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COVID-19 slowing the alternative market

The virus has put construction projects on ice and forced industry players to cancel any face-to-face contact

Ephraim Vecina
Mortgage Broker News

Activity in Canada’s alternative lending segment is expected to significantly decelerate amid the global COVID-19 outbreak.

The virus has put construction projects on ice and forced industry players to cancel any face-to-face contact.

Morrison Financial Mortgage Corp. in Toronto has announced that it is placing on hold all new purchases, dividends, and redemptions.

“The real estate market is at a total, or near-total, shutdown,” Morrison Financial principal David Morrison told BNN Bloomberg. “Many larger companies of the same ilk are in the same boat and have been forced to take, or are in the process of considering similar action.”

Trez Capital in Vancouver has also suspended cashouts on investor funds amounting to more than $3 billion. The company said that while it has yet to suffer any defaults, it cannot provide an estimate as to when investors can begin redeeming again.

“We have to protect everything,” Trez chairman and chief executive officer Morley Greene stated.

Figures from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation indicated that the alternative market represented around 1% of the nation’s mortgages last year. The segment had around $14 billion in outstanding mortgages, held by an estimated 200 to 300 lenders.

Copyright © 2020 Key Media

Coronavirus upends GTA condo market

COVID-19 has caused an immediate slowdown in housing market activity

Ephraim Vecina
Mortgage Broker News

A few weeks into Ontario’s state of emergency, the Greater Toronto Area’s condo sector is now bordering on being a buyers’ market – a full 180-degree turn from its previous status as one of the most desirable multi-family housing destinations in Canada.

“While real estate fundamentals indicate that housing demand will bounce back over the long-term in major urban centres like Toronto, COVID-19 has caused an immediate slowdown in housing market activity and across the economy more broadly,” Zoocasa stated in its latest analysis.

From March 3 to the final week of the month, the market’s condo sales fell by a dramatic 53%, from 1,541 to 729. The number of new listings also declined by 26%, from 2,490 to 1,842.

“This was a swift shift from sellers’ market conditions between March 3-16 when the [sale-to-new-listings-ratio] was 62%, to market conditions bordering those of a buyers’ market just two weeks later where the SNLR was 40%,” Zoocasa said.

For both detached and semi-detached homes, sales dropped by a comparable 53% during the same time frame, from 2,435 to 1,153 transactions. New listings across all housing types decreased by 30%, from 4,503 to 3,140.

The current pandemic has decimated financial and housing markets nationwide, with Toronto seeing a hard stop despite an average home price growth of around 9% year-over-year during the last full week of March (ending up at roughly $856,000).

Copyright © 2020 Key Media

Making the best of it: staying productive during COVID-19

Getting ahead of the daily malaise is to be productive

Clayton Jarvis
Mortgage Broker News

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on – more than 900,000 cases were confirmed worldwide at time of writing, with over 8,600 in Canada – brokers and their clients are staring down the barrel of at least another two weeks of strict social distancing.

Waking up each day to a cocktail of rising death tolls and sinking stock prices can leave even the most dedicated mortgage professional struggling to stay focused and productive. Chris Leader, president of Leader’s Edge Training, says one way of getting ahead of the daily malaise is to be productive before even waking up.

Leader’s “High Five” program encourages both real estate agents and mortgage brokers to primarily leverage automated messaging technology to reach out to their databases.

“It’s polite, it’s respectful and it’s proactive, with the upside of generating business going forward,” Leader says. “It’s a bit on the passive side, but it’s really productive.”

Leader’s “High Five” activities include:

  1. Sending five texts – something positive and relatable – to five different people. This is a great strategy for keeping the lines of communication flowing and normalized.
  2. Sending five emails, again to five unique receivers. Email may not be the chosen form of communication for all mortgage clients, but it’s still an effective way of reaching out to people who aren’t fused to their phones.
  3. Writing five social media posts. There’s no better way of staying relevant and plugged in. Leader says leaving comments on others’ posts is another way of engaging, but that’s hard to automate – unless you also run a troll farm in Uzbekistan.
  4. Writing five handwritten cards/notes. While this particular strategy can’t be automated, it provides a calm, thoughtful start to the day and offers your recipients a pleasant surprise when your note arrives.
  5. Leaving five voicemails. Leader recommends a service like SlyDial, where originators can leave voicemails without ringing the recipient’s phone.

