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Plenty of room for house prices in Canada to rise as interest rates stay low – CBC.ca

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In what’s shaping up as a post-pandemic battle for talent, an Ontario company has a plan to harness the Canadian itch to get into the property market with a scheme to attract and keep young employees.

Friday’s jobs numbers will give us a better idea of whether the incentive is necessary, but Crozier Consulting Engineers says it is offering new employees $20,000 to make it easier to fight their way into an overheated real estate market that simply refuses to die.

We’ll get a reading on the state of the national market next week when the Canadian Real Estate Association comes out with its latest data on resale homes, but Crozier’s housing incentive is only one snippet of news this week that shows — to paraphrase Mark Twain — reports of the demise of the housing market have been greatly exaggerated.

“We have seen first-hand the increasing demand for residential development and the frustrating situations our employees find themselves in, such as extreme bidding wars, when trying to buy their first home in today’s market,” said Nick Mocan, president of the company based in Collingwood, Ont.

Stoking the market

Before you rush to put your name in, some conditions do apply — as such offers always say in the fine print — including that the scheme only works for first-time buyers.

Similar to the federal First Time Home Buyer Incentive program, announced in the 2019 budget, it kind of helps boost the down payment for people, most of them young, struggling to get into a dog-eat-dog real estate market. Latest data from that federal scheme shows that nearly 11,000 people applied for shared equity mortgages, which represents more than $200 million in homebuyer support.

Home prices in Collingwood, Ont., continue to rise as people from bigger cities look for affordable real estate — making it harder for local residents to break into the market. An engineering company in the town is offering new employees $20,000 to make it easier for them to buy a home. (Don Pittis/CBC)

But whether from an employer or from the government, while such incentives give individual recipients an advantage, overall they merely stoke an already hot market that just doesn’t seem to want to cool.

“It’s not really surprising because the cost of borrowing is still low,” said Samantha Brookes, CEO of Toronto brokerage firm Mortgages of Canada. “And as long as the cost of borrowing remains low, you’re always going to have a lot of activity in the market.”

And there is no question that interest rates are staying low. For those who fit the criteria, mortgage broker Ratehub.ca this week declared a new record low for a five-year variable rate mortgage of 0.98 percent. At that rate, a million-dollar house will cost you $10,000 a year in interest.

No wonder the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) upped its 2021 forecast for this year. Previously the board, which covers properties in the Greater Toronto Area, predicted there would be 105,000 transactions with an average selling price of $1.025 million. It has now increased that outlook to 115,000 sales at prices averaging $1.070 million.

‘Persistent lack of inventory’

However, that latest higher forecast is based on an exceptional run of sales at the beginning of the year — and sales are now expected to trend below those record levels, the group announced Tuesday. That said, TRREB market analyst Jason Mercer expects a shortage of houses on the market will keep prices high.

“A persistent lack of inventory across most segments of the market will keep competition between buyers strong, resulting in an average selling price well above $1 million through the end of 2021,” Mercer said in a news release announcing the latest data.

Just like statistics from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver this week, sales were down month over month in Toronto. But Vancouver data shows they were still strong by other measures. Sales in Metro Vancouver were up more than 50 per cent from the depths of the pandemic, but more significantly they were 18 per cent higher than the 10-year average for the month of June.

According to statistics released by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver this week, house sales in June were down 11.9 per cent from May. But they were 18 per cent higher than the 10-year average for the month of June. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The debate continues over whether the continued buying frenzy, driven by low interest rates, needs to be controlled by tighter regulations to prevent a bubble that would pop once interest rates begin to rise.

But if the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), traditionally the country’s largest mortgage insurer, had hoped to use its clout to bring the market under control, that was reversed this week — one more potential boost to the market.

The housing agency announced last summer that it planned to raise its underwriting standards to require higher credit scores, lower debt ratios and a ban on borrowing money for a down payment if it was going to insure someone’s mortgage.

For those who don’t know, mortgage insurance protects the lender, not you, the mortgage borrower. By lifting its standards, the CMHC hoped to concentrate the minds of banks and other lenders, forcing them to lend only to those least likely to default in a future recession.

Private-sector competition

But this week, the government agency announced it was reverting to the old lower standards after private insurers Canada Guaranty and Genworth, now operating under the name Sagen, failed to follow suit. So borrowers simply switched from CMHC to its private competitors, resulting in a plunge in the federal agency’s market share.

