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Wide sidewalks key to help commercial real estate weather the pandemic – The Globe and Mail

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Baldwin Street in downtown Toronto.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

An economic rebound in commercial retail amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic may be right under our feet – in the sidewalks we walk on. The key, however, depends on how wide they are.

The positive effects of wide sidewalks as opposed to narrow ones are easy to see, according to Val Rynnimeri, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture. Commercial streets that have them are experiencing a faster return of people and therefore business than those that don’t.

Perhaps the best example, he says, is Baldwin Street in downtown Toronto. Home to a concentrated cluster of bars, restaurants and cafés that have taken advantage of wide sidewalks with long rows of patios, the stretch between McCaul and Beverley streets is surprisingly vibrant.

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Baldwin Street is home to a concentrated cluster of bars, restaurants and cafés that have taken advantage of wide sidewalks with long rows of patios.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

This development, which resembles an outdoor mall, is a possible template for how Toronto and other cities go forward as the pandemic continues.

“That might be the most COVID-friendly street in the city: big sidewalks, places to spill out onto and a nice backdrop [of residential homes],” Prof. Rynnimeri says. “That’s what retail in a post-COVID world should look like.”

With health officials saying that virus transmission is less likely outdoors than indoors, many Canadian cities have adopted temporary measures to allow businesses to extend their operations onto streets. The problem, however, is that not many streets – or sidewalks specifically – are designed to handle such a shift, even in the short term.

Many Canadian cities have adopted temporary measures to allow businesses to extend their operations onto streets.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

Prof. Rynnimeri says that with COVID-19 likely persisting for some time, commercial real estate operators and developers are going to be forced to adapt to this reality. Projects that are currently under development may need to consider the role that sidewalk widths play, not just over the course of the pandemic, but also in the long-term prosperity of an area.

Wide sidewalks played an historic role in establishing downtown Toronto as a retail destination, he adds – particularly the section of Queen Street West between Spadina Avenue and McCaul, just a few blocks from the retail and restaurant cluster on Baldwin Street.

Queen Street started becoming a hub in the late 1970s after a host of discos opened up further north in Yorkville. Hipster crowds looking for an alternative migrated south where they found the Horseshoe Tavern, the Rivoli, the BamBoo and other bars with their ample sidewalk patio spaces.

Queen Street West in downtown Toronto.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

The crowds they drew eventually led to a variety of hip businesses such as clothing stores and record shops popping up, which established the area as some of the most valuable commercial real estate in the city.

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“That was really the beginning of Queen Street as a place to go to,” Prof. Rynnimeri says. “It was about being able to spill out into the street.”

Michael Hannay, a principal with Toronto-based design firm MBTW Group, says businesses that have been situated on wide sidewalks have indeed traditionally benefited, especially in the case of restaurants and bars with patios.

But despite that, they’re all going to have to contend with the inevitability of worse weather.

“Come winter, the advantage of how wide your sidewalk is goes out the window,” he says. “Streetscape design isn’t going to be a factor at all because an enclosed, heated patio is indoor space. It’s not going to be a factor for much longer.”

Queen Street started becoming a hub in the late 1970s after a host of discos opened up further north in Yorkville.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

Other urban design experts suggest that’s where innovation is needed.

A number of winter-prone countries and municipalities have experimented with various cold-fighting technologies over the past few years. The Netherlands, for example, has been building heated bike paths in its cities. Vancouver, meanwhile, created a system that drew heat from sewers to help warm the Olympic Village in 2010.

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“We do need to think creatively and be willing to experiment,” says Shauna Brail, associate professor at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto. “This is the push we didn’t know we needed.”

Prof. Brail points to work done by Toronto-based architecture firm Partisans for Google sister company Sidewalk Labs on “building raincoats,” unveiled last year, as an example of the innovation that cities will need more of, in part to keep commercial real estate alive.

The “raincoat” is essentially an awning consisting of hexagonal plastic panels that attaches to the front of a building. Its purpose is twofold – to protect the building from the elements and to provide a sheltered space for outdoor activity, such as a patio.

A variety of hip businesses such as clothing stores and record shops established the Queen Street area as some of the most valuable commercial real estate in the city.

Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

Alexander Josephson, an architect and co-founder of Partisans, says the raincoats were experimental prototypes that may not end up being deployed because of intellectual property issues associated with Sidewalk Labs, which pulled out of Toronto earlier this year.

Nevertheless, he expects to see more of these types of experiments – on how to make streets more like malls, regardless of the weather – now that the pandemic is forcing a more liberal approach to city planning and how commercial real estate is used.

“It’s a watershed moment in the decolonialization of Toronto streets,” he says, referring to historical, long-standing puritanism – especially as it pertains to alcohol regulation – in how city government views property. If there’s a bright side to the pandemic, it’s that novel ways of using streets and properties will now get more consideration.

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“It took COVID and an economic crisis for us to let go,” he adds.