“If you put out 25 of those contact points every day, that’s basically 125 a week, 500 a month, 6,000 a year,” Leader says. “If you’re looking at even a 5% conversion rate on some of that business, you’d be looking at 30 transactions from nothing more than staying connected to your sphere and using technology to do it.”

Leader, who trained loan officers at TD Bank, RBC and Dominion Lending Centres before transitioning to coaching realtors across North America, says staying in regular contact with your client base is an important component of not only maintaining business, but of maintaining everyone’s emotional and psychological stability during an unprecedentedly confusing time.

“It’s about reaching out, staying connected and letting the community know that you’re here,” Leader says.

Copyright © 2020 Key Media

If possible, try to maintain business as normal

It’s important to create an annual schedule for building maintenance, inspection, service and repair requirements

Tony Gioventu
The Province

Dear Tony:

Our strata had our Annual Meeting by restricted proxy and a simultaneous Zoom meeting which worked very well. We had the largest participation ever. Out of our 110 townhouses and 50 apartments, 135 people sent in their proxies and 25 attended the Zoom meeting to ask questions.

All of our resolutions passed and we elected a council; however, one concern that was raised was that the proposed budget was reduced by 25 per cent when it was issued. We cut corners on landscaping, building exterior maintenance and reduced our contingency contribution to $0.

Our insurance renews in August and owners are seriously concerned we do not have enough funds to pay any increases and our exterior maintenance is due for perimeter drain cleaning, gutter cleaning and repairs and a long overdue roof inspection.

We know it’s a tough time for everyone, but does this make sense? We may be creating much more costly problems or risks if we defer a number of issues.

Owners at the meeting wanted to know if we can amend our budget in August if we need more funds?

— Margo R. D. president of council

Dear Margo:

Great news that your strata managed to convene your meeting. Many strata corporations are looking at options for meetings under the current restrictions and the combination of a restricted proxy that ensures everyone has the opportunity to direct a restricted vote, and the Zoom meeting to enable questions and dialogue is likely the most viable solution under the current conditions.

While deferring maintenance repairs or renewals to be more budget wise sounds like a good idea, most strata corporations are operating with bare bones budgets already and can ill afford to reduce their maintenance, renewals and contingencies for increased insurance costs.

Perhaps a test for strata corporations to consider in evaluating whether a reduction in service is viable would be helpful.

Create an annual schedule of all of your maintenance, inspection, service and repair requirements. Set a priority based on conditions such as: life safety components and utilities, component operation that is regulated or licensed, such as elevators, boilers, generators, components that may result in water damage if they fail, component service such as janitorial that may result in health risks to residents, and components that may result in damages to building elements and services if eliminated, that increase your exposure to losses or lawsuits. These are your essential services.

For most buildings it is almost impossible to reduce their current budgets because of the high cost of housing, strata owners have approved minimal budgets whenever possible. Try to maintain business as normal as much as possible. There are many contractors who are still dedicated to servicing their clients and available for routine services and emergency response.

If you require additional funds during the year because the corporation did not budget sufficiently, you will be required to convene a special general meeting and approve either a special levy or an expense from your contingency fund if those funds are available. There is no provision in the Strata Property Act to amend the budget during the fiscal year. In addition to making operations volatile, it would be a principle contradiction to disclosure of information to buyers, financial institutions, and predictable contributions for owners.

The insurance market is still in the midst of very difficult times, and with world-wide markets falling, this has also affected revenues for the insurance industry. If your strata insurance is renewing in the next six months, this is a good time to start a direct discussion with your insurance broker. Claims history, maintenance status, location, age of your building, risk management activities and capacity of your property, are all factors that will influence your insurance renewals, costs and deductibles rates.

© 2020 Postmedia Network Inc.

Amson Square 14412 and 14462 72nd Avenue Surrey 90 homes is two buildings by Asmon Group

Amson Group takes a ‘very contemporary, modern approach to the design’ of its Amson Square development in Surrey

Simon Briault
The Province

Amson Square is nothing if not striking. Designed by DF Architecture, this 90-unit residential development in Surrey has had buyers marvelling at the modern lines, the multi-coloured panel siding and the heritage brick that will surround the project’s two buildings.

