Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What Neighbourhoods Have the Best Price Appreciation?

In the spirits of the Olympics, I thought I would discuss something of a competitive nature. That is, I thought I would explore some recently compiled stats on homes in Toronto neighbourhoods and how they stack up against one another. These statistics were based on the sales from the Toronto Real Estate Board from January 2012 to January 2014 for detached homes. Out of the 36 Toronto districts, the top 5 districts were as follows:

1. C9: The Richie Rich (Rosedale and Moore Park)
2.  C2: The Centre of the Universe (including Annex, Wychwood, Yonge-St.Clair)
3. C1: Also the Centre of the Universe (including Niagara, Trinity-Bellwood, Dufferin Grove, Palmerston-Little Italy)
4. W02: Emerging Neighbourhood Emerging Fast (including the Junction Area, High Park North  Wallace-Emerson, and the Junction Triangle)
5. W03: Early Emerging Hoods Rising From Their Inexpensive Past (Rockliffe-Smythe, Keelesdale-Eglinton West, Westom-Pellam Park)

For a complete list of detached home sales in Toronto please click here for complete results.

Now lets look at the winners. Clearly the top spot speaks to the amount of money that is entering the high end market in the past two years. C09 had an increase of 115.63% in just two years.  I do find these stats to be a little questionable. I will discuss this below, but it does indicate that high end is back in Toronto. The centre of Toronto is still very strong showing us how much demand there is for detached houses in these neighbourhoods. C02 has a increase of 71.25% and C1 had an increase of 54.02%.

I think some emerging neighbourhoods really showed their growing value in past two years. A more advanced emerging neighbourhoods can be found in W02, that has increased by 51.69%. And for a place where houses have been remarkably inexpensive by Toronto standards, the early emerging neighbourhoods of W03 have increased by 40.61%.

Now all, this info may be a little overwhelming.These are remarkable increases. If you have bought in the top neighbourhoods, especially if it is a detached house, you will be thrilled. You may be crying over your keyboard if you wanted to buy in these areas but decided to wait a few years.

But before you get too smug in your foresight or crushed by your buyer position, let's look at these stats with a critical eye.

First of all, let's be clear that these are detached homes only.  Detached homes are king. Even if you want to live in a dense city like Toronto surrounded by people, Torontonians still covet the detached home. And these stats prove it. More than any other housing type, detached homes in this city have surged ahead in value. Detached homes across Toronto sell for a much higher average than other housing types, though semis, row houses and many low rises have also done well in the past few years. So, if you cannot afford detached, the other property types are still great investments that are appreciating in value as well.

Another pattern you can see from these stats: Emerging neighbourhoods, whether they are newly emerging or later in the cycle are good investments. Neighbourhood is still key to the success of a purchase whether it is a condo, a detached house or a town home. Pick wisely.

Despite what these stats may hint to us, I do tend to be fairly critical of them too, and for good reason. One of the fundamentals of gathering statistics is to have a large enough sample. If you don't have a large sample, your stats can show some pretty wild variation that may lead to a misrepresentation of a given neighbourhood. So, take Rosedale and Moore Park, for example. In the last year, there were less than 100 detached houses that sold in Rosedale and Moore Park. That is not a large enough sample to give meaningful results, making it much more prone to wilder fluctuations. It could simply mean that bigger and fancier homes have sold more in the last year than two years ago. So, in a nutshell, its #1 position may just be a lucky fluke.

Other neighbourhoods have some unlucky results based on these statistics. This past year I have experienced detached homes in bidding wars in the Oakwood-Vaughan area, and yet the statistics position this neighbourhood, along with Forest Hill, in dead last. The results just don't add up for me when I see demand in Oakwood increasingly outpacing other areas of Toronto. Again, I believe the small sample of homes reflects the wild fluctuations in the detached homes that have sold.  If you look at the sales statistics for each year in the district of C03,  you'll find that in January 2012 detached homes sold for $1,355,000 then plumetted to $635,000 a year later,  then shot back up to $1,210,000 by January 2014. There was really no reason why home prices would have been cut in half between January 2012 and January 2013 only to shoot back up again between January 2013 and January 2014. If we just regarded the statistics from the last year, Oakwood-Vaughan would have been one of the best performing neighbourhoods in the bunch. Clearly, there was just not a big enough sample of sold homes to give us clear results.

Another reason these statistics may be a little off has to do with how the neighbourhoods are grouped together. Take again the Oakwood-Vaughan area. Homes south of Rogers usually sell for much more than homes north of Rogers. Then we have the wealthier neighbourhood of Forest Hill mixed in C03 district to make three very different neighbourhoods slotted into the same sample with very different communities and styles of homes for sale.  Detached homes in C03 range from sprawling city estates to very neglected homes in need of some serious love.

