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Toronto - Mega Block Developments

There was an interesting opinion piece in The Globe and Mail on Friday January 8, 2021, written by Alex Bozikovic, discussing a proposed development on the southwest corner of Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. Mr. Bozikovic is the architecture critic for the paper and has made contributions to several publications and authored a book on Toronto architecture.


Bozikovic hearkens back to the 1950s and 1960s when the hot idea in urban design was to create spaces to be “park-like, uncrowded…they will be clean, impressive and monumental (and) will have all the attributes of a well-kept dignified cemetery”. While this may have seemed desirable fifty years ago, I believe a neighbourhood without proper access can become boring, underutilized and dangerous.


The site in question housed a large TTC yard and Canada Square. The current proposal would see 600,000 square feet of commercial space lost, in the interim, and replaced with a mixed residential and commercial community built on top of a new bus terminal. Essentially, a large office tower would be built along Eglinton Ave West. Moving south a planned green space would be built over the concreate of the bus terminal adjacent to four large residential buildings on a small cul-de-sac. One can imagine what this type of development would do to the traffic in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Likely the green space would only be used during office hours and sit empty at other times. Although I’m not a botanist, I ponder how viable a green space would be built over a concreate structure, not to mention the shade that would be created with five menacing obelisks. The entire complex would be owned and managed privately making me wonder how “open” this green space would be. Certainly, private security and surveillance would be instituted as part of the plan.


I found the article interesting in light of recent efforts the city has made to open up access to large mega-block developments of the past. Regent Park was built around the time that this notion was popular. It became a glaring failure on several levels but for me the mega-block design was paramount. Regent Park began construction in the late 1940s and closed down approximately twelve city blocks. Over the ensuing decades the green spaces became little more than open fields and the recreational facilities reduced to places for illicit activity. Oak Street, cutting through the area, was closed to vehicular traffic limiting the ability of city services to operate. All this seclusion along with the visual barriers to the street provided by the apartment buildings made it the perfect place to evade detection. A little further east, a cul-de-sac was created on Oak Street and several multi-level residential units were built. In my mind the proposed development at Yonge and Eglinton may be doomed to a similar fate. It seems logical to me that building large scale developments has an extreme downside and a more organic development that includes public streets and staggered eclectic development would be better.


Why not keep the existing buildings and allow greater access to the space in between? Large commercial and residential units complemented by smaller, sustainable businesses would make the location a destination. When I think of my favourite places to visit in Toronto, Kensington Market, The Distillery District, Bloor West Village and Ossington come to mind where streets and pedestrian thoroughfares provide an opportunity to amble on a fine day.

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When will the market pop!

Often when talking to friends and acquaintances I’m asked, “what do you think about the real estate market and when will it pop?” My quick answer usually goes something like this, “if I had that answer I wouldn’t be talking to you, rather, I would be on a private island living out my dreams”. In this blog I would like to discuss three important factors in trying to unravel the secrets of the market: subjectivity, sustainability and speculation.


To be honest there are no secrets, it comes down to being well informed and having the type of representation that has your best interest at heart. Depending on individual needs the time to enter the market is whenever you are ready. As the old adage goes, “don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today”. Buyers and sellers should be more concerned with what suits their lifestyle and where will they find happiness. If you are making a lateral move and staying in the same area with relatively the same housing needs, buying and selling are co-dependent. If staying in the same area your buying and selling prices are going to be comparable unless you plan to down/upsize. Trying to sell high and buy low in the same market is fruitless when trying to purchase similar properties. For example, if I wanted to sell my fully decked out custom home and buy something similar, I should expect to sell high and buy high. If I’m willing to purchase a “fixer upper” in the same scenario there will be gains to be made. If I’m a senior and looking to downsize in the same market I should expect to gain far less than if I downsized to a rural area. Clients can spend their lives speculating on the best time to buy and sell while precious time passes looking after a property that no longer suits their needs.


It may surprise many, but 2020 was a much better year for real estate than 2019. If you recall 2019’s market was impacted by new mortgage rules that took time to settle in with consumers nationally. The Toronto market continued to be impacted by the municipal land transfer tax while the Vancouver market suffered from the taxes placed on foreign purchasers. Both these scenarios fuelled the real estate market in Montreal as investment money ran from the added costs in the other two markets. In 2020 the market was deeply impacted by the Covid crisis in the early going. As the year passed and interests rates dropped, all three of the major real estate markets soared. As we look optimistically toward the end of Covid, speculation must be tempered with the slow rollout of vaccines and sky-high infection numbers through at least the first quarter. Recovery on the stock markets has been swift, bolstered by the prospect of a new government in the United States among other factors.


Recently the December market numbers have been released. In my last blog, I discussed the role working from home and the need for more space have had on the market. House sales in the Toronto market were up 8% in 2020 over the previous year, while Vancouver saw a spike of 22%. In both cases the combination of cheap money and limited supply has returned us to bidding wars for many listings.


This eventuality brings the question of consumer sustainability. While many are looking for bigger properties, while interest rates are low, will consumers be able to sustain mortgage payments and desired lifestyles if rates creep 2 or 3 points higher?


