At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of her peers were binge watching Netflix shows, Toronto’s Sewit Tamene decided she would finish getting her real estate licence, a process she had started almost a decade earlier.
The spring housing market could bring a reckoning for realtors in Canada
Realtors’ fate depends on whether buyers and sellers return in force and how that will affect prices
But by the time she completed the program in September 2022, the booming pandemic housing market had started to turn cold, with sales and new listings on the decline and prices rolling over, too. For Tamene, the timing was bad, but at least she still had a full-time job elsewhere. For her friends trying to launch careers in the industry, the transition has been more difficult.
“Maybe if they already had a history and they already had a client base and they were already sort of successful, it wouldn’t be hitting them as hard — but if you’re a newer agent, I definitely think that it’s a little bit more difficult to get going,” Tamene said. “Some realtors are definitely taking a pause or leaving the industry because there’s just not enough cake for everyone.”
The pressure on a swelling real estate profession — membership at the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has risen 17 per since the end of 2020 to 160,000 while the number of brokers and salespeople represented by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board is up 25 per cent since March 2020 — is just one of the storylines making this spring’s real estate market a make-or-break affair.
There’s just not enough cake for everyone
The big questions, the ones that will decide realtors’ fates, are whether buyers and sellers return in force and how that will affect prices.
The Bank of Canada’s dramatic interest rate hikes over the past year have reshaped lending markets, making homes even less affordable and pushing many would-be homebuyers to the sidelines.
Figures released by CREA on March 15 show that actual (non-seasonally adjusted) transactions in February 2023 came in 40 per cent below a strong February 2022. New listings also continued to fall in February 2023, decreasing by 7.9 per cent month over month and hitting record lows in some cities, including Calgary.
Industry observers have suggested the usually busy spring market might be the turning point that lures buyers and sellers back into the game, but that is hardly assured, and just where the balance of supply and demand lands will have significant consequences for the industry and the economy.
John Pasalis, president and broker of record at Toronto real estate brokerage, Realosophy, thinks demand has the upper hand. He said his brokerage has had lots of showings recently and that sales are growing faster than inventory. That is keeping the bidding process competitive and maintaining price levels, something he doesn’t see changing.
Pritesh Parekh, a Toronto realtor, said that while the lack of listings may be supporting prices, it is limiting the options for buyers.
“If a realtor is representing a buyer in this market, they’re definitely feeling the pressure of even finding homes that are suitable,” Parekh said. “And when they finally do find a property — and I’m talking more so houses than condos in this specific example — there are so many other buyers that are looking at that same home.”
“It was a market where properties were selling quickly and selling for high prices,” he said. “Part-timers doing lower volume sales or staying afloat based on the reality that there was a lot of business to go around, were selling properties relatively easily.”
Then, the market was buzzing from the Bank of Canada’s emergency interest rate cuts, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The overnight rate sat at 0.25 per cent for all of 2021. A previously hot market seemingly got hotter that year.
“Properties were selling without being staged, without having repairs — even properties that had negative attributes were still selling at prices people couldn’t believe,” Parekh said.
Parekh thinks this spring will show that buyers and sellers are tired of playing the waiting game.
“There were so many people who were looking to buy last year,” Parekh said. “And once prices started going down, they held off to see what happens next. There are still people in the market who have been waiting since last year, and at this point there’s going to be a segment of them who are tired of waiting and say, ‘You know what, I’m ready to pull the trigger.’”
Adil Dinani, a realtor with Royal LePage West in Vancouver, has been selling real estate for 17 years and has seen three major market corrections. He said he is optimistic about the spring market and believes that “the worst is behind us.”
But he thinks a reckoning may be ahead for the industry, with less-established agents being winnowed out over the next few years.
“I think real estate practitioners need to work to provide value, to display market knowledge and really understand what’s happening out there (in real estate) because it’s a confusing time,” Dinani said. “If you’re a first-time buyer and rates are five and a half, six per cent, and prices have come down but not that much — you want to know where the opportunities in the market are.”
