Realtor Yvan Rhéaume says Ottawa is still a hot real estate market, but buyers have a better chance of competing for homes now compared with last winter.
I’m a high school dropout. Here’s how I built an $8 million real estate portfolio
Growing up in Scarborough, when other kids said they wanted to be doctors or astronauts or baseball players, I told them I wanted to be “the owner.” I never knew what that meant, mind you, but that’s what I told everyone. My father, Wayne Sr., probably had something to do with it. He was a developer in Toronto and Port Carling, so our family was always involved in the real estate industry. I suppose I wanted to own properties, just like my dad. Apparently, as a kid, before I was old enough to remember, he would bounce me on his knee and talk about mortgages. Some of my earliest memories are of driving around the city in his four-door Cadillac, doing something he liked to call dream building. I would look on, in awe, as he pointed out his various projects and other fancy buildings.
At the age of nine, I worked on his houses—cleaning, painting, drywalling. I basically did everything except electrical. After the masons would brick a house, I’d get paid 10 cents a brick to pick up the pieces they didn’t want. That’s where I learned the importance of a good work ethic, along with the ins-and-outs of building a house from the joists up. There were some hard lessons, too, like that workers never got paid during their lunch hours—if you weren’t working, you weren’t making money. That’s how my dad operated. He was a very hard-edged guy, but we could always bond over real estate.
As a teenager, there’d always be a copy of Real Estate News in my room. I’d buy books about houses and pore over the floor plans of beautiful mansions, planning where I’d place the furniture in my dream home. I’d look at the newspaper and see Toronto real estate agents like Harvey Kalles, Al Sinclair and Elli Davis—these people were like celebrities. My friends idolized athletes and musicians, but I thought that the top real estate agents, whose names and faces were plastered across billboards across town, were equally impressive. I always wanted to be like them. The only problem is that I never thought I had the intelligence, since teachers were always telling me that I shouldn’t follow my dreams.
When I was 15, my father got sick, and I ended up dropping out of school because I was so lost and unhappy. My education mostly came from self-help books by Tony Robbins and Robert Kiyosaki. Sometimes, I’d find myself driving through the Bridle Path in my dad’s black Corvette, staring at the houses on Post Road. That’s probably where I got my taste for Edwardian architecture. Looking back, it’s clear that I was dream building all on my own.
After I dropped out, I started DJing at small local gatherings. By the time I hit legal age, I was working at clubs in the city like Guvernment, Joker and Atlas, for a promotion company called Brighter Days. I later moved to Japan, where I picked up work as a bartender and a DJ, before heading to the Philippines where I focused solely on music. In 1998, at 23, I came home with $12,000.
I used that money, along with $8,000 from selling my dad’s Corvette, to put a down payment on a $212,000 three-bedroom detached home at Danforth Road and Kennedy. That was my first property and I rented it out, both the top and bottom floor, for roughly $1,800 a month. I used the money I made from my tenants at Danforth to buy a place on Lillington Avenue in Scarborough. It was a less glamorous time. I was driving a big white cargo van around the city. Then, I started delivering mail for Canada Post, which paid about $60,000 a year. Almost everyone who worked there had some sort of side hustle—mine was collecting rent. I combined the money I made from my tenants at Danforth, along with my Canada Post salary, to buy another place on Lillington Avenue. That’s how things got started. After that, I bought some penthouses in Scarborough, a few units in Liberty Village and then some houses in Forest Hill and Lawrence Park. All along, to build my portfolio, I leveraged the equity from my properties, invested the cash from the rental units and used my salary from the post office.
Since getting into the real estate business, I’ve owned 18 properties, everything from condos to detached houses. The most units I’ve ever owned at once is eleven. Today, I have a portfolio worth $8 million.
Throughout my career, there have been some real highs. Three years ago, at 40, I quit my job at the post office and got my real estate license, because I’d always dreamed of being an agent. The job ticks a lot of my boxes: It’s competitive and you really get to help people. It also allows me to spend time with my daughters, Quinn and Stella, who are now 7 and 5.
