NEW UNEXPECTED CONDO LOCATIONS MAY BE ON THE HORIZON

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With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we live – and work – condominium buyers who continue to conduct their job duties from home may be able to consider locations in new areas outside the downtown core. Recently, Baker Real Estate facilitated a webinar for Baker Realty Partners and selected industry leaders, with keynote speaker Mansoor Kazerouni. As Global Director, Buildings for IBI and for IBI Living+, he had some fascinating ideas concerning post-pandemic residential real estate. Until now, the best residential sites have been focused on transit-oriented locations in urban locales. With the “sticky” (enduring) changes we see happening, including live/work scenarios for more people than ever before, we may see an opportunity to expand the horizons for residential sites. Zoning may need to be expanded to satisfy the need with less single use zoning and more mixed-use.

Rather than promoting urban sprawl, new zoning bylaws could simply allow for condos that are within a 10-minute walk to essential services, supplies and local amenities. In other words, they could be introduced into commercial areas to create mixed-use neighbourhoods. The ability to walk to grocery stores, pharmacies, cafés and other restaurants, schools, small-scale health care facilities and parks enhances the already carefree condo lifestyle. We may see changes in local retail as well, with some venues offering more than one service, for a win-win situation. Overall, supply chains will become more localized, and new sources will likely emerge. It is also interesting how important ground-level retail and commercial spaces have become to those who live and work in their condos.

Although the live-work concept has been around for years, it has gained huge ground during the pandemic. Companies and workers have been creative in finding ways to conduct business outside of a central office space. Now that we have seen how effective it can be, the trend is likely to continue from this momentum. Condos with live-work possibilities are the way of the future!

MASTER-PLANNED CONDO COMMUNITIES MEET LIFESTYLE NEEDS

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With the hectic pace of life for most people nowadays, it is easy to understand why carefree condominium living is appealing to the masses. When combined with master-planning and mixed-use design, condos offer the opportunity to live, work, play and shop in the same community, which is even more desirable. That’s what master-planning is all about: urban design that usually includes residential, retail, office, commercial, green space and easy access to public transit. Residents can run errands, exercise in the outdoors, enjoy entertainment venues and possibly even work and/or attend college or university, all within walking distance.

11YV ideally located in Toronto’s elite Yorkville neighborhood, is the perfect example of a residential condo meeting lifestyle needs.

Over the past several years, cities across North America have become home to a growing number of these residential scenarios. One thing we have learned from the blossoming of master-planned, mixed-use communities is that we need all those little shops we use to keep our lives together, such as small grocery stores, fresh green grocers, dry cleaners, hair salons and the like. Walkability is the crux of master-planning, and it is a true luxury to be able to stroll to these nearby amenities. Sometimes the residences in these communities are rental, as well as market condos, to embrace people of all walks of life. 

Then again, even single condominiums in downtown Toronto are master-planned and mixed-use by virtue of location alone. Most new buildings feature retail venues on the ground floor and are close to a multitude of local amenities and services, including lovely green spaces. They may also be adjacent to office/commercial towers. And wherever you live in Toronto, you can be sure public transit access is close by. Whether urban or suburban, the condo lifestyle continues to be in demand in Toronto and throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

LIVE “LARGER” IN A CONDO!

With economics driving condominium suite design to be more compact for affordability, and many young singles entering the new condo marketplace, developers have been ingenious about creating living spaces that “live” larger than their square footage. Open-concept main living areas flooded with natural light from large windows form a bright palette for owners to express their personality with the features and finishes they choose. Linear kitchens are so lovely these days that they are a true enhancement of these living/dining spaces.

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By design, condo suites maximize space usage with the absence of long hallways. And it is not just young buyers who appreciate this practicality; empty-nesters moving from large “nests” often find they have more usable space than they did in their low-rise homes. Remember, too, that condominium amenities are extensions of living space that save space – and once the pandemic is over, condo residents will enjoy these areas once again. For example, there is no need to own exercise equipment when there are fitness facilities right in the building. Hosting large get-togethers in the party/multi-purpose room is a breeze. Whatever your age or family configuration, there is a condo out there that will satisfy all of your needs!

