Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Toronto Real Estate in 2014: Year End Review




In 2014, real estate predictors were wrong again. Like 2013, the think tanks, banks and number crunchers were mostly on the wrong path, showing us that the art of real estate prediction is a tough business, right up there with crystal ball reading and UFO sightings. Once again, those predictors who represented financial organizations tended to be more negative in 2014. Pimco, for example, felt there were be a 20% correction in the housing market this year. This is not, of course, as dire as 2012 where some were calling for a 50% drop in home values.
The government, often cautiously pessimistic called for a soft landing. I'm not sure if they thought we were going to have a soft landing, or if they were trying to will it. And the rosier and upbeat predictions, not surprisingly, came out of the real estate industry calling for some respectable increase in home value. CMHC, for one, called for an increase in value but not as good as 2013. Well, as it turns out 2014 was a lot like 2013. The predictors were wrong again, and now that we're coming to the close of this year we can look back and see what did happen in Toronto real estate.

HOUSE POWER House prices increased a lot this year. Percentage increases vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, but the average single home shot up 13 % from last year, which is slightly higher than the previous year's increase. There were fewer houses listed for sale this year than 2013 adding to a chronic shortage of houses available in many of Toronto's neigbhourhoods.

Bidding wars in many established and emerging neighbourhoods were frequent. First-time buyers had to work hard to snag a house in the Toronto market this year as emerging neighbourhoods with affordable house prices, like the Danforth Village, became more competitive. 2014 was a classic tale of supply and demand as far as houses are concerned. Very few developers build houses or low density condos very often any longer because there is a better financial payoff for them in high density condos, not to mention that the city of Toronto encourages densification in most parts of the city where zoning allows.

CONDO POWERThere was a lot of concern at the beginning of this year for the condo market. More new units came to the Toronto market this year than any other year before it. The fear was that the condo market would be flooded with new condos and the crash would begin. The last few years have not always shown positive gains for some condos in this city, but this year has been the bestsince 2010. We are not seeing the kind of gains you see with houses, but the healthy condos, particularly low rise ones or well-managed and designed large ones, performed quite well with respectable gains. The demand stayed very strong this year for condos despite the number of units hitting the market . But why? Some suggest that the tight market on houses has pushed more buyers into the more affordable condo market. Some say, the millennials, the nextbiggest demographic since the baby boomers, are buying them up, keen on living in the city.


THE CHI-CHI-FICATION OF QUEEN WESTNow that Vogue has called Queen West the second coolest neighbourhood in the world, the desire to live here has exploded. Most Torontonians already new about Queen West for awhile, but now it is the terrain of incoming Americans and other buyers from abroad. Many hipsters may have left Queen West looking for less obvious cool neighbouhoods, but the demand is stronger than ever. The demand has grown almost as fast as the new trendy businesses arrive, particularly along Dundas West, just north of Queen St. It's become foodie's paradise, and the experimental neighbourhood for trying things out, making Yorkville look provincial and Annex seem so 90s. Best of all, you don't have to be hip to live here any longer.

All in all, a very positive year if you currently own a property. Does that mean buyers and investors have no chance of getting into the Toronto market? Not at all. You just need to look in the right places. 2015 promises to bring something a little different. And that will be the subject of my next blog!




Thursday, 11 December 2014

Advice From Recent Home Buyers: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected Revealed!



Enough about me. I thought I would try something a little different this time. The impetus behind this latest blog has nothing to do with my experience at all. This one is all about the buyers. Below are tips and advice from real people who were my clients and who have bought a property in the last six months to four years. I thought it would be interesting to check in with recent, past clients to get an idea of what they think of their purchase, what went right, what went wrong, and what advice they can offer to buyers who are looking now or plan to look in the future. 

I have asked five questions and have received a wide range of responses. I have targeted a good cross-section of buyers. They consist of house owners, condo owners, first-time buyers, second-time buyers, sellers, couples, singles, gay/straight, Moms, Dads, workaholics, Nine-to-Fivers, entrepreneurs, artsie folk, and business minded people. 

I did not included every response I received, but I thought I would feature five of the more interesting and/or helpful ones for each of my five questions. There are, however, certain commonalities found with the responses.  Generally, most buyers feel a sense of pride of ownership with their property, even if it was not expected.  After the purchase, most do express that home ownership had more costs attached to it than they had anticipated. Also, many respondents wrote me some nice compliments of me in their responses. Thanks for those! I did not include most of them, but I did include a few. I like the think I receive these endorsements because I did a good job, but I will also acknowledge that clients who are willing to respond to a small survey are usually ones you have made a good impression on. 

So, without further ado, here are the responses from a collection of some of  my buyers from not-too-long ago. Thanks Madelaine, Anthony, Patricia, Sanja, Sue, Damen, Kawa, Colin, Angela, Craig, Christine, Niki and Jason for your sage advice on such short notice!


What is the best surprise you have experienced since becoming a home owner?


  • "When we moved in, the homeowners left the house like a honeymoon suite: A bed, fresh sheets and pillows, heart chocolates on the pillow, fresh white towels, all the toiletries you would find in a hotel, food in the cupboards, and a ton of other gifts to help us feel welcome and comfortable in our new home including a BBQ and brand new BBQ tools."


  • "Just how much I enjoy gardening and doing things around the house. When a place is your own, the time you spend working on things such as painting, gardening, etc., does not necessarily feel like 'work'."