“We have taken a very contemporary, modern approach to the design of this community,” said Hardeep Sahota, director of operations at Amson Group, the developers behind the project. “You won’t see too many buildings like this south of the Fraser River.”

“We’ve incorporated big squares that cantilever off the side of the buildings, which is one of the reasons why we called it Amson Square,” Sahota added. “There are beautiful, 25-feet high glass lobbies on each side lit by grand chandeliers and we’ve put a lot of effort into the amenity spaces in the buildings too.”

Jag Athwal, a realtor from Surrey, recommended Amson Square to two of his clients. In fact, he was so impressed with what he saw that he also bought one for himself.

“I really liked the look of the buildings once I saw the renderings,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very nice addition to that neighbourhood. The other reason I thought it was a good investment was that there will be commercial space at the bottom, which adds a lot of convenience for residents.”

“With clients, our starting point is to assess what they’re looking for and in what area,” Athwal added. “Once we have a better understanding of what their needs are and what they’re looking for in a condominium, then we show them some options. Amson Square really fit my clients’ needs perfectly.”

Amson Square will be situated at 72nd Avenue and 144 Street, within walking distance of a wide range of restaurants, shops and services. Local highlights include Browns Social House, Planet India, Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Surrey Lake Park is also close by, offering a 1.5-kilometre nature walk and 90 acres of tranquil green space that has become a haven for wildlife.

Amson Square is close to a YMCA, a community centre and no fewer than 12 local elementary schools. Local grocery options include Real Canadian Superstore, Costco, Save-On-Foods and Fresh St. Market. Kwantlen Polytechnic University is also listed on the project’s website as one of the local educational institutions, the Guildford Golf & Country Club is a five-minute drive away and transit connections are easily accessible.

“There’s a direct bus service to UBC that goes right past our development – a public-private partnership between Translink and a private company,” said Sahota. “If you have kids that eventually go to UBC, you’ll be able to wave them off on the bus right from your window.”

“I grew up just down the street from this project,” Sahota added. “We designed this development so that it would be somewhere people would want to raise a family. It’s a very family-oriented neighbourhood here and our building reflects that for sure. We’ve had interest from lots of first-time homebuyers as well as investors who feel strongly about the community, live close by and see the potential in the local rental market. We’ve also had downsizers looking to purchase as well.”

Homes now on sale at Amson Square have either junior two or junior three bedrooms ranging in size from 665 to 1,176 square feet, with prices starting at $429,900.

The development features two shared rooftop amenity spaces. These include community garden beds, outdoor barbeque and dining areas and two play structures. There are also interior amenity spaces with lounges, full kitchens, washrooms and entertainment areas.

“When you walk into our sales centre, what you see is what you get,” said Sahota. “You get the premium appliances, air conditioning in every home, all the millwork, and a premium lighting package too.”

Kitchens will have soft-close fixtures on all cabinetry, engineered quartz countertops and polished tile backsplashes. The appliance packages are by Bosch, Samsung and Panasonic. Bathrooms will have floating-look vanities, continuous floor-to-wall tile, undermount porcelain sinks and frameless walk-in showers with hand-held faucets.

“I’ve lived nearby for while now, long enough to know about all the amenities we have in the neighbourhood,” said Athwal. “I’ve seen Surrey grow so much over the years and the convenience that’s built into the community.”

“Having renderings for Amson Square really helps people visualize what they’re going to be getting,” Athwal added. “They look amazing. It’s going to be such a beautiful development. Then when you can walk through the display suite and see the materials and finishes, it just completes the picture for you.”

Construction has just begun on Amson Square and the developers expect people will be able to start moving in by the spring of 2022. The sales centre at unit 102, 15385 56th Ave. is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Fridays.

Amson Square

Project location: 14412 and 14462 – 72nd Ave.

Project size: 90 homes with either junior two or junior three bedrooms ranging in size from 665 to 1,176 square feet, with prices starting at $429,900.

Developer: Amson Group

Architect: DF Architecture

Interior designer: Collaborative Design Studio

Sales centre: Unit 102, 15385 56th Ave., Surrey, B.C.

Hours: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Fridays

Sales phone: 604.372.2510

Website: www.amsonsquare.com

© 2020 Postmedia Network Inc.

