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Coronavirus, real estate woes create perfect storm of bad news for Ben McNally Books – Toronto Star

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Ben McNally Books could be the poster child representing all the pressures retailers in this city are undergoing right now: he’s closing shop temporarily because of COVID-19 amidst plans to move permanently thanks to his lease not being renewed.

“We are concerned about our customers and our colleagues and the other people in the business, and I think this is a pretty scary time,” says McNally, owner of the venerable Bay Street shop.

Other stores, including Another Story Bookshop, have also suspended delivering orders for the next few weeks at least, although others are continuing with contactless delivery.

“I’m not so worried about the immediate financial implications,” says McNally. “(But) the fact that there’s not a foreseeable end date, that troubles me.”

His store had been taking orders online and by phone after closing to foot traffic about 10 days ago. Located where there’s no parking, McNally had long been in the habit of taking orders by phone or email, having customers pay by credit card and telling them, “Give us a beep and we’ll come and throw them in your car.”

But the slowdown starting back in February, when many of the corporations in the nearby Bay Street towers began telling people to work from home. “And then it got worse,” McNally says. More things were shutting down and his son Rupert started running the store.

“My kids said to me, ‘You know what, you’re not coming back to work,’” says McNally. Why did they say that? “Because I’m old!” says the 71-year-old.

The announcement about the closing was made on his website. “While we certainly consider bookselling to be an essential service, we also think that it is incumbent on all of us to do our part in stopping the progress of this rampant and pernicious infection. We would all feel more comfortable if Rupert were also at home,” read the post.

The family business is in a great location, on Bay just south of Queen Street West, in the middle of the city. But, as is the way in Toronto these days, those locations are tougher for small businesses to hang onto.

McNally was told by his landlord, Dream Office Management Corp., in September 2019 that his lease, which expires at the end of August, is not being renewed. Dream wants to turn the space into an open-air walkway. Ben McNally Books has to be out of the store they’ve been in for almost 13 years.

“We are trying to find a new location and we’re kind of hopeful that we’re going to pull something off,” McNally says. But “for us every day (of the COVID-19 shutdown) is another day lost. And that’s the other part of this situation that’s troubling for me; if it takes two weeks, it takes two weeks. But that’s two weeks out of the time I have left to get moved.”

He’s looking for a smaller space this time. This one he built specifically to hold events, but he’s been seeing less of those in the last few years — and with COVID-19, plenty are being cancelled that won’t come back. His popular “Books and Brunch” event at the Omni King Edward is also on hold, at least for April. He’ll probably have to cancel the one scheduled for May, too.

All of which leaves McNally, like the rest of us, with plenty more time on his hands to spend doing what he probably likes best: reading.

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“I just finished Hope Jahren, the woman who wrote “Lab Girl.” Her new one is “The Story Of More.” I loved Emily St. John Mandel (her new book is “The Glass Hotel”) and I read the Bill Clegg (“The End of the Day”) that’s not coming out till June, and I have in my hand a book called “Good Citizens Need Not Fear” (by Maria Reva) and that’s where I’m going from here.”

You can’t get those books from McNally’s shop at the moment. But maybe you’ll want to pick them up once things get back to normal, whenever that will be, and whatever the new normal turns out to be.

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Paulson: Real estate industry taking precautions during COVID-19 – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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Jason Yochim, CEO of the SRA, holds a conference call with agents three times a week to share news, advice and protocols.

“With no more open houses, we’ve advised our agents on what we call essential sales activity,” he said in an interview. “For example, if I want to move to that bigger house I’ve always wanted, maybe now is not the time to do that.”

On the flip side, some people need to move. Life changes such as divorce, or settling an estate, or moving for employment purposes are considered essential housing transactions, Yochim noted.

“We’re guiding our members that way. We’re (also) encouraging them to utilize technology for showings, whether it’s Facebook live or virtual tour products.”

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COVID-19: Vancouver real estate now a 'riskier' asset, causing mortage rates to rise – Vancouver Sun

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“Over the next week or two the banks are going to tighten,” he said. “Even if you want a mortgage they might not give you one. As a bank you can’t blame them.”

And third, Saretsky said that coming into the coronavirus crisis “consumer insolvencies were growing at a pretty rapid pace, the quickest in 10 years and that was when the economy was buzzing and we had the lowest unemployment in 10 years.

“Now unemployment is up to 15 per cent, consumer insolvencies are going to go up. Everyone thinks prices will be down 10 per cent by May. It’s a much more drawn out process because real estate is so illiquid. There’s no price discovery right now because nothing is selling.”

According to the latest Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver figures, last month there were 2,524 sales across all classes of residential homes. This was an increase over the same time last year, that included a 2.1 per cent increase in values.

However, the board noted that everything changed mid way through March, when the state of emergency was called. Realtors are considered an essential service.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

twitter.com/davidcarrigg

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LEVY: Is Toronto's real estate market a bubble poised to burst? – Toronto Sun

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Less than a month ago, we were receiving a steady stream of real estate flyers in our door, proclaiming that homes in the neighbourhood and well beyond had sold for up to 115% of the listing price.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Toronto with a vengeance.

The flyers have disappeared — as have real estate signs — during what is supposed to be a peak selling season.

One could say the Toronto real estate market has gone from resoundingly healthy to bordering on static in a matter of weeks.

The latest statistics from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) show that home sales were actually up 49% during the first two weeks of March (considered the pre-COVID-19 period) compared to the same time last year.

But during the last two weeks of March (starting on March 15) sales were down 15.9% compared to the same period last year.

New listings mirrored that trend with listings down in the last half of last month by 18.4%.

It is interesting to note that the average selling price in the Toronto area was still holding its own during the last half of March — at $862,563, up 10% from the same period last year.

Jason Mercer, of TRREB, told me Friday the first two weeks of March were in line with what they saw in January and February — a strong market and near-record sales.

Once the social-distancing rules were put in place and the call by their board to realtors to shut down open houses, those in the industry started to see a “greater impact” on the market.

“It was definitely a tale of two halves in March,” he said, noting that sales and listings really dropped off in the last week of the month.

Mercer said they’re still waiting to see the impact on a “more stabilized basis” of the lack of open houses and in-person showings.

“I think April is going to be a telling month in terms of what we see in the short-term,” he said.

While they have seen an “uptick” in the extension of listings, he said it’s too soon to tell whether sales have fallen through before closings because it typically takes 60-90 days for a deal to be finalized..

Richard Sherman, broker of record for Slavens & Associates Real Estate, said they were one of the first companies to shut down open houses — more than three weeks ago — to be “socially responsible” and not take any risks.

He said while real estate has been made essential, it really isn’t business as usual.

“It’s been business as usual to close all of our firm deals in the second half of March, April and ensuing months,” he said.

He and his firm believe real estate should only be essential if there’s an emergency need or to close deals– if our city truly wants to beat this virus.

Real estate lawyer Martin Gladstone said closings are occurring but they are tortuous.

He said staff at banks are in isolation at home and ordinary channels of moving money had to change overnight. Meetings with clients to sign are now virtual, he added

“It is a brave new world and many are filled with anxiety, buyer’s remorse, and fear,” he said.

Mercer said 2020 will definitely be a year that is not dictated by the “regular seasonal norms” and if the COVID-19 peak resolves during the spring, they could see a recovery in the fall and winter.

He doesn’t feel the market will crash and figures they will come out on the other side at some point with a certain degree of “pent-up demand.”

Mercer said it is “possible in the short term” that prices could drop but over the longer term, the market will “tighten up pretty quickly.

But as he cautioned: “This is unprecedented.”

SLevy@postmedia.com

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