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Coronavirus Impact: Commercial Real Estate Is a Ticking Time-Bomb – The Motley Fool Canada

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If you cut oxygen to the brain for long enough, it could lead to severe and long-term damage, which is precisely what seems to be happening to the global economy this month. 

While China is slowly coming back online, much of the developed world is shutting down its borders and pausing a significant chunk of economic activity. This unprecedented shutdown is likely to have an impact on a critical segment of Canada’s economy: commercial real estate. 

Unlike residential real estate, commercial properties like factories, retail stores and office units are much more exposed to economic cycles. Commercial property owners and real estate investment trusts (REITs) already pay higher interest rates for borrowed capital.

Meanwhile, commercial tenants are much more exposed to the business cycle, which makes them more likely to default when the economy collapses. 

Slate Real Estate

Take Slate Office REIT (TSX:SOT.UN), for example. Last year, interest and financing costs represented more than 22% of the company’s annual sales. The firm carries $1.77 in long-term debt for every dollar in shareholder equity. 

That shareholder equity, of course, could be slashed if the trust’s commercial property portfolio loses value this year. If the economic crisis triggers a credit crisis, banks could cut back on commercial lending, which will erode the value of several high-profile commercial markets.  

On the income side, it could be argued that companies will continue to pay rent for office units and honor their rental agreements. This is despite the fact that everyone is working from home.

While that’s true, the average tenancy term is four to five years. However, the tenants are under financial pressure as well and could be compelled to cut back.

Slate’s largest tenant, as of the end of 2019, was SNC Lavalin. The controversial engineering company already faced funding challenges and was considering layoffs for years. Now, the company’s stock is down 39.4% over the past month. SNC represents 6.8% of Slate’s tenant portfolio. 

Similarly, small- and medium-sized businesses or energy producers that have leased office space from Slate could be compelled to cut back if economic conditions worsen as expected. Roughly 8.1% of Slate’s leases are due for renewal this year.     

Retail Real Estate

Slate Retail REIT could also face similar challenges this year. Malls and non-essential retail stores are all but empty right now, which is obviously having an impact on store owners’ bottom lines. 

A combination of tightening credit, reduced property value and uncertain rental income could crush commercial property owners and their shareholders this year. 

Other commercial REITs, like Plaza Retail REIT and Morguard face similar pressures. The fact that Slate Retail and Slate Office have both lost nearly half their market value over the past month indicates that investors are bearish on this sector. 

Bottom line

All shops and offices are shut due to the national health crisis. It should therefore come as no surprise that commercial property is vulnerable.

If the shutdown lasts longer than expected, things could get worse. REITs may have to cut dividends and mark down the value of the real estate assets.

Investors should beware of the risks here. Avoid catching falling knives.

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Saskatchewan real estate market records highest residential sales in 2 years – Global News

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the real estate market in Saskatchewan saw a significant increase in residential sales in March, compared to the same period in the past two years.

Over 1,000 homes were sold last month compared to 925 and 906 in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Comparing sales and sales volume figures since a state of emergency was declared in the province on March 18, to the same period last year showed that while there was a 6.2 per cent drop in total sales and a 9.6 per cent drop in total sales volume, none of this decline affected the residential market.


READ MORE:
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Sales in Saskatoon were up 6.2 per cent, going from 258 in March 2019 to 274 in March 2020, and up 7.2 per cent in the overall region, going from 346 to 371.

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In both Saskatoon and the region, sales were less than 2.0 per cent under the 5-year average while they were more than 10 per cent below the 10-year average.

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Year-to-Date (YTD) sales in Saskatoon rose 8.2 per cent over last year, increasing from 668 to 723, while YTD sales in the larger region also increased 8.8 per cent, going from 891 to 969.






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COVID-19 impacts Canada’s real estate markets


COVID-19 impacts Canada’s real estate markets

Sales in Regina were up 1.9 per cent, going from 210 in March 2019 to 214 in March 2020, and up 11.5 per cent in the overall region, going from 235 to 262.