A debate continues over whether the cause of rising prices is a shortage of housing or whether — as Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem has warned — it is increasingly driven by a rush to buy properties to take advantage of their rising value as returns on other safe investments stagnate.

From her experience, Brookes of Mortgages of Canada is one of those who believe the market is at least partly driven by new Canadians getting on the property ladder, but she sees an end in sight to soaring prices.

“This will not continue, I can guarantee you that much,” she said. “Because at some point, markets have to level out, and that’s going to happen once rates start to increase.”

WATCH | Tougher stress test makes it harder to get a mortgage in Canada:

As of June 1, Canadian homebuyers will face a tougher mortgage stress test. The new rules will make it harder to get into the housing market now, but could make it easier for others down the road. 1:57

But at the Collingwood engineering firm, Nick Mocan said that the company’s real estate incentive is paying off, allowing employees to be able to find a place to live near town rather than making long commutes. So far, nine employee have received the benefit, and he is certain it inspires loyalty. Other companies looking to find and retain staff may be taking note.

“The interest is rather overwhelming,” Mocan said.

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter @don_pittis

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Boutique Ottawa real estate firms find freedom in doing business their own way – Ottawa Business Journal

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After more than a decade in commercial real estate, John Zinati had settled into a comfortable career as a leasing manager at a well-known locally owned Ottawa firm and could have simply counted down the days until retirement.

Instead, he chose a different path. In 2016, he launched Zinati Realty, a boutique brokerage that serves mainly owners and landlords in the office, retail and industrial sectors. 

Since then, Zinati has brought on two more brokers and is looking to expand his team further as the industry slowly works its way toward a post-pandemic future. Looking back on his decision to leave the security of an established firm for the uncertainty of life as an entrepreneur, he has no regrets.

“I was just faced with too many limitations, so I made the decision to go out on my own,” Zinati explains. 

“Being nimble and quick and working closely with these owners to get their spaces filled or get their buildings sold is really rewarding.”

Zinati is one of a growing number of local real estate executives who’ve left comfortable, secure jobs at established big-name companies to start their own brokerages and advisory firms.

Many of these owner-brokers point to the freedom of being able to make their own decisions and do their own deals without having to answer to corporate bosses as a major factor in making the leap.

“I think commercial real estate brokerage in the boutique setting is one of the last few places where you can just earn more with a little bit more elbow grease,” says Darren Fleming, the CEO of Real Strategy Advisors. “There’s so much upside.”

Before launching his own firm, Fleming spent seven years as managing director of Cresa’s Ottawa office. His lengthy real estate resume also includes four years as a sales representative at Colliers International and a one-year stint as a leasing agent with Montreal-based developer Canderel. 

In 2016, Fleming sold his shares in Cresa, left the company and enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. 

The following year, he launched Real Strategy Advisors, which provides advisory and brokerage services to office tenants in the tech, professional services and not-for-profit sectors.

He’s never looked back. Too often, Fleming says, strict corporate policies at bigger firms put entrepreneurial-minded brokers in a straightjacket. He points to an example from early in his career, when an employer told him he was storing too much sales data on a company server. 

“I think I’m addicted to being an entrepreneur and being my own boss,” Fleming says. “Are there days when you wish someone would sign off on payroll other than you? Yeah, but it’s worth it in the end.”

KOBLE thriving

Graeme Webster is a partner at Ottawa’s KOBLE Commercial Real Estate, a firm that brokers mainly off-market and unlisted office and industrial transactions for buyers such as entrepreneurs and well-heeled professionals looking to build up their investment portfolios.

He and fellow partner Marc Morin founded KOBLE seven and a half years ago after cutting their teeth for more than a decade at large, well-established firms. Webster says he thrives on the feeling of satisfaction he gets from navigating clients through deals that can set them up for retirement or attain assets that can be passed on to future generations. 

“Our focus is to help people establish that family legacy,” he says. “Real estate is really just the tool to allow them to do that.”

Now at six employees, KOBLE recently brought Ottawa commercial real estate veteran Richard Getz on board as a senior adviser. The firm is also looking to hire someone to oversee its business operations as it continues to expand.

Webster says that despite the overall uncertainty facing the industry at the moment, KOBLE is thriving. The firm has more deals in its pipeline than at any other time in its history, a development he attributes largely to the city’s reputation for being a safe haven in times of economic turmoil.

“It’s a place where when there’s volatility, people want to jump in (the market),” he explains.