‘This is freezing the market’: Once roaring, Canadian home sales brace for 30% drop from coronavirus

Home sales heading for 30% drop on virus disruptions

Doug Alexander
The Vancouver Sun

Real estate listings are drying up, open houses have been cancelled, and buyers are staying home. One more pillar of the Canadian economy is under threat from the coronavirus pandemic.

What was a roaring start to the spring house-hunting season has ended in a whimper. By the time the dust settles on what’s likely to be months of disruption, Canada could see resales plunge 30 per cent to a 20-year low and the first nationwide drop in prices since 2009, according to Royal Bank of Canada.

“This is freezing the market,” John Pasalis, president of Toronto property brokerage Realosophy Realty, said in a phone interview. “The best-case scenario is we see an improvement in activity in the fall. I don’t think anyone’s really expecting anything before that.”

Real estate, along with residential building construction, accounted for almost 15 per cent of Canada’s output last year, ahead of energy at about 9 per cent. It has been a key driver of growth in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, where an influx of immigrants has fed a boom in activity in everything from architecture and design to insurance and lending.

The buoyant market has also been central to the massive wealth effect that has been driving consumption in recent years. The value of real estate assets owned by households has risen by $2.5 trillion (US$1.8 trillion) over the past decade, an increase of 80 per cent.

Now it’s just another casualty of mandated shutdowns to fight the spread of a virus that has infected more than 9,000 in Canada and led to 105 deaths. While construction has still been allowed to operate in Ontario and British Columbia, it’s all but shut down in Quebec.

‘No Buyers Are Out’

It’s a big change from early March when markets were soaring. In Toronto, sales rose about 50 per cent in the first two weeks from a year ago, and prices were surging, according to Pasalis. By last week, sales were down 37 per cent and new listings were cut by a third in Toronto, he said.

Figures from city real estate boards are expected to show the market fading through March. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said Thursday average daily sales fell to 93 in the last ten business days of the month from 138 in the first ten. But sales were still up 46 per cent in the month and prices rose 2.1 per cent over the year. Calgary, also pummelled by the oil price slump, saw sales drop 11 per cent in March from the same month last year to lowest since 1995.

In Vancouver, some sellers haven’t caught up with reality, says Ian Watt, who specializes in condos at Sutton Group West Coast Realty.

“We’re still seeing a dozen listings a day in the downtown core, it’s ridiculous,” he says. “Why would anyone do it? No buyers are out, period.”

Robert Hogue, senior economist at Royal Bank, said the pandemic will be a “tough but temporary blow” to Canada’s housing market. He sees a recovery coming in stages as buyers take as much as a year to regroup and rebuild confidence amid high unemployment. That means home resales will dive to 350,000 units, he said. Prices will fall briefly over the second half by an average of 2.9 per cent from the year before.

How quickly employment picks up will be key. Already, 1.55 million Canadians have applied for unemployment insurance since mass lockdowns began earlier this month.

“The longer this goes, the more it’s eating away at savings, down payments, employment status and income for the year,” said Simeon Papailias, managing partner of REC Canada, a Toronto-based firm that operates under the banner of Royal LePage Signature Realty. “So it’ll affect qualifications.”

The uncertainty is sure to chill the mortgage market, according to Albert Collu, president at M3 Mortgage Group.

“People aren’t comfortable about going into a home and taking a look at it before making a purchasing decision, nor are they well-grounded in the security around their employment situation at the moment,” Collu said in a phone interview. “Purchase activity is going to be curtailed.”

Rebound in 2021?

Still, industry observers expect the market to rebound strongly once the virus is beaten back.

“We see the outlook improving markedly next year,” RBC’s Hogue said, estimating home resales to surge more than 40 per cent to 491,000 units in 2021. “Exceptionally low interest rates, strengthening job markets and bounce-back in in-migration will generate substantial tailwind.”

Papailias at REC said the minute uncertainty is lifted and “you can go outside without getting your children or parents sick — I think the market is going to go bananas.”

Elton Ash, head of western Canada for Re/Max Holdings Inc., also sees markets roaring back. The question is if there’s a broader recession — and that could depend on the U.S. and how it deals with the virus, given how closely the two neighbouring economies are linked.

“There’s the big unknown — the elephant south of the border,” said Ash.

© 2020 Financial Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc