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The Biggest Misconceptions About the Calgary Real Estate Market – with Ann Marie Lurie of CREB

Misconception Calgary Real Estate

Ann Marie Lurie is Chief Economist at the Calgary Real Estate Board and she joins the podcast to talk about the state of the Calgary market, where things are heading from here, and what some of the biggest misconceptions are that people outside of Calgary have about this great city.

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Andrew la Fleur:
What are the biggest misconceptions about the Calgary real estate market? Find out on today’s episode.

Speaker 2:
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 la Fleur:
Hi, and welcome back to the show. Once again, Andrew la Fleur here. If you want to get ahold of me ever, you can do so by emailing andrew@truecondos.com or you can call me 416-371-2333, or text me or WhatsApp me at that number. So we are in the middle of, I guess you could call it Calgary week here at True Condos and once again, we’re bringing you the third podcast in the past week talking about Calgary, doing a deep dive here on all things Calgary because we have this great opportunity that I’m investing in, that many of my clients are investing in with Minto in Calgary, Era Condos. It’s called E-R-A, Era Condos in the Bridgeland neighbourhood of Calgary. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great deal.

Andrew la Fleur:
Calgary is a buyer’s market. So wanted to bring you a couple of experts here. That’s the goal of these two podcasts. The last one with Matthew Boukall, of Altus Group, and now Ann Marie Lurie, who’s the Chief Economist with the Calgary Real Estate Board, and I had a great chat with her. She’s got 20 years of experience, really knows her stuff, really knows what she’s talking about. And it was great chatting with her to get the real picture of what’s happening in Calgary. And also asked her, you know, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about Calgary? Things that, especially for us out of province, us Torontonians mostly listening to this podcast, although there’s people from all across the country, from Vancouver to Halifax and everything in between. I’ve got many buyers and people interested literally across from coast to coast, which is very interesting.

Andrew la Fleur:
So I think fundamentally we all know about Calgary. We know it’s a good place. We know it’s a very livable city. It’s one of Canada’s biggest cities. And historically, economically speaking, it’s been one of the most successful cities. But we also know that right now they are struggling and they have been struggling for the past few years, since around 2014 with the oil price correction, until now.

Andrew la Fleur:
So it’s not all roses and that’s not what I’m here to tell you. And it’s a very different market than Toronto especially. So I want everyone to get a chance to understand that, to know more about it, and to consider this investment to understand what it is and what it isn’t when we’re buying here in Calgary. I do believe personally that we’re buying at the bottom of the market. I think the future is looking very bright and signs are very positive that there’s going to be great growth ahead in Calgary once again. And now’s a good time to get in before the market takes off again.

Andrew la Fleur:
But I also will say to anybody who’s asking and talking to about this opportunity, Calgary is not going to suddenly turn on a dime and shoot up overnight, you know, 20% in 2020 or anything like that. But they will come out of this lull period sometime in the next, you know, was it one year, is it two years, is it three years? We don’t know, but they’re going to come out of this as they always do. They’ve been down for so long that it’s just a matter of time before they bounce back. There are certainly, as I said, a lot of positive signs to indicate that that is starting to happen already. Inventory numbers starting to come down across the board and activity picking up in the sub $500,000 range, and the population continues to grow. Again, if we have a growing population in the city, that’s what we want to see first and foremost, and that’s what we are seeing.

Andrew la Fleur:
Another big thing, which both Ann Marie and Matthew hit on in these interviews is the fact that there’s actually more people employed. There are more jobs occupied by people, more employed people in Calgary today in 2019 than there were in the height of the last boom in 2014. So even though they went through a recession now the number of people employed is actually more than it ever was. That’s a positive sign. That’s a sign that even though the jobs are different maybe from what they were before, it’s a very positive sign that things are moving in the direction we want them to go.

