The sight of empty commercial space and dark tower floors isn’t new to Alberta or unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with more people working from home, offices downsizing and many businesses folding, realtors are expecting already sky-high vacancy rates will continue to rise.
The latest report from July pegs Calgary’s office market has a vacancy rate of 22 per cent. It’s worse in the downtown, where 25 per cent of commercial real estate is up for grabs.
“The office market isn’t going away,” said Susan Thompson, a research manager at commercial real estate services firm Avison Young.
“Companies are still going to need to operate from somewhere to allow employees to do business, to collaborate. What it looks like, though, may change. Low-rise space is probably going to become popular, with less reliance on elevators. Suburban space may actually become more popular because then you’re not trying to put as many people into a dense downtown core.”
And there’s evidence landlords are also taking a creative approach, with some Alberta companies eyeing all that empty office space as an opportunity for reinvention.
Strategic Group has been one of Alberta’s first to enter the market into office conversions.
It spent $25 million renovating what was once the Stephenson Building in Calgary and re-purposing it as “Cube” — a residential rental apartment building with 65 apartment units.
Ken Toews is vice-president of development with Strategic and said while conversions can be challenging, each project can divert thousands of tonnes of demolition material that would otherwise go to landfills.
“It’s really rewarding because the people really love the buildings, they love the environmental aspect, and we’ve been able to come up with some really good plans and make living really easy,” said Toews.
“We need to revitalize downtown Calgary, and we would like to be part of that plan.”
The company has also converted other office buildings into non-residential uses, including a self-storage facility and the new Avenida Food Hall in Calgary. It’s also in the process of redeveloping Calgary’s iconic Barron Building downtown.
Strategic currently has five projects around Alberta finished or nearing completion. The sixth is in the planning stages.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
LACKIE: There are signs of a softening real-estate market – Toronto Sun
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How could house-poor Canadians, already saddled with alarming levels of consumer debt, manage their way through this, let alone out the other side?
But they did. And it was, quite frankly, astonishing.
According to CMHC, Canadians deferred $1 billion worth of mortgages per month during the pandemic, while the Canadian Bankers Association reports that more than 760,000 Canadians either skipped a mortgage payment or took advantage of a deferral program.
As of Sept. 13, more than $78 billion had been paid out to Canadians in the form of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Yet, by the time the emergency lockdown restrictions started to relax, the real estate market was in full swing.
The June and July sales figures broke records set a year earlier, and the Toronto market spread its heat to the suburban and rural markets. In cottage country, properties were selling with multiple offers just hours after hitting the market.
Could this really just be the result of pent-up demand? Of fundamental changes in consumer appetites? A hunger for more space, more land, less density?
There were tons of theories.
Maybe all along we haven’t fully appreciated the level of demand, I wondered.
Maybe people weren’t as hurt by lost earnings as one might have expected?
Maybe the busy summer was the combined effect of insatiable demand met with people hustling to get set up to more comfortably ride out the fall’s all but guaranteed second wave.
Why real estate prices continue to rise despite the pandemic – CBC.ca
Last May, I wrote an opinion piece titled Time to buy? What the pandemic means for Vancouver’s real estate market where I explained that historically for every one per cent rise in unemployment there is a four per cent decrease in housing prices.
However, this is not what has happened during the last several months. Between February and August this year the unemployment rate doubled while the Canadian housing market hit all-time highs.
Homeowners who lost their jobs due to the pandemic were able to keep their homes thanks to various government income replacement programs and banks offering the option to defer mortgage payments. These initiatives bought struggling homeowners some time and allowed them to keep their homes off the market.
At the same time, interest rates dropped.
This lowered the cost of borrowing for buyers and increased the amount of “house” they could qualify for. The lower rates increased demand at a time when supply was relatively low and, as a result, despite unemployment numbers doubling, the prices of real estate hit new highs.
Several factors will affect upward trend
Whether the upward trend in real estate sales and prices continues will depend on several factors, such as: the severity of future waves of COVID-19; how quickly the economy can recover; and when our borders will reopen to immigration. However, what will have the most impact will be government action and the policies they implement to keep Canadians and the economy afloat. As long as government aid is flowing — which I think will continue until we have a vaccine and/or the economy is back on track — asset prices can keep rising.
