Monday, 24 September 2012

Busy Streets: How to Pick the Ones Where You Can Live

I had an open house this weekend for one of those listings that packed a lot of wow when you came through the front door. The owner had great taste and made all the right renos - the granite counters, the spa washrooms, loads of lights, plus the whole main floor was opened up.  It looked like a humble townhouse from the outside, but once you came through the door...Shazam! No one was disappointed.

The only negative I heard all week was that this particular home was on a busy street. Fair enough. Some people just don't like busy streets. Can't say I'm a big fan myself, BUT not all busy streets are considered equal. In fact, you should be very careful when selecting your new home depending on what kind of noise your busy street makes.

Here are the things you may not want to get too worked up over:

1. Traffic - That's right traffic. It's the reason the street is busy.  Sure, cars can be noisy, but with most busy streets, it's done by the time rush hour is wrapped up. By the time you get to bed, most busy streets are much tamer. And you will sleep just fine.

2. Residential busy streets. Residential busy streets have less business customers and traffic on them at night when you are sleeping. The residents of the busy street want to sleep too. So, the noise you will hear is the sound of traffic passing through. If the cars stop, then it gets noisier. If the car passes by, it's just a swoosh in the night.

3. Busy streets with certain commercial properties. Okay living near popular restaurants or bars can be a nightmare, but if you live near a lawyer's office or a store that sells fabric, you're not going to suffer too much noise. Again, if the car doesn't stop, you are in luck in terms of the noise factor.

Things to worry about:

1. Public Transit - Enemy #1. If there is a lot of public transit on the street, it will be noisier. Buses stop and grunt and discharge. Streetcars can be okay unless they have to turn.  Because if they do, get ready for some thing that make nails on a chalkboard seem like a treat.

2. Honkers. I don't know why but some streets attract a lot more honkers. You really have to spend a bit of time at an intersection at rush hour to know how bad it gets on certain streets. Some busy streets have them. Some do not.

3. Fear the humans. It's not the driver who is on his or her way home at midnight that is going to wake you up in your sleep. It's screeching laughter, loud-talking drunks and general merriment that will keep you up. They're having a good time, but you've just been woken up. Mild traffic is just the sound of the city. Sudden noises is the stuff that jolts you outta bed. So watch out for human traffic. That's the kind you want to avoid.

Luckily, for my listing this weekend, at the corner of Gerrard and River, it isn't so bad. The house was build well enough that you couldn't really hear the traffic once you were inside. By the time you made it to the backyard, you would have no idea that you were not living on a quiet street.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Fall Market: My Two Cents

Like me, the media outlets have always had their opinions on the real estate market, but unlike me, the opinions of the media really seem to have ramped up  a lot of this summer. I think this has to do with the cooling market in Vancouver and the Federal government's focus on household debt, but mostly, it has to do with selling papers, regardless of the opinion. Toronto Life, for example. declared the crash of the Toronto market last year (oops). This September they claim that you should expect bidding wars and rising prices. It doesn't really matter what they say, but if they say some thing extreme about the housing market, then it will certainly get the attention of every one who owns a house or ever plans to own one. That's a lot of readers. 

It's not just Toronto Life, it's all of the Toronto media, who often fall into two camps. No one paper or magazine ever declares one view, but they usually have an article that says one of the following views:

This Chicken Little opinion usually declares that the Toronto housing market will crash U.S. style right about now.  It usually states one or more of the following points:
1. A lot of condos are being built in Toronto. More than New York, Mexico City and LA combined.
2. Household debt is out of control.
3. Interest rates are low creating artificially higher priced homes.

All very valid points, but not necessarily leading to a crash. 

The other opinion usually occurs after the "Sky is Falling" prediction has not panned out. It often has:
1. Examples of a couple or a buyer who had to fight like wild dog to get the home they wanted after losing out in several bidding wars. They get what they want, but only after great pain, blood, tears and a lot of money.
2. Stats - stating that the prices have gone up and are still going up. 
3. Comparisons - comparing Toronto to other big cities around the world like London, New York, Sydney, Tokoyo, Hong Kong or Amsterdam leading to the conclusion that Toronto isn't really near the price of these cities. So, just relax.

Now that's a pretty simple breakdown. And I guess it's easy for me to be critical of these articles, which do make some good points from time to time. So, I'm gonna give my 2 cents on the Fall market because I do see transactions every day, and I learn a thing or two from being in the trenches of real estate. It's no guarantee. What opinion is? But I think it's an informed opinion that is not trying to sell you papers. 