Andrew la Fleur:
But as I said, nobody’s going to snap their fingers and it’s going to suddenly, prices are shooting up, you know, 20% overnight. We’re not expecting that to happen. But we do think this is an amazing opportunity where you only have to put down 5% deposit, assuming you qualify. The building’s not going to be built for four years. And then at the end of four years, you have a two-year rental guarantee with the numbers projecting out to be positive cash flow for those two years as well and beyond. So it’s really a no brainer investment.

Andrew la Fleur:
So without further delay, here is my interview with Ann Marie Lurie of the Calgary Real Estate Board, the Chief Economist. Enjoy. Okay, Ann Marie, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here today.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Thanks for having me.

Andrew la Fleur:
Great. Maybe you can start, just tell me and everybody a little bit about yourself and what you do and what’s your story, like how did you get started in real estate, in the industry?

Ann Marie Lurie:
Sure. So I’m the Chief Economist for the Calgary Real Estate Board. I’ve been doing real estate work for probably over 20 years now, but on different aspects. So I actually started off, I’ve got, first of all, my background. I got both my bachelor’s and my master’s degree in economics, both from the U of C. So I’m a Calgary based person. Now, that being said, I’ve also worked in many different aspects of this industry. So I started off in pension investment activity, which was really focused more on commercial activity. And then I’ve worked at CMHC, and I’ve had opportunities at [Call it 00:06:36] International. And then of course at the real estate board where it’s more on the article side on the residential side. So I’ve been doing this for quite some time and I’ve always been dedicated to the real estate analysis side.

Andrew la Fleur:
So what’s your primary mandate with your role? I mean I imagine it’s probably similar to the setup we have here in Toronto with the Toronto Real Estate Board and there’s economists and people that are sort of representing the board and the members. And you’re speaking to the media a lot about the market and representing the interests of the realtors in Calgary. What’s your mandate day to day, specifically with the Calgary Real Estate Board.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So what I really do is, I provide information. So my job is to ensure that the best quality information is provided to both our members and the public. So I put together all of the data and the statistics, as well as provide my analysis, you know, in the most unbiased stratum.

Andrew la Fleur:
Great. So why don’t you give us a bit of a snapshot again for most people listening here from the Toronto area, from Ontario, people across the country. But most of us are here in the GTA. And we’re trying to understand a little bit more about the Calgary market and what’s happening there. Where do you see things going?

Ann Marie Lurie:
Yes, absolutely. So if we think about what’s happened in our market, we’ve had a number of things that are very different. I mean, so, first of all, we’ve had the correction in the energy sector. Now, this started back in 2014 when oil prices came down. And it really caused a significant shift in our market in that we had a lot of job losses, particularly in higher-paid salaries that were professional positions, which impacted Calgary quite extensively. And then through that, I mean we just haven’t had enough change to really support any shifts.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So from 2014 on, we’ve seen that the impact of job losses in the slower energy sector has filtered through all aspects of our market. I mean we went through a two-year recession in 2015 and ’16, and with that has come slower activity in housing. So we saw sales activity fall, and obviously supply levels were rising in part because you know, prior to 2014 we were a very strong market. A lot of activity was going on. We had very strong price growth. So we had a lot of good things happen before that.