  • "The amenities.  We didn't really have a chance to see them thoroughly when we put in the offer, especially as the place itself was just what we were hoping for - the amenities seemed like a bonus.  But the rooftop patio (overlooking the skyline), the bbqs, the hot-tub and splash pool, not to mention the gym, have all gotten much more use from us than we thought they would.  They are also a great way to mix and mingle with the rest of the people in the building, creating a sense of community."


  • "The nicest surprise about buying our current house is how community-oriented this neighbourhood is.  People organize street parties, Cedarvale and other streets have their own email list so you can connect with neighbours, DECA is always promoting or organizing something.  There is a great sense of community here that I've never experienced living in other areas of Toronto." 


  • "We’ve bounced around for apartment to apartment for 10 years and to finally feel home – and so soon – was surprising." 



What is the worst surprise you have experienced since becoming a homeowner?


  • "Realizing we know nothing about home improvement."

  • "If anything goes wrong (a flood for example) it's YOUR problem. You are responsible for your property. It's your investment, so it makes sense to maintain it properly. Also, read the fine print of your insurance policy. Don't put in a claim if you can afford to pay for the repair out of pocket, because it can complicate your life once your insurance is up for renewal." 

  • "For a first time buyer, the worst experience that I have had has been the number of unexpected repairs that I have incurred and the disappointment in realizing that when some people do renos or say that something is fixed that is not the case at all.  Some contractors just take short-cuts." 

  • "A leaking gas pipe in our house." 

  • "There are many costs I did not anticipate when I moved- lawyer's fees, utilities set up fees etc. I would recommend having a larger "slush" fund to cover these costs than you think is necessary." 

  • "How expensive everything is.  Something breaks.  Money spent.  Once that one thing is repaired, something else breaks.  More money spent.  Bye-bye savings!" 


How has your neighbourhood changed since you lived in it? Or has it?


  • "More and more houses go up for sale each week and the neighbourhood is being flooded with younger, new families.  Just like us! So, that’s nice!" 

  • "More restaurants and caf├ęs. Home prices keep rising." 

  • "In the short time we've been here, we've had the chance to know the neighbourhood better and see how it is growing. Like many Toronto neighbourhoods experiencing a much-needed rejuvenation, the Corktown/St. Lawrence area is no different.  But all things that make it unique, from the new establishments at the Distillery to the immense selection at the St. Lawrence Market, from the restaurants we didn't know about to the new coffee shops we now frequent - they have all become a part of our daily lives." 

  • "My neighbourhood is awesome and continues to be in the past 6 months I've lived here!" 

  • "I have noticed that new storefronts have sprung up and that there has been turnover in some of the residents on the streets.  Mainly to do with older individuals who have been moved out of their home and likely into a nursing home." 


What would you do differently about buying a house if you had to start over?


  • "If it's your first time buying a property, you do qualify for tax breaks and other incentives. I would use the value of these incentives to purchase something at the top of my price range vs. buy something smaller/more reasonable and upgrading soon after."

  • "I'm pretty happy with my condo. I believe that I made the right choice. I renovated the place after I got the keys, and that took much longer then I expected. I'd say that I'm wiser now that I've gone through the process once and would have it easier the second time around. The hardest thing for me was making decisions, because I didn't want to make the wrong one. I would be more decisive, I would make a plan, and stick to it. Choosing the right tile for example might seem overwhelming (if you've ever set foot into a tile store, you know what I mean), but at the end of the day, just make a choice. Try to keep things clean, neutral and not overly extravagant, since that will look good for a long period of time, and makes it easier if you decide to sell your place after a few years." 

  • "If I were buying a house that had been fixed up, I likely would be asking for the paper trail to see who did the work and if they were licensed and if work had been done using valid permits. That of course is in an ideal world as I have gone into some open houses since to take a peak and have asked the selling agent for this info but they instead tell me that nothing is available but try and assure me that everything was done to code." 

  • "Nothing. We felt confident going into it and all the little hiccups along the way (which were minor) were to be expected."

  • "Nothing. David made the entire process so smooth and easy. He's a great source of information, is incredibly patient and made the home buying experience a lot of fun!" 

Any advice for buyers looking for a home now?


  • "If it is your first home, keep an open mind and be flexible. Everything will not be 'perfect' and things will go wrong. However, roll with the punches, whatever ends up going wrong is not the end of the world. Everything has a solution, you just need to figure out what that is or find someone that you trust that can guide you or figure out the problem. Also, do not focus solely on cosmetics, it is the bones of the house that matter.  Cosmetics are easy to fix." 

  • "Go with an agent. Don't do it on your own. Start early. Look at what you can afford and what's out there first. Contact a mortgage broker and get approved. Brokers really help you at at no cost!" 

  • "Spend the money on an in-depth, thorough home inspection and use a company that has a really good reputation - it's worth the extra expense!"  

  • "You don't have to buy everything once you get your place. Take your time. You might find that you don't necessarily need very many things. Take a look at some of the flyers from your favourite stores. Chances are high that a lot of sales repeat on a regular basis. So, if you don't buy something then, it will be on sale again. I'm very particular about certain things, especially kitchen appliances and gadgets, and if you give yourself time, you'll be able to save quite a bit of money." 

  • "Use David as your real estate agent, and listen to his advice. Consider buying a home with an income suite. We were able to buy a house in a much nicer part of Toronto than we otherwise would have been able to because we have an income suite. The price tag looks scary but when you have someone paying more than half your mortgage, it's all worth it! When we need the space, we'll be able to take over the whole house, but for now, it's an affordable way to live in a great neighbourhood in Toronto and build equity quickly!"