As a manager for a busy downtown Toronto real estate office, I never thought I would be spending my time talking agents off the edge of a cliff. The truth is, that the market is breaking new ground on agent management. In the past, my conversations with fellow agents revolved around helping them write clauses, dealing with complaints, running meetings, being a liaison with front desk workers, reviewing advertising and generally ensure their business was running smoothly. Today I’m still doing those tasks but as an unfortunate byproduct of this market, I find myself spending a lot of time comforting agents, offering condolences and talking through the ‘post offer’ game tapes. Don’t get me wrong, these are great conversations, but I worry about an office full of stressed out and exhausted agents.
Now, you might be thinking…boo hoo, poor agents, they make so much money it’s hard to have any sympathy. The reality is that the buying process is seriously intense these days. Frustration levels amongst agents are extremely high. They are missing out on offers on both condos and houses and our office meetings and masterminds are dominated by countless stories of failed offer attempts despite clients throwing everything they have at a property.
The problems of low supply, as reported in the media, are not limited to the downtown core either. This is a Golden Horseshoe problem, from Hamilton to Ajax and as far north as Barrie. Granted, the supply crisis is highest in the 416. For several years I have been tracking the weekly sales of houses and condos in the downtown market, defined by the area between the 401 and the lake and east to include the Beaches and west to include High Park. Over the years I have watched the general trend of tightened supply in both houses and condos as well as an increase in the percentage of properties selling over the list price. While housing has stayed relatively consistent, only edging up slowly, the condo market has often surprised me. When I first started tracking sales, there was only true competition on about 13-15% of units sold. That percentage was pretty stable for a few years. Then the number started to shift. By mid year 2016 I started to see more units selling at or above the list price. By June we started to see 30%, by October we were testing out 40% and by December we were seeing some numbers in the 50% range. Imagine, half of all condos selling above the list price. In January 2017 new records were set. Last week we hit 65% and when I am reviewing each and every listing on a line by line basis I notice that condos are not selling over the list price by a $5-10,000 like a few years ago, they are selling over the list price by $50-100K now. It is an extraordinary phenomenon.
Freehold homes face the same challenges for buyers. Recently a home in the west end, listed at $799K sold for $999k then, less than a month later a similar home sold for over $1.2M. Everything in an agent’s gut says these houses are worth the same money. So imagine what is happening to those clients who are being told to submit their offer based on a recent sale, only to get completely blown out of the water.
What impact, if any, is filtering down to the agent on the street? Productive agents are feeling the pressure as much as new agents entering the real estate field. I personally find myself spending as much time coaching the newbie agent the art of increasing your odds at the offer table as talking to the experienced agent who is frustrated with market conditions and looking for answers. And it’s not just the shear number of buyers looking for homes that is creating high stress levels. Increased scrutiny by the banks on their borrowers (sometimes insisting on conditional financing clauses), appraisals and quick home inspections are severely complicating the buying process. Are there any quick fixes? Nothing seems evident on the horizon and my impression is that as the spring market approaches it is going to be a whole lot harder before it gets easier.
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.