Ann Marie Lurie:
But then we were left with this overside when our market shifted due to economic conditions. So we have been really adjusting to that since then. In 2018, we also faced obviously, the stress test. This was a national program obviously, but the challenge with the stress tests, at least from an Alberta perspective is it came at a time when we were already struggling with higher levels of unemployment, and income growth has been very difficult to rise.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So given that backdrop, we have had a number of challenges that have kept our sales activity fairly low and it’s caused price adjustments. Now the price adjustments have ranged depending on product type. We’ve seen the largest drop in price in the apartment condominiums versus what we’ve seen in let’s say the detached or the semis.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Now moving, what we started to see this year is we’re starting to see a bit of transition. So, you know, it’s not that our economic situation has improved much. I mean it’s stayed relatively the same in terms of employment activity and what’s happening in the energy sector. But we have at least started to see that the housing market’s stabilizing.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Now, that’s for a number of reasons. You know, we’ve seen that the supply is starting to address, so that amount of new listings coming on and that new starts activity is starting to slow to better match demand now. So we’re seeing conditions start to move to much more balanced conditions, which will eventually support much more stability in pricing.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Now our demand scenario has also … I mean we did have some improvements this year and that’s in part because we also saw lending rates come down. So, you know, improved mortgage rates helped bring more people back into the market that might’ve been pushed out with the stress test and the changes that came in in 2018.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So we’ve seen some improvements in that aspect. So sales activity improved a bit. But what we’re really seeing is a shift in our market. So most of the improvement in sales is occurring in the lower-priced trenches. So this is where we’re seeing the market starting to improve. In the upper price ranges, there’s still those challenges continue to persist, and that’s really consistent with the economic conditions. I mean we have more people working today than we did back in 2014, but the types of jobs have changed and at different income levels. So a lot of that shift in employment is also creating these shifts in the housing market, where we’re seeing improvements really in the more affordable product.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Other factors that have been influencing our market is, I mean we continue to have fairly strong population growth relative to the rest of the country. So I mean we’ve had population growth in around that one and a half percent. Now for some people who are from this region, they feel like that’s a big adjustment because we’re used to population growth of over 3%. So it might be an adjustment, but at the same time, we’re looking a lot more like normal levels of activity. So we’re moving into almost what I view as a more stable state than what we have been in the past. So we’re starting to see that shift.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Other things that we’re starting to see is on the supply side of the market, there has been adjustments, as I said before, on the new home side as well as on the resale. But the rental market’s have actually seen some significant improvement. Now, this is tied to a couple of things. First of all, as I mentioned, we do have population growth. Most of that has been fuelled in part because we have a young population, but also through migration. And the net migration numbers, we’re seeing a lot of migration coming from international sources. And typically when they’re from international sources they start off in the rental market, and we’re seeing that play out in terms of declining vacancies in there. And while they’re not back to the lows that … I mean we used to have, traditionally not very much vacancy rate at all. So they’re not quite at those levels, but at the same time they are edging down, and that’s creating some improvements in the market.

Ann Marie Lurie:
And then if we layer on the fact that it is a lot harder to get into ownership, that has also encouraged people to really just stay in rental longer. So we’re seeing some real improvements on the rental side of the market.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Now as we move forward, I think some of the key things that we’re looking at is, you know, much more of stable conditions. If the supply adjustment continues, we should start to move into much more balanced conditions, and that should hopefully support much more stable price environment.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Now I do think we’re going to continue to see differences in divergent trends, really depending on the segment of the market we’re dealing with. So the under 500,000 segment of our market still remains. We’ll continue to see improvements because that is really where all of that demand growth is going to go. I mean, we continue to expect to see some job growth into next year. I mean, while it’s not the pace that we almost got used to in this city, still is a lot of activity and a lot of desire and demand for affordable home products.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So we’re seeing growth in that area. I think that’s going to persist into next year. We will likely continue to face some challenges at the upper end of the market really until we start to see income levels grow up. So I think that those different trends will persist as we move into next year. But really we’re starting to at least see some sort of stabilization in our market. And it’s almost a new normal.

Ann Marie Lurie:
I mean, you know, one thing for people looking at, on the outside into Calgary, I mean here in Alberta we’ve kind of got used to the strong growth and the boom-bust cycles in our market. And I’ve often said now we’re moving into a situation where we’re starting to look like a lot of other types of markets, where we have much more normal levels of activity that are really consistent with more of the longer-term trends.

Andrew la Fleur:
Interesting. So what do you think is causing that in terms of, does it feel like a fundamental shift in the marketing, Calgary moving away as you say from these boom and bust cycles that are usually tied to oil prices and oil sector activity, into, like you said, a more diversified sort of economy that other large cities will follow sort of a more slow and steady upward trend, as opposed to this big highs and big lows kind of thing? Am I getting you right on that?