But there have been some hard times, too. My partner and I decided to split up in 2014. My father died of pancreatitis, at 57, and gave all of his properties, which must’ve been worth millions of dollars, to his girlfriend. I’m not bitter, though, because I never thought I was entitled to the money. He left me about $5,000 in cash, his diamond pinky ring and a silver money clip, which is stretched out because he carried so much cash. Of course, he also left behind all of his real estate knowledge, which is what I’m most grateful for.
I know about four things: watches, the Toronto Maple Leafs, house music and real estate. Beyond that, not much. A lot of people think houses are just a financial asset, but I think of them as Quinn and Stella’s education or a better retirement for myself. These days, I’ll drive Quinn and Stella around Forest Hill, where we live. When we pass a nice house, I’ll tell them that’s where the Disney princesses live—and they love it. It’s our own little version of dream building.
– As told to Katie Underwood
A housing correction which has already led to four consecutive months of price declines in the previously overheated Greater Toronto Area market could end up becoming “one of the deepest of the past half a century,” a new report from RBC warns.
New data released by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) last week revealed that the average benchmark price for a home in the GTA fell six per cent month-over-month in July to $1,074,754.
Sales were also down a staggering 47 per cent from July, 2021.
In a report published on Aug. 4, RBC Senior Economist Robert Hogue said recent data from real estate boards underlines that higher interest rates are beginning to take a “huge toll” on the market.
Hogue said that with further hikes to come, prices will likely continue to slide in the coming months.
That prediction, it should be noted, goes against a report from Royal LePage last month which painted a rosier forecast for sellers in which values would more or less holding for the rest of the year following some declines in the second quarter.
“Our expectations for further hikes by the Bank of Canada—another 75 basis points to go in the overnight rate by the fall— will keep chilling the market in the months ahead,” Hogue said. “We expect the downturn to intensify and spread further as buyers take a wait-and-see approach while ascertaining the impact of higher lending rates. Canada’s least affordable markets Vancouver and Toronto, and their surrounding regions, are most at risk in light of their excessively stretched affordability and outsized price gains during the pandemic.”
The Bank of Canada has hiked the overnight lending rate by 225 basis points since March and has warned that further hikes will be necessary given that inflation remains at a near 40-year high.
In his report, Hogue pointed out that the housing correction “now runs far and wide across Canada” but he said that it is particularly pronounced in the costlier markets of Toronto and Vancouver.
In fact, Hogue said that housing resale activity in Toronto is at its slowest pace in 13 years, outside of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The stockpile of available homes is also up 58 per cent from a year ago, he noted.
“With more options to choose from and higher interest rates shrinking their purchasing budgets, buyers are able to extract meaningful price concessions from sellers,” he said, pointing out that the average price of a home in the GTA is down 13 per cent from March. “We expect buyers to remain on the defensive in the months ahead as they deal with rising interest rates and poor affordability.”
While Hogue did say that condos in the City of Toronto are likely to remain “relatively more resilient” he said that prices elsewhere will continue to fall for the time being, especially in the 905 belt “where property values soared during the pandemic.”
The July data from TRREB suggested that the average price of a home in the GTA was still up one per cent from July, 2021.
Realtor Yvan Rhéaume says Ottawa is still a hot real estate market, but buyers have a better chance of competing for homes now compared with last winter.
“The craziness is over,” Rhéaume said on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean it’s less expensive to buy a home in the nation’s capital.
“What you see on the news is the prices are dropping and sellers are panicking. That may be the thing in other places across the country, but in Ottawa, we still see a price increase between 2021 and 2022,” Rhéaume said.
Thursday, the Ottawa Real Estate Board released its analysis of July listings and sales and declared a “profound slowdown” in the local home resale market.
