Connect with us

Real eState

Conversions won't solve Calgary's office vacancy issue: Experts – Real Estate News EXchange

Published

on


The Cube, an office-to-residential conversion in Calgary by Strategic Group. Despite much talk about office conversions, only five have actually been completed as the city’s office market continues to struggle. (Courtesy Strategic Group)

With Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rate stuck in the 25 per cent range, many real estate experts have suggested converting empty space in the Central Business District into residential use as one solution for the market.

But landlords and property owners haven’t been stampeding to actually follow through on that strategy. RENX has learned only five buildings during the past two years have been converted from office to rental in inner-city neighbourhoods such as Southwood, Beltline, South Calgary, Eau Claire and Tuxedo Park.

And, there are no further conversions planned, at least for the short term.

“We don’t have any in the queue right now, nothing in the queue at this moment,”  said Sonya Sharp, the City of Calgary’s team lead, business and local economy, in an interview with RENX.  “These (five buildings) are the ones that have been completed.”

According to commercial real estate firm CBRE, the downtown Calgary office market has an inventory of 42.3 million square feet across a total of 148 buildings.

That means about 10 million square feet of vacant space. So why haven’t there been more conversions?

Challenges repurposing office to residential

At the recent Calgary Real Estate Forum, a session highlighted the challenges landlords face in repurposing those offices to residential uses – Giving Older Assets A New Life: A Look at Repurposing Existing Properties & Sites.

Six buildings in the downtown core are more than 75 per cent vacant, while three buildings are empty said Greg Kwong, CBRE‘s executive vice-president and regional managing director in Alberta.

“People from the city and other people want to say ‘what are the solutions to getting our vacancy down, let’s repurpose half of downtown Calgary.’ It’s really just not possible given the current vacancy right now,” said Kwong.

In the suburban office market, 11 buildings are greater than 75 per cent vacant and nine buildings are 100 per cent vacant. There are 366 buildings in the suburban Calgary office market with a total of 25.8 million square feet.

“Even if we took (the completely vacant buildings) and converted them to condos – took them out of the office market – we still would have a very high vacancy rate,” Kwong added.

Also during the forum, Marco Civitarese, Calgary’s chief building official and manager, said the age and classification of a building is important in how it could be repurposed.

City tries to remove red tape

On June 13, 2017 Calgary council approved an initiative called the Centre City Enterprise Area. The directive made a number of amendments to a land use bylaw, removing significant barriers to save businesses thousands of dollars if they choose to open or relocate into the Central Business District.

The initiative was developed in collaboration with Calgary Economic Development, city administration, BILD Calgary, NAIOP, local business improvement areas, community associations and small businesses.

“The strategy behind it is really to increase vibrancy in the downtown. Gain some activation to residential living and repurposing buildings that are facing the crunch of vacancies right now,” said Civitarese.

During the real estate forum, Brian Rowland, associate with Zeidler Architecture, said architects can face design challenges in these conversion projects. These include existing layouts, windows that don’t open, and how exteriors are designed to suit the original purpose of the building.

“Usually they don’t include a bunch of vents. So they’re not anticipating 12 or 14 kitchens, and bathrooms, and washer/dryers on every floor,” he said.

Then there are surprises that are not anticipated in the architectural drawings.

“You start cutting into these buildings and finding these surprises you have to deal with as you go through. So it does create a new challenge,” Rowland explained. “The idea is just that we can take something that’s existing and repurpose it and really make it into something that’s contributing again to someone’s portfolio of holdings.”

Strategic Group’s office conversions

Ken Toews, senior vice president of development for Calgary’s Strategic Group, which has been busy converting office space to residential use in both Calgary and Edmonton, said it has been involved in six conversions. 

He said while conversions are important to add residential space in downtown Calgary, for property owners they can take a non-performing or low-performing asset and convert it to a much more attractive asset.