In Regina, sales were approximately 2 per cent below the 5-year average and just over 9 per cent below the 10-year average, while in the region overall, sales were 3.7 per cent below their historical averages.

Year-To-Date (YTD) sales in Regina fell 8.6 per cent over last year, decreasing from 525 to 480, while YTD sales in the larger region fell a more modest 3.7 per cent going from 597 to 575.


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New downtown towers to impact commercial real estate in Saskatoon: report

The Saskatchewan Realtors Association believes the increase could be attributed to uncertainty over what could happen if the pandemic continues and could be a good time for prospective homeowners to make a purchase.

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“Interest rates are the lowest in a long time, they’ve been almost negligible, we have seen a decline in inventory level so there’s a little less to choose from so prices have been coming down in the last three or more years,” CEO Jason Yochim said.

“For a buyer that is ready to go and is qualified to buy a home, I think it’s an ideal time.”

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He added that homeowners and buyers should make sure they are getting good advice from a certified realtor before selling or purchasing a home.


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The association is also taking several steps to protect consumers and it’s members as they do their essential business during the pandemic.

“We have mandated that there be no open houses, whether they are realtor open houses or public open houses, for over two weeks now, we also have best practices that our members are utilizing when they do showings and we are asking people to only bring to the showing those who are essential in the decision,” Yochim said.

The Saskatchewan real estate market is expecting to see a significant decline in sales in the future while expert hope for a strong recovery once the pandemic is over.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Pandemic bites northern BC real estate market – Prince George Citizen

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The COVID-19 crisis is taking a toll on real estate sales in northern B.C., with demand for housing tailing off and fewer properties up for sale compared to 2019.

During the first quarter of 2020, from January through March, the BC Northern Real Estate Board had 753 sales worth a total of $217,389,724 through its Multiple Listing Service.

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There were 3,096 properties of all types available throughout the first three months of 2020, compared to 3,130 a year ago. As of March 31st there were 509 properties available, down from 534 at that time in 2019.

The sluggish economy in the region, especially in the forestry, mining and oil/gas sectors, is to blame for the 13 per cent decline in sales in the region, according to the BCNREB. With fewer listings available, the average price for a single-family home did increase by one per cent to $298,811.

In Prince George, 221 properties were $73.3 million were sold. That’s down from 257 properties worth about $90 million through the first three months of 2019. Three of the four sections of the city included in the report released Friday reported an increase in the median selling price of single-family homes over last year.

In the western part of Prince George, 34 single-family homes sold with a median value of $346,000 ($327,500 in 2019). East of Highway 97, 29 homes sold, worth a median $272,500 ($309,000).

In the Hart area north of the Nechako River, 29 homes sold with a median price of $401,250 ($370,000). In the southwest section, 37 homes sold in the first three months of the year had a median price of $453,500 ($429,500).

The board expects second-quarter sales will continue to decline in the wake of the pandemic and the resulting scale-back of operations for major resource projects in the region.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant challenges to everyone in our society,” said BCNREB president Shawna Kinsley. “Our members are committed to doing their part to ensure communities stay safe. Real estate is an essential service.

“Realtors are following all orders and guidance from the Public Health Authority… (and) are also modifying their practices around face-to-face meetings and showings. The real estate board has recommended that no open houses be held during this time.

“Sellers may now remain on the MLS system without the need for showings and all consumers can expect more phone or virtual meetings as well as limits on showings and new showing guidelines. We ask consumers to be patient with real estate practice changes at this time.”

Other real estate sales in the region from January-March 2020, with the 2019 numbers in parenthesis:

Mackenzie: Ten (12) properties were sold worth $1.5 million ($1.4 million) with 56 (63) properties available on MLS for purchase as of March 31;

Burns Lake: Four (16) properties worth $456,000 ($2.3 million) were sold with 80 (87) properties listed;

 Vanderhoof: Nineteen (30) sales worth $4.4 million ($12.2 million) with 89 (80) properties listed;

 Fort St. James: Eleven (nine) sales worth $2.1 million ($1.9 million) with 54 (61) properties listed;

Quesnel: Forty-seven (55) sales worth $8.5 million ($11.7 million) with 161 (147) properties listed.

