Toronto Loft Conversions

Toronto Loft Conversions

I know classic brick and beam lofts! From warehouses to factories to churches, Laurin will help you find your perfect new loft.

Modern Toronto Lofts

Modern Toronto Lofts

Not just converted lofts, I can help you find the latest cool and modern space. There are tons of new urban spaces across the city.

Unique Toronto Homes

Unique Toronto Homes

More than just lofts, I can also help you find that perfect house. From the latest architectural marvel to a piece of our Victorian past, the best and most creative spaces abound.

Condos in Toronto

Condos in Toronto

I started off selling mainly condos, helping first time buyers get a foothold in the Toronto real estate market. Now working with investors and helping empty nesters find that perfect luxury suite.

Toronto Real Estate

Toronto Real Estate

For all of your Toronto real estate needs, contact Laurin. I am dedicated to helping you find that perfect and unique new home to call your own.


Aggressive development: Inside the building and selling of a Toronto condo tower

Tara Perkins – The Globe and Mail

A man who makes a living helping the country’s largest bank avoid risks is preparing to double down on a market that many people believe is on the verge of a nasty fall.

Comment: I guess that just goes to show that those people are wrong. I would not say many people, I would say a few. Yet we give the 1% the same voice as the 99% that speak the truth.

Babak Habibzadeh, a 29-year-old risk manager with Royal Bank of Canada, lives with his parents and bought his first condo two years ago. He rents it out and has been delighted with the returns to date.

So today he’s buying another – a one-bedroom-plus-den, 601-square-foot unit on the 18th floor of a yet-to-be constructed building in Toronto called Core Condos that is scheduled to open in 2017. He’s not yet sure if he will rent it out or live in it, but says it will be a sound investment either way.

“Are you excited?” the saleswoman asks him as he plows through a stack of paper in the sales office, outlining the $360,000-plus deal.

“In three years I will be,” he says.

Core Condos Podium
Toronto’s condo boom has given investors plenty of reason to be excited over the past decade, with prices for new units soaring by more than 70%, according to RealNet Canada Inc. But the recent news is not so encouraging: Sales volumes have declined for two years, a backlog of 18,000 unsold units hangs over the market, and price growth has flattened, even as new condo projects continue to pour onto the market.

Comment: Sales have slowed because project launches have slowed. There have been fewer new condos to buy, thus fewer have sold. But resale condo sales have spiked, taking up the slack. And there are NOT 18,000 unsold condos, that is a complete fabrication. There are 800-odd completed and unsold condos. Maybe 18,000 of all the condos, from pre-sales to completed. That could make sense. With 60,000 or so under construction, maybe that many again ready to build and 19,000 completed. Of that 140,000 maybe I believe that 18,000 are not sold. So the sky is said to be falling because 12.9% of every new condo not occupied at the moment is not sold? Come on, 96.5% of completed condos are sold, doesn’t that count for something? Condos need 70-80% sales to start building, so ever crane you see is at least 3/4 sold. It is anything but dire, no matter what the media seems to want you to believe.

The plethora of construction cranes that populate Toronto’s skyline has made the city a prime exhibit for those who believe Canada’s real estate market is in bubble territory and a crash is imminent. But on the other side of the debate are buyers like Mr. Habibzadeh and developers like CentreCourt Developments, the company behind Core Condos. They are betting their own money on the theory that the market is still far from saturation.

Comment: Oh yeah, people buying condos because they can’t afford houses, a sure sign of the apocalypse. Investors buying to rent out, when vacancies are under 2% and no rental buildings are being built – another horseman. Prices rising around 3.5% after inflation, a SURE sign that the end is near.

Core Condos Lobby
If they’re wrong, the implications would extend far beyond Toronto. In December, the Bank of Canada singled out the market when outlining risks to the national economy and warned that “a sharp correction in the condominium market could spread to other segments of the housing market” with “significant repercussions on the real economy.”