YOUR CONDO CORPORATION AND YOUR LIFESTYLE

During these days of the pandemic, condominium residents are hearing a lot from the members of their condominium corporations about health and safety, especially in the lobby, corridors and other common areas. For example, there are limits to how many people can be inside an elevator at any given time. Of course, during the pandemic, the building amenities are not being used, but condo corporations are paying for extra cleaning and sanitizing services to these areas, as well as hallways, elevators and lobbies. Residents are expected to do their best to avoid the spread of COVID-19 as well.

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This is only one aspect of the many responsibilities board members attend to. Among them are awarding contracts for building maintenance, hiring staff, setting up a code of conduct for residents, ensuring that the reserve fund remains ample for future repairs and determining amenity hours and use. The board members should be respected, as they are residents too, and have all suite owners’ interests at heart.

You might want to consider joining the condominium board of directors. For one thing, you have a say in the way things are done – and everything is done to protect residents’ and their guests’ comfort, safety and privacy. Keep in mind, as well, that board members often become friends. Typically, they come from a variety of fascinating backgrounds. In addition, the duties are interesting, and everyone on the board wants things to run as smoothly as possible. Even when no pandemic is affecting our lives, condo residents are all in this together!

REAL ESTATE DURING THE PANDEMIC

This is another reminder that real estate was deemed an essential service by the Ontario Government, so we have been selling through the pandemic. Yes, life is different, as we are doing everything via the Internet, email, phone and virtual presentations – but this is a very different scenario from the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Back then, real estate practically came to a standstill for months on end. Nowadays, we have wonderful technology to help us carry on business.

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Condominiums, as usual, are still in demand from purchasers of all ages and walks of life. Baker Real Estate is selling across Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, and I am delighted to say that sales are surprisingly robust. Even in this unusual situation, people have to, or want to buy because of leases ending, job relocations, families expanding, nests emptying, etc. Thankfully, our industry has not been hit as hard as some others. If you have thought about purchasing a condo, now is the time to do it. You will still have great choices, and prices are likely to keep rising as supply diminishes. GO CONDO!

LOW MORTGAGE RATES FUELING THE FURNACE FOR FUTURE NEW CONDO SALES

Recent announcements by the Bank of Canada have resulted in historically low mortgage interest rates once again. On March 4, the target for the overnight rate was lowered to 1¼ per cent. On March 27, the overnight rate was lowered by 50 basis points to 0.25 per cent. And in April, the target for the overnight rate at 0.25 per cent was maintained. Bank of Canada considers that the effective lower bound, which means lowering it further would be counterproductive.

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What does this mean for real estate when the market starts to open up again? For new condominiums, we entered this pandemic situation with demand exceeding supply. The pent-up demand will undoubtedly spur tremendous interest – especially in order to take advantage of the remarkably low interest rates. We will also see competition for this business among our banks. If a new condo is on your horizon, you would do well to shop now before the rush. Remember, at Baker Real Estate, we are open for business, and we can help you to shop and make your purchase “virtually.” Now is a great time to GO CONDO!

CONDOS AHEAD OF THE CURVE ON COVID-19 PROTECTION

When it comes to getting used to the new normal brought on by the pandemic, I was thinking that condominiums, by design, are ahead of the curve when it comes to our home and at-home work spaces. And of course, with COVID-19 around us, people en masse are working from home. Many condo suites’ layouts include a den/office/flex space or niche, which makes setting up for working convenient. Today’s young professionals, in particular, are pretty much paperless when it comes to their jobs, which is great in a compact suite. In addition, condo suites are designed to maximize space, so the layouts are efficient.

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I heard a radio interview with an expert who suggests we all need to get exposure to as much sunlight as possible during this unusual time. Today’s condo suites feature large window walls and open-concept main living areas graced with natural light. Open-concept design minimizes the number of door handles residents touch in any given day. Of course, most suites come with a balcony or terrace, which means sitting in the sun with a cool drink is relaxing and helps replenish the Vitamin D we need so much. And with spring here, balcony gardening is a wonderful pastime. Containers are available in a multitude of shapes and sizes. The nice thing with balcony gardens is that you can see them through your windows and sliding doors.