The real estate market will always remain subjective and speculative. Trying to pinpoint when to sell for the highest price and then buy at a low price is a fool’s game. A better strategy would be to enter the market with the knowledge that you would like to move based on your personal, financial and lifestyle needs avoiding transaction remorse.

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New property listed in Bowmanville, Clarington

We have listed a new property at 35 Westover DR in Clarington.
Immaculate 1890Sq Ft End Unit Three Bedroom Freehold Townhome On A Quiet Street Close To Tons Of Amenities. Fantastic Layout Featuring Lg Laundry Area, Spacious Dining Rm & Family Rm Boasting A Double Sided Gas Fireplace. Gleaming Hardwood Floors! Open Concept White Kitchen With Custom Backsplash. Main Floor Laundry, Large 2nd Floor Bedrooms With An Additional Study/Office Nook. Gorgeous Front/Backyard Landscaping Perfect For Entertaining Family & Friends.
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New property listed in Bowmanville, Clarington

We have listed a new property at 105 Westover DR in Clarington.
Stunning Family Sized 4Bdrm Home On Large Pie Shaped Lot. This Home Features A Large Backyard With A Huge Deck Great For Entertaining. The Main Floor Boasts Gorgeous Hardwood Floors, Freshly Painted, Open Concept Family Room With A Gas Fireplace & Pot Lights. The Kitchen Boasts A Large Eat In Area, Breakfast Bar & Good Sized Pantry Great For Storage. The 2nd Floor Bedrooms Are All Spacious In Size. The Basement Is Already Framed To Get You Started.
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Lower interest rates have not necessarily helped first time buyers
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in almost every way. Certain aspects like family and home-based pursuits have been strengthened, while external activities like education, recreation and entertainment have been challenged.
 
Covid-19 has had an absolute impact on the economy with many businesses closing, negatively impacting employment opportunities.
 
Interest rates are at historical lows and if you have been saving to purchase your first home you may be well positioned; but that may not be the case in all areas. If you are still looking to live the urban lifestyle, there has been downward pressure on condominium prices as vacancy rates creep higher creating expanding inventories. The suburbs are a different story, particularly in the Regional Municipality of Durham. Those starting families and needing more space have been leaving Toronto’s core and looking to the 905 region for access to modern infrastructure and recreation facilities. Many established families in the 905 have decided to weather the pandemic and stay in their current homes. This move has limited supply, while demand has crept up. This trend may be partially attributed to the pandemic and the need for yard spaces that condominiums just cannot offer.
 
In the Durham Region the average home price was up almost 20% year over year with the City of Oshawa seeing gains of over 22.5%. Established homeowners in Toronto have seen enormous increases in equity since 2009 making the move outside the city financially advantageous. This reality has created cash rich competition for first-time buyers.
Many younger real estate buyers that purchased a condo as an investment years ago are now stuck with the prospect of dwindling equity and increasing maintenance fees limiting their ability to save a down payment for a larger home outside the city. Furthermore, younger wage earners tend to work in less established positions that have been hit harder with pandemic layoffs and downsizing.
 
For those fortunate enough to have the money to purchase, short supply has seen the return of bidding wars for attractive properties. There is a good option for millennials, the fixer upper. The 905 presents many opportunities to purchase an older home (25-40 years old) that may be in original condition. Those willing can avoid the bidding wars and seek older homes saving thousands of dollars. One clear advantage of this strategy is having less money tied up in a home purchase freeing funds to update a home with the latest amenities suited to the buyer’s taste.
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WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Being in the present is important for our health and perspective, our future presents a plethora of opportunities for growth. Without trying to be overly new age, the steps we take now will provide a brighter tomorrow. The new year is a fresh start and avoiding grand resolutions may help avoid self-deprecation as the winter months drag on. Bearing this in mind, the old adage “one day at a time” would be more useful to keep personal growth goals on the rails. To be resilient means to be mindful of all the things we as Canadians enjoy. Be kind and be well in 2021.


Over the holidays there was a newspaper article highlighting a proposed development in Vancouver, called Quantum Park. One interesting result of the pandemic was the ability technology has given us to be productive away from the office. Quantum Park will redevelop three hectares of industrial land in Vancouver’s inner harbour into mixed use (commercial/residential) property. The development will be part of moving the city toward a tech centric economy. Although the office will not completely be outmoded, Quantum Park will allow tech companies to lease office space and meeting areas in close proximity to employee dwellings making the morning commute obsolete.


Closer to home Toronto has been considering what to do with The Port Lands that stretch across the lake front from Cherry to Leslie Streets south of Lakeshore Boulevard. One of the most exciting announcements has been the naturalization of the Don River. This process will see the waters of the Don River flow freely into Lake Ontario for the first time in over a century. Parks, bridges, and foot paths will complement proposed residential spaces between the Keating and Shipping channels creating a new island. The area will be complemented by the existing Cherry Beach and Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie Street Spit).

Indeed, there are exciting times ahead for residential, commercial and leisure developments in the Greater Toronto Area. Over the next few months, we will be bringing some other interesting developments in real estate to our readers.


Thank you for your support over the last fifteen years, let’s take 2021 as it unfolds with a positive outlook toward a healthy and hopeful future.

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