Financially, on average, Canadians are in better shape now than they were pre-pandemic. Household spending has dropped by 13 per cent, which has increased our savings rate by 28 per cent. The government income replacement programs were effective, but it appears they overshot a bit as for every dollar in salary lost due to the pandemic, the government replaced it with approximately $2.50.
Now that these programs are being dialled back, it will be interesting to see how the changes will affect the economy and housing market.
As for the seven per cent of B.C. mortgage holders who deferred their payments, I don’t think many will default on their mortgages. Some deferred not because they needed to, but because it was an option and they felt it prudent to save money just in case things turned really bad.
Others deferred due to temporary job loss, but then the government programs helped fill their income gap until they could return to work.
In both these cases, most of these mortgage holders should be able to resume their payments.
Homeowners at risk
Unfortunately, there are some homeowners who remain unemployed and may have to sell their homes once their mortgage payment deferral option comes to an end.
For those forced to sell there is at least a silver lining in that real estate prices have gone up, putting them in a better position today than six months ago.
The group I consider most at risk are condo speculators.
There has been a fundamental shift in what is deemed desirable in real estate. Now that the work-from-home movement is no longer a trend but a necessity, living close to your workplace isn’t as important as it used to be. The items that are on top of today’s buyers’ wish lists include a backyard and an extra room for a home office.
Many people are selling their downtown condos and purchasing houses in the suburbs.
As a result, we have a tight detached home market while new listings for condos are surging — a trend that I can see not only continuing but accelerating in the near term.
This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.
United Property Resource Corporation unlocks value of real estate assets held by Canada's largest land owners – Canada NewsWire
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is providing UPRC with a $20 million line of credit through the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund to be accessed for pre-development and pre-construction costs as it builds affordable housing across Canada. UPRC is committed to building a minimum of 5,000 new affordable housing units across the country over the next 15 years. This creates significant opportunity to repurpose assets and build sustainable communities.
UPRC has committed to ‘be building’ 1500 affordable units by 2025 and 5000 affordable units by 2035. That translates into approximately 20,000 new rental units within the same time period as many of these developments will be mixed income and mixed use ensuring much need community space will be incorporated.
“This is one of the largest opportunities to reimagine what our neighbourhoods could look like over the next 15 years and the common good that repurposing real estate can have on communities,” said Tim Blair, CEO, United Property Resource Corporation. “UPRC represents an exciting opportunity to fill a gap in the housing market across the country and advocate for progressive real estate models that are inclusive, environmentally and financially sustainable. None of this would be possible without the support from our partners; we are grateful to the Federal Government, and The United Church of Canada for their vision and commitment.”
UPRC will focus on providing affordable housing for Canadians in a range of housing types including housing for families. Many of UPRC’s projects will broaden housing choices, creating a unique opportunity to fill the “missing middle”, a range of housing types between single-detached houses and high-rise buildings that have gone ‘missing‘ from many of our cities in the last 60 to 70 years. As cities struggle to find ways to broaden housing choices, create walkable communities, and remain economically competitive, the ‘missing middle‘ is increasingly part of the discussion about intensification, complete communities, housing choices, and housing affordability.
The UCC undertook a national property inventory, in partnership with the CMHC, to assess the total real estate portfolio and create a strategy. The creation of a development corporation – UPRC – was a key tenet of the strategy.
“It’s incredible to see this vision come to fruition in the UPRC and to see the tremendous value it will bring to communities of faith across Canada,” said Nora Sanders, General Secretary of The United Church of Canada. “In the language that communities of faith would use, ‘this is the abundance that is available to create the world that we want to see'”.
The team of experts that make up UPRC today bring expertise in planning, development, investment banking, and business development. It has established partnerships with CMHC and The United Church of Canada.
Founded in 2019, UPRC brings professional real estate development and management expertise to communities of faith and non-profits to assist them in making astute decisions about their real estate while making lasting contributions to their communities. The development corporation collaborates with both public and private partners. To find out more, visit www.uprc.ca.
SOURCE United Church of Canada
For further information: For more information, Backgrounder, Facts & Figures and Bios, please contact: Laura Currie Ryder, 416-317-9447, [email protected]
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