“Why can’t we do more of these? Well, there’s a whole bunch of challenges that come when you’re repurposing a building. The first challenge is that the residential floor plate is almost always different than what you have for an office floor plate. So you have to really work with it to make it work,” said Toews. “And most buildings, it won’t.”

Even with the success of its conversions however, several weeks after the forum Strategic Group announced it was putting 56 of its Alberta properties under creditor protection.

The assets are primarily office buildings in Calgary. The challenging real estate market and continued uncertainty in the economy were cited as the reasons for the move.

New flexibility for vacant offices

Under Calgary’s Centre City Enterprise Area plan, businesses no longer require a development permit for changes of use, exterior alterations and small additions in the Beltline or Downtown for a three-year period (ending July 1, 2020).

Sharp said the Centre City Enterprise Area is a mapped out area of the downtown and into a small area of the Beltline to reduce retail and office vacancies in the core.

The city also wanted to make it easier to allow pop-up and interim uses in vacant office spaces.

“Pop-up uses are uses in approved buildings and no approvals are required. So a retail store can go in and out as long as they aren’t breaking any code rules,” said Sharp. “An interim use is up to six months and we’ve waived the development permit, and we’ve waived the business licence, and they would only be required to get a building permit if the building had been vacant more than six months or they’re doing any changes inside the building that will be required to get a building permit.

“We focused on the city wide for that because we have vacancies all over the city. We wanted to animate city spaces citywide. We wanted to provide opportunities for businesses to try out their product without having to go through all the city permits. It was an opportunity to reduce barriers and costs of starting a business in Calgary.”

RELATED ARTICLES:

* e11even: Strategic Group’s first office-to-residential conversion

* Strategic Group turns vacant Calgary office into Cube apartments

* Calgary’s The International a unique conversion for Minto 

* Converting existing buildings: Part One

* Converting existing buildings: Part Two

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Real eState

Moody’s Doubles Down On Forecast of Canadian Real Estate Prices Falling Soon – Better Dwelling

Published

on


One of the world’s largest credit rating agencies doubled down on its Canadian home price forecast. Moody’s Analytics sent clients its September update on Canadian real estate prices. The forecast reiterates they expect price declines to begin towards the end of this year. The report also names impacted cities this time, with Toronto expected to be a leader lower.

Forecast Vintages 

A quick note on reading Moody’s charts, which includes “forecast vintages.” If you’ve only looked at consumer forecasts, these might be new. They’re scenarios that vary depending on the forecasting model’s inputs. Instead of giving a forecast like, “prices will drop x%,” they give a range based on factors. These factors are fundamentals that have typically supported prices. 

The Moody’s forecast shows vintages as baseline, S1, S3, and S4. The September baseline is the scenario they believe has the highest probability. The S1 is what happens if indicators are better than expected. This would mean unemployment drops fast, and disposable income doesn’t fall much. The S3 is what happens if fundamentals are worse than expected. S4 is the worst scenario that can unfold in a reasonable amount of time. Abrupt scenarios and black swans can still be worse. It’s just those are outside of the range of reasonable expectations.

Canadian Real Estate Markets To Start Showing Weaknesses Soon

Moody’s previous forecast didn’t expect the market to show signs of weakness until Q3, and they’re doubling down. The report’s economist expects stimulus, mortgage deferrals, and interest rates to contain damage until Q3. They expect by Q3, the optimism of those programs will begin to wear thin. The reality of how meaningful the improvements are, should be apparent by then. The optimism should then fade. It’s at this point they believe prices can no longer defy employment, vacancy, and delinquency rates.

Canadian Real Estate Prices To Drop Around 7%

The firm expects all scenarios to show a drop in the near future, but how much depends on fundamentals. In the September baseline, the firm’s economist is forecasting a ~7% decline at the national level. This scenario expects unemployment at 8.56%, and a 2% drop of disposable income next year. Since the rise in disposable income was due to temporary supports, the fall is expected.