Comment: But they aren’t wrong. That is like saying “if a meteor hit Toronto tomorrow…” Sure, it is technically possible, but so remote and so unlikely that it is not worth mentioning. A sharp correction in the price of anything COULD spread to other segments of the economy. That is a completely hollow and useless statement. Sure, the price of oranges could collapse tomorrow, thus GM could be forced to lay off a shift in Oshawa. No less likely than a sharp correction in the Toronto condo market.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has warned for years of the dangers lurking in Toronto’s condo boom. “I hear from some of them who are in the business of building condos that they don’t really have a plan, they’re just going to keep building them until people stop buying them,” he told The Globe and Mail in April, 2012, two months before tightening mortgage rules to discourage real estate speculation. “It will lead to a crash.”

Comment: Not really. He has been more concerned about the real estate market in Canada in general. Why are you quoting something he said TWO YEARS AGO? Of course condo developers are going to build until stop buying. Isn’t that what companies do? The produce products that people buy, be it condos or candy, and stop producing said product when buyers stop buying.

But developers continue to see evidence that the supply of eager buyers is far from exhausted.

Comment: With 19,000 condos completed last year and 60,000 more currently under construction, I guess not! With 17,000 or so being rented through MLS alone last year, likely about 35,000 in total (in a market with 1.7% vacancy), you can see why investors would buy them. And with detached house prices soon to touch $1 million on average, they are the only housing within reach of many first time buyers. Many Echo-Boomers and Gen-Y’ers want to live and work and play downtown – condos give them that ability. The suburban dream is gone, most 25-35-year-olds do not want a house in the ‘burbs with a 2-car garage and picket fence. How about the 100,000-odd people moving to the GTA every year, all of whom need somewhere to live? And many of them are from Asia and Southeast Asia, where people are used to living vertically. I can go on and on and on. There are a million reasons why the condo market is doing just fine.

Andrew Hoffman, who launched CentreCourt in 2010, is confident he is providing housing the city needs. He points to growing numbers of young professionals who want to live downtown and the declining construction of houses and apartment buildings. “The question is, are we building more than the underlying demand requires? And I think the answer is no,” he says.

Comment: Seeing as how they sold out in 3 weeks, they must have been right.

In November, after securing a prime parcel of downtown land, he agreed to allow The Globe and Mail to sit in on development meetings for Core Condos. This is the inside story of how a condo is made. It is also a window on the economic forces driving one of the hottest segments of a national housing market that continues to defy expectations.

The money

The team at the top of CentreCourt is a blend of experience and youth. A lawyer by training, Mr. Hoffman spent 21 years at Menkes Developments Ltd., a prominent Toronto condo developer, where he rose to become chief operating officer before striking out on his own. His vice-president, Shamez Virani, is a 29-year-old who earned an MBA in real estate from Columbia Business School and did a stint at Goldman Sachs in investment banking before joining CentreCourt.

Core Condos is the duo’s fourth project and, as with the previous developments, the two men began by searching for the right parcel of property. Location is key, but so is price because that determines both the cost of the condo units and the returns for the developers and their equity investors.

Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Virani checked out more than 50 properties before settling on a piece of land on Shuter Street, in the core of the city, close to the Eaton Centre and Ryerson University. It was owned by Bruce Feldman, a developer who has spent 28 years building shopping centres. Mr. Feldman bought the land in 2011, hoping to delve into condos for the first time, but ultimately decided he didn’t want to do the project on his own. “It’s just too complicated and you can make so many mistakes,” he says.

Despite the apparent easy money to be made by developing condos in Toronto, many developers hit the market only to find out they can’t sell enough units to get the bank financing they require to actually build. “Every year there have been guys who haven’t been able to make money, because you really have to appeal to 100 or 200 or 300 individuals that want to own what you’re building,” says Michael Cooper, the chief executive officer of Dundee REIT and Dundee Real Estate Asset Management (DREAM), one of Canada’s larger condo investors and developers.

Comment: Many? Like who? Name me one project that failed due to lack of buyers.

It took Mr. Feldman roughly a year and a half to negotiate the city’s rezoning process and win approval for a condo tower. He agreed to protect the heritage façade of townhouses that the city says are a rare example of Georgian styling, to replace rental units that were on the property, and to pay $1.6-million to the city for local improvements. Mr. Feldman also had to agree that his proposed building would have more than 80 parking spots – which meant taking on the expensive chore of digging down five levels to construct a parking garage.