Ann Marie Lurie:
In part. I mean we know that a lot of the growth in the energy sector is what tends to cause some of that boom and bust cycles. And we have seen a tremendous amount of energy sector investment into this province, and throughout really 2000 on. I mean we’ve had billions of dollars invested, and that’s brought a lot of people to this province, and it’s caused a lot of growth, and in a quick way. Right? And that started with the oil sense development.

Ann Marie Lurie:
But if we think back prior to that, I mean we went through that correction in the 80s, really driven by oil. And then we started to see a period in the 90s, which was really much more stable activity because we didn’t have that huge investment spending that was occurring. It was much more stable activity. And I think we’re moving into similar aspects now.

Ann Marie Lurie:
I mean oftentimes people here are waiting for that boom. Well to have that boom, you would need to have a shift in the energy sector. I mean it still is our primary driver. There has been a lot of work done to try and encourage much more diversification in our market. But those changes do take time.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So I think we will eventually get there. You know, there’s been a lot of incentives to try to bring people into this city, and we have a lot of factors that could attract businesses to locate here. I mean it’s happened before in the past, it’s when we had CP Rail move here, right?

Ann Marie Lurie:
So there’s a lot of things that are working in our advantage to try and attract companies to our market. If we look at our home prices relative to other larger cities, we are far more affordable than, you know, what someone could get in Vancouver or in Toronto.

Andrew la Fleur:
Or anywhere, yeah.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Yeah, yes.

Andrew la Fleur:
Any large city. Yeah. Most affordable city in Canada. Yeah.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Yeah. And that is an advantage for Calgary. And you know, on top of all we do have a really good lifestyle here. So I think that when we think about future aspects like we are driven, there’s no question on the short term, we are still based off what happens in the energy sector. But when we think about longterm prospects, you’ve got companies that might have it a lot harder to attract employment in some areas because it’s really unaffordable for people to live there. Whereas because we’re such an affordable city, that can continue to draw people here.

Ann Marie Lurie:
So I think about, you know, really there’s the short term impacts that we’re seeing. A lot of the structure that’s being put in place now with a coordinated effort from our governments can position us well for a longer-term growth.

Andrew la Fleur:
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Calgary, as a local Calgarian and I guess, were you born in Calgary?

Speaker 2:
Yes, I was.

Andrew la Fleur:
So you’ve been there your whole life and so what would you say are the biggest misconceptions about the city, for outsiders like me?

Ann Marie Lurie:
I think people often think that Calgary is really just the energy sector and there’s nothing else, and they don’t really realize how much more we have to offer. I mean, I have travelled through a lot of parts of the country and I look at Calgary and think this is a wonderful place to live. Like there’s a reason why I’ve never left. I’ve gone here and there, but I’ve always come back. And this is home. Because you know, you can live a lifestyle that frankly you can’t live in Toronto. And that is an appeal here. And frankly, we tend to get paid fairly well for where we live. We have a lot of access to amenities, we’re close to the mountains. There’s a lot of benefits that we have in our market.

Ann Marie Lurie:
And there is sectors outside of the energy sector, but I mean there’s people who … There’s plenty of opportunity in the city and we are very pro-business in general. You know, we support entrepreneurs really well. So there’s a lot of opportunity I find in a city. And I think people often forget that. They think we’re just about the energy sector, and no question, that is a big part of our economy. But there’s so much spinoff activity that happens from that. I mean, we have a very educated workforce here and that provides a lot of benefits for new development.

Andrew la Fleur:
That’s great. Talking about specifically the Bridgeland neighbourhood where the project that we’re working on right now with Minto, Era Condos, what do we need to know about Bridgeland? What can you tell us about that neighbourhood specifically? You know, it seems to be hot spot on a lot of the best neighbourhoods in Calgary type of lists. As somebody who lives in Calgary, how would you describe the neighbourhood? What do you like about it?

Speaker 2:
Well, Bridgeland, there’s several things. First of all, its proximity to the core is amazing. You’re in an area that has got a lot of character and a lot of charm, and you’re not really that far from downtown. And everyone knows there. And there’s a lot of really unique, great little restaurants and more boutiquey type feel in that area. So I do like the mix in that area and how much … I mean, you can be walking down the street and you see, you know, these beautiful little homes. And then there’s these nice condos. It’s a very diverse little area and its location is amazing within the city.

Andrew la Fleur:
Yeah, it’s just a short walk to the core and to everything in the core.

Speaker 2:
Yeah, absolutely. And even if you want to get out of town, you have very quick access to some major routes to get you through the city as well as you’re trying to go to different places. Right?

Andrew la Fleur:
Great. Ann Marie, anything else that I didn’t ask you about yourself or about the Calgary market that you want to touch on or that you wish I asked you?

Ann Marie Lurie:
I think we covered most of it. I would just say that, you know, there’s a lot of really interesting things happening in the city. It continues. I’m quite encouraged by some of the initiatives that are being taken by the municipality to try encourage new business investment here. And I often think people get really set on the short term aspects of real estate versus the long term. And they often forget that real estate really is traditionally a longer-term hold. And I think that we’re moving back to more fundamentals in real estate, which is something we haven’t seen for many years.

Ann Marie Lurie:
You know, oftentimes, people purchasing homes would get into these homes with the thought that they could get out in a couple of years, or they just weren’t thinking more on a longer-term basis. I think now a lot of those decisions are returning more back to, well, what kind of lifestyle do I want to live and what community do I want to live in it, and where can I see myself be in several years from now? And I think we’re moving back more to those fundamentals of how real estate has been traditionally handled.

Andrew la Fleur:
Right, and it’s not a get rich quick scheme, or you buy something today and a year later you’re a millionaire kind of thing. It’s about picking good properties and …

Ann Marie Lurie:
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, [crosstalk 00:23:16]. Yeah, I mean we saw a lot of that.

Andrew la Fleur:
It can happen, but it’s not the normal way that it traditionally does happen over the long term. You get these periods of boom times, but the winners of real estate are always those who take the longterm approach.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Absolutely. And during that peak sort of time, I mean, people just weren’t thinking about that. They weren’t making those decisions on longer-term expectations. I think when it comes to housing, and again, if you’re purchasing it, whether you’re purchasing it as an investment or whether you’re purchasing it as an investment revenue property, or you’re purchasing it as your home, there’s a lot of decisions that should be going into that. And I think we’re starting to see people return to going, okay, well what kind of revenue can I earn on this property and what is my timeframe? And doing that type of assessment, looking at your cash on cash returns and those types of things that frankly, I think through a certain period of time people stopped thinking about.

Andrew la Fleur:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, there’s no question Calgary being the most affordable city in Canada. It’s also, from a cash flow perspective, one of the best cashflow cities in Canada to invest in, and the fundamentals are really, really good there compared to any other big city. That’s for sure.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Well, that’s right. And I mean it’s very difficult we know, in this market, to try and capture return. So you know, having that return opportunity really can be a benefit to our city as well.

Andrew la Fleur:
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think you’re going to get more and more eyeballs of investors like this project here. But I think when word gets out about how good the cash flow situation and the returns are, and just how the fundamentals are strong and the future is looking better and better, I think, yeah, like you said, it’s going to be a very attractive market to invest in.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew la Fleur:
Great. Okay, thank you so much Ann Marie. If people want to get in touch with you, learn more about your work and what you’re doing or the Calgary Real Estate Board, what’s the best way for people to do that and where’s the best place to go?

Ann Marie Lurie:
I encourage them to take a look on our website, so www.creb.com. We do put a lot of information out monthly on various communities, as well as citywide, just general trends of what’s happening. And of course, my contact information is there as well. So people can feel free to send me an email or give me a call and I can see what I can do for them.

Andrew la Fleur:
Awesome. Great. Thank you so much Ann Marie and hopefully, we’ll have you on the show again soon.

Ann Marie Lurie:
Great, thank you.

Speaker 2:
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