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Using commercial real estate for the social good – The Globe and Mail

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Network Hub co-founder Minna Van is expanding the office-space-sharing business with tech classes for budding entrepreneursand support for Chinese and other local businesses.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Former B.C. Realtor has licence cancelled, $130K in penalties for role in mortgage fraud

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The provincial regulator responsible for policing B.C.’s real estate industry has ordered a former Realtor to pay $130,000 and cancelled her licence after determining that she committed a variety of professional misconduct.

Rashin Rohani surrendered her licence in December 2023, but the BC Financial Services Authority’s chief hearing officer Andrew Pendray determined that it should nevertheless be cancelled as a signal to other licensees that “repetitive participation in deceptive schemes” will result in “significant” punishment.

He also ordered her to pay a $40,000 administrative penalty and $90,000 in enforcement expenses. Pendray explained his rationale for the penalties in a sanctions decision issued on May 17. The decision was published on the BCFSA website Wednesday.

Rohani’s misconduct occurred over a period of several years, and came in two distinct flavours, according to the decision.

Pendray found she had submitted mortgage applications for five different properties that she either owned or was purchasing, providing falsified income information on each one.

Each of these applications was submitted using a person referred to in the decision as “Individual 1” as a mortgage broker. Individual 1 was not a registered mortgage broker and – by the later applications – Rohani either knew or ought to have known this was the case, according to the decision.

All of that constituted “conduct unbecoming” under B.C.’s Real Estate Services Act, Pendray concluded.

Separately, Rohani also referred six clients to Individual 1 when she knew or ought to have known he wasn’t a registered mortgage broker, and she received or anticipated receiving a referral fee from Individual 1 for doing so, according to the decision. Rohani did not disclose this financial interest in the referrals to her clients.

Pendray found all of that to constitute professional misconduct under the act.

‘Deceptive’ scheme

The penalties the chief hearing officer chose to impose for this behaviour were less severe than those sought by the BCFSA in the case, but more significant than those Rohani argued she should face.

Rohani submitted that the appropriate penalty for her conduct would be a six-month licence suspension or a $15,000 discipline penalty, plus $20,000 in enforcement expenses.

For its part, the BCFSA asked Pendray to cancel Rohani’s licence and impose a $100,000 discipline penalty plus more than $116,000 in enforcement expenses.

Pendray’s ultimate decision to cancel the licence and impose penalties and expenses totalling $130,000 reflected his assessment of the severity of Rohani’s misconduct.

Unlike other cases referenced by the parties in their submissions, Rohani’s misconduct was not limited to a single transaction involving falsified documents or a series of such transactions during a brief period of time, according to the decision.

“Rather, in this case Ms. Rohani repetitively, over the course of a number of years, elected to personally participate in a deceptive mortgage application scheme for her own benefit, and subsequently, arranged for her clients to participate in the same deceptive mortgage application scheme,” the decision reads.

Pendray further noted that, although Rohani had been licensed for “a significant period of time,” she had only completed a small handful of transactions, according to records from her brokerage.

There were just six transactions on which her brokerage recorded earnings for her between December 2015 and February 2020, according to the decision. Of those six, four were transactions that were found to have involved misconduct or conduct unbecoming.

“In sum, Ms. Rohani’s minimal participation in the real estate industry as a licensee has, for the majority of that minimal participation, involved her engaging in conduct unbecoming involving deceptive practices and professional misconduct,” the decision reads.

According to the decision, Rohani must pay the $40,000 discipline penalty within 90 days of the date it was issued.

 

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Should you wait to buy or sell your home?

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The Bank of Canada is expected to announce its key interest rate decision in less than two weeks. Last month, the bank lowered its key interest rate to 4.7 per cent, marking its first rate cut since March 2020.

CTV Morning Live asked Jason Pilon, broker of Record Pilon Group, whether now is the right time to buy or sell your home.

When it comes to the next interest rate announcement, Pilon says the bank might either lower it further, or just keep it as is.

“The best case scenario we’re seeing is obviously a quarter point. I think more just because of the job numbers that just came out, I think more people are just leading on the fact that they probably just gonna do it in September,” he said. “Either way, what we saw in June, didn’t make a big difference.”

Here are the pros of buying/ selling now:

Pilon suggests locking in the rate right now, if you don’t want to take a risk with interest rates going up in the future.

He says the environment is more predictable right now, noting that the home values are transparent, which is one of the benefits for home sellers.

“Do you want to risk looking at what that looks like down the road? Or do you want to have the comfort in knowing what your house is worth right now?” Pilon said.

And when it comes to buyers, he notes, the competition is not so fierce right now, noting that there are options to choose from.

“You’re in the driver seat right now,” he said while noting the benefits for buyers.

Here are the cons of buying/ selling now:

He says one of the cons would be locking in the rate right now, then seeing a rate cut in the future.

The competition could potentially become fierce, if the bank decides to cut the rate further more, he explained.

He notes that if that happens, the housing crisis will become even worse, as Canada is still dealing with low housing inventory.

An increase in competition would increase the prices of houses, he adds.

Selling or buying too quickly isn’t the best practice, he notes, suggesting that you should take your time and put some thought into it.

Despite all the pros and cons, Pilon says, real estate remains a good investment.

According to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey for the second quarter of this year, the average home price in Canada is $824,300. That’s up 1.9 per cent from the same time last year, and up 1.5 per cent from the first quarter of 2024.

In the Ottawa Housing Market Report for June 2024, the average price of a home was up 2.4 per cent from this time last year to $686,535, but down 0.6 per cent from May 2024.

Experts believe many potential buyers are still hesitant of jumping into the housing market and waiting for another interest rate cut of 50 to 100 basis points.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the rush that we see in the past, because people are used to more of a conservative approach right now,” said Curtis Fillier, president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board. “I think there’s still a bit of a hold back, but I definitely do think with another rate cut, we’ll probably see a very positive fall market.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Kimberly Fowler

 

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Real estate stocks soar to best day of year on rate cut bets

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(Bloomberg) — The stock market’s worst group notched its best day of the year as a cooler-than-expected inflation report stoked bets that the Federal Reserve will start cutting interest rates in September.

Shares of real estate companies jumped 2.7% Thursday for their biggest gain of 2024, climbing to their highest level since March as investors snapped up homebuilder, digital and commercial real estate stocks alike. Real estate also was the best-performing group in the S&P 500 Index Thursday, with volume that was around 30% higher than the 30-day average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Arguably the most significant news to come from the latest consumer price index reading was a pullback in housing-related inflation. Shelter costs rose just 0.2% for the slowest monthly increase in three years. Homebuilders, which have risen 7.1% this year, were up 7.3% for the session, the most since 2022. Shares of D.R. Horton Inc., which is scheduled to report earnings next Thursday, gained 7.3%.

“Housing has really been the last shoe to drop in terms of winning the battle against high inflation,” Preston Caldwell, chief U.S. economist at Morningstar wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “Leading-edge data has strongly indicated for some time now that a fall in housing inflation was in the works.”

A rally in real estate stocks is bad news for short sellers who have been piling into the group, which is the worst performer in the S&P 500 this year. To start the week, short interest as a percentage of float hovered near 49% in the SPDR Homebuilders ETF, the highest level since February for the exchange-traded fund, according to data from S3 Partners.

Property owners are rallying as well. Real estate investment trusts, which were brutally penalized during the two-year run up in borrowing costs, advanced by as much as 3%. And the outlook for the group appears to have turned a corner, according Rich Hill, senior vice president and head of real estate strategy and research at Cohen & Steers Capital Management.

“We think this is a compelling backdrop for listed REITs especially as fundamental growth remains on solid footing,” he said, referencing the latest inflation data and rate outlook. “The rally that started in October of 2023 pushing returns more than 20% above their trough looks set to continue if inflation cools and interest rates continue to decline.”

Shares of industrial REIT Prologis Inc., which reports second-quarter results on Wednesday, rose 3.3% to hit their highest level since April. U.S. Treasury yields tumbled, with the 10-year bond falling to 4.2% and the policy-sensitive two-year note slipping to 4.5%.

(Updates indexes and stock prices for market close.)

 

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