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Boutique Ottawa real estate firms find freedom in doing business their own way – Ottawa Business Journal

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After more than a decade in commercial real estate, John Zinati had settled into a comfortable career as a leasing manager at a well-known locally owned Ottawa firm and could have simply counted down the days until retirement.

Instead, he chose a different path. In 2016, he launched Zinati Realty, a boutique brokerage that serves mainly owners and landlords in the office, retail and industrial sectors. 

Since then, Zinati has brought on two more brokers and is looking to expand his team further as the industry slowly works its way toward a post-pandemic future. Looking back on his decision to leave the security of an established firm for the uncertainty of life as an entrepreneur, he has no regrets.

“I was just faced with too many limitations, so I made the decision to go out on my own,” Zinati explains. 

“Being nimble and quick and working closely with these owners to get their spaces filled or get their buildings sold is really rewarding.”

Zinati is one of a growing number of local real estate executives who’ve left comfortable, secure jobs at established big-name companies to start their own brokerages and advisory firms.

Many of these owner-brokers point to the freedom of being able to make their own decisions and do their own deals without having to answer to corporate bosses as a major factor in making the leap.

“I think commercial real estate brokerage in the boutique setting is one of the last few places where you can just earn more with a little bit more elbow grease,” says Darren Fleming, the CEO of Real Strategy Advisors. “There’s so much upside.”

Before launching his own firm, Fleming spent seven years as managing director of Cresa’s Ottawa office. His lengthy real estate resume also includes four years as a sales representative at Colliers International and a one-year stint as a leasing agent with Montreal-based developer Canderel. 

In 2016, Fleming sold his shares in Cresa, left the company and enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. 

The following year, he launched Real Strategy Advisors, which provides advisory and brokerage services to office tenants in the tech, professional services and not-for-profit sectors.

He’s never looked back. Too often, Fleming says, strict corporate policies at bigger firms put entrepreneurial-minded brokers in a straightjacket. He points to an example from early in his career, when an employer told him he was storing too much sales data on a company server. 

“I think I’m addicted to being an entrepreneur and being my own boss,” Fleming says. “Are there days when you wish someone would sign off on payroll other than you? Yeah, but it’s worth it in the end.”

KOBLE thriving

Graeme Webster is a partner at Ottawa’s KOBLE Commercial Real Estate, a firm that brokers mainly off-market and unlisted office and industrial transactions for buyers such as entrepreneurs and well-heeled professionals looking to build up their investment portfolios.

He and fellow partner Marc Morin founded KOBLE seven and a half years ago after cutting their teeth for more than a decade at large, well-established firms. Webster says he thrives on the feeling of satisfaction he gets from navigating clients through deals that can set them up for retirement or attain assets that can be passed on to future generations. 

“Our focus is to help people establish that family legacy,” he says. “Real estate is really just the tool to allow them to do that.”

Now at six employees, KOBLE recently brought Ottawa commercial real estate veteran Richard Getz on board as a senior adviser. The firm is also looking to hire someone to oversee its business operations as it continues to expand.

Webster says that despite the overall uncertainty facing the industry at the moment, KOBLE is thriving. The firm has more deals in its pipeline than at any other time in its history, a development he attributes largely to the city’s reputation for being a safe haven in times of economic turmoil.

“It’s a place where when there’s volatility, people want to jump in (the market),” he explains.

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City incentives, 'red-hot' real estate market fuel action on brownfields – Windsor Star

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A city program created in 2010 to entice investors to build on contaminated old industrial sites has been blazingly successful in the last 18 months.

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In its first six years, uptake on the Brownfield Redevelopment Community Improvement Plan was tepid — just four approvals for grants to help investigate possible contamination and tax breaks to compensate for the considerable costs of cleanup. Things sped up in the next four years with 23 approvals. And since January 2020, interest has kicked into high gear with 15 approvals. The increased interest has been driven by the attractiveness of the incentives and the red-hot demand for housing, says Greg Atkinson, a senior City of Windsor planner who has administered the program since its inception.

“When I put the numbers together I was quite impressed,” he said Wednesday, referring to a recent report on the program’s success and suggested tweaks. Normally, such a review happens after five years but there wasn’t enough data available due to the low initial uptake.

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“We’ve got that now,” said Atkinson, referring to the 42 total approvals — most of which happened in the last few years — to spur new projects on these usually vacant properties contaminated by years of use as factories, dry cleaners, fuel depots, landfills and gas stations.