The biggest single battle with the city was over height. “Our first proposal was for 33 storeys,” Mr. Feldman recalls, adding that a city councillor “almost threw us out the door.”

“They wanted to give us 21 floors, and I needed 24,” Mr. Feldman says. He had determined that 24 was the magic number that would let him build enough units to achieve a solid return. “Just in case a mistake occurred or there were cost overruns or something, it gave a little bit of cushion and I needed that.”

The city ultimately acquiesced, and by then Mr. Feldman was sure he wanted a partner to take the project to completion. Mr. Hoffman’s CentreCourt agreed to buy the land, which is valued at more than $10-million, for the same price that Mr. Feldman paid, and to give him a portion of the development profits.

The moment the deal closed in November, the CentreCourt team sprinted into action. Mr. Hoffman was determined to plan the project, design the units and begin sales in just three months. He says taking too long reduces the annualized return for his investors, ultimately requiring him to charge condo buyers more.

In the condo business in Toronto, developers like CentreCourt put up a small portion of the project’s total cost, with a chunk of the rest coming from buyers who are willing to part with large deposits for condos that are still years away from becoming a reality.

Core Condos Unit
In the case of the Core Condos project, total capital costs are expected to top $65-million. CentreCourt obtained $5.2-million of third-party financing early on, amounting to half the land’s value. The balance of its costs will be funded by equity from the developer and its partners, largely institutional investors, until construction starts.

The money for construction is typically in the form of a bank loan, which will amount to a bit more than half of the total capital costs. Before granting a loan, banks generally require developers to have pre-sold at least 75% of their units – which, among other things, means collecting a 20% deposit from buyers. One-third or more of the amount of the loan must be guaranteed by the developer and its institutional partners.

Comment: Note that amount. Every crane you see means that building is at least 75% sold. And each of those are 20% down. If a building costs $65 million, that means $9,750,000 has been put down by buyers before construction starts. Tell me that is not a huge vote of confidence in the project. And each of those buyers would have had to produce a mortgage commitment letter from their bank. So a 300-unit building like Core would have to have 225 mortgage commitments as well. There would have to be at least 10 lenders involved in all of those, maybe more. So all of those mortgages have to be approved, then all of that money put down, plus all of the original investment from the developer, before their lender gives the final approval and lends them $30-40 million to build. Every single condo has to go through a process like that. That is a HUGE system of checks and balances, is it not? So where is the danger in the Toronto condo market?

If everything goes as Mr. Hoffman plans, the institutions that put in the initial equity will enjoy a return of more than 20% a year on their investment. In his previous projects, he’s always managed to exceed that target, an impressive track record that has allowed him to attract some high-profile backers from the U.S. and Canada.

DREAM CMCC Capital Fund, which provides investment capital to developers, is one of the investors in Core Condos and is unfazed by talk of a potential correction in the market. “We’ve got a lot of people moving to Toronto and they need places to live,” says DREAM’s Mr. Cooper. “We’re not going to have a big increase in single-family homes, so it’s going to be in multi-family.”

He acknowledges the market did get out of hand for a while as developers without a history of building condos in Toronto rushed to get in on the action. “We were starting to see just too much stuff,” Mr. Cooper says. “As somebody said to me today, everybody who ever built a house in the 905 [area code around Toronto] became a condo developer downtown.”

On average, about 20,400 condo units started construction each year in Toronto between 2008 and 2012. More than that are expected to come on stream in each of the next three years.

Comment: No, they aren’t. With a 10-year average of 15,750 condo completions per year and a high of around 18,000 – how is it possible to suddenly jump to 21,000 or more every year? That means the average number of completions needs to jump by fully 33% for 3 straight years, bucking the past decade’s trend. How is that even possible? Where are we going to get 1/3rd more workers? Or 33% more cranes? Or how about 1/3rd more concrete and rebar and drywall? Or is everyone just going to work 12 hours a day for 6 says a week for the next 156 straight weeks?

For now, the new supply is running well ahead of the underlying demographic demand. Will Dunning, a housing market analyst who is also chief economist for Canada’s mortgage broker association, estimates that the Toronto area will require about 12,800 to 15,800 condo units annually in coming years. But he doesn’t see a crash ahead. Today’s building boom is making up for a lack of construction more than a decade ago, he argues, while long-term demand will continue to be strong and building is likely to slow.