Williams Lake: Fifty-eight (91) properties have sold worth $ 15.4 million ($21.4) with  190 (207) properties listed.

 

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How Ontario realtors are coping during the coronavirus pandemic – Global News

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When the province deemed real estate an essential service due to the coronavirus, it was recommended that realtors stop doing open houses.

Realtor Colleen Koehler said that when Ontario Premier Doug Ford kiboshed gatherings of five or more, that essentially put an end to open houses altogether. Koehler, head of the Kitchener-Waterloo Association of Realtors, says people in the profession have begun looking for creative ways — including virtual tours — to show homes without people actually going in them.


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She says that instead of taking clients into a home, the agent will go in, film the house, and take questions in real-time.

Toronto realtor Melanie Piche seconded the notion, saying that realtors have begun to use technology to their advantage.

“Virtual open houses are a way to introduce people to properties and really reduce the number of times people are having to go into each other’s homes,” she said.

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Kids put their COVID-19 questions to the experts: Part 3

Her partner, Brendan Powell, explained that a realtor will show up at a home at a set time and date and will address people’s questions on a live stream.

“People who want to do more than just look at a virtual tour can actually talk to the agent and say, ‘Can you show me what the flooring’s like?’ or ‘Show me what the view from the top floor is like,’” he said. “People can see those things the same way that they might see it if they were there without actually physically being there.”

In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, realtors have also developed a questionnaire to determine someone’s risk levels and have used some creative solutions for when people need to enter into houses.


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Another Waterloo region agent, Tony Johal, said in some cases where clients have entered a home, they have been asked to wear a mask and gloves.

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“We ask that they don’t linger around the house longer than what they probably should,” he said. “We ask that they don’t sit on the furniture or touch any … surfaces.”






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COVID 19 pandemic growing worse across Canada


COVID 19 pandemic growing worse across Canada

Even with the precautions, the realtors in each city say that the market has paused for the most part during a time of year when it would normally be active.

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“From the outside, it sometimes seems like stuff is coming up still as things are still on the market,” Powell said. “But the reality is that there’s … very little that we can do because so much of our business is out and about and in person.”

That said, Piche said she has not seen any panic selling yet.

“If you go back to 2017 when that foreign buyer tax came in, we saw in an instant we were getting four or five calls a day from panic sellers,” he said.

Johal echoed those sentiments, though he has begun to see more balance in the market.


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“We haven’t shifted all the way over to a buyer’s market at this point,” he said. “They’re not underpricing their property to drive multiple offers in many cases. I would say more than 50 to 60 per cent of all properties are now being listed at the true market value.”

Ontarians are still trying to figure out how long the quarantine will last and where things will land, including the realtors.

“We don’t know whether or not this will truly create an impact for the rest of the year and maybe beyond,” Johal said.

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“But if it’s fairly quickly, then I can see the real estate market acting like an elastic band. Everybody that left is now going to spring back into the market.”






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He says that the longer the current state of affairs goes on, we will see an increase in the likelihood that the market will shift more dramatically.

KWAR released its monthly numbers on Thursday, saying that area realtors saw an increase of 13.1 per cent compared with the same month last year.


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“Before the pandemic hit our region, I believe we were on pace to set a record number of sales for March with the continuance of high demand, low inventory, and a strong seller’s market,” Koehler said.

The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board reported similar activity, saying that home sales were up 49 per cent in the first two weeks compared with last year, but sales were down 15.9 per cent compared with last year for the rest of the month.

Given the lockdown Ontarians are under due to the coronavirus pandemic, many were left wondering why real estate was deemed an essential service by Ford.

“Really, that decision was only made to allow us to work with those clients, buyers and sellers, that are already in the pipeline,” Koehler said.

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“We have lots of properties that are currently closing,” Koehler said.

Kingston realtor Matt Lee said his agency is recommending that clients put the pause button on the search for homes but there are times when it is impossible to do so.

Between the military bases and the prisons, Kingston has a transient population, with some residents being forced to move quickly.

“Nobody knows what kind of position other people are in,” Lee said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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