So, here are my thoughts on the Fall Market:

There is more inventory entering the market right now, particularly with condos. Does that mean there's a bubble for the Fall? No. Does that mean there will be an end to bidding wars? No. Bidding wars will stick around for great properties in good locations, even though there will be fewer of them. A salesperson listing a box of a condo in North York in a giant building done with cheap finishes and black paint should probably not hold back offers.  Personally, I think a little extra  inventory is a good thing. Hopefully, it will balance out the market a little. 

There are only so many houses left in this city. Because there are very few being added to the Toronto housing pool, that means this type of inventory is not really gettting any bigger. So, houses will likely stay in high demand. It's the holy grail of property in Toronto. A detatched house being the super holy grail. It is the type of home most likely to have the greatest price appreciation. If you're well-located and have a house that isn't too weird, even more super.  

This Fall there will be condos in certain building that will sit on the market forever. This is because these condos are poorly designed with a very large number of units in them, or they have some thing special going on about them like there fees are much higher than the rest of the bunch or they are poorly run with a terrible reserve fund. A few even have some messy legal things going on. So, when you see stats that say some thing sweeping about all condos, just make sure you know that some condos are better than others.  Think boutique, smaller, emerging neighbourhood or if you can afford it, a townhouse for condos with best chance of appreciation.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The "Rise" of the Bungalow

The bungalow. Some love em. Some hate em, but let's face it, there are a lot of them in Toronto. They are a staple in many neighbourhoods.  Little ones, surprisingly spacious ones, dumpy ones and fancy ones.  In the post-war era in the 40s, 50s and 60s, they were all the rage. Most were designed as starter homes for soldiers back from the war, ready to start a family, or for workers who wanted to be near a neighbourhood factory or plant.

Nowadays, constructing a bungalow in Toronto would be one of the least cost-effective styles of home to build. In a city where condos rule supreme and builders want to maximize the space they have, it's pretty hard for them to build a one story home on a huge lot when they can build a two story house, several row houses or a condo that will yield a much larger return on their investment.

Still, the resale bungalow has become a pretty prosperous property in this city.  East York (especially in the Danforth Village) and South Etobicoke (especially in Alderwood), are two neighbourhoods where bungalows are the primary housing stock. They are often smaller homes, though some of the Alderwood bungalows are quite large, and since they are often located a little further from the city core, they are the property of choice for first time buyers. But not first time buyers alone. Many senior and empty nesters, who are not crazy about condo living, will downsize to a manageable bungalow with no stairs to a second floor to climb.

Yes, bungalows are in demand, but some thing interesting is happening in these neighbourhoods where the deer and bungalows roams.  The bungalows are being purchased for their large lots size.  Typical two story lots are not wide at all in most of Toronto. Semis and row houses are the most common type of house averaging between 12 and 18 feet in width. The two stories are long and narrow. Bungalow lots are much larger, usually 25 ft to 30 ft wide or more to fit the elongated style of the house. A bungalow lot size could be enormous compared to most Toronto homes.

So, those first-time buyers and down-sizing seniors are now competing with builders and buyers with deeper pockets who either tear down the bungalow to build some thing larger, or "bump up" by adding another story on to the existing structure.

In neighbourhoods such as Alderwood, this phenomenon can really change the look and feel of a street.
On some streets, the bungalows have all but disappeared to be replaced by bigger homes with a price tag $200,000 to $300,000 more than before, depending on the new house.

Not every one is a big fan though.  Locals who live in Alderwood feel many of the bump ups and tear downs lead to a neighbourhood house that is too big, and does not fit in well with the rest of the neighhourhood. And is some cases, they are right, especially when the bungalow is torn down and replaced with a new home with a poor plan. Some tear downs lead to a new property that takes up a much larger portion of the plot, a giant compound pushing the borders of the lot lines and towering over the munchkin-like houses around it.

Still, as space becomes a premium, many see these  bungalow neighhourhoods as ideal places to design their dream home. In fact, these days the City is not shy about giving permits to bump up and add that second story. There are also architects and companies that specialize in modular homes that can help you to design and add a second floor.

Of course, buying a little scrappy bungalow and adding a floor may sound like a great idea, even as an investment, but the truth is, it should be a labour of love. Some builders and  homeowners can squeeze out a profit, but for the most part, the cost of adding the second floor or even starting over with a tear down does not necessarily mean you will make money on a sale.

Regardless, there is no stopping the bungalow transformation from happening around the city. There will always be those who love the bungalow just they way they are, but since they are on such large lots, many streets that were once the exclusive domain of the bungalow are on their way to becoming very different neighbourhoods.