Comment: Exactly!

In the meantime, Toronto has become known for having more high-rises under development than any other city in North America. The construction boom is taking place even as condo sales slow. The number of new units sold last year, 13,797, was down 22% from the year before, and is far below a 10-year average of 17,727 sales a year, according to Urbanation Inc.

Comment: But the condos being built today were sold 1-3 years ago. Today’s sales have little relation to, or bearing on, today’s construction. Last year also saw the fewest new condo project launches in 5-6 years – fewer projects means fewer units for sale which means fewer new condo sales. Note, though, that resale condo sales spiked, as demand simply moved from the new market to the resale market.

Some investors have decided to bow out of the market. “We’ve taken a hiatus on condos in Toronto since the beginning of 2012,” says Martin Zieff, who runs Alcion Ventures, a Boston-based real estate fund that invested in CentreCourt’s first two projects.

Profit margins on condos in Toronto “are thinner than you’d find elsewhere in North America,” say Mr. Zieff, who started investing in Toronto condos in 1995. “I decided to stop investing in Toronto condos in 2011 because we saw the market getting sloppy and said, ‘Why bother?,’ ” he says. “Why take that risk?”

Comment: And yet, CentreCourt’s next 2 projects would have made him more than 20% return. So I kinda think he made a bad decision.

The design

Armies of consultants are involved in designing a building: interior decorators, architects, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers. There are separate consultants for parking, garbage and even elevators.

At the start of November, Mr. Hoffman tells the team at Cecconi Simone, a Toronto interior design firm, that he wants the majority of the 220 suites in the planned building to be one bedroom units or one-bedroom-plus-dens under 600 square feet. His goal is to complete the final suite plans by Dec. 2, finish terrace design by Dec. 16 and leak renderings of the planned building to blogs by the second week of January to create buzz.

The developers and the designers hash out topics ranging from closet size to whether a balcony can be moved. They debate details of exhaust systems, coils, ducts and bulkheads.

A consultant says they can get away with two elevators, but the developers decide that buyers will demand the convenience and speed an extra elevator will provide, so they add a third anyway – at a cost of roughly half a million dollars, plus a big chunk of floor space that could otherwise have been sold on each floor.

They save money by maintaining the same kitchen and bathroom dimensions throughout the building, enabling them to buy in bulk. They make room for 24-inch built-in dishwashers, rather than 18-inch ones, because the larger ones are cheaper.

Toronto’s condo boom has made buyers more demanding, especially the crucial market of young, single professionals. To distinguish one 600-sq.-ft. box from another a couple of blocks away, developers compete to tempt buyers with shared amenities, ranging from juice bars and yoga studios to pools and theatres. Among other things, the luxury features are designed to make units more easily rentable – a key consideration, since Mr. Hoffman estimates that about 60% of buyers in his previous projects plan to rent out their units.

Comment: Note that is only his guess. The best estimates for Toronto’s new condo market as a whole peg it closer to 25% rental.

On Nov. 28, the team from Cecconi Simone present their vision for the building’s shared facilities – including a gym, bean bag chairs, a café area with free coffee, a tiered sofa, and an outdoor fire pit.

“You nailed it, this is exactly the feel we were going for,” Mr. Virani says.

“The only thing I worry about is the photo booth,” Mr. Hoffman says. Mr. Virani notes that it’s a popular item at a new club downtown. “I just worry about saddling the building with something that could break,” Mr. Hoffman says.

“The only question I have is the pool table,” Mr. Virani says. “I never really see people playing pool.”

“I think it’s a great way for people to socialize,” Mr. Hoffman counters.

They decide the building will have both a photo booth and a pool table.

Comment: To be honest, I rarely – if ever – see people using the common areas. Developers spend so much time designing and marketing these areas and no one uses them. A waste of time and money and space.

The building is ultimately about 20% studios and 25% two-bedrooms, with the remainder in Mr. Hoffman’s “sweet spot”: one bedrooms or one-bedroom-plus-dens.

