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Why Bidding Wars Are Still Common on Downtown Toronto Condos – with Mark Savel

In today’s episode we hear from Mark Savel – top agent with Sage Real Estate and real estate investor who shares his insights and experiences in the downtown Toronto condo market. Mark was recently involved in 2 bidding wars in the last week for downtown condos and the results may surprise you. Find out what Mark has to say about the current state of the condo market and where he thinks the condo market is heading in the next few months.


1:35 Who is Mark Savel and how did he get into real estate market.
3:25 What’s your approach to real estate investing?
4:30 Why should people invest in real estate?
9:00 Happenings in the resale market.
18:41 Advice to condo investors and best property to buy.
20:28 Where do you see the market going?

Click Here for Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the True Condos podcast with Andrew la Fleur. The place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market and condo investing in Toronto.

Andrew: Okay, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the show Mark Savel. Mark is a sales representative with Sage Real Estate. He’s one of the top real estate agents in the city and he’s also a blogger. You can find him over at Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark: Thanks for having me, Andrew. Happy to be here.

Andrew: Yeah, great to chat with you. I know we’ve been friends and colleagues mostly online, but a little bit in real life, too over the years that we’ve been in real estate together, so always good to chat with you, Mark, and hear your take on the market. I know you’re a very active agent, like I said, one of the top agents in the city for the resale market so, love to get your perspective on the market and just especially for the condo investor out there. So many buying pre construction, which is what we’re usually talking about on this show. Again, just to get in touch with reality so to speak, to hear from somebody like yourself who is in the street every day dealing with real buyers, real sellers, real renters, real landlords in the resale market as opposed to the pre construction, the floor plan world, the not built yet world, which is a little bit different. Good to chat with you and hear your perspective on the market today.

Why don’t you start by telling everybody a little bit more about yourself, who you are, how you got started in real estate?

Mark: Sure. I just celebrated my tenth year in the business last month, in May. [inaudible 00:01:50] it just feels like we were just following each other on Twitter yesterday and here we are ten years later. I primarily work in a downtown core between Bufferin and Bayview. South of Bloor, but in recent years, a lot of my condo buyers are going through the cycle, meeting their partners and selling off their condos or even renting them out and moving up into houses. I’ve kind of shifted in the last three years from a downtown condo guy to more a mid town house guy with a bit of condos downtown type of thing.

Andrew: That’s great, yeah. Ten years, we started in real estate almost around the exact same time, actually. Both of us about ten years. Sorry, you wanted to talk about your blog as well, Toronto Livings.

Mark: Yes. It’s a space I have online where I can kind of share exactly what we’re doing now. The in the trench experience of what I’m seeing out there and what’s going on. This market is changing in both directions so quickly, so fast that I think having these online tools is just a good way to share what was seen and educate the people on what the expect and what’s really going on from the perspective of someone in the field versus maybe a journalist behind a desk in a building downtown with no real skin in the game type of thing. Yeah, to move forth in the conversation, just kind of taking about this crazy market we’re having in 2017.

Andrew: Yeah, and I know you’re also, well I’m pretty sure, correct me if I’m wrong. But you’re also a real estate investor, yourself, too.

Mark: Yeah, that’s correct.

Andrew: Tell us what have you invested in, or what’s your approach to real estate investing from your personal portfolio?

Mark: Yeah, I think people kind of over complicate the process, it’s really just getting past your fear of parting with your money, and the rest is kind of easy. I’ve got two mid town houses that I rent out and I have a condo Delphin and Lawrence that I currently live in. All of those were pretty much bought on a whim. Not much thought went into them. It was the location worked, I had the funds, I knew I can carry it, and I just bought them type of thing. Where I’m liking a lot is very heavily along the future Eglington LRT corridor, especially in the houses. I think there’s some really good opportunities between, I would say about Marley Avenue all the way out to about Keel along Eglington. North and south on that corridor, there’s lots of growth coming and lots of plans for future development. I’m focusing on those areas with the investment property.

Andrew: That’s great. Why should people invest in real estate?

Mark: It’s like the Swiss Army Knife of investing. There’s so many ways you can use properties. I say that because it’s not like a stock where you own a piece of paper that can go to zero and you zip it up and throw it in the fireplace to keep warm. The home, number one provides shelter, two it provides a growing asset that you can borrow against and kind of leverage to get your second, your third, your fourth, however many properties you want down the road. Or at the end of the day, it provides a place to go to your family at the same time, where you appreciation. I always think back on my grandmother who when I was like, four, ingrained in me that they bought the house for $10,000.00. Their house at Bloor and Boltercourt, which is now … They still own it, worth probably millions. I always remember thinking, “Geez, you only bought one? If you bought three or four, we’d be having a different conversation.”