In the other scenarios, things vary from a brief drop to a very deep, multi-year decline. In the S1 scenario, there’s only a brief dip in Q1, before prices rocket even faster and higher. In S3, a slightly worse than base case, prices fall about 15%, taking them back to 2016 levels. In S4, if disposable income, GDP, and/or unemployment worsen,  prices drop about 22%, back to 2015 levels. Of course, this trend isn’t evenly distributed across Canada. However, it’s also not distributed how most might expect. 

Prairie Cities and Toronto Real Estate To Lead The Declines

The base case sees Prairie cities and Toronto real estate leading price declines. Calgary, Edmonton, and Regina lead the drop, with a peak-to-trough decline between 9 to 10%. This is a trend already apparent in the regions’ condo markets. Toronto, a little more unexpected, is forecasted to see a 9% price drop, from peak to trough. Vancouver’s drop is forecasted below the national average, with an average decline of almost 7%. The last market is interesting, since other organizations gave Vancouver much worse forecasts.

Toronto Real Estate To Experience Uneven Declines Across Regions

The base case for Toronto expects an uneven decline, with some regions harder hit. The drop across Toronto CMA is expected to be about 9%, from peak to trough. Pickering should see smaller declines, but experience minimal growth through 2025. Markham is the most surprising though, not expected to hit 2017 highs by 2025. The trend here appears to be regions short on space will recover the fastest. Although that is likely to depend on the type of housing as well.

The forecast notes pandemic uncertainty, and its potential to bring greater downside. As it gets colder, the potential of more indoor activity may lead to a second wave. The report’s economist believes this can bring even larger declines to prices. Shifting consumer behavior is also a wild card that can also push prices lower, as are any vaccine delays.

Like this post? Like us on Facebook for the next one in your feed. 

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Real eState

Will development remain key growth strategy for REITs? | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange

Published

on


IMAGE: Transit City Condos, being developed by a JV led by SmartCentres REIT, at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre just outside Toronto. Development and intensification have been key growth strategies during the past decade for Canadian REITs. (Rendering courtesy SmartCentres)

Transit City Condos, being developed by a JV led by SmartCentres REIT, at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre just outside Toronto. Development and intensification have been key growth strategies during the past decade for Canadian REITs. (Rendering courtesy SmartCentres)

Development has been a key growth strategy for many real estate investment trusts over the past decade, but will that continue during the next 10 years?

That was the theme of a five-person panel moderated by Lincluden Investment Management real estate equities vice-president and portfolio manager Derek Warren on Sept. 23, as part of RealREIT.

“There has been some dislocation in the short-term operating metrics,” CIBC World Markets REIT analyst Dean Wilkinson said. “I think the question we’re all struggling with is: Is this a permanent structural shift in a downward direction with the underlying fundamentals of the real estate, or have we overshot?“

“Projects are getting bigger and more complex, and we’re seeing a lot of mixed-use,” said Altus Group cost and project management senior director Marlon Bray, who noted he’s being inundated with proposals. “I’ve got people sending me six, eight, 10 projects to look at in the space of two or three weeks.

“They’re looking long-term at pipelines and thinking of the future and not just what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Transit-oriented and mixed-use development

Immigration has slowed considerably during the pandemic, but it’s starting to rise again and those people will need places to live and work.

While public transit ridership has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, SmartCentres REIT (SRU-UN-T) development VP Christine Côté said transit-oriented development is still desirable and should remain a focus for REITs and all levels of government.

Dream Unlimited (DRM-T) chief development officer Daniel Marinovic said a lot of critical transit infrastructure work began in the Greater Toronto Area in 2008 and, while it will be ongoing for years to come, he believes it’s a “phenomenal” long-term investment.

“I’ll continue to be a big believer in density,” said Marinovic.

Allied Properties REIT (AP-UN-T) executive VP of development Hugh Clark remains a strong advocate of the “live, work and play” concept and believes it will continue to prosper. He said mixed-use projects need amenities to help people socialize.