The smallest units are about 390 square feet, not much bigger than the master bedroom in many suburban homes. There is one of those on each floor, designed to appeal to cost-conscious buyers. Such “micro’ units are one reason the average size of a new Toronto condo has shrunk by 8% over the past decade.

Comment: You mean the cost, don’t you? The bottom price for a the smallest unit in a givn building has stayed relatively stable over the past 5 years. But the unit has had to shrink to keep the price the same. It is no the unit size, per se, that has brought the average size down, it is the price forcing the smaller size, thus bringing down the average.

“There have been a lot of examples recently of this micro concept,” Mr. Virani says. “We don’t push those to unnecessary extremes; we think of it from a livability standpoint.”

The selling

A condo’s name is vital to its appeal. “We always start with the question, ‘Will people say they live in that name?'” Mr. Virani says. “If they get in a cab, are they going to say, ‘Take me to 1,500 such-and-such street, or to Tip Top Lofts?'” – the name of a condo project near Toronto’s waterfront.

The CentreCourt team decides to name their project Core Condos to emphasize its location in the heart of Toronto. The process of branding and marketing begins.

Comment: And it is this branding that gives us such stupid names as Giraffe and Charlie. And how many Water X variations are there? Water Park, Water View, Water City, Water Closet – I can’t keep them straight any more.

“It’s very much about standing out,” says David Klusberg, vice-president of L.A. Inc, the advertising agency hired by CentreCourt. “There’s a lot of competition.” To whet buyers’ appetites, the agency creates a “teaser website,” where people can register for more information about the project as it becomes available.

In December, Mr. Virani sits down with key brokers, giving them a sneak peak of some renderings, hoping to create excitement. About 50 agents who sold multiple units of CentreCourt’s prior projects come first. As the holidays close in, Mr. Virani does additional presentations for about 100 more agents. He tells them prices will range from the high $300,000 range for studios to about $775,000 for two bedrooms.

“Because we bought the land at the right price and we have the right execution on this, we want to be a value proposition to the buyer,” Mr. Hoffman says. The building ultimately comes out at just under $600 per square foot, slightly below average for the Toronto market.

Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Virani are hoping to be the first major downtown launch in 2014 and are targeting a mid-January date, but just before the holidays they hear rumblings that another building might come onto the market sooner. They kick into overdrive.

On Friday, Jan. 3, they release plans, prices and a digital brochure to agents. The agents then pitch the project to prospective buyers and submit “worksheets” to the developers that spell out the units their clients want and which floors they prefer.

Some developments provide “platinum brokers” – the ones who handle the most condo business – with a head start, allowing their buyers first crack at units. Instead, the CentreCourt team blanket the market, accepting worksheets from any agent, in an effort to sell the project as quickly as possible.

Five nights after the Jan. 3 release, with worksheets in hand, Mr. Virani and Mr. Hoffman start to allocate units. A key consideration is who the agent is – one who sells lots of units will get priority over one who rarely dabbles in new condos.

By Sunday morning 80% of the building is sold. The CentreCourt team decides to raise prices, bumping up the cost of a suites by about $10,000. By the end of the weekend, the developer has 185 deals, meaning roughly 85% of the building has sold out.

Everyone is surprised. In a market that is supposed to be cooling, they have managed to go from closing on a deal to buy the land to selling nearly all of the project within about 10 weeks.

Comment: But the market was never cooling. A few economists predicted it. The media has been saying it – incorrectly – for some 10 years or more now. But the truth is very different. Reality is that the market is NOT cooling – and this is just further proof. Exhibit 1,032 now, with none for the negative side.

“Other developers might have a mindset that if they sold out within 30 days, they’ve underpriced it, left a lot of money on the table,” Mr. Hoffman says. “We’d rather have 100% sold, our deposits in, be very conservatively underwritten, and now focus on the construction.”

Mr. Habibzadeh’s real estate agent, Roy Bhandari, can’t get over it.

“When the guys here told me they were launching on the third of January, I told them, ‘You are absolutely crazy,'” he says, sitting in the sales office while Mr. Habibzadeh finishes his paperwork.

“I was literally still in my Christmas pajamas, and I’m like, ‘Nobody is buying condos at this time of year, you’ve got to wait at least a couple of weeks.’ But you know what? [They were right.]”

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.