City council has so far approved $13.2 million in incentives to drive redevelopment of derelict old properties. The result is private sector investment to the tune of $182.7 million and a rise in the assessed value of the properties totaling $216.2 million.

“Just doing quick math, it’s close to $14 in private investment for every public dollar in incentives,” Atkinson said. “So value for money, this community improvement plan (one of several created by the city in recent years) is really performing well.”

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Greg Atkinson, a City of Windsor senior planner, stands by a vacant brownfield site on Riverside Drive in April 2016. Since January 2020 there have been 15 applications to the Brownfield Redevelopment Community Improvement Plan.
Greg Atkinson, a City of Windsor senior planner, stands by a vacant brownfield site on Riverside Drive in April 2016. Since January 2020 there have been 15 applications to the Brownfield Redevelopment Community Improvement Plan. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor Star

A study conducted in 2009 identified 137 brownfield properties on 559 acres that had sat unused for many years. “Historically, there has been little interest in redeveloping brownfield sites due to the uncertainty surrounding the extent of contamination and the potential cost of cleanup,” Atkinson’s report said.

Mayor Drew Dilkens said the CIP was designed to change that.

“With the combination of the program and a hot real estate market, we’re seeing a lot of action,” he said, explaining that developers are looking everywhere — including these brownfields — for places to build.

“Having this program … is really instrumental in seeing some of the more difficult land activated in an improved way.”

The first application was approved back in 2012, for redevelopment of a long-abandoned gas station at Dougall Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. Andre and Hoda Abouasli used the grants available to help clean up contamination before building an attractive commercial building. The project served as a visible example of what the CIP can do to transform eyesores throughout the city, Atkinson said.

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The projects since have ranged from modest to major. The biggest by far was for up to $12.5 million in incentives to help with the cleanup of the former GM Trim plant on Lauzon Road so that Farhi Holdings could proceed with a massive $250-million residential development that’s one of the biggest in the city’s history. A cleanup costing $6.5 million to remove contaminated soil and remove the footings and concrete from the former building cleared the way for the project, which is well underway.

Other big projects approved recently approved include: $3 million in incentives for the 123-unit Graffiti residential/commercial project at 1200 University Avenue West; $457,700 for an 81-unit apartment project on Argyle Road, formerly the site of a pharmaceutical plant destroyed in a 2018 fire; and $579,185 for a project to build a 24-unit residential building at 840 Wyandotte St. E., formerly a commercial building destroyed in a 2016 fire.

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And in June, a committee of council endorsed a CIP application to help with the $81,600 cleanup of an 11-acre former industrial site bounded by Walker Road, Edna Street, St. Luke Road and Richmond Street. The owner, the Sood family, has a plan to build three five-storey towers with 62 units each, plus 90 two-storey townhouses. It’s a development that Atkinson believes will help link up Walkerville and Ford City, which for decades have been separated by industrial wasteland.

The CIP provides grants for 50 per cent of the cost of studies to see how feasible it is to redevelop a brownfield and study what it would cost to clean it up. Those are cheques the city writes in the range of $7,500 to $25,000. The CIP can also reduce development charges by 60 per cent. But the biggest incentives by far are the Brownfields Property Tax Assistance and Brownfield Rehabilitation Grant
programs, which provide annual grants to offset either 70 or 100 per cent of the tax increases that occur after a brownfield site is redeveloped into something more valuable, like an apartment building. The grants are paid out for 10 or 13 years and can end up saving developers many thousands of dollars — after the projects are built.

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  1. Developer Anuj Sood talks about progress made to rental units on Walker Road in Walkerville, on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

    As Walker Road townhouses near completion, Soods plan transformation of industrial wasteland

  2. Farhi Holding Corporation drawing for 1600 Lauzon Road.

    ‘Massive’ 543-home project starts this fall at former GM Trim site

“The whole premise is the city is not collecting a lot of tax revenue, in some cases almost nothing, from these properties that are negatively impacting their neighbourhoods,” said Atkinson. “So forgoing some of that tax revenue, over a 10-year grant period, is a low price to pay for a redevelopment where you might get 50 dwelling units where you had vacant land before.”

If all 42 of the approvals proceed, the result will be 962 new dwelling units on 119.2 acres of brownfields. Based on a metric from a 2003 national round table, that would prevent 512 acres of greenfield from being developed, according to Atkinson’s report. In addition, the spinoff effect of $182.7 million in private investment is $694 million invested into the economy.

bcross@postmedia.com

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