Regardless if you live in the overwhelming lucky Rosedale-Moore Park or the neighbourhood unfairly disadvantaged in these statistics like Oakwood-Vaughan, it still does show us how home sales can be like the Olympics. Some athletes, like some neighbourhoods have shown us a remarkable improvement on their performance. Other athletes, and some neighbourhoods, often perform well, but were a little unluckily or treated unfairly by the judges. So,  have fun with the stats, but don't take them too seriously.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Buying or Selling a Condo? Make Timing Work For You

Timing the real estate market. So many believe you could make buckets of money if you could master it. To be honest, I think this is a tough thing to rely upon to make your fortune in real estate. I see buyers standing on the sidelines for years as Toronto prices continue to go up, and they miss out on buying a house for half the price it was 10 years ago. I'm not talking about that kind of timing. This kind of timing can be unpredictable. Should you buy in 2018? Will the market crash? This is not the kind of timing on my mind.

In this blog, I'm talking about something more specific, particularly when it comes to condos. It is something that could be applied in any market to improve your chances of getting a better deal. No guarantees, but better chances. Some condos will sell well at any time because they are in great location and have grown a waiting list of people who are trying to get in. Then there are those condos that have a certain amount of stigma, rumours (or truths) of bad construction, poor quality, or poor management. Let's assume, we are dealing with condos that are well run and well located.

For buyers, when it comes to timing, you may want to consider the following:

When developers first go on sale with a new condo, they offer their standard prices. If they do a good job advertising, everyone will run out and buy a condo unit until there are none left. This doesn't happen quite so often nowadays. Since there are more new condos for sale at the moment, not all developers are hitting their 70% sold units they require before they start construction. Without that 70%, they cannot build their condo in Toronto. For example, if units that have sold are stuck at 60%, developers will be willing to bargain since they want to go that extra 10% to get their project off the ground. Rarely do they lower the price. Instead, they start offering incentives to push themselves over than 70% hump. They'll offer things like: a free parking spot, a free locker, upgrades to the kitchen or free maintenance for a year. So, as far as timing goes, this would be a good time to make your move to buy new.

Once a condo is registered, buyers start paying a mortgage to live in their units, and a condo board is formed. Construction is done. It is the birth of a condo. At this point, buyers can become sellers. That is, they are free to sell their properties for the first time. More often than not, a bottleneck of sellers forms. Since the two or three or five years that those original buyers bought a preconstruction condo off of the floor plans, many of their lives have changed. They fell in love, had a baby, had a divorce, or found a job far away. In turn, their lives are no longer harmonious with the condo they bought many years ago. So, they try to sell them. In addition, there are the condo investors. These folks bought a unit in a condo building with the purpose of renting it or selling it once it was completed. Most will hold on to the unit and rent, but some will try to sell. With those two groups combined, there are often many sellers ready to sell all at once when a condo registers. This, in turn, may lead to a temporary lull in prices since new buyers have so many units to pick from. They can negotiate a lower price. Again, no guarantee this will happen with all condos, but it happens.

This timing method is not for everyone, but if you like space, you may want to purchase a condo that has been around a long time. Not just any old condo. Make sure it has a healthy reserve fund and is not falling apart. If you are open to an old one, chances are your maintenance fees are a little higher, but back in the 80s, wow, they knew how to make condos big! Many other buyers will poo poo an old condo since they look dated and don't show well. So your competition will be minimal. If you're up for a little renovation, you can probably get a larger condo for less.

For Sellers, you need to look at things a little differently. This is how I think sellers can benefit from timing:

If you have lived in condo that is roughly five years old, you are at peak selling potential. Why? Well, your condo is old enough to have built up a strong reserve fund for future repairs and updates to the condo. Also, after five years, the common elements are usually still in pretty good shape. The fixtures on the lights are still modern. The machines at the gym are all operational. Plus, the design and the style of your unit does not look old fashioned. Essentially your condo will not be upstaged by newer more modern condos. Finally, nothing has broken down yet. No big costs to fix the roof, the elevator, the windows. All these things put a buyer's anxieties at ease and provide the visuals that appeals to many buyers. It's a good time to sell.

2. NOW
This winter has provided a very low supply of houses and condos. Though houses are in higher demand, condos are much more available. Still, there are less condos for sale now than this time last year, and they are selling faster and at slightly better prices than the Fall. I'm not sure this will last until the Spring, but if you can pull it off, get out there now if you want to sell a condo this year.

So maybe your condo is older, and maybe less desirable in the eyes of some buyers, but if your condo building has recently done a renovation of the common elements - a new carpet in the hall, a more modern lobby, and a fresh paint job, your chances of having more success with a sale will improve. Even if the condo is about to have a renovation, then that can be an incentive for buyers to get in there. Hopefully this renovation has been done after those running the condo have saved the money to update the amenities as opposed to depleting the reserve fund.

Now, I'd like to say it again: Timing isn't everything. This is true especially for sellers where having a great marketing plan is key. You need to know how you and your salesperson are going to advertise your property beyond a posting on MLS, how you will stage it, how you will stand out from other units in your building, and how you will negotiate your sales price. You need a strong marketing plan to attract those buyers.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Spillover Effect: How To House Hunt Better

People trust their guts. And for the most part, guts tell people the right things to keep them out of trouble or intuitively lead them to the right decision.

When it comes to buying real estate, it's not always wise to trust your guts - at least not all the time. For example, guts can fall hard for a house that is staged well. They love a dream kitchen, beautiful lighting, edgy, yet tasteful art, and a backyard spilling over with colourful flowers, carefully placed shrubs and and a puppy sleeping by some garden gnomes. 

Guts can also really fall for a neighbourhood. With certain clients, if I drive through an established or some emerging areas with the right buzz on the nearby commercial strip, their guts start responding to the right mix of indie coffee shops, yoga studios and hip restaurants.  An appealing neighbourhood could set off the dream to want to live here. Clients imagine walking down the streets. They time how long it would take to drive to work or walk to the transit stop. They get hooked. 

Some neighbourhoods just sell themselves.  In Toronto, people's guts love Roncesvalles, Little Italy, Cabbagetown, and more recently the Junction, Leslieville and Wychwood. 

If  you can afford to buy in these neighbourhoods, then go to town. They're great! In fact I live in one of them and am quite happy here.  Competition is currently stiff for a great house in a great neighbourhood. If those are the kind of homes you like, then there's a good chance a lot of others will as well. So, there will be a lot of offers and you'll have to have the best one.   If you're the kind of buyer who is on your second home after building a lot of equity in your first house, then you will likely have the deeper pockets to live in some of the great hoods listed above. If you have the sizeable down payment and you can do it! Get in there.

If you are on your first place or are moving to Toronto from a place that is less expensive, you are going to have to look at things differently. If the numbers just don't add up for you to live in a great house in a great neighbourhood, you'll need to dial down the guts and  put on some potential goggles instead. 

Don't give up on your guts all together. At the start of your search, they can be quite helpful.  So, let your guts lead you to the neighbourhood you want to live in. Maybe it's the Annex or maybe it's High Park. Then ask your brain if you can afford it. If not, look at the neighbourhood right next to it. Because, chances are, the people who cannot get into the richer neighbourhood will live next to it, and these emerging neighbourhood transform fairly fast. 

Let me give you a few examples. Let's say you like the Annex. You want to live there. But it's your first house and you can't quite cover it. So, you go a little north to Wychwood. Ten years ago, Wychwood was actually quite a reasonable neighbourhood to look for some first-time buyers, but these days, this neighbourhood has developed a remarkable community with the Wychwood Barns as a centre piece plus better businesses have popped up along St. Clair. So, if you can't afford Wychwood, go north of St. Clair to Oakwood, and you have the same beautiful homes without the same level of reno. Already, I am seeing the desire to live here going up. Next it will be north of Rogers Road. Any way you slice it, it would be a good investment to be in the next spillover neighbourhood.

Now let's do one in the east. Homeowners love Riverdale. And if you can afford to live there, I suspect you will be very happy. Great location. Transit is a dream, and the Danforth has everything you need. If you can't quite deal with the typical million plus price tag, then you move over to the Danforth Village just west of it. The homes are much more humble here, for the most part, but the prices are better. The thing is, this neighbourhood is now becoming the terrain of bidding wars for many first-time buyers. So, then skip to the next one if you cannot afford it. I would suggest going over the Victoria Park border and into Scarborough. Yes, I said it. Scarborough. It's undervalued and you can get a lot more home there than even the Danforth Village, and with less money.  As each neighbourhood grows in value, it helps out the one next to it. 

To be clear, I'm not suggesting you move to a horrible neighbourhood and wait for it to turn around. That's a bad strategy. I'm also not saying that all neighbourhoods next door to great ones will be good investments.  You do need a real estate salesperson who understands the city to help out here. 
For those first time buyers or those looking for more house for less money, you have to cross the metaphoric tracks. You need to look at the neighbourhood beside the crazy bidding wars. Because once those bidders in those crazy bidding wars become exhausted or tired of competing, they are going to look nearby. And over enough time, that will be the new place for bidding wars and rapidly rising prices. Hopefully, after you have purchased there.

Of course, if you have to live in a walkable neighbourhood near good transit, your gym, your favourite eatery and cafe, then you have plenty of condo options.  In many great neighbourhoods, some condos are more affordable. With condos, you really need to do your homework on a given building too. If it's a house you really want, just make sure your guts are not the only thing calling the shots.