In spite of the uncertainty, Tamene is optimistic the market will bounce back.
“Things have been slower these past few months which can be discouraging,” she said. “I’m not a gambler but if I were placing a bet on Toronto and its real estate market, I’m going all in because that’s how confident I am that things will turn around.”
Interest rate hikes and how they'll affect Canadians: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail
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.
Bank of Canada raises interest rate by a quarter percentage point
The Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point on Wednesday, restarting its campaign to tighten monetary policy after it paused in January. The move is in response to stubborn inflation and surprising resilience in the Canadian economy, reports Mark Rendell. Canada’s policy rate is now at its highest level since 2001.
Higher interest rates are coming for more than just mortgage borrowers
The central bank’s decision to increase its trend-setting rate to 4.75 per cent will immediately affect Canadians, writes Erica Alini. It will likely drive an uptick in consumer delinquencies and weigh on a recent rebound in home prices, experts say. It could also have ripple effects in the rental market, forcing some landlords to off-load investment properties. The first people to feel the sting will be those with debts that have variable interest rates: adjustable-rate mortgages and those who have lines of credit.
Floating your way into Vancouver’s housing market
Vancouver real estate is famously expensive, but there are some non-traditional ways into the market, writes Kerry Gold. Jen Abrams has lived for seven years in a 978-square-foot float house called the Lilypad, moored at Richmond Marina and walking distance to the SkyTrain station, which brings her downtown in 15 minutes. The Lilypad, one of three dozen float homes in the marina, is two floors, with kitchen, laundry room, dining and living rooms, one bedroom and den, patios, garden, storage and light filled rooms.
Home of the week: A converted church near Toronto’s High Park
384 Sunnyside Ave., unit 202, Toronto
In 2009, a century-old church building in Toronto’s leafy High Park neighbourhood was transformed into 24 residential lofts. This unit provides approximately 1,836 square feet of living space on two levels. The primary bedroom retains some of the character of the old church with wood rafters and a large arched window. There’s also a guest bedroom and a powder room on the main level.
What do you think is the asking price for this house?
a. The asking price is $1,999,990.
Surreal Estate: $28 million for a humongous North York mansion off Bayview with a 40-seat home theatre
Neighbourhood: Silver Hills
Size: 21,000 square feet
Parking spots: 12
Agent: Barry Cohen
A massive Silver Hills estate on Old Colony Road (a short walk from Bayview), with its own cellular antenna and underground filtration system. Nestled on a one-acre lot surrounded by greenery, this fortress—designed for a wealthy buyer who loves both entertaining and privacy—has so far piqued the interest of business moguls, celebrities and members of the Toronto Raptors. The mansion is loaded with over-the-top amenities: a family room the size of a dance hall, a Cineplex-grade home theatre, a 360-degree camera system, built-in face-recognition technology and voice-activated locks. In total, the place has over 15 kilometres of wiring within its walls.
Architect and designer Lisa McCann considers this state-of-the-art marvel her magnum opus. She spent the past six and a half years on the project, collaborating with her husband, Michael McCann, as well as more than 100 tradespeople. “I didn’t want this to be a subdivision on steroids,” she says. “I wanted to bring as much functionality as possible so that residents would never want to leave.”
Mature trees help camouflage the brick fortress in the summer, making it barely visible from the street.
A four-inch-thick front door intersects an elegant stone wall.
The foyer gives way to this Gatsby-like living room. The floor is limestone, and the outlets are painted custom off-white to hide even the smallest imperfections.
Moving through the space reveals the voice-activated fireplace, which can be turned on from any room. Modernist floor-to-ceiling windows lead to the side-yard tennis court.
The tennis court has an adjacent patio.
The family room’s south wing is really a 20-foot atrium, equipped with a wall-to-wall walk-out to the sprawling backyard.
Here’s a view of the atrium from the landing above. The McCanns say it’s ideal for a library or meditation space.
Next to the atrium on the main floor is the kitchen, which features rows of Lutron pot lights, laminate white cabinets and funky fluorescent counters. The glowing island anchors the room.
The main-floor bathroom comes with a ceiling grid light and dual powder stations with Boffi faucets sourced from Italy.
The glass-and-oak staircase serves as the home’s spine, contrasting with the rustic stone wall.
Upstairs, there are multiple walk-outs to the 72-foot wrap-around balcony.
Lisa’s favourite room on the second floor is what she calls the Frank Lloyd Wright office, inspired by the architect’s love of looking out at nature while working from his desk.
Down the hall are the two main bathrooms. First, the man cave: a grout-less porcelain wonder with a glass shower and a nine-foot vanity featuring Versace detailing.
And here’s its feminine counterpart, with a soaker tub, tons of storage and veined marble everywhere.
Here’s one of the house’s five bedrooms, each large enough to fit a king-sized bed, an entertainment unit and an office.
The main bedroom features a huge oak cloakroom with bespoke cabinets.
The wine room is something you’d expect to find in a Yorkville restaurant, built with help from Halpern Enterprises. Naturally, it fits 1,000 bottles.
Behold: the basement bathroom, with heated porcelain floors, a quartz vanity and black-and-grey mosaic tiles.
Finally, the showstopper—an 8K Cineplex-grade theatre with a 177-inch screen, surround sound, a space-themed ceiling and capacity for 40 people.
Have a home that’s about to hit the market? Send your property to [email protected].
Better.com lays off real estate team and shutters business unit
Digital mortgage lender Better.com is exiting the real estate business.
The struggling fintech startup laid off its real estate team on June 7, multiple sources confirmed to TechCrunch. The company is said to be shifting from an in-house agent model to a partnership agent model.
One person who was impacted by the move told TechCrunch that the agents had received “little to no severance…after getting a more than 50% salary cut in November in order to ‘ensure’ our jobs to come.”
TechCrunch reached out to Better.com, which declined to comment on the record. It is not clear how many people were impacted.
The news is not shocking considering that rumors of Better.com’s plans to exit the real estate business have swirled for some time as the housing market has experienced a major slowdown driven by rising mortgage interest rates. As early as April of 2022, TechCrunch reported that it was suspected that all of Better Real Estate could be scrapped. The unit was at one time the “baby” of the company, sources said, and where a big chunk of investment dollars were going to go toward in 2022.
Better had been vocal about its desire to build out its purchase experience and move beyond digital lending to help people find and purchase homes — hence changing its name from Better Mortgage to just Better. It was also working to expand value-added offerings like title and homeowner’s insurance as part of its product suite.
“They wanted to touch every part of home ownership,” a source close to the company who preferred to remain anonymous told TechCrunch at the time. “The company invested resources in building out consumer experiences and agent-facing tools for the Better Real Estate business, including its first native mobile app, not all of which came to fruition, given the trajectory of the business.”
Better Real Estate aimed to be competitive with the likes of Zillow and Redfin, and the company had reportedly followed the same salaried-agent model.
Better.com has been making headlines for its layoffs since it first gained notoriety by laying off about 900 employees over Zoom on December 1, 2021. It has since been laying off smaller groups very systematically, say sources. Last August, TechCrunch also reported the fact that Better.com had conducted its fourth round of layoffs since the previous December.
The company is not exactly known for its tactful approach to letting employees go. In less than a nine-month period, it let go of thousands of workers, saw numerous senior executives step down and delayed a SPAC that it still claims to be working toward.
In March, TechCrunch reported Better.com’s SPAC deal with Aurora Acquisition Corp. got a new lease on life, extending its timeframe to close the transaction through the end of Q3 2023.
Interest rate hikes and how they'll affect Canadians: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail
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