (now in Little Italy) and patisserie Chez de Gaulle (now in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), both at the hands of Shiller Lavy.
Reacting to the news that the same may happen to an institution like S.W. Welch, former Montreal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman took to Twitter to share her insight into what a future overrun by Shiller Lavy ownership might look like: “Their idea of a great business is Five Guys. I know that because Lavy told me as much,” she posted yesterday. Meanwhile, Montreal community page @FNoMTL reminded followers of the 55 percent rent hike that squeezed the aforementioned Chez Gaulle into vacating its St-Viateur location.
While Shiller Lavy is by no means the sole real estate developer scooping up lots on St-Viateur and elsewhere in the neighbourhood, its purple signs etched in yellow font have become somewhat of a harbinger of more loss — and more retail chains like yoga-pant brand Lululemon and fancy soap dispenser Aesop. (For the record, other popular St-Viateur restaurants, such as Falafel Yoni and Bishop and Bagg, also rent from Shiller Lavy.) Below is a list of some of the major restaurant-related real estate controversies the neighbourhood has seen since May 2015:
Missing any big ones? Feel free to send us a tip at email@example.com
October 2020: The St-Laurent location that once housed celebrated restaurant Hôtel Herman — is taken over by a shop called Sugar Mamie, which sells make-your-own cake pop kits. It had sat empty, clad in graffiti, for over three years.
September 2020: Old Montreal Mexican restaurant La Catrina opens its second location in what was once home to revered café and performance space Le Cagibi. The prime-time location on the corner of St-Viateur and St-Laurent sat empty for nearly two years, presumably until a tenant with deeper pockets came around.
September 2019: Korean-Japanese lunch spot Sushi Jinjin at 29 St-Viateur West closes after taking over the space that previously belonged to Boulangerie Clarke. The space now houses sustainable clothing apparel store Kotn.
July 2019: St-Viateur Street patisserie Chez de Gaulle calls it quits after 13 years. Shiller Lavy had hit it with a monthly rent hike of about 55 percent, from $4,200 per month to $6,500.
November 2018: Le Cagibi closes its doors after new building owners — Jeremy Kornbluth and Brandon Shiller, son of Stephen Shiller, of Shiller Lavy realtors (which now own the property) — raised the coffee shop’s rent by more than 100 percent, from about $3,400 to $7,500 a month.
August 2015: Thirty-five-year-old Mile End landmark Boulangerie Clarke closes due in part to a rent hike from landlords Shiller Lavy. Sushi restaurant Jinjin took over the space a couple months later, in November 2015. (Frank Servedio, son of Clarke’s founders, revived the name in June 2018 with a café in Pointe St-Charles.)
May 2015: Colombian restaurant Gracias Corazón closes shortly after Danny Lavy and Stephen Shiller purchase the St-Viateur building in 2014. It passes hands a couple times, and is now home to Portuguese chicken restaurant Emilia.
While commercial vacancies have become increasingly ubiquitous in the area for some time, the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the issue (cue this compilation of vacant Mile End storefronts posted by @FNoMTL onto Instagram yesterday). By the looks of it, however, “something is brewing” to stave off the wave of gentrification: Anonymous Montreal eviction satire Twitter account Shitter La Vie — whose name is an obvious gibe at the contentious realtors — is planning a campaign to push back against rent hikes with the help of others who were saddened by the news that another Mile End institution has been “given a death sentence.”
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