“July’s numbers reveal that buyers are indeed putting on the brakes more heavily than what is typically expected during the mid-summer sales dip,” board president Penny Torontow said in releasing the latest statistics.
According to the board, its member realtors sold 1,100 residential properties in July 2022, compared with 1,718 in July 2021. The stats come from listings on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
The July 2022 sales were well below July’s five-year monthly average of 1,691.
Prices are still increasing, but just not at the same steep trajectory seen earlier in the pandemic.
According to the board’s figures, the average sale price for a residential property was $716,354 in July, an increase of five per cent from a year ago. For condos, the average sale price went up one per cent to $425,694 in July 2022, compared to the same month in 2021.
When it comes to year-to-date average sale prices as of July, the board has the first seven months of 2022 at $805,238 for residential properties, which is an 11-per-cent increase over the same period in 2021, while condos were at $461,557, a nine-per-cent increase.
Rhéaume said the return of one not-long-ago standard shows a change in the market: conditions are once again being put on offers.
He had one buyer recently purchase a townhouse with conditions on financing and a home inspection. “That was the first time in probably three years, at least,” Rhéaume said of the conditions. On top of that, he was able to negotiate the price.
Wendy Bell, the broker of record in an office of 250 agents, said news about higher interest rates and inflation had an impact on the market starting in the spring.
“That kind of put the brakes on things,” Bell said, opining that another interest rate increase would be “devastating.”
Bell said she finds herself trying to educate buyers and sellers about what’s happening in the local market.
Sellers have watched properties go for sums well beyond asking prices during the pandemic, while buyers recently have been reading about the market quickly returning to normal conditions. Both scenarios aren’t necessarily playing out in Ottawa.
Bell said homes didn’t have to be staged at the height of the buying frenzy over the pandemic, but now she’s urging sellers to make sure their homes are in order — like painting and removing clutter — to attract prospective buyers.
Bell said the months ahead will provide better indicators for the local real estate market as people come back from their summer vacations.
“Things will come back to normal in a more balanced market in the fall,” Bell predicted.
Broker Dawna Erskine said some sellers have been confused about why their homes aren’t attracting the same large offers that some neighbours received just months ago.
“That’s how drastic things have changed,” Erskine said, and she believes “we are going back to the pre-COVID days” when it comes to home prices.
Erskine said the pandemic has been a “nightmare” while trying to evaluate true values of properties for her eager buyer clients and trying to bid on homes against others willing to pay sky-high prices.
“I can’t tell you how often I’ve worked to guide buyers (and advised) not to buy this,” Erskine said.
“Is the winner really the winner? Or are you the loser?”
Erskine’s optimistic stability will return to the real estate market in the coming months.
“It’s going to become more balanced and I’m really looking forward to it.”
An Ottawa entrepreneur who pleaded guilty to fraud charges over fudged car loans in 2009 is back in court — this time as a plaintiff accusing three trade associations of trying to damage the reputation of his latest venture and exile the self-styled disruptor from the real estate industry’s established turf.
Michael Ryan O’Connor, who’d previously run into legal trouble as the owner of a chain of used car dealerships in Ontario and Quebec, is currently the founder and CEO of Unreserved, an online real estate auction platform that allows people to buy and sell homes like an outsized eBay.
In a civil suit filed mid-July, O’Connor’s company alleges the Ottawa Real Estate Board (OREB), Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) and Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) made defamatory statements about Unreserved in an attempt to scare consumers away from the outfit’s novel approach to selling homes.
It also alleges the three organizations — which together represent and oversee every registered real estate agent and broker in the nation’s capital and run the exclusive central listing network for properties known as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) — unfairly lobbied regulators to close a decades-old legal exemption essential to Unreserved’s operations.
