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Interest in backyard homes grows amid soaring real estate costs and a shortage of housing



Chauncey Birch by the laneway home he built in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, on March 8.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

In November, 2018, Chauncey Birch was scoping out a fixer-upper in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood to buy, renovate and then rent out. He came across an outdated four-bed, three-bath duplex sitting on a lot that was 63 metres deep. But it wasn’t until he spoke with the architect who would oversee its renovation that Mr. Birch realized he could also build a laneway suite.

“After looking at the size of the property, its location with a laneway and the ability to fit a laneway suite in that space, the architect could tell we had met the preliminary parameters,” Mr. Birch explains.

He chose to build a three-bed, three-bath home with a basement and carport in the hopes of appealing to a family as future tenants. “I saw the ability to add that much space – in essence, a small home on an existing property,” says Mr. Birch, who expressed an interest in the smart densification of cities and reuse of existing land.

Mr. Birch is one of a growing number of property owners in Canada that are building secondary homes in their backyards. These structures go by many names, depending on the city where they’re located: granny flat, laneway home, backyard suite or accessory dwelling units.


The City of Toronto passed a bylaw in the summer of 2018 making it easier for laneway suites to be built. And in Edmonton, where they’re known as garden suites, similar bylaws were passed in 2017.

Mr. Birch chose to build a three-bed, three-bath home with a basement and carport in the hopes of appealing to a family as future tenants.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Travis Fong is a co-founder of YEGarden Suites, a non-profit organization that helps inform Edmonton homeowners about building a backyard suite. Mr. Fong, who conducts workshops and webinars and does consultations, says that interest has risen steadily since the organization started in 2017. In 2019, 70 garden suite permits were issued in Edmonton. That number increased to 92 in 2020 and 124 in 2021.

“People who are looking to build for rental make up about half of the suites that are built,” Mr. Fong explains. “The other half are being built for an aging parent, or it could be a child who they want to keep close. We’ve had a lot of families with children with physical or mental disabilities. They can maintain their independence, but they do need extra support.”

Mr. Fong says that the construction process, and financing of the new builds, are common hurdles for those looking at adding garden suites. “They can be a pretty expensive development,” explains Mr. Fong, who estimates the cost of construction in Edmonton ranges from $200,000 to $400,000. In Calgary, that price can reach $600,000 or more.

And in Toronto, laneway projects start around $400,000 and can cost upward of $700,000, which is what Mr. Birch spent building his three-level suite. The laneway build added 20 per cent to the loan that Mr. Birch sought out from a private lender to complete both the main house renovations and laneway construction. He’s now renting out the laneway unit for $5,500 a month, but his motivations for the build aren’t strictly about the income.

“The rent from the laneway suite has been beneficial, but not a windfall,” he says. But Mr. Birch believes that he’ll see greater benefit once he’s ready to sell the property. “Perhaps at the time you sell, the return on investment could yield much larger returns that allow you to climb the property ladder more aggressively.”

Mr. Birch believes that he’ll see greater benefit once he’s ready to sell the property.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Linda Hayes, a chartered accountant based in Edmonton and Belize, constructed her first garden suite on an investment property in 2017. She’s since built five of them in the city.

All of Ms. Hayes’s garden suites were built as part of brand-new home projects, so she was able to secure a regular mortgage to fund the construction of both structures. “You can also use the equity in your current home to pay for it through a HELOC,” she says, referring to a home equity line of credit. Another option for those buying homes to build a laneway suite is securing a “purchase plus improvement” mortgage to borrow the cost of renovations, in addition to the price of the existing home.

Backyard-suite builders should also keep in mind that adding a garden suite adds value to your property and therefore increases your taxes. However, property taxes and some other costs can be offset by tax deductions that landlords can claim against rental income.

“For rental properties, you get deductions for the expenses related specifically to the rental suite,” explains Ms. Hayes. “Items like the additional property taxes, utilities, interest on your HELOC, advertising and repairs are some examples of deductions.”

New federal tax credits for 2023 also provide relief for some garden-home builders housing family members. The Multigenerational Home Renovation Tax Credit provides a 15-per-cent refundable tax credit to assist with renovation costs up to $50,000 for a secondary unit with a private entrance, kitchen and bathroom. “But to be eligible, the resident of the unit must be a family member who is a senior or an adult with a disability,” Ms. Hayes explains.

She also points to the GST/HST New Residential Rental Property Rebate, which refunds part of the GST paid on a laneway housing project. “The rules on this are complex, so it’s best to work with an accountant,” Ms. Hayes says.

The City of Toronto passed a bylaw in the summer of 2018 making it easier for laneway suites to be built.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail


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Luxe $9m South Yarra sanctuary for sale with six-car basement garage



The South Yarra property feels very secluded, every with its proximity to Chapel Street.

A winning collaboration by some of the best in the business has produced this luxurious modern sanctuary in a prized lifestyle location.

High-end builder Agushi teamed with celebrated Workroom architects and Nathan Burkett Landscape Architects on the private inner-city residence.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom house at 12 Rockley Rd, South Yarra has hit the market with a $9m-$9.5m asking price.


Largely crafted from concrete – which even features on the sculptural curved staircase that links the home’s three levels – and marble, it delivers sophisticated interiors with carefully framed garden views.

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When at home, a mirrored lift, infinity pool with in-floor cleaning and a six-car basement garage provide the ultimate in convenience.

But it is the state-of-the-art automation that paves the way for a lock-up-and-leave lifestyle.

The technology has been a game-changer for vendor and interior designer Georgie Coombe-Tennant and her husband, Mark.

It has transformed the way they live, doing away with the need for front door keys and allowing them to turn on the oven remotely, let the postie in the gate while sitting on a ski lift or turn on the sprinkler from Europe.

A skylight runs from the outdoor entertainment area into the dining room.

Grey Damastas marble is paired with chocolate toned timber in the kitchen.

The curved concrete staircase is a standout feature of the home.

“We had always had old traditional homes and renovated them, and we just felt like it was time for something modern,” Mrs Coombe-Tennant said.

“We saw Bear (Agushi’s) work and my expression for his work is that everything is so resolved.

“He has not left a single detail out of it. If you think of something you would need in a home it’s there.”

She has delighted in decorating the home, which she said offers loads of space despite having a townhouse feel.

“I found the home is so easy decorate and furnish because you have got this beautiful blank canvas and you can put any amount of colour or neutrality into in,” she said.

As well as three living areas and four bedrooms, the two-year-old home has the luxury of two home offices with desks crafted of the same grey Damastas marble that features in the lavish kitchen and bathrooms.

There’s a sense of privacy once you’re inside the gate.

Enjoy pool views from the main living room.

Gather around the sunken seating area.

The main open-plan living zone screams entertainer thanks to a series of full height sliding doors linking it to a covered outdoor dining space with a built-in barbecue, a conversation pit and north-facing sun deck.

A second ground floor lounge room provides another breakout space, perfect for curling up beside the fire.

Despite its proximity to Chapel St and Toorak Village, Mrs Coombe-Tennant said the home felt secluded.

“I guess with South Yarra people are always worried about noise and things like that but it’s very, very quiet, it’s really secretive. No one knows it’s here,” she said.

“Once we are in that front door you don’t hear a single sound, but you have got everything on your doorstep.”

It’s wall to wall marble in this bathroom.

The garage can accommodate six cars.

Built-in desks feature in both home offices.

RT Edgar Toorak director Sarah Case added that it was rare to find homes of this calibre created specifically for a lock-up-and-leave lifestyle.

“This home has every luxury we’ve come to expect from Agushi, who’s renowned solid concrete construction, superior quality, generous spaces and meticulous attention to detail, while providing for a modern way of living with a lift to all levels, stunning pool and six-car garage,” Ms Case said.

“From the magnificent marble kitchen to the beautiful bedrooms and the poolside outdoor spaces, every aspect has been thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of even the most discerning buyer.”

Mr Agushi said he prided himself on building homes with “over specced” insulation, glazing, solar panels and smart home integration.

Expressions of interest close on June 15 at 5pm.

According the latest Proptrack Home Price Index, national home prices continued to stabilise in April after rising for the fourth consecutive month, rising 0.14 per cent.


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A grandmother's van life and where housing investors live: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail



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This week in real estate, the housing crisis pushes one grandmother to live in a van, and three reasons why mortgage refinances are

Here are The Globe and Mail’s top housing and real estate stories this week, with the lowest mortgage rates available in Canada today, commentary from our mortgage expert and one home worth a look.

The housing crisis chose van life for this 57-year-old grandmother

Terri Smith-Fraser, a nursing assistant, was renovicted from her Halifax apartment last spring when the cost of rent for her two-bedroom apartment more than doubled. Unwilling to be a burden on her adult daughters or find a roommate, she decided van life – usually associated with the young and adventurous – was her only viable option. Suddenly a bronze 1998 GMC Savana purchased in January, 2022, was home.

“I’m a grandma. I’m not a 20-year-old nomad snowboarder. I’m just your regular person who goes to work every day, and I live in a van,” Ms. Smith-Fraser told The Globe and Mail.