I always think, you’re young now, try to buy as much as you can so when you’re older, you can look back at your grandkids and say, “I struggled today, I choked today, so we could breath tomorrow,” type of thing. I just like real estate because it’s got so many different things you can do with it. It’s not just a one fact type of investment.

Andrew: Beautiful, I love it. Swiss Army Knife of investing. I’m totally stealing that line, I love it. Yeah, no, it’s so true because we talk about that a lot in the podcast, just how the multi dimensional aspect of real estate and how you can benefit from it, you can have different income streams and different ways to use that asset to grow your wealth. It’s not just a one dimensional thing. There’s so many ways it can benefit you. The downside, over the long term, is so, so low. Like you said, I think the only regret that people have when it comes to real estate, if they’re in it for long enough, the only regret will be that they didn’t buy more. Sure, if you’re talking about short term periods of time here and there, there may be downturns in the market, but if you look at any long term investor, if you talk to anyone over the age of 80 years old, like you were saying, the older generations. You look back, that’s the one common thing.

If they had bought more back then, they would have been so much further ahead. My parents, my grandparents, we’re all … We see it. We see it every day. I think that’s something that drives me as well is seeing the older generation in my own family and just saying, “I don’t want to get to the point later in life where I say I wish I would have bought more,” so I’m doing everything I can now to buy as much as I can now, so that I can look back with no regrets and also, look at a lot more wealth in the future than I would have had if I hadn’t been sitting on the sidelines.

Mark: Well, and it’s refreshing to be talking with a realtor who is not just pushing an agenda of sales and commission driven salary for oneself, you’re in the game. You’ve got your skin there. Clients always ask me, “Is the market turning? Is it going to crash?” I tell them, “Well, if it crashes I’m crashing with you. I’m actively buying at the same time so no, I’m hedging my bets that it’s not. That’s just not a reality I think we should be worried about.” Having skin in the game gives you so much more confidence to talk to people and say, “Here’s what I’m doing and here’s what I think you should do the same.”

Andrew: Bingo, bingo. On that note, it’s a good transition to talk about the market right now and what’s happening. You know, a lot of headlines obviously in the past month or so since the Winn Government instituted the changes to the foreign buyer tax and rent control and the other stuff, seeing a lot of doom and gloom sort of headlines out there. Sales down, listings up. Prices from month to month, maybe they’re looking like they’re coming down. A lot of people scratching their heads and wondering what’s going on exactly. What’s your take? What is happening in the resale market right now? Where do you see … What’s the market today?

Mark: Let me take a step back and give you my theory of Toronto real estate evolution and how we got to where we are today.

Andrew: I like it.

Mark: I won’t bore you with 2008, I’ll just start 2017 what I see happening. Towards the end of 2016, you started hearing about these absolutely crazy numbers that sellers were achieving. I think that heap continued into the first three months of January, February, March, where almost everybody was becoming a millionaire overnight. Again, my grandmother, she called me about how her house was appreciating 40,000 a day, or some obscure number she had in her head that she read in a newspaper. I think that was fueling everybody who wants to be a millionaire? Well, if you own a Toronto property, you pretty much are one. I think everybody got on that bandwagon of, “Wow the money is great. Let’s take it.”

What I saw was January, February, March, not very many listings. The ones who did come to market were paid handsomely with a insane sale number. March on, or more specifically, when I really noticed a shift was Easter weekend. After Easter weekend, I’ve never seen so many listings come to market in one time. I know it’s kind of seasonal that that’s the unofficial start of the spring market, but if I was seeing three to five coming up on a daily basis, I started seeing 30-40 within my search criteria. That’s when I was kind of like, “Uh oh. Let’s pump the breaks and see what happens because with all this supply, I don’t know if the demand is going to be able to match it.” Sure enough, a lot of people pulled their property off the market because they weren’t achieving what they were looking for.

Bid base would come and go with no offers and people had to readjust. I think there’s about an eight week lag from what is really happening to the effects in the market in terms of headlines and how everybody reacts to it because we started hearing in March, “Well maybe the buyers are getting sick and tired and there’s more listings coming and things could shift.” By April, May, we were there. That was right in that six to eight week window that I think we were experiencing. A lot of it I feel is psychological. I do feel as if, take it for what it’s worth, but I think the week over week has started to see a decrease in listings. It could be seasonal. I think that a lot of people and realtors are starting to have to adjust what they say and be more realistic in you’re not going to get $500,000 over asking like you were expecting. You might have to change your strategy, list a little bit more and negotiate down as opposed to there’s this one realtor who lists everything at 899. Everything.

Andrew: Must be nice. That’s easy. What should we price it at? I don’t know, 899 no matter what it is.

