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Loaded with cash, real estate buyers wait for sellers to crack – BNNBloomberg.ca

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The world’s biggest real estate investors are sitting on piles of cash, preparing for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities created by the pandemic.

With economies around the world sputtering, commercial real estate prices are expected to come down. How much they’ll fall is the key question.

Sellers are currently willing to concede discounts of around five per cent, while bidders are hoping for about 20 per cent off pre-pandemic prices, said Charles Hewlett, managing director at Rclco Real Estate Advisors. That estimated gap, which is likely wider in specific cases, has put a freeze on deals.

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“The mantra for anything that hasn’t gotten started is: delay, defer and, in many cases, renegotiate,” Hewlett said. “If I’m going to have vintage May 2020 on my books, I want to be able to demonstrate to my investors that I got an exceptionally good deal.”

Dry Powder

Private equity firms across the globe hold an estimated US$328 billion in dry powder for real estate deployment, according to the data firm Preqin Ltd. Prior to the crisis, asset prices had been pushed up as investors chased yield in riskier corners of the property market. Now, Blackstone Group Inc. and Brookfield Asset Management Inc., the largest real estate investing companies, are expected to hunt for bargains among the fallout from the pandemic.

For now, social distancing rules and a virtual travel halt have stalled transactions and led to speculation that prices will drop in coming months.

“The physical restrictions taking place are mostly preventing new deals from happening,” Tom Leahy, a London-based senior director at Real Capital Analytics Inc. said. “Far fewer active buyers, far fewer deals, an increase of deals falling out of contract — those are the preludes to seeing prices fall when the market does come back.”

The volume of deals in Europe plunged 65 per cent in April from a year earlier, according to Leahy. U.S. and Asian markets faced similar drops.

Asia, where the pandemic began, is likely to recover faster than Europe or America, as Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and parts of China reopen for business, according to Richard Barkham, chief economist for CBRE Group Inc. Transactions in the Americas will fall an estimated 35 per cent this year, compared with a roughly 25 per cent decline in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Takes Time

Still, New York-based Blackstone, which had US$538 billion in assets under management at the end of March, is “starting to see some rescue situations,” President Jonathan Gray said during an earnings call last month. He added that “distress takes time to play out.”

Brookfield, meanwhile, has US$60 billion “ready to be deployed globally as opportunities arise,” Chief Executive Officer Bruce Flatt said last week.

“In reflecting on what really matters to our business, it is liquidity, liquidity and liquidity, in that order,” he wrote in a letter to shareholders.

The firms with money to spend first have to figure out what do do with some of their more vulnerable recent investments. Blackstone said last month that its real estate portfolio, which represents about 30 per cent of its assets under management, is concentrated in “sectors that have shown greater resilience to Covid-related headwinds.”

Still, not all its bets look like winners. In late February, Blackstone announced a deal to buy a $6 billion portfolio of university dormitories in the U.K. popular with international students.

Head Scratching

“Are they scratching their heads about having put money into the student business?” Chris Grigg, CEO of British Land Co., one of the U.K.’s largest commercial landlords, said. “You’d guess they probably are a bit.”

Brookfield made waves with a US$15 billion bet on malls in 2018. But with retail stores shuttered and more consumers shopping online, the company recently announced a US$5 billion retail revitalization program.

Until shopping, commuting and travel become routine again, it will be hard for investors to agree on what malls, hotels, offices and other properties are worth.

“Proof is really going to be when the markets start to reopen when buyers and sellers find a middle ground with what’s going to happen with pricing,” Real Capital’s Leahy said. “It’s going to be asymmetrical. Different sectors and different geographies are going to be factors. There’s not going to be a uniform recovery.”

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More tall towers being proposed, approved and completed in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and Coquitlam

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There are 20 development projects with towers over 45 storeys that are selling condo units, under construction or near completion.

Developers are seeking approval for two 50-storey towers in the same block where Surrey city council recently gave the greenlight for what will be its tallest building at 67 storeys.

And there are several proposals for more tall towers like this in Surrey that haven’t been made public yet.

“There are ones of similar heights that are moving forward,” said Chris Dikeakos of Vancouver-based Chris Dikeakos Architects Inc. “And it’s not just in Surrey. Burnaby is another municipality. Coquitlam is starting to get applications for some much taller towers.”

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He added that with increased land and construction costs, developers are motivated to use all the density they can get and build taller towers. However, there is also a point where it stops making sense to push higher “because things like the cost of structural systems increase as you go higher.”

Across Metro Vancouver, there are more than 20 towers over 45 storeys that have been approved by municipal governments, according to data from Zonda Urban market analyst Justin Lee. More than half of these are in Burnaby. Five are in Coquitlam and Port Moody, while Downtown Vancouver, New Westminster and Surrey have one each.

Some are under construction, like the first phase of Onni Development’s Gilmore Place in Burnaby with its 64-storey towers. Others are closer to completion like Westbank’s The Butterfly at 57 storeys in the West End.

After these, there are 40 more tall-tower projects that have been publicly presented to city councils and are in some stage of seeking approval. Most are in Burnaby and Surrey, followed by Downtown Vancouver and Coquitlam.

“We’ll see if economic conditions allow for them to be built,” said Dikeakos, whose firm is working on the new tall tower approved in Surrey and other projects.

In late 2019, Pinnacle International Development made a proposal for a site near the Lougheed SkyTrain Station. It had three towers including one that would be 80 storeys and 250 metres tall. They would be the tallest buildings in Western Canada. Some more details were presented to Burnaby city council in May 2022 for towers of 80, 76 and 73 storeys, but the project has not progressed further with the city.

Bosa Properties initially proposed a project with two 70-storey towers on Kingsway near the Metrotown SkyTrain Station, but there haven’t been any further details since it was initially presented to Burnaby council in 2021. In December 2022, Bosa sold the site to Keltic Canada Development for more than $100 million.

Metro King by Anthem Properties is a proposal for a 66-storey tower between Kingsway and Hazel streets across from Metrotown that is nearing a final decision by the City of Burnaby.

This pipeline of potential projects is happening as cities have focused on adding density to sites near transit stations and town centres, according to Dikeakos.

“The taller buildings in these types of developments that you are going to be seeing tend to be real, mixed-use ones, meaning they have a commercial base with significant office or hotel use where the first 15 to 20 storeys are commercial even before you get to the residential portion,” he said.

His firm in recent years completed Station Square at Metrotown, which has five towers with the tallest being 54 storeys.

“One of the interesting changes that we’re seeing is that because these developments are being done near transit sites, cities are requiring less parking,” said Dikeakos. “If we had to do the same amount of parking required a few years ago, the depth of these excavations would make them completely unfeasible. (When) we’re not required to do as much parking, it allows us to do these taller towers and still make some financial sense.”

Even though developers are motivated to deal with increasing land and construction costs by building higher, there is a turning point. It will obviously be different for each project, but Dikeakos said that for the Station Square project, it was somewhere at the 52- to 55-storey height.

“That was the maximum we wanted to go in that particular case because things like the cost of structural systems increase as you go higher. The number of elevators potentially increases. Window-washing systems become more complex. There are all sorts of things that actually do add to the overall cost of these taller buildings.”

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Historic Muskoka Resort Hits the Market for $12M

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An iconic Muskoka resort has just hit cottage country’s real estate market.

For those looking for a new business venture in the summertime hot spot, Windermere House has just been listed for $12M.

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Windermere House

The sprawling, long-time landmark sits on Lake Rosseau — one of the “Big Three” Muskoka lakes — and is known for its quintessential Old Muskoka charm mixed with modern luxury and amenities. Beloved by both tourists and local cottagers, the picturesque resort has been synonymous with Muskoka tourism since 1870.

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Windermere House

Known as ‘The Lady of The Lake,’ this 56-room resort hotel sits in a prime location in the Village of Windermere, overlooking the stunning lake. Offering a dose of timeless charm, its historic features include original stone architecture, a charming veranda, and classic Muskoka-style windows. The hotel features several food and beverage outlets, full-service spa capabilities, and a 3,200 sq. ft. of function space that ranges from a private boardroom to state-of-the-art conference facilities.

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Windermere House

With quintessential cottage country recreation front and centre, the 6.62-acre resort features a heated outdoor swimming pool, tennis court, sand beach, marina, and golf course.

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Windermere House

The new owner of the property will have the opportunity to take up residence in Windermere Cottage, the traditional four-bedroom private cottage with a separate entrance from Fife Avenue that can also be rented as an additional resort property. Or, as the listing highlights, there’s also the option to personalize a penthouse “cottage” suite within the hotel.

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Windermere House

The Muskoka chair-filled property includes three detached staff houses, an older, staggered row-style 10-plex, and ample on-site parking.

While its price tag isn’t within reach of everyone, considering that most of the sprawling cottages on the lake sell for upwards of $5M — coupled with its inevitable income-generating potential — the property may be considered a steal for someone in the market for a breezy new business venture.

Find the full listing here.

Written By
Erin Nicole Davis

Erin Nicole Davis is a born and raised Toronto writer with a passion for the city and its urban affairs and culture.

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Toronto building home to historic pub to be converted into new hotel

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Toronto is getting a new hotel by expanding an old hotel that has spent decades not being a hotel. I know, very confusing, but I can totally explain.

A four-storey building that has stood at the southwest corner of Church Street and Richmond Street East for over 140 years could soon undergo a significant transformation.

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The building at 124 Church Street was originally constructed as a hotel in the 1880s, and after 14 decades, a developer has filed plans to bring the property back to its roots with a renovation and expansion supporting a new boutique hotel.

M&G Hotels Limited has big plans for the property, filing a minor variance application that calls for a YY Architecture Studio-designed addition extending the building’s roofline and providing additional space for hotel and other hospitality uses.

This address has been home to McVeigh’s Irish Pub since 1962, and despite major changes on the horizon for the property, it looks like the bar will maintain its presence in the building, and be left practically undisturbed through the renovations.

Plans for the site show little modifications in store for the first two levels of the existing building, aside from a new elevator shaft and other small changes.

The current space occupied by McVeigh’s is listed simply as “existing bar” and “existing kitchen” in plans, a good indication that the establishment will maintain its long-term presence at the intersection.

New floors would be added above the current parapet, bringing the existing four-storey building to an increased height of six levels.

A total of 24 hotel suites are planned on levels three through six, topped by a new rooftop bar and terrace.

The rejuvenated hospitality property will reportedly operate under the branding Clover Hotel, and this will not be the first time that the site or even the current building has been home to a hotel.

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Diagram of the proposal showing additional floors and rooftop bar space. Image via City of Toronto development application.

The southwest corner of Church and Richmond has been home to bars and hotels since the mid-19th century, and the current 1882-built structure was originally constructed as a hotel, replacing an earlier timber hotel building dating back to the 1850s.

Opened as the Windsor Hotel and later renamed the New Windsor Hotel in the early 20th century, the building was maintained as a hotel into the 1960s.

Plans to expand the building and open a hotel are just some of the big changes happening to the property.

The existing building at 124 Church Street stands as the lone holdout against a huge condo development now under construction that will soon tower over the property’s south and west elevations.

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