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14
Feb

The New Danger to Toronto’s Rental Pool

condo-rentalsThere should be no surprise to anyone that we are seeing significant competition for rental suites in the city. Last week an agent in my office scoured MLS to find 21 condos that met the size, location and price for his client. He started calling to make appointments only to find that all but 4 had been rented out. Clearly a shortage exists in the rental pool across the city which is creating competing bids. In this situation the winner is not just the guy with the biggest amount of money. Today’s winning tenant is the one who has the best covenant, that is.. the best job (meaning long track record of employment) and the biggest salary, the least debt and highest credit score. Perhaps that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

But the bigger concern should be the shrinking pool of rental units across the city. The double-digit price increases that condos are experiencing together with some of the highest numbers, in terms of millennial buyers, entering the market, should be cause for concern. Consider that in January 2014 the average condo in C01 cost $448k. That would typically be a 1 bedroom and den configuration of about 700 square feet +/-. For simplicity I will assume that a typical buyer would put down 20% (or $90k) and carry the balance on a mortgage at a cost of about $1694/month. ($358k at 3%, 5 yr term). Include a typical property tax of about $265 per month (Around $3200 annually) and maintenance fees around $385/month ( $.55/per sq ft). and you have a total operating cost of about $2345/ month. For that kind of money in C01 you are probably located on King West about a few blocks away from the Financial District and assuming the unit had parking, the monthly rent MIGHT cover your nut. Not a bad deal especially if you hope that the unit is appreciating year over year.
Jump ahead two years. That same unit is now, according to TREB stats, pushing $531k. Interest rates have not changed significantly so the monthly cost of your mortgage, with the same 20%down, is now $2016/mo ($531k-$105k deposit= $426k at 3%, 5 yr term). Assume maintenance and taxes are similar and your monthly carrying cost is now closing in on $2670/month. Rental rates have not kept pace, so if you are an investor, you would be running a loss, in fact you need to have nerves of steel to be ok with losing well over $300/ month. For investors, buying a condo to rent out just doesn’t make sense.
Now consider the investor who bought in 2012. Chances are they are covering their expenses nicely. Even with higher maintenance fees and taxes, they are still in the black by $200-$300/month. But at an average purchase price of $410K in January 2012, if that person sold today he would gross $121k. Hard to pass up on that considering it would take you roughly 40 years to earn that same income when you are collecting it $250 a month. Naturally, I am omitting commissions and capital gains out of the picture but the theme remains. Currently in the C01 there are nearly 400 active listings of which 122 are listed as having tenants. Many of the listings I examined contained vacant possession notes in the broker comments. If half of those tenants are forced to move to accommodate end users, Toronto could face a much more serious housing shortage. On a side note, two other factors will change the landscape of rental units in Toronto namely the tightening of speculative lending through the banks and AirBandB. Two things to keep an eye on.

Mark McLean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office, the Immediate Past President the Toronto Real Estate Board and a director at the Ontario Real estate Association. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB, OREA or Bosley RE.

14
Feb

Nothing says ‘I’m serious about buying this house’ like a huge deposit

meetingI had to laugh. A few months ago I bought a property in the country. Knowing the Toronto market like I do, I was prepared to shell out $50,000 as a deposit with my offer. Before I wrote the cheque I thought I would just ask the listing agent what an appropriate deposit would be. His response…$5K should do it! The experience highlighted the differences between our two markets. One, a fast paced, come hell or high water environment where a big deposit means business, and the other, gentle simplicity where trust is the underlying currency.

The reason I bring this up is that many years ago, at the start of my real estate career, deposits were never really that high. It was always impressed upon me, when I was starting out, that the deposit should at least cover the commission but that guideline was seldom adhered to. Today, the deposit amount plays an intricate role in the purchase of a house. A big deposit, in the form of a bank draft will beat out a small deposit written on an uncertified personal cheque every time. In fact, nothing says ‘I’m serious’ like a deposit of 10% of the property value when offering. With big money on the line, buyers need to know the implications….on the off chance that something goes wrong. Clearly its a lot of money to leave on the table.

What I am inferring here is that the buyer interview just got a whole lot more important. We are long past taking a buyer’s word that they are approved to buy a house. A responsible Realtor needs to do a deep dive during that initial buyer meeting and be prepared to ask some often difficult questions. Buyers have to know that their deposit might be at stake given the fact that there are so many places where things can go south. It’s not just buyer’s remorse anymore, we are seeing deals fall apart because banks are changing financing terms on the fly.