Grocery stores, restaurants and services and amenities catering to the daily needs of the local community will become more important additions within residential buildings, according to Côté.

“We feel strongly that value-oriented retail will continue to be strong,” she said.

Development costs

Construction costs levelled off from April through June, but have ramped back up due to supply and demand factors.

Bray attributes some of the increase to the 7,000 condominium units and 10,000 rental units under construction in the Greater Toronto Area, more than double the numbers from 10 years ago.

Bray pointed out construction costs comprise less than 50 per cent of residential development expenses.

Land can account for as much as 30 per cent, while development charges and taxes are also major costs. Development charges have increased by multiples and are always changing and hard to predict, said Bray.

Wilkinson said the saving grace over the last several years is that rent increases have “probably gone at, or at a level higher than, the inflation surrounding those construction costs. But if the script gets flipped and it goes the other way, what could happen?”

Specific issues for REITs

No more than 15 per cent of a Canadian REIT’s funds are generally allowed to be spent on development, which Wilkinson said is lower than in other countries.

The potential build-out for some Canadian REITs, particularly those with retail sites with inherent density, is larger than their current gross leasable area.

Wilkinson added that development activity isn’t included in the underlying value of a company until a building is finished. Thus, a short-term construction expenditure is a diluted effort because capital is put into something that’s not creating immediate cash flow.

There’s an increase in NAV after the completion of projects, but the public market is still focused on quarterly results instead of longer-term cycles, according to Wilkinson.

As a result, Allied is taking a prudent, market-driven approach to development and isn’t looking to expand just because it can.

Clark said the REIT may slow the launch of new projects and ensure it hits certain pre-leasing requirements before starting construction so it doesn’t put itself in a “position of strain.”

Returns for REITs are getting smaller

Clark said it’s “getting harder and harder to make some big gains, with eight or nine or 10 per cent returns on investment.” While it’s possible with some high-priced condos, those are few and far between.

Clark thinks REITs will be lucky to keep a 100- to 150-basis point spread going forward. A development yield of 150 basis points over the acquisition cap rate is much lower than the 400- or 500-point spreads of the past, Wilkinson added.

The convergence between the two figures could mean the elimination of compensation for development risk, so developers may have to start looking more closely at portfolio quality versus straight economic accretion.

“There’s value to that, but it remains to be seen how the market wants to treat that,” said Wilkinson.

Apartment rents have sagged recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wilkinson said there are concerns market rents may be just 10 per cent higher than in-place rents when apartments being built now are completed.

“The premium that was afforded to a lot of the apartment REITs was really based upon the fact that their in-place rents were 20 to 25 per cent below what was deemed to be market rent. So, they were trading at 20 to 25 per cent premiums to NAV.”

SmartCentres REIT

Côté has been with SmartCentres for 17 years, and her focus in that time has changed from building Walmarts and shopping centres to intensifying existing properties across Ontario.

“We’ve got countless master plans that are in place now and we are preparing, submitting and processing development applications for those initial phases of redevelopment across the portfolio,” she said.

SmartCentres has made applications for more than 20 development projects since the onset of COVID-19 and will submit another 20 over the next six months, according to Côté.

The REIT has more than 40 million square feet of density planned, mainly on sites it already owns, and has a long-term plan for much more than that.

Côté said SmartCentres is taking more time with new building design to increase efficiencies and make them more economical.

Despite the recent softness in rents, Côté doesn’t think the REIT’s planned purpose-built rental apartments will be switched to condos.

She believes the market will be past its short-term challenges by the time those buildings are ready for occupancy.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Real eState

'Busiest year ever': Hot rural real estate market isn't cooling off – Ottawa Valley News

Published

on




‘Busiest year ever’: Hot rural real estate market isn’t cooling off | InsideOttawaValley.com


Top Stories

Top Stories

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending