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How a vaccine could upend real estate markets — again – CNN

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Nationally, home prices have never been higher, driven up as surging demand due to record low mortgage rates comes up against historically low inventory of homes for sale.
But the most expensive urban areas have been experiencing the opposite problem. Cities like New York and San Francisco have seen higher vacancy rates and lower rents and sale prices as many people, untethered from office jobs, retreated to the suburbs and less densely populated areas.
But with potential vaccines on the horizon, real estate in big cities could see a turnaround.
“It’s not going to be a light switch,” said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraiser and consultant in New York City. “But the news is starting to get people to be hopeful and think about returning to the city. Because right now, without a vaccine, it is status quo.”
While widespread vaccination is still a ways off, the news alone is a good sign that real estate in cities will continue to recover as the prospect of vaccines becomes more realistic, said Richard Smith, chairman and executive director of the Foundation for the Study of Cycles, a nonprofit that studies recurring patterns in economics, social sciences and nature.
“Sometimes it is when the news gets less bad that you get your biggest gains,” he said.
Real estate investment trusts (REITs), investments backed by real estate, that had cratered when the pandemic broke out, have already recovered some of their losses and moved higher on the vaccine news.
Here’s what the vaccine could mean for renters and home buyers.

Will people return to cities?

The more a vaccine brings life closer to “normal,” the more city real estate markets will change, said Miller.
“Once the vaccine is out and the population begins seeing schools reliably open and the big companies bringing people back in, that’s where it snowballs,” he said. “Then people can make plans around it.”
In Manhattan, the rental market will come back first, he said, because that activity has fallen the most and there is a lower bar to entry. But with rental inventory currently triple what it was a year ago, don’t expect rents to go up soon.
The Manhattan rental market remains historically weak. Last month saw a record-high number of apartments available to rent and a record-high share of rental apartments leased with concessions like one or two months free rent, according to brokerage firm Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel.
The vacancy rate in Manhattan is at a new all-time high of 6.14%. That’s caused record price declines in rents. The median rent for a one bedroom in Manhattan in October, for example, was $3,064 a month, down 4.1% from September and down 14.8% from a year ago.
“There has been a precipitous drop in the cost of a rental and the expectation is that there is still more of that ahead, until the inventory is eaten up,” said Miller. “There is still a lot of runway ahead. We’ll be well into 2021 and a vaccine until we get into an uptick in pricing.”
For those looking to buy, purchasing a home in New York will be more attractive when a vaccine makes all the things a city has to offer possible again, Miller said, including easy access to dining, theater, concerts and events.
“The first thing that has to happen in terms of really accelerating the re-adoption of city life in the post-pandemic world, is going to be when companies, especially the Fortune 500 companies as leaders, start to bring people back to work,” he said.

Buyers won’t leave the suburbs behind

The uncertainty of this past year has left a mark on buyers, particularly those with higher incomes who can afford a second home near the city as a refuge that requires no planes or planning, said Dottie Herman, chief executive of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
“The virus made the home very important,” said Herman. “Working from home will be here to stay, in some way. It won’t be only working from home, but some combination of at home and the office.”
That has created wish lists for new homes that include outdoor space and offices and it has expanded locations for buyers, lengthening the commuting tether between home and office, she said.
Strong demand in the suburbs and resort communities near cities will continue, she said. Even though many suburban areas around New York passed their pandemic peak in the summer, in many areas sales are still above levels seen a year ago.
“People have gotten used to working from home and are comfortable living farther from the city,” she said. “That won’t change with a vaccine. Second homes will continue to be a booming market nationally.”

Will mortgage rates stay low?

Mortgage interest rates hit a 12th all-time low heading into November, and some economists say even lower rates may be ahead. Others, however, say the vaccine news could reverse the downward trend.
“While rates are always unpredictable, sustained record lows are looking less likely in light of recent events,” said Brendan Phillips, a capital markets analyst at Better.com, an online lender. “Rates jumped when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced its Covid-19 vaccine had shown 90% efficacy in trials.”
Goldman Sachs analysts pointed to the encouraging progress of vaccine research as a reason to think the economy may sustain a “V-shaped” recovery, bouncing back quickly to pre-pandemic levels. Other economists say that the ability of Congress to finally pass a stimulus package will also affect the speed of the country’s recovery from the current recession.
“Good news for the economy, though, usually means higher rates,” said Phillips.

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Buyers growing shy in heated Toronto market – The Globe and Mail

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219 Milverton Blvd.

Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.

People clamouring for space are pushing prices higher in the Toronto-area real estate market as buyers compete for properties.

But some buyers are becoming wary of the bidding wars that have propelled prices to new records in the Greater Toronto Area.

Leslie Battle, an agent with Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., recently sold a three-bedroom house in the city’s east end for $1,310,786 after listing it with an asking price of $1.089-million.

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The semi-detached house at 219 Milverton Blvd. had 51 parties swarming through in the five days it was on the market and six bidders entered the fray.

Still, Ms. Battle was surprised at the number of potential buyers who decided against making an offer.

She fielded several calls from agents representing buyers who loved the property but didn’t want to compete, she says.

“I’m sensing a little bit of a pullback with buyers,” Ms. Battle says. “I think it’s the thin edge of the wedge that we’re going to see a little bit more of.”

Ms. Battle calls the segment between $900,000 and $1.4-million “the price range that does not sleep” in single-family dwellings, but she adds that lots of pent-up demand from buyers was satisfied over the summer when the market came out of the spring lockdown.

This semi-detached house had 51 parties swarming through in the five days it was on the market.

Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.

Now real estate values are disconnected from the realities of an economic recession and decreased immigration, in her opinion.

She believes consumers are more fearful that the single-family home market is becoming overheated – especially as COVID-19 case counts rise and some of the financial support from governments and lenders has been phased out.

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“We may see some fall-out from people who are forced to sell,” she says.

Some of the homeowners who were able to defer mortgage payments for a time may find they can no longer afford their properties, she says.

Ms. Battle expects the changing dynamics will cause that rapid price growth for detached and semi-detached homes to level off in the coming months.

More supply might become available as research shows relationship break-ups are on the rise during the pandemic, she says, and many people close to retirement are accelerating their plans to move out of town.

Countering that is a tendency for older homeowners to delay their plans to move into retirement homes during the pandemic, she says. In recent months, she has had three potential clients who decided to keep their houses and pay for home care instead, she says.

Over all, she doesn’t see the kind of economic strength necessary to fuel the market to greater heights in early 2021, but she notes that the market this year has been much stronger than industry watchers predicted.

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33 Heathdale Rd. had an asking price of $3.695-million.

The Print Market

Real estate agent Andre Kutyan of Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd. has noticed fewer buyers coming out for showings recently. But move-up buyers are still willing to compete for houses at the high end of the market.

“The people who are coming out are serious.”

Mr. Kutyan says the number of new listings has slowed in the second half of November as buyers and sellers grapple with navigating life during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the upscale neighbourhood of Lawrence Park, Mr. Kutyan recently represented move-up buyers whose child goes to school in the area.

The couple looked at half a dozen houses before a four-bedroom home arrived on the market with an asking price of $6.995-million.

“Of course when we put an offer in, another offer came in,” says Mr. Kutyan, who adds that buyers often wait on the sidelines hoping they won’t have to compete.

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Mr. Kutyan’s clients sweetened their offer and purchased the newly built house at 1 Cheltenham Ave. for $7.1-million.

Even at that, he figures the buyers struck a good deal because the house has such luxurious features as seven bathrooms, a library and a home gym, and sits on a large lot in a neighbourhood where building lots sell for millions of dollars.

“I cannot replace that house between land and construction,” he says of the costs of building new.

The midtown four-bedroom house was sold for $3.855-million.

The Print Market

The downtown condo market may be flooded with listings, but in neighbourhoods such as Rosedale, Lawrence Park and Forest Hill, very little comes up for sale.

“What’s driving the market is the lack of inventory,” he says.

In the family-friendly, midtown neighbourhood of Cedarvale, Mr. Kutyan listed a four-bedroom house for sale with an asking price of $3.695-million.

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“We priced the home right on the money,” he says, because the owners did not want the property to languish.

Mr. Kutyan put the word out among his contacts that the house at 33 Heathdale Rd. was being polished and fluffed before it arrived the market. A sign in front said “coming soon.”

Nine potential buyers toured the home on a recent Sunday before he launched the property on the Multiple Listing Service of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board the following day.

“By Monday evening I had four offers,” he says.

The house sold for $3.855-million.

“Three people didn’t buy the home and another five didn’t offer,” he says, in pointing out that eight interested parties are still looking in that price range.

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“The next one that comes up, you’re going to see a line-up again.”

The agent also has clients who have moved from central Toronto to Markham, Ont. to be closer to family. Another couple is moving north to Rice Lake and another pair of empty nesters is looking to trade their large house in Toronto for an equally spacious property closer to their sailboat in Mississauga.

“It’s definitely a lifestyle change,” Mr. Kutyan says.

Priscilla Thiagamoorthy, economist at Bank of Montreal, says she is keeping an eye on the condo segment of the market and the impact a slowdown there might have on housing starts.

Ms. Thiagamoorthy says millennials and international migrants have been purchasing high-rise condo units for the past decade, fueling new construction.

But now, with immigration flows slowing and a shift in preferences for larger, suburban homes, Canada’s big cities could see a slowdown in condo construction, she says.

Still, demand for single-family dwellings, supported by low interest rates and teleworkers, will still keep the housing market resilient over all, she predicts.

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Record month for South Georgian Bay real estate pushing pricing out of reach for many – CTV Toronto

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COLLINGWOOD —
October was another record-breaking month for real estate sales in the region.

Statistics from the South Georgian Bay association of realtors show the number of sales increased 47 percent over October last year. The benchmark price of a single-family home Climbed 21.8 percent to 513 thousand dollars, vacancies are down, while rents are also seeing an increase.

“Rents have been a surprise to me how quickly they have escalated and how out of context they are with the local market, wage rates and labour force,” says community activist Marg Scheben-Edey.

A flood of buyers from the GTA is fuelling the hot housing market. Still, there’s mounting evidence that rising prices make the communities around Southern Georgian Bay unaffordable, especially for service industry workers and single-income families who spend more than half their income on housing.

Pamela Hillier, the Executive Director of Community Connection, says that’s not sustainable and adds calls for help to 211 are up 153 per cent.

“At the end of the month, there’s no money left to buy food, or prescription medicine, or things like that, so people call to see if there are other income sources or help out there to pay for other services that they need.”

Advocates for purpose-built housing, including Gail Michalenko, say a bad situation just got worse in Collingwood.

“Our current council is certainly more supportive and recognizes that there’s a huge issue with this,” says Michalenko, “so now it’s time for some action.”

“There’s a sense of urgency to start addressing the situation,” says Scheben-Edey. It’s not something we can take likely sometimes it’s life and death.”

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Downtown TO office sublease space quadruples in 2020 | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange

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IMAGE: Bill Argeropoulos, Avison Young’s principal and practice leader for research. (Courtesy Avison Young)

Bill Argeropoulos, Avison Young principal and practice leader for research, Canada. (Courtesy Avison Young)

The amount of office sublease space on the market in downtown Toronto has quadrupled during 2020 to almost 2.5 million square feet, and there’s no short-term turnaround in sight.

Across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), office sublease space on offer has more than doubled this year to over five million square feet.

Avison Young principal and Canadian research practice leader Bill Argeropoulos, who’s been closely monitoring sublease activity since COVID-19 started impacting the real estate market in March, doesn’t see available sublease space returning to previous lows until, perhaps, the end of 2023.

Argeropoulos wrote about the trend in a recent blog post and expanded on his analysis of the peaks and valleys from three past availability cycles in an interview with RENX.

“At the very beginning of the process, people were reluctant to put space on the sublease market because they didn’t know what the outlook was going to be like,” said Argeropoulos, who believes many companies were caught off guard by the length of the COVID-19 pandemic and the slow return of employees to offices.

Sublease space may appeal to some tenants because they can often get shorter and more flexible lease terms. Also, if they can take over space that’s already built out, they’ll save on related capital costs.

Companies have realized if some or all of their employees can work from home until the COVID-19 crisis clears up, they might as well try to relieve themselves of excess space and earn revenue through subleasing. However, lease-up of these spaces has been slow.

Rate of sublease space availability increases

Since last writing about the topic in August, Argeropoulos said available sublease space across the GTA office market increased from 3.7 million square feet to 5.1 million square feet. That’s up from 2.4 million square feet at the end of 2019.

Downtown Toronto sublease availability has risen from 1.7 million square feet to nearly 2.5 million square feet, which is about four times the 652,000 square feet available at the end of last year.

“Deals done with sublease spaces are usually at lower rates than direct landlord space, but we haven’t seen that sort of softening in the rents yet,” said Argeropoulos. “They’re basically on par with direct landlord space for now.

“However, I think the scales will likely tip in the tenants’ favour as more larger blocks hit the market, forcing some landlords to adjust their pricing.

“I think that will come, but given that the majority of the real estate in downtown Toronto is held by well-financed institutions, they’re willing to weather the storm a little bit and not necessarily give up on the rates yet.”

Where sublease space is coming from

Fifty-six per cent of the office sublease availability in downtown Toronto so far is for spaces of less than 5,000 square feet, according to Argeropoulos. Forty-six per cent is in class-A, 32 per cent is in class-B and 22 per cent is in class-C buildings.

“The piece of the pie that we’re closely watching right now is in that greater-than-20,000-square-feet range,” said Argeropoulos. “That number, which we’ve been following over several months, is in the five per cent category.

“Once we see that number rising, then I think there will be pressure on landlords to perhaps come off because they’re going to be competing with larger blocks of space, which can then be used as leverage to drive down rents.”

Argeropoulos said sublease space on the market now is coming from a range of business types, including technology, financial services, telecommunications and professional service firms.

“Even within the technology sector, it’s not just startups. It’s also established blue-chip technology companies that have decided to reduce their footprint — some on a temporary basis and some on a more permanent basis.”

Looking to the past for possible answers

Argeropoulos said there was no relationship between the rate of sublease availability take-up in the last three peak-to-valley cycles, spanning 20 years, in either downtown Toronto or the GTA as a whole.

For the current GTA office sublease market to return to its previous valley by the end of 2023, 256,000 square feet of take-up per quarter would be needed. That wouldn’t be far beyond the fastest take-up rate seen in the last 20 years.

Downtown, however, the necessary figure would be 159,000 square feet per quarter. That would be double the fastest rate recorded in any peak-to-valley period during the last 20 years.

Significant pent-up demand would be required, especially given the amount of new office space which will be delivered downtown between now and 2024.

In its just-released Canada 2021 Forecast report, Avison Young notes about seven million square feet of new office space is being delivered in 2020 and 2021 in the GTA. That report predicts a slightly higher 7.2 per cent overall vacancy rate for GTA office space in 2021 (it was 6.6 per cent at the end of Q3 2020).

Sources of future sublease space

Much of that new space is already pre-leased, but companies that have made those commitments may realize they don’t need all of it and look to the sublease market to take them off the hook.

Companies moving into new offices will also make significant backfill space available. Much of that could come from major banks, especially CIBC, and Infrastructure Ontario, as it moves back into its former buildings which have been under renovation.

“Rumours are that that Infrastructure Ontario space could be as much as an additional million square feet of availability perhaps coming on the market,” said Argeropoulos.

The City of Toronto has also announced it will implement a workplace modernization program, which includes both leased and owned facilities. That could reduce its office space footprint and introduce up to another million square feet to the sublease market.

“Heading into this crisis, Toronto and the downtown market in general was very, very tight and we couldn’t wait to get some availability to come online so we could transact,” said Argeropoulos. “But no one saw this amount of space coming back.”

Argeropoulos is concerned office demand has dried up and the newly available space isn’t moving.

It’s not yet panic time, he added, but smaller landlords or those with near-term risk due to lease rollovers are in an unenviable position.

“Once there’s greater clarity, the pent-up demand that’s waiting will definitely start to eat up the space,” said Argeropoulos. “How quickly is another question.”

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