So what can you do to help Betty Buyer? Ask more questions and offer more advice. It’s no longer good enough to ask if she has talked to a bank. Get Betty to provide a letter of commitment from the bank OR get her to talk to YOUR guy. Talk to Betty about the perils of not closing. Explain what happens if the house doesn’t appraise out. Ask if there are sources for her to find more capital (like the bank of Mom and Dad). Talk about closing costs and various taxes she will need to pay. Its time to take the buyer interview to the extreme vetting stage! For some agents it will be a difficult conversation. For others it will be instinctive. But at the end of the day it is not just about all saving you grief and heartache when the deal goes south, its about going the extra mile for your buyer client. As the listing agent, there is extra onus on you to ensure that the buyer is QUALIFIED to buy the home. This means asking the buyer agent questions about their buyer; how long have they been associated? Have they done offers before? What steps did the buyer agent take to ensure the buyer has money to close? I am reminded of a deal I did many years ago that went sideways after an accepted offer. I asked the buyer agent what they new about their buyer and was shocked to hear that they met them at an open house, and didn’t have time to properly qualify them. Hey, not all deals will go according to plan but if you ask the right questions first you eliminate problems down the road.

Mark McLean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office, the Immediate Past President the Toronto Real Estate Board and a director at the Ontario Real estate Association. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB, OREA or Bosley RE.

9
Feb

The dangers of not including a status certificate condition on a condo purchase

toronto-condosToday’s Mastermind meeting focused, yet again, on the fast paced downtown Toronto real estate market particularly with respect to condo purchases. As mentioned in previous posts, condominiums have experienced unprecedented price growth over the last year. This is due to a perfect storm of low interest rates, employment growth, a wide choice of condo sizes and styles, and lack of inventory in the freehold sector. As the Manhattanization of Toronto continues, supply in the condo market is likely to tighten which in turn will increase competition and drive prices up even further.

An offer on a typical condo usually includes a Status Certificate clause which, in the simplest terms, allows a potential purchaser some time to review condominium documents that include budgets for future improvements or repairs to the building, but also specific accounting information on the unit being purchased and what the unit holder is responsible for as far as maintenance fees. A typical clause would specify that the buyer would instruct the seller to order the status certificate from the management company as soon as the offer was accepted and the seller (or seller’s agent) would have 10 days to deliver the certificate to the buyer (or buyer’s agent), who would then have 2 days for their lawyer to review the documents and make recommendations if necessary.

Today market conditions warrant a new approach. Offer holdback dates and bully offers are becoming the new normal. An astute agent will order the status certificate (about $100-$125) well ahead of time. It is important to know however that there is a limited shelf life on status certificates and if the listing extends longer that a month, it is recommended to get an updated version. Many management companies now have the capability to deliver the certificate digitally which will also shorten the 10 day time period for delivery. The reality is that not every agent is ordering a status certificate ahead of time. Buyers are submitting clean offers (no conditions) knowing full well that a seller will favour their offer over any offer with a condition, unless it is for substantially more money.

So what could go wrong? If you can imagine it…it can go wrong. For the most part, very little can go sideways if the unit owner owes back maintenance fees or taxes because proceeds from the sale would pay those off on closing, but illegal uses or unapproved renovations could put a buyer in serious jeopardy by requiring them to return the suite back to the previous condition. Recently I had heard about a buyer who bought without a status review only to find out later that the unit had suffered a serious fire. While the unit had been completely restored the buyer was deeply traumatized by this information because of a major fire in her home growing up. The craziest story I have heard was of a condo owner who used a concrete saw to open up a load bearing wall in their condo! Many years ago I delivered a status certificate to a lawyer on behalf of a buyer I was working with. The Lawyer came back quickly with this recommendation…”I would not buy in this building even if you gave the unit to me for free”. The small boutique building was deep in debt, had a couple of lawsuits pending and required extensive window replacements and as a result a special assessment was being considered. In another building, the management company had stolen all the reserve funds which hadn’t been caught because the company hadn’t provided yearly audited statements as required. Other buildings have class action lawsuits against Kitec plumbing, other condos have special assessments to top up their reserve funds or do elevator replacements or underground parking resurfacing. These Special assessments are not limited to older buildings in need of updates or repairs either. Occasionally new buildings quickly realize that the maintenance fees needed to effectively run the building are not sufficient. Higher fees have a considerable impact on value of the units as well as financing qualifications for purchasers.

Moving forward, agents need to explain the ramifications of not including this clause in an offer. There are extra things you can do, like google the address, call the agent of a recent sale and ask them if the certificate revealed anything, ask neighbours, and dig as deep as you possibly can. Even then, that may not be enough.

Mark McLean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office, the Immediate Past President the Toronto Real Estate Board and a director at the Ontario Real estate Association. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB, OREA or Bosley RE.

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