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Montreal startup uses AI to set real-estate prices – Montreal Gazette

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The pandemic has been devastating for so many businesses, but it has also provided opportunities for other entrepreneurs. Take the case of Montreal brothers Mark and Jordan Owen. Both saw their lives significantly altered by the COVID-19 crisis.

Mark, 28, was working for a local real-estate development firm and business had ground to a halt in the spring. Jordan, 26, was in a master’s program in real-estate development and city planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and had come back to Montreal in March because all in-person classes had been cancelled.

That’s when they had the idea of starting up a company to produce reusable masks. They founded Bien Aller, named in honour of the Quebec COVID catchphrase “Ça va bien aller.” They created the firm with a friend, Sean Tassé, who had been laid off from his job at a construction-management firm because of the pandemic.

Six months later, they’ve sold about 300,000 masks and they’re still producing them at facilities in Montreal and South Korea. Then the Owen brothers, Tassé and another friend, Benoit Thibeault, had a notion for a more unusual startup. The Owens’ background in Montreal real estate had them thinking that what developers and brokers could really use is a more reliable way to set prices for houses and condos that are going on the sales or rental markets.

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Real Estate Investments in Greater Vancouver Offer Most Attractive Investment Yield

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Is there an investment asset that can produce a 366 percent return in a three-decade span? Yes, it is the housing property in Canada. Is there an investment asset that can beat this performance? Yes, it is the property in Greater Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Indeed, Greater Vancouver has proven to be one of the real estate investment hotspots, given its appeal as an investment market that boasts natural beauty, strong economic and demographic fundamentals, and financial stability, which ensures optimal yield for a low level of investment risk.

Property prices in Greater Vancouver, BC, have risen by some 473.7 percent in the period between 1980 and 2009, yielding, on average, a spectacular 17 percent per annum over the noted period. In other words, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and RE/MAX Canada, the average price of residential property in Greater Vancouver in 1980 was slightly over $100,000. Today, that same property is worth, on average, somewhat more than $574,000.

The noted return on investment looks incredibly attractive, given the low risk associated with residential property investments. Investments in residential real estate in Greater Vancouver have been characterized by exceptional stability. The average price of a house in Greater Vancouver dipped seven times in the past 30 years. Most of the dips occurred in the late 1990s. However, all declines in average prices of homes in Greater Vancouver have been exceptionally mild, with the largest annual decreases not exceeding 3.5 percent.

This performance of real estate investments in Greater Vancouver looks remarkable compared to the implementation of property investments in the Canadian housing market as a whole or performance of investments in most other regional real estate markets in Canada. As noted earlier, the average price of a property in Canada has risen by 366 percent between 1980 and 2009. This translates into an average annual return of 13 percent in the same period. Only Victoria, Regina, Toronto, and Ottawa have recorded returns higher than this average for Canada as a whole. Victoria, located in British Columbia, has the second-highest return on residential real estate investments in the Canadian property market. An investment in Victoria’s housing property has returned 448.5 percent in total return, or 16 percent on average each year between 1980 and 2009. This makes British Columbia the best performing regional property market in Canada.

On the other hand, taking an international investment perspective, even less robust, would have been investment returns on U.S. real estate. Based on the average values of homes in the United States between 1980 and 2009 (using the Freddie Mac Conventional Home Price Index), an investment of $100,000 in residential properties in the United States in 1980 would be worth $382,576 today. This would represent a total return, measured by the increase in home prices, of 283 percent over the noted period. In other words, an investment in the real estate market in the United States would have produced an average nominal yield of 10 percent per annum, which is much lower than that earned on the property investment in Greater Vancouver.

Investments in residential real estate in the Greater Vancouver area look exceptionally appealing, given their outstanding performance relative to property investments in other regions of Canada and the U.S. real estate market. Therefore, investing in Greater Vancouver’s property market can represent an investment choice that promises high yield for a low level of investment risk.

 

 

 

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Vancouver real estate: early September numbers show steep drop in sales from August highs – The Georgia Straight

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Home sales in the city of Vancouver are dropping big time.

This is based on tracking by real-estate site fisherly.com as of late morning Friday (September 25).

Compared to record highs in August, early numbers for September show a steep decline in transactions.

In August, a total of 490 condo units sold in Vancouver.

As of this posting September 25, fisherly.com recorded 202 condo sales so far this month.

Last month, 212 detached homes changed owners.

September sales so far show 114 freestanding houses sold in the city.

As for townhouses, 99 sold in August.

As of September 25, only 49 townhouses have been purchased.

Vancouver home sales peaked in August, following a steady recovery that started in May.

Transactions crashed in April during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

RBC Economics previously issued a report noting that pent-up demand for homes drove real estate sales in the country this summer.

However, according to the bank’s report, this demand is largely spent, and that the market’s momentum is expected to decelerate in the fall.

The Canadian Real Estate Association has forecast that after its highs and lows, 2020 may likely end up as a “fairly middling year overall”.

It remains to be seen whether the Vancouver market will stage a late September rally to boost numbers.

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