Mark: They sell for a various numbers from a mil to 1.5, I’ve seen their listings go for. As realtors, I think we have to reeducate with the reality of what’s happening in the market and kind of explain that the shift is here. I’ve seen a mixed bag of things. The last two weeks are a really good indication that I’m going to be right, that listings will probably decrease and buyers and all will pent out and we’ll be back to where we were. Maybe not as crazy, but this shifts back to a solid market is realistic.

Two scenarios in the downtown core that really, really caught me by surprise. Two lakes front condos, one on the east end and one on the west end. When I say east end, I mean St. Louis market, and when I say west end I mean Bathhurst. Not out of the city, still in the downtown core.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: Let’s start with the craziest one. That was two days ago, it was listed at 399 and for the building it was more or less priced in line for what previous sales were. For a little bit more just a month ago, and to my surprise, I told my client “Yeah, I think they’re expecting one or two bids.” We went aggressive, we thought we had a good shot at it. Ten people showed up for that property.

Andrew: Ten offers?

Mark: Ten offers for a property that’s a stone’s throw away from the airport Porter. It’s in a relatively congested part of the town so it’s not like you’ve got these sweeping Lake Eerie and it’s a million dollar penthouse that you need to have. It wasn’t one of those at all. It was an older unit, probably not touched in about ten years. It needed some updating and some TLC. Ten offers and it sold for 43% over the list price, which was absolutely insane and smashed the previous record by well over $100,000.00.

Andrew: Wow.

Mark: It’s not one of those agents playing games and, “Whoa, yeah we kind of expected it to sell in this range.” This was a true, proper, record smashing sale that everybody was kind of like, “What?” That is a reality that we have to tell our buyers that not every property you’re going to get for 50,000 under asking. I just don’t think that’s realistic. There is still a lot of buyer demand out there, it’s just the confidence has hit when every time they open a newspaper or flip on the TV, there’s some headline promoting that things are kind of crashing or coming down. I think it’s fair to say that definitely things are more balanced, but to use an extreme of, oh prices are going to crash, hold off and wait. I don’t believe that myself and I own personal investing purposes.

Andrew: Right, so that was the first story. $100,000.00 over the previous record. When was that record set?

Mark: Last month.

Andrew: Last month! So this is not like last year or two years ago, this is $100,000.00 over the previous record of last month.

Mark: Yes.

Andrew: Wow. Ten offers, so you have nine buyers who are floating around still looking for something to buy and they have been shut out. I think you said you had a second story as well.

Mark: Yeah, so this is on the opposite side of town. This was a beautiful, five year old building. Everything modern, everything done. I could see it selling over asking for sure, but that was another one where nine people came to the table. I think the reason why the number is important is, as you had mentioned, there’s eight other people that want this property. It’s not like the buyers have disappeared and their confidence is completely shot. There’s still scenarios where if you’re in a good location and a good building, you’re going to get that demand.

Andrew: What did this one go for and how … What did you think it was going to go for, and what did it go for?

Mark: Okay, so this one was kind of a mixed bag of sales in the building. They were listed just under six, and the last I would say five previous sales were all in around that range at just under six. Then you had one spike that was in high sixes close to seven, but that was kind of just one sale right in the peak of the craziness of early 2017. I kind of discounted that value just said, “Look that was probably the hype and somebody just really wanted it and they paid that price.” I advised my clients that I don’t think we’re going to have that number come up in this one with the sale, and we got exactly that. The number was within a couple thousand dollars of that crazy sale. Nine offers and I think it sold, I want to say about 90k over asking.

Andrew: 90k over asking. That worked out to roughly like, these two sales worked out to roughly how much per square foot?

Mark: The latest one, I’m not 100%, I didn’t crunch those numbers because I was so turned off by how crazy it sold for, but the one on the east end sold for roughly 1,000 a foot. Just under 1,000.

Andrew: $1,000.00 a square foot, wow. Nine offers, $1,000.00 a square foot, record prices being set.

Mark: When we were kind of working Young and Bloor, the one Bloor days, the [inaudible 00:17:18] days of Young and Bloor, 1,000 a foot was like, “Holy crow, luxury all day, we made it.” This is just your … It’s a great condo, but it’s not a Ritz Four Season by any stretch, achieving those type of numbers.

Andrew: Right, right. So 1,000. Are you seeing that, how much of that are you seeing? 900, 1,000 dollars a square foot being achieved in the downtown core?