Three reasons why mortgage refinances are disappearing

Mortgage refinances have fallen off a cliff. They’re down by 32 per cent, according to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). People still need to refinance, but there are three reasons why they can’t, Robert McLister writes in his column:

  • Tumbling home values
  • Soaring rates
  • The stress test

And here’s what to do about it if you’re in this boat.

This week’s mortgage rates: Markets price in another dose of tough rate medicine

“Higher for longer” is again the buzzphrase in Canada’s rate market. So much for the mini-U.S. banking crisis, which drove rates lower for all of two months, McLister writes. Now we’re dealing with a U.S. debt ceiling mess and persistently disappointing inflation indicators, not the least of which is stubbornly low unemployment. Both those factors have been driving rates higher.

Four in five Ontario housing investors live in the province: Statscan

More than 80 per cent of individual home investors in Ontario live in the province, according to a new report from Statistics Canada. Just 3 per cent of individual home investors reside elsewhere in Canada and 16 per cent live outside of the country, reports Rachelle Younglai.

The story is the same in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which does not reflect the spike in investor buying that occurred during the COVID-19 real estate boom. The study provides a window into investor buying patterns, which have come under scrutiny as home prices and rents have soared across the country.

Home of the week: An urban manse on Toronto’s Humber River

  • Home of the Week, 3 Riverside Trail,

    1 of 15

3 Riverside Trail, Toronto

From the street the home is an imposing two-storey stone manse at the top of a circular driveway with bay windows flanking the formal entrance. The foyer is a festival of detailed millwork and wainscotting that continues into the central hall and then into the formal rooms flanking the entrance. All of the doorways and windows in this space have modest arches, which adds a bit of Hobbit-like character.

The second floor has more of the original woodwork and arched windows, and the landing at the top of the stairs is generous enough for another formal sitting area with ravine views, and a balcony.

What do you think is the asking price for this house?

a. $2.89-million

b. $3.59-million

c. $6.69-million

d. $7.59-million

a. The asking price is $7.59-million.

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LACKIE: Busy Spring in Toronto Real Estate – Toronto Sun



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This has been a busy, bustling spring for the Toronto real estate market.

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There are people who will say it’s all an illusion. A perfectly coordinated dance between snake oil selling realtors and their greedy clients, all unified in pumping a market currently back on its heels as means of personal enrichment.


How does that saying go — never let the truth get in the way of a good story?

They will say it makes no sense that the market should have any signs of life at all given the rollercoaster of the last 18 months (slash, the three years since COVID, if we’re being honest) and that with rates high and staying there, and prices still high and mostly staying there, we are looking at the furthest thing from a healthy marketplace.

And perhaps it’s all relative — things feel particularly energized because in comparison to last fall, we are actually seeing some action out there.

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Houses in dodgy pockets fetching upwards of 20 offers, buyers seemingly undeterred by the needles on the street just steps away from the front door.

Cute houses in great pockets drawing multiple offers and landing peak-of-2022 prices.

  1. For years we have been hearing all about how the new flex is owning an investment property or two.

    LACKIE: Gap between haves and have-nots widens as gov’t shrugs

  2. Converting a single-family home into a multiplex rental dwelling is one way to add gentle density to an established neighbourhood, as demonstrated by this project in Toronto by Eurodale Design + Build.

    LACKIE: Make way for multiplexes Toronto

  3. Real estate for-sale sign.

    LACKIE: Blame the sellers, not just their agents

Sellers who may have wondered if the time-was-now realizing they didn’t want to miss their moment.

There are many utterly baffled that the market has held. That prices have held. That the pain of 2022 didn’t reset the playing field.

They are adamant that any attempt to explain it by pointing to how grossly insufficient our inventory levels are is really just distortion and manipulation. The idea somehow being that people can be scammed into engaging and thus what we are really looking at is a mirage.

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They think our problems will be solved if buyers simply stay home. Refuse to show up to houses that are underlisted. Refuse to engage in multiple offers. Refuse to pay a dollar more than list price. Refuse to pay realtor fees. Refuse to participate.

Legislate agents into listing at market value. Legally obligate sellers to accept any offer that meets the price they chose to list at. Cap realtor fees. The list goes on.


We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Absent from all of this is the reality very much apparent on the ground: for all of the noise and anger, Toronto has not enough houses and more than enough willing participants who are capable of driving a marketplace.

By this time next week, we will have stats to support that the spring market is very much here and with it I expect we will note a sharp increase in transactions and a notable bump to average sale prices.

Is it a seasonal blip that will fizzle out as temperatures rise? Entirely possible. But even just a return to some seasonal rhythms in our marketplace would be a welcome return to normalcy.


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