OREB, OREA, and CREA have all stated they believe Unreserved’s claim is without merit.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Meanwhile, CBC has uncovered court documents dating back more than a decade, detailing how the province once revoked O’Connor’s licence as a motor vehicle salesperson, after he pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud related to inflating buyers’ incomes to help them qualify for used car loans they couldn’t afford. The RCMP raided one of O’Connor’s Find-A-Car dealerships and built a case against him after hundreds of customers complained about unmanageable debt in 2007.
“I paid the price. I lost everything,” said O’Connor, who performed community service and served six months’ house arrest as part of his conditional sentence.
O’Connor said he believes he has since rebuilt his credibility — first by pivoting to an online dealer-to-dealer vehicle auction platform, and now a similar model for real estate.
As the new legal battle brews, real estate law experts say the current case reveals several competing interests — consumers’ desire for greater price transparency in an era of sky-high home prices and blind bidding; the billions of dollars of commissions and fees at stake for real estate agents; and the limits of regulation when it comes to protecting consumers and enforcing a code of ethics within the industry.
As a result, observers say the legal fight could be pricey and protracted.
Founded in 2021, Unreserved bills itself as a disruptor in the real estate industry.
The tech startup raked in nearly $34 million in venture capital in early 2022, and has purportedly auctioned more than 250 properties in Ottawa and a handful of other cities in Ontario using an unconventional method that has sparked a backlash from the traditional real estate establishment.
On the company’s website, listings ranging from $250,000 condos to million-dollar detached homes are bid on and bought in real-time auctions “with the click of a mouse,” O’Connor explained.
Prospective buyers can register bids in increments as low as $2,500, after submitting a mortgage pre-approval from a bank.
While traditional realtors are prohibited by law from sharing the contents of competing bids for a home, Unreserved allows participants to see the entire bid history.
The site is able to do this by exploiting an exemption in Ontario’s Real Estate and Business Brokers Act (REBBA) that allows auctioneers to buy and sell real estate outside of typical regulations for brokers.
The broad exemption dates back to the 1950s and was originally intended to be used to auction family farms.
OREA, one of the largest lobby groups in Canada with more than 90,000 members across dozens of real estate boards, called the auctioneers’ exemption “a loophole with frightening implications for unsuspecting consumers trying to buy a home” on its website in June.
OREA also commissioned a survey, citing “70 per cent of Ontarians support the regulation of auctioneers who would sell homes in an open bidding process.”
The association declined to grant an interview to CBC, but CEO Tim Hudak said in a statement that auctioneers trading in real estate has “serious negative consequences” for consumers.
“OREA won’t be intimidated from standing up to protect Ontario home buyers and sellers,” the statement read.
The other two groups named in Unreserved’s lawsuit — OREB and CREA — have also warned consumers about using an online auction platform to buy and sell homes.
“We feel it was a collaborative effort on all fronts to pressure the government to get rid of [this exemption],” said O’Connor.
“They’re doing it all in the name of consumer protection … and when you peel the layers back, it’s just false.”
The civil claim alleges that OREB, OREA, and CREA contacted the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), the province’s real estate regulator, and later the minister of government and consumer services to lobby for Unreserved’s business to be shut down.
OREB and CREA both declined an interview with CBC.
Mark Morris, a real estate lawyer and a former instructor at the Ontario Real Estate College who is uninvolved in the case, said a court battle over the auctioneers’ exemption is inevitable because “there’s money in it.”
“If this starts disrupting the tens of billions of dollars that is real estate,” said Morris, “people will try every avenue because the cost of attempting this pales in comparison to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Morris added that real estate associations are naturally protective of their control on the industry like any other regulated profession, such as law and medicine.
“In fact that’s kind of their job,” he said. “They are representing a bunch of people who derive great benefit through exclusivity.”
This latest lawsuit is not O’Connor’s first run-in with consumer protection laws.
In the early 2000s, he ran a small chain of used car dealerships registered under the name Find-A-Car Auto Sales & Brokering Inc.
In 2007, the RCMP obtained a search warrant for the Kingston location of Find-A-Car and seized items from the premises.
O’Connor was later charged with 11 counts of fraud over $5,000, forging documents and global fraud over $5,000 following complaints from hundreds of customers who alleged they faced financial ruin after signing car loans with Find-A-Car.
The charges stated that O’Connor’s business had “knowingly [obtained] credit for people who would not qualify nor be able to repay their liability, using false statements in writing to financial institutions.”
In December 2009, O’Connor pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000. He received a conditional sentence of two years less a day, the first six months of which were served under house arrest.
Find-A-Car ceased operations and O’Connor testified that he liquidated his inventory to pay down bank loans related to the business.
In 2011, the License Appeal Tribunal of the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), which regulates all motor vehicle sales in the province, revoked O’Connor’s registration, effectively stripping him of the right to sell cars.
“His past conduct gives reasonable grounds to believe he will not carry on business in accordance with law and with integrity and honesty,” wrote the tribunal in its decision.
O’Connor now says he “took full ownership of everything that happened in that business.”
“Twenty years ago I made some mistakes,” he said. “I surrounded myself with some of the wrong people.”
In 2016, O’Connor founded EBlock, an online dealer-to-dealer vehicle auction platform, and has since re-registered to sell cars.
“I was able to get a second chance and … pivot towards tech,” he said.
Wholesale auctions are exempt from the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act and do not need to be registered.
The business saw rapid growth and its parent company, E Automotive Inc., launched an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2021 valued at more than $1 billion.
O’Connor said he sold most of his position in the company and has resigned from its board.
He would not share how much he made from EBlock, but called the profits “life changing.”
His latest business venture, Unreserved, applies a similar online auction philosophy to real estate.
WATCH | Lawsuit puts real estate auctions in the spotlight
At the centre of the legal fight as disruptors like Unreserved attempt to take a share of the real estate market is consumer protection, observed another industry legal expert.
The Real Estate and Business Brokers Act — which auctioneers can bypass — is fundamentally a consumer protection law, explained David Carter, who teaches at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.
Operating as a broker comes with licensing, insurance and training requirements.
“The real purpose here is to make sure anyone purporting to help the public buy and sell real estate knows what they’re doing,” said Carter, “and there’s accountability when they don’t.”
Similar to OMVIC’s role in the world of auto sales, the Real Estate Council of Ontario has the power to levy severe penalties on realtors or brokers that violate its code of ethics or break the law. This can include fines of up to $50,000 and jail time up to two years less a day.
Carter adds that the auctioneer loophole is a “very broad, carte-blanche exemption.”
“So if you can fall under that global exemption, you can almost do whatever you want.”
The legal section of Unreserved’s website includes numerous disclaimers.
“Your use of the website is at your own risk,” states the site’s terms and conditions.
Unreserved’s purchase agreement states that properties are sold “as-is” and “with all faults.” The buyer is responsible for verifying property boundaries and for retaining their own lawyer if they are not represented by a real estate agent.
Unreserved advertises its homes as being inspected prior to the auction and includes a brief inspection report as part of each listing on its website.
In traditional home sales, buyers often include an inspection clause in their purchase offer and pay for an independent inspection themselves. Unreserved’s terms state that buyers must accept any so-called patent defects which would have been discoverable by the buyer during an inspection of the home.
“They don’t want to be tied into any representations, any warranties … anything that they can get sued on in a transaction,” said Carter.
Unreserved offers a one-year, $100,000 limited warranty for the properties sold on its site.
When asked about the consumer protection measures Unreserved has in place, O’Connor said that deposits from winning bidders are stored in the trust account of a co-operating brokerage.
After that, he said, the risk is low because “the lawyers are the ones that do all the work.”
“When that hammer drops, everyone washes our hands and the paperwork’s gone to the lawyers.… The lawyers are the ones that are really protecting the buyer, protecting the seller, making sure the transaction goes smoothly,” O’Connor said.
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