Mark: I definitely see that more outside of the areas that we would expect that to happen. Your standard Yorkville, or your Hot King West locations. I am starting to see it in other buildings. Maybe not pushing them clear in the thousands, but definitely eight to nines, which I think happened a lot faster than I would have expected to happen.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. Wow. You got two … And this is all just in the past couple weeks, two crazy bidding war situations with the records being set downtown. What do you take from this in terms of … Well, let’s maybe speak to the condo investor who is buying today. When the market is slowing down a little bit, or there’s signs of the market slowing down, there’s still properties like this that are setting records. What would be your advice to the condo investor? What’s the best type of property to buy in order for them to also have this success in the future?

Mark: Well, as always, location, but let’s not be cliché. Obviously location is important. I think it goes back to your fundamentals. You have to follow what your guidelines are and what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re a condo investor, you know what carries and it’s a very black and white type of purchase. You’re not going off of emotion, you’re going off the numbers. I would say when you see sales like this happening, don’t participate in them because there are obviously other ones you can find more bang for your buck. Make sure you’re in a building that’s run by a really good property management company. I think that’s so crucial to the wellbeing of the building. In a location that’s accessible and as a general rule I follow is if you’re insulated in the downtown core, you stand the better chance of being better than some of the condos listed outside of the city.

Andrew: Right, right. In the core, when things slow down, it’s sort of the last to slow down and the first to pick up again when things turn.

Mark: That’s an accurate assessment of things. Even if you look in 2008 when the states had their problems, markets like New York and California, the cores, you know, the major metropolises. They were the last, or they felt the least of it, and the ones in remote locations suffered the hardest. Pick your locations properly, choose something where the renter pool, the Bay street corridor, we have the schools and the hospitals and the financial district. Those are things I’m looking for when I’m working with clients.

Andrew: Where do you see the market heading from here? Sort of in the next few months, but also bigger picture, the next few years?

Mark: Awesome question. Everybody always asks, or they’ve got that cousin’s uncle’s friend’s girlfriend who knows the market is going to crash because she’s been saying this for 14 years and she just knows now’s the time. I try to tell people, look at the fundamentals and then ask yourself is it really going to crash? The three fundamentals I focus heavily on are interest rates, population pattern, and overall confidence. Confidence I would say in your job, in your ability to cover the mortgage. We still have a extremely high amount of population coming in every year, it fluctuates between 150 and 200 a year. Rates are still relatively cheap and the demand and the confidence, yes it’s a bit more balanced, but it’s definitely still there as these two sales can speak for my experience.

I would say look at those things. If rates start to shoot up or for whatever reason population patterns shift, I think big picture, we should be concerned about where this market is going because that’s what’s fueling the buyers of today to become sellers tomorrow. As long as those things stay in check, I think we have a pretty good [inaudible 00:21:43] that things will continue to go up. I’m more expecting those 30% year over year that we were seeing from 2017 to 2016, I think that’s just not sustainable, but bringing it back to more healthier numbers between 8-15% would definitely be something that’s achievable and not way out of question.

Andrew: Right, right. Interesting. That’s a great summary, basically fundamentally you think the market is strong, we are in a short term sort of dip in confidence, but the demand is still there. The days of 30% appreciation are probably over, but a return to what we’re used to which is single high digit six, seven, eight, ten percent range is probably what we’re going to be heading back to. Yeah. That’s a great summary and I couldn’t agree with you more. Mark, sorry go ahead.

Mark: One thing, 2008, that’s when I got my first taste of kind of a market slow down. That was when the states obviously had their issues, and we had a bit of a psychological slow down where we thought, “wow we’re going to follow Big Brother to the states and we’re going to have the same thing.” It never happened, but the headlines kept pumping that it was going to happen. There was a good six month window where I saw such amazing opportunities to buy and people that did do it were rewarded handsomely from it once the market picked back up. I think you really should be looking in the window between four to six months when you’re judging what the future holds. None of this one year and beyond type of thing. Really, we can’t predict that. I’d just say follow your fundamentals and keep a close on what the short term is if you’re trying to get in, but when you get in you’re doing it for long term. Don’t be too affected by little blips in the market because if you’re holding it to 10-15 years, this won’t matter.

Andrew: Absolutely, absolutely. So many times people get so caught up in the short term and they forget about the long term. Six months, a year here and there, it’s nothing in the big picture. Think about Mark’s grandma who bought at Bloor and Dover Court for $10,000.00 way back in the day, and think about making that you and making that your story 20, 30, 50 years from now only your story will be different because you will have, like Mark said, you’ll have bought two or three or four instead of one.

Mark: There you go.

Andrew: Mark, it’s been great chatting with you. People want to get ahold of you or reach you, what’s the best way for people to do that?

Mark: I’m available anytime on Twitter @Savelsells. Or via email,

Andrew: Awesome, and your website again is Toronto Livings with an S. Mark, thanks so much and hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon.

Mark: Sounds good, Andrew. Thanks for having me.

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