There are other benefits of living in a condo during the pandemic. The concierge can receive and sanitize packages before they get to you. Some kitchens and baths have faucets that can be activated by hand-waving. We also see the possibility of some restrictions being lessened a bit in the near future. When that happens, condominium co-work spaces may open up again for holding small meetings right in the building. Let’s all keep doing our part to keep safe and healthy.

LOOKING AT A CONDO? DO YOU HAVE A PET?

When shopping for a new condominium to live in, it is always best to know exactly what you are buying in the way of the building, the suite and any lifestyle restrictions that might apply, especially if you have an exotic pet. Most condominiums understand the passion people have for their pets. In just about every condo I visit, I encounter a few dogs and their owners on the elevators and in hallways. Indeed, a pet can make a huge difference in the wellbeing and happiness of their owners, and condo developers and condo corporations understand that. In return, suite owners are expected to abide by the pet guidelines set out for everyone’s safety and privacy.

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To accommodate this popular trend, developers often include dog-washing stations among today’s common amenities. In addition, most condos are located close to parks where people can walk their dogs and enjoy the outdoors together. Dogs and cats make wonderful companions. A move to a condo should be a smooth one for pet-owners, so check ahead of time and move in knowing you and your pet are truly coming “home.”

MARCH SALES SHOW YOU CAN’T KEEP A GREAT INDUSTRY DOWN!

The month of March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb – in more ways than one. The Altus Group statistics for the Greater Toronto Area (https://bit.ly/2XYNZR5aa) show that total new home sales were up 67 per cent from March 2019 and 7 per cent above the 10-year average. New condo sales were up 108 per cent from March 2019 and 30 per cent above the 10-year average. Interestingly, this was the second-strongest March of the past 20 years for condo sales. Only March 2017 beat it.

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In addition, the benchmark price for new condos reached $983,133, up 25.9 per cent over the previous 12 months. The last part of March saw weaker sales, but those statistics are proof that we were on our way to a strong year. And with inventory low, once the industry bounces back from the COVID-19 situation, the pent-up demand is likely to boost sales.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating – you can’t keep a great industry down!

BAKER REAL ESTATE STILL OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

The past few weeks have been challenging, and we (and everyone else in the new home and condominium industry) have adjusted our practices to accommodate buyers. Developers have enhanced websites with more virtual tours to create what are essentially “pop-up” sales offices online. You can still shop – and purchase – with confidence without meeting face to face.

For example, Baker Real Estate has developed virtual presentations that have been embraced by both brokers and members of the buying public. We can make visual online presentations to people who are in different locations, which is great for parents who are helping their grown children buy. Our ability to hold both group and individual meetings in real time is a huge plus. Shoppers can ask questions and have them answered right then and there.

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Baker Real Estate Incorporated is ahead of the curve when it comes to digitizing these practices. We have been doing paperless signings over the past two years. Purchases and sales can be accomplished from anywhere in the world by buyers and vendors through our MyBaker Web App and Online Portal connecting more than 12,000 Baker Realty Partners around the globe.

Our iBaker Sales iPad App then enables us to process deals in 10 minutes. We can guide buyers through the signing virtually – and we can accomplish this for every condominium Baker represents. Cheques and identification documents are scanned and entered automatically, and buyers sign on the spot. Once a deal is signed on an iPad, the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, as well as other condominium documents, can be emailed securely. We have been using this system for off-shore sales for years. Now we are harnessing it for sales here in Canada.

In addition, we are actively meeting online with our developers as we prepare to launch new buildings virtually, and then in person when it is once again feasible. All of this involves the same steps we took before, but eliminates the in-person part of the equation.

When things settle on the other side of the pandemic, not only will real estate will be stronger, but also we will be more prepared than ever before. There is, however, no need to wait. If you are in the market for a new condominium, contact us to make an appointment, and we’ll talk … ONLINE!