Late in September, tech entrepreneur Minna Van was at her co-working office space in downtown Vancouver when a convoy of more than 100 logging trucks began a slow journey past her windows, horns blaring continuously.
“I was really irritated, and then I thought, ‘What is this about?’ So, I looked them up,” says Ms. Van, who is also co-founder of the Network Hub, one of the oldest co-working-office-space businesses in Canada. The Hub is an independent business that launched its first location in 2006 at 422 Richards St., in downtown Vancouver. It has since expanded across the country.
Ms. Van discovered that the truckers were protesting the loss of jobs, making their outrage known to the elected officials who had gathered for an annual convention. She saw an opportunity to help.
Commercial space is what grounds community, it’s what grounds culture and the arts – it’s where creativity and innovation happens. Where else would people convene?
— Minna Van, co-founder of The Network Hub
“I thought about my dad when he came here from Vietnam when he was in his 40s, and I remember what it was like for him to find another job. It’s very challenging, especially in an industry that is forever shifting – and not in a good way.”
With other Network Hub colleagues, she developed a virtual class to help people obtain employment. They reached out to former mill workers in remote locations such as Williams Lake, B.C., so that they could pick up a new tech-focused skillset.
It is one of several tech, arts and culture programs that she has helped develop as a non-profit arm of the business, West Coast Technology Innovation Foundation. The classes are free, and it is part of a business model that doesn’t just offer shared office space, but also an incubator for development, networking for entrepreneurs and a place for people to gather, whether it be for a crafts fair or a chef’s long table.
Building a business and a community
Ms. Van has a unique perspective on scaling her business because she sees commercial real estate as playing a key role within any community. It’s not just about renting space.
“Commercial space is what grounds community,” she says, seated inside her second Vancouver co-worker space, Chinatown House. “It’s what grounds culture and the arts – it’s where creativity and innovation happens. Where else would people convene?”
Their corporate culture is decidedly anti-corporate. There is no organizational chart. There is no C-Suite. One time, a person called and asked to speak to the chief executive and she responded: “No such person exists.”
The co-working spaces have an earthy vibe, with bikes in a corner, or a guitar on display. The system means lower rents for the workers, who can either rent long-term offices or temporary desk space. And businesses are vetted to ensure that they are a good fit with the culture.
First foray into business was intimidating, but attracted big names
Ms. Van says she developed the strong survivalist work ethic early on. She started her first tech business in high school. The co-working business was serendipitous: When she left university, she needed an office for her tech company.
She and her partners leased the 3,500-square-foot unfinished space and decided to rent the rest of the floor out to other businesses. The Network Hub was born. Capital costs were intimidating for the young owners. They poured $25,000 into new flooring alone.
And although the economic downturn of 2008 put many of their members out of business, the Network Hub survived because the owners had their tech jobs to carry them through. They also survived the arrival of major co-working companies such as Regus and WeWork, which swallowed up a lot of the smaller co-working spaces, she says.
“Everyone was scared. How could they not be? But it was a good thing they did come, because people who really know their market are the ones left standing,” Ms. Van says.
The beauty of the Network Hub is that it brings skilled people together, she says. They do not have to work in silos – although they can, if they want to. But if a worker were to walk by a class as another member is teaching it, they may just decide to sit in, even if it’s not their interest.
Ms. Van has seen individuals at the Hub start businesses. She’s seen others meet their spouses.
Some of the household names that have used the Hub include Google and Facebook. She believes that “digital fluency” is an empowering skill and is hoping that the Network Hub entrepreneurs will hire the students who graduate from the virtual programs, which take up most of her time these days.
Providing options is the ultimate goal
Ms. Van has no desire to teach, but she does a lot of the programming.
“We want to provide options for people,” Ms. Van says. Chinatown House is reflective of her mission as an entrepreneur: to create space in a holistic way, connecting small business, arts, education and non-profit opportunities.
At Chinatown House, the spaces are rented to non-profit groups with a focus on addressing the challenges of Chinatown residents, whose lives are increasingly being encroached upon by gentrification.
Scaling a community-based business is not easy, but Ms. Van says it is a necessary model for commercial real estate. The Network Hub has moved into other markets in the province, including Nanaimo, New Westminster and Whistler, as well as Calgary and Toronto.
Spaces must be a minimum of 2,500 square feet. She says that instead of merely “plunking down” and marketing the office spaces, they usually respond to invitations from developers, business people or elected officials who see a need in the neighbourhood. New Westminster, for example, was lacking co-working spaces.
“The community has to be there for me. That’s where I feel the confidence,” she says. “Now I feel that I want to give back. And I have some time to do it.”
Moody’s Doubles Down On Forecast of Canadian Real Estate Prices Falling Soon – Better Dwelling
One of the world’s largest credit rating agencies doubled down on its Canadian home price forecast. Moody’s Analytics sent clients its September update on Canadian real estate prices. The forecast reiterates they expect price declines to begin towards the end of this year. The report also names impacted cities this time, with Toronto expected to be a leader lower.
A quick note on reading Moody’s charts, which includes “forecast vintages.” If you’ve only looked at consumer forecasts, these might be new. They’re scenarios that vary depending on the forecasting model’s inputs. Instead of giving a forecast like, “prices will drop x%,” they give a range based on factors. These factors are fundamentals that have typically supported prices.
The Moody’s forecast shows vintages as baseline, S1, S3, and S4. The September baseline is the scenario they believe has the highest probability. The S1 is what happens if indicators are better than expected. This would mean unemployment drops fast, and disposable income doesn’t fall much. The S3 is what happens if fundamentals are worse than expected. S4 is the worst scenario that can unfold in a reasonable amount of time. Abrupt scenarios and black swans can still be worse. It’s just those are outside of the range of reasonable expectations.
Canadian Real Estate Markets To Start Showing Weaknesses Soon
Moody’s previous forecast didn’t expect the market to show signs of weakness until Q3, and they’re doubling down. The report’s economist expects stimulus, mortgage deferrals, and interest rates to contain damage until Q3. They expect by Q3, the optimism of those programs will begin to wear thin. The reality of how meaningful the improvements are, should be apparent by then. The optimism should then fade. It’s at this point they believe prices can no longer defy employment, vacancy, and delinquency rates.
Canadian Real Estate Prices To Drop Around 7%
The firm expects all scenarios to show a drop in the near future, but how much depends on fundamentals. In the September baseline, the firm’s economist is forecasting a ~7% decline at the national level. This scenario expects unemployment at 8.56%, and a 2% drop of disposable income next year. Since the rise in disposable income was due to temporary supports, the fall is expected.
In the other scenarios, things vary from a brief drop to a very deep, multi-year decline. In the S1 scenario, there’s only a brief dip in Q1, before prices rocket even faster and higher. In S3, a slightly worse than base case, prices fall about 15%, taking them back to 2016 levels. In S4, if disposable income, GDP, and/or unemployment worsen, prices drop about 22%, back to 2015 levels. Of course, this trend isn’t evenly distributed across Canada. However, it’s also not distributed how most might expect.
Prairie Cities and Toronto Real Estate To Lead The Declines
The base case sees Prairie cities and Toronto real estate leading price declines. Calgary, Edmonton, and Regina lead the drop, with a peak-to-trough decline between 9 to 10%. This is a trend already apparent in the regions’ condo markets. Toronto, a little more unexpected, is forecasted to see a 9% price drop, from peak to trough. Vancouver’s drop is forecasted below the national average, with an average decline of almost 7%. The last market is interesting, since other organizations gave Vancouver much worse forecasts.
Toronto Real Estate To Experience Uneven Declines Across Regions
The base case for Toronto expects an uneven decline, with some regions harder hit. The drop across Toronto CMA is expected to be about 9%, from peak to trough. Pickering should see smaller declines, but experience minimal growth through 2025. Markham is the most surprising though, not expected to hit 2017 highs by 2025. The trend here appears to be regions short on space will recover the fastest. Although that is likely to depend on the type of housing as well.
The forecast notes pandemic uncertainty, and its potential to bring greater downside. As it gets colder, the potential of more indoor activity may lead to a second wave. The report’s economist believes this can bring even larger declines to prices. Shifting consumer behavior is also a wild card that can also push prices lower, as are any vaccine delays.
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Will development remain key growth strategy for REITs? | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange
Development has been a key growth strategy for many real estate investment trusts over the past decade, but will that continue during the next 10 years?
“There has been some dislocation in the short-term operating metrics,” CIBC World Markets REIT analyst Dean Wilkinson said. “I think the question we’re all struggling with is: Is this a permanent structural shift in a downward direction with the underlying fundamentals of the real estate, or have we overshot?“
“Projects are getting bigger and more complex, and we’re seeing a lot of mixed-use,” said Altus Group cost and project management senior director Marlon Bray, who noted he’s being inundated with proposals. “I’ve got people sending me six, eight, 10 projects to look at in the space of two or three weeks.
“They’re looking long-term at pipelines and thinking of the future and not just what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Transit-oriented and mixed-use development
Immigration has slowed considerably during the pandemic, but it’s starting to rise again and those people will need places to live and work.
While public transit ridership has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, SmartCentres REIT (SRU-UN-T) development VP Christine Côté said transit-oriented development is still desirable and should remain a focus for REITs and all levels of government.
Dream Unlimited (DRM-T) chief development officer Daniel Marinovic said a lot of critical transit infrastructure work began in the Greater Toronto Area in 2008 and, while it will be ongoing for years to come, he believes it’s a “phenomenal” long-term investment.
“I’ll continue to be a big believer in density,” said Marinovic.
Allied Properties REIT (AP-UN-T) executive VP of development Hugh Clark remains a strong advocate of the “live, work and play” concept and believes it will continue to prosper. He said mixed-use projects need amenities to help people socialize.
Grocery stores, restaurants and services and amenities catering to the daily needs of the local community will become more important additions within residential buildings, according to Côté.
“We feel strongly that value-oriented retail will continue to be strong,” she said.
Construction costs levelled off from April through June, but have ramped back up due to supply and demand factors.
Bray attributes some of the increase to the 7,000 condominium units and 10,000 rental units under construction in the Greater Toronto Area, more than double the numbers from 10 years ago.
Bray pointed out construction costs comprise less than 50 per cent of residential development expenses.
Land can account for as much as 30 per cent, while development charges and taxes are also major costs. Development charges have increased by multiples and are always changing and hard to predict, said Bray.
Wilkinson said the saving grace over the last several years is that rent increases have “probably gone at, or at a level higher than, the inflation surrounding those construction costs. But if the script gets flipped and it goes the other way, what could happen?”
Specific issues for REITs
No more than 15 per cent of a Canadian REIT’s funds are generally allowed to be spent on development, which Wilkinson said is lower than in other countries.
The potential build-out for some Canadian REITs, particularly those with retail sites with inherent density, is larger than their current gross leasable area.
Wilkinson added that development activity isn’t included in the underlying value of a company until a building is finished. Thus, a short-term construction expenditure is a diluted effort because capital is put into something that’s not creating immediate cash flow.
There’s an increase in NAV after the completion of projects, but the public market is still focused on quarterly results instead of longer-term cycles, according to Wilkinson.
As a result, Allied is taking a prudent, market-driven approach to development and isn’t looking to expand just because it can.
Clark said the REIT may slow the launch of new projects and ensure it hits certain pre-leasing requirements before starting construction so it doesn’t put itself in a “position of strain.”
Returns for REITs are getting smaller
Clark said it’s “getting harder and harder to make some big gains, with eight or nine or 10 per cent returns on investment.” While it’s possible with some high-priced condos, those are few and far between.
Clark thinks REITs will be lucky to keep a 100- to 150-basis point spread going forward. A development yield of 150 basis points over the acquisition cap rate is much lower than the 400- or 500-point spreads of the past, Wilkinson added.
The convergence between the two figures could mean the elimination of compensation for development risk, so developers may have to start looking more closely at portfolio quality versus straight economic accretion.
“There’s value to that, but it remains to be seen how the market wants to treat that,” said Wilkinson.
Apartment rents have sagged recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wilkinson said there are concerns market rents may be just 10 per cent higher than in-place rents when apartments being built now are completed.
“The premium that was afforded to a lot of the apartment REITs was really based upon the fact that their in-place rents were 20 to 25 per cent below what was deemed to be market rent. So, they were trading at 20 to 25 per cent premiums to NAV.”
Côté has been with SmartCentres for 17 years, and her focus in that time has changed from building Walmarts and shopping centres to intensifying existing properties across Ontario.
“We’ve got countless master plans that are in place now and we are preparing, submitting and processing development applications for those initial phases of redevelopment across the portfolio,” she said.
SmartCentres has made applications for more than 20 development projects since the onset of COVID-19 and will submit another 20 over the next six months, according to Côté.
The REIT has more than 40 million square feet of density planned, mainly on sites it already owns, and has a long-term plan for much more than that.
Côté said SmartCentres is taking more time with new building design to increase efficiencies and make them more economical.
Despite the recent softness in rents, Côté doesn’t think the REIT’s planned purpose-built rental apartments will be switched to condos.
She believes the market will be past its short-term challenges by the time those buildings are ready for occupancy.
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