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Maintenance Fees Myths and Facts with Carl Langschmidt from Condos.ca

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Carl Langschmidt is a top Realtor in Toronto and has been an industry innovator for nearly a decade. In this episode, we discuss Carl’s new and powerful website Condos.ca as well as his firm’s findings about maintenance fees. Some of the results might surprise you.

Carl Langschmidt Interview Highlights

00:12 What to Expect in this Podcast

2:43 Who is Carl Langschmidt & How He Got Into the Real Estate

4:40 When Did Condos.ca Become What it Is Today?

5:35 How Did Carl Create the Condos.ca Database?

12:50 Which Neighbourhoods Have the Best Appreciation Potential?

16:20 Will My Maintenance Fees Shoot Up?

18:11 Older Condo Buildings Have Much Higher Maintenance Fees?

20:31 What’s Realistic Number You Want to Look for When it Comes to Maintenance Fees?

25:35 Less Amenities, Lower Maintenance Fees?

27:09 Parking & Locker Maintenance Fees

30:20 What’s Coming Up Next for Condos.ca?

33:12 How to Reach Carl Langschmidt

Carl Langschmidt Interview Transcript

Andrew la Fleur: Hi and welcome back to the show. On today’s show we’re going to be talking with Carl Langschmidt. Carl is the founder and president of condos.ca. If you haven’t already, you definitely want to check out the website condos.ca, which is fantastic resource for any condo investor. It’s got some great data on there and research and information. You can learn about what’s happening in a particular building in terms of values and trends, or a particular neighborhood. We also talked about, not just the site and how he crated it and why he created it, but also about a recent maintenance fee study that his company put together.

We looked at a lot of classic questions around maintenance fees based on his research and findings. I’m worried that maintenance fees will shoot up so I don’t want to invest in a condo or older buildings are bad to buy because they have crazy high maintenance fees, you should only buy new builds for that reason. Parking and lockers, are there fees associated with them and what are are they, what do they average in the city? We talked lot about the question of amenities; if you have a building with a lot of amenities does that always mean that you’re going to have higher fees, yes or no. We talked about the idea of is it really more expensive to own a condo than it is to own a house.

Definitely want to listen to this episode to learn all about those things from Carl Langschmidt of condos.ca. For all the show notes on this episode and links to …[inaudible 00:01:55] condos.ca and other sites that we’re talking abut. Just head on over to truecondos.com/carl, you can find all the show notes for this episode, including by the way, a transcript of our conversation. For all the podcast episodes that we have on the True Condos podcast, if you go to truecondos.com and click on “podcasts” you can find transcripts of every single episode. If you’d prefer to read rather than to listen to the podcast you can always do that too. Without further delay, here is my interview with Carl Langschmidt.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the show Carl Langschmidt. Carl is the president and founder of condos.ca. Carl, welcome to the show.

Carl: Thanks Andrew.

Andrew la Fleur: Carl, why don’t we start by just telling everybody a little bit who you are and how you got started in real estate.

Carl: Sure. I’ve been in real state now going on this is my tenth year. Like many agents, you get into the business and it’s really not what you though it would be. You’re left go out and find your own way and find your own business. Initially I started by first website was mrloft.ca. I built website that was a really informative loft guide and it helped me generate business online. Very much like yourself with true condos, by creating engaging content people reached out to me, and that’s how I started. My business obviously grew …

Andrew la Fleur: What were you doing before real estate? How did you get into real estate in the first place?

Carl: I studied finance and I thought I wanted to be a stock broker but realized the office hours were just not for me. I wanted a job that gave me more freedom and I wanted to be my own boss. Real estate was a good fit for that. I loved working with people. The technology site just happens to be that while is as at university I built websites and made pocket money on the side building websites. I’ve always been pretty tech savvy. Then my brother is actually a graduate of Waterloo in computer science, so we partnered up when he graduated to start condos.ca.

Andrew la Fleur: You started at mrloft.ca, when did it merge and become condos.ca as it exists?

Carl: The thing about the loft market is developers have really stopped building lofts. There haven’t been many authentic hard loft projects in the city. The frustrating thing with the loft market is there’s just no inventory to sell a good portion of people. We get more inquiries than we have lofts. Obviously wanting to grow the business we realized we’d need to look at the condo market, because the loft markets anywhere from 2-3% of the condo market. Yeah, basically we wanted to create a similar informative guide on the condo market, and that’s why we started condos.ca.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay. With condos.ca, if anyone hasn’t been to it obviosuly if you’re listening to this podcast definitely want to go and look at the site, condos.ca, and see what we’re talking about and what Carl’s built here with his team. It’s really unlike anything else that exists and it’s a much more comprehensive than certainly any singular agent has ever attempted to build. Why don’t you tell us about how you actually put it together, particularly the data piece with the resale data on every single condo building in the GTA. How did you do it? Is pretty amazing.

Carl: Yeah. Essentially what we did is we made a list of every single building that we could find that traded in the marketplace. We literally just made a list of all of the buildings that we could find. We originally thought about starting it the first condominium corporation that was ever registered, and we went and visited the land registry and looked at all of the corporations, but there’s actually good portion of them that might just be used for commercial purposes that have actually no trading. That back peddled and then we went back to the MLS and just made a list of all of the buildings that we could find that actively trade. Then for there we just literally went building by building doing research on each building to create the analytics on each building.

Condos has, as you know, a profile page of every building. You can look at the candy factory lofts, and you can look at the chocolate lofts. We, A, tried to find developers old floor plans from when the building principally lunched, we looked at status certificates, we looked at condominium plan data from the land registry, and we basically combined all of that information to create our building profile pages. Every page has come analytics; we know how many units are in each building and we’ve created our price per square foot trends on every building. Obviously it’s a ton of work. The reason we did it is I find good agents know that data intuitively, but there’s a lot of people out there that were being taken advantage of by having agents that don’t do that due diligence of them. We wanted to create a website where …

Andrew la Fleur: Give us an example of what you mean by that, some people being taken advantage.

Carl: Andrew, I’ll give you an example. Often pre-construction projects that I know I wanted into, and the sales rep at the desk will say “the average price in this neighborhood is 650 and we’re selling this project today for 630.” They’ll tell you it’s a bargain or they’ll twist the number to suit them. With condos I wanted to create a guide that there’s no hiding, we wanted to make the deal numbers a lot more transparent so then consumers can make smarter decisions. I’ve seen people make some really good money in the condo market, but I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of people lose money. Had they know some of the real numbers before they got in, they might have done that and been able to make a better decision for themselves. That’s part of why we created condos, just to make a more transparent marketplace.

Andrew la Fleur: That’s amazing. Certainly your site is just one of those sites that I’ve always said, it’s just amazing. I used to say, now I don’t, but I used to say, “why doesn’t this type of site exist, why is there no central place that we can go as consumers, as people in the industry, to get free information in terms of just the basic level price per square foot of a given building?” You go to lot of other … particularly in the US, you go to the US a lot of markets there that information is available. Every single property that goes on the MSL has an exact square footage in a lot of markets. As opposed to here in our markets it’s range from the could be 500-700 square feet. There’s a huge difference there, is it 500 or is it 700.

Carl: 700 exactly.

Andrew la Fleur: There’s no check and balances in the system. It might not even be 500 to 700, it might be 494 and the agents just stretching it. Or like you said, it might actually be 710 and the agent screwed up and there’s left money on the table. It’s about time I guess that somebody’s built what you guys have built. It’s pretty amazing.

Carl: Thank you. That’s exactly right. The MLS, when you’re dealing with a savvy condo buyer and you need to provide that insight to him, “this unit was 350 square feet and it’s price per square foot was whatever”, you need to know what the comparable sizes are. The current ranges on the MLS just don’t do that for us. The reason we obviously don’t have it is there’s really only one organization in governmental that’s been tracking that data, MPAC. The way they’ve been ding it and having it paid for by the tax payers selling that data to big organisations like banks, appraisal companies. You can get it from MPAC but on a unit by unit basis, and you can pay about $5 to confirm the square footage. It’s millions of dollars if you have to do the whole data base [inaudible 00:12:01]. If an agents appraising a condo they can confirm that on size through MPAC or [inaudible 00:12:08].

Andrew la Fleur: Curious just from a technical perspective, how does MPAC actually calculate the square footage? The MPAC numbers, which are considered the official numbers, where are they getting that number from?

Carl: They get it from the developer and the development plans. I guess being in the position they are somewhere along the line the developer has to submit it to MPAC. They actually have a much easier job than what we do, because they’ve made it I guess a mandatory step in the development process.

Andrew la Fleur: Right, hand it over.

Carl: Yeah.

Andrew la Fleur: Looking through your site, there’s so much you can learn from looking at the states for different buildings in different areas. Just a curious from your perspective, what neighborhoods or areas or buildings are stand outs to you in terms of appreciation or investment potential? Are there particular areas, looking at your data, that you say “based on our data this is a good investment?”

Carl: I’ve always been a fan of lofts, my passion. When I do work in the business occasionally I will help some past clients and stuff that’s still in the loft market. I think the perspective I get from looking at the loft market really makes me question some of the new prices in the pre-construction condo market. I have not actually been much of a fan of pre-construction as a whole, in general, over the last few years. There was a time, ten years ago, where I bought a few units myself and made good money on them. Especially in recent years there’s not much meat on the bones left on these pre-construction projects. Especially when you compare it to some of the price per square foots in the loft market. If you go on condos.ca and look at the brad view lofts, look at the toy factory, the candy … I think the toy factory is only now just reading over $600 a square foot. That’s an average with parking and locker racked in it.

That’s one of the things that you’ll notice on condos, all of our data includes parking and locker, we haven’t removed that. When you look at those numbers, the resell market in general looks more and more attractive compared to the pre-construction markets. We’ll sell them wherever, but the numbers have got to make sense to us. We definitely have a long term view on real estate, so I know there’s a lot of agents that just look at the deal right now, but in order to build a happy portfolio of clients you’ve got to look long term. If they call me up in a years time wanting to sell that property, I don’t want to have to tell them “we overpaid to begin with.” From that side of things …

Andrew la Fleur: Are there any particular buildings or neighborhoods that are standouts to you?

Carl: I do like Riverside, the east side, the distillery area, the price per square foot here I think is really good. Those are probably some of the greatest areas that I …

Andrew la Fleur: Incidentally, as we’re recording this interview that’s exactly where we’re sitting, in your offices here in the distillery district in the east side of downtown. Why don’t we jump to your recent maintenance fees study article that you came out with last month? It hit on a lot of hot topic issues around maintenance fees and questions that people have. Maybe I’ll just put some questions out there or thoughts that people have with respect to maintenance fees an condos, and see based on your studies, what have you guys found out about it. The biggest one always, of course, is, “I don’t want to invest in a condo or I’m worried about investing into a condo because maintenance fees are going to shoot up, they always do.” What did you find out about that?

Carl: Maintenance fees do, as a whole, go up, but they move up with the cost of living. A lot of people need to be reminded that condo corporations are nonprofit corporations. The goal is literally just to pay their bills and manage the building. A well run condo can be a better solution than a freehold house. The Toronto community housing have done an assessment on multi residential buildings. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but last year I think they sold around 7 or 800 homes with the long term view of moving residents into apartment building.

Andrew la Fleur: Because of the cost of up keep, because is cheaper.

Carl: Because of the cost. Yeah. Obviously there can be years in a home where you don’t have to do much to a house, but there will come a time when that’ll all change and you’ll have thousands of dollars. There’s also a service component to maintenance fees which you have to value; you don’t have to shovel your driveway and take your garbage out, and obviously a concierge to collect your mail when you’re not there. As a whole of maintaining, there’s no reason that people shouldn’t have that opinion of condos if a board is well run. I guess that comes down to just ensure the building’s well run. That’s what our maintenance fee study tried to do, so you can actually see the maintenance fee history.

Andrew la Fleur: Another big one: older condo buildings have outrageous crazy high maintenance fees compared to new condo buildings, so you should never buy an old condo building. What’s your take on that?

Carl: Actually, Andrew, that was one of the myths. That was something that I too believed until we did the study. What the study showed is that new condo buildings have lower fees in general for the first 9 years. They’re at par after 9 years, and they increase in the first 2 years. New condo building was almost double what the industry average was. They’re lower in the short term, but their price per square foot after 9 years will be what the industry average is.

I think the real perception there that people miss is the correlation between size instead of age. Older buildings in general have larger units, that’s why there’s the perception that the fees are higher. On a price per square foot basis, we actually looked at condo corporations and the year that they were built, so we actually looked at corporations that were registered in … we went back throughout the Toronto condo history, and we actually looked what was the average in that year, feet per square foot that year. There isn’t a correlation other than after the first 9 years, there wasn’t a correlation between size and higher fees. The average, I think if you look at our info graphic, if you look back between 1995 and 2000 the average is also 59 cents a square foo then then it was ten years before that as well.

Andrew la Fleur: That’s very interesting. The average number that people should keep in mind, over time fees tend to average and settle in around, you’re saying 59 cents from the data?

Carl: Yeah, that’s what the average is at this point in time. I think the inflationary number, I don’t have it in front of me, but is around 3% a year, just over that. The industry has moved up on average at a year.

Andrew la Fleur: Related to that point, like you said you’ve got to be careful when you’re buying pre-construction condos because there can be a lot of smoke in mirrors from the marketing side of things. That’s true with maintenance fees as well. We’ve seen it so many times whee a developer will artificially, you could say, start the maintenance fees low to begin with. You and I in the industry, we see those numbers and we know those fees are going to go up because they’re just not realistic. Obviously, again, the consumer may not understand that and they may be attracted to that low maintenance fee and buy in a particular building because of it, only to get that sticker shock after the first year or two when they shoot back up to reality. In your opinion and with your data, what’s a realistic number that you want to look for if you’re buying a new condo today?

Carl: 59 cents per square foot is the average right now, so I think they should prepare for that number. It’ll probably hit that number if there’s a fair amount of amenities. I would just base your budget on 59 cents instead of the developers low 40 cents that he may advertise. That’s what I would look at.

One of the really most interesting things about the whole study was some of the data and feedback we got from the pubic after the study. We’re hoping that new condo act will address some of it, but there’s been some sad stories that have come out from this maintenance fee study. One of them being that there are buildings that divulged to us that their fees have on out of whack because the developer actually differed some of the upfront capital costs of mechanical systems and elevators, developer buried those in service contracts that extended beyond many years.

The building I’m think of right now said they were in a 25 year service contract which was tragic, their fees have gone up because of these service contracts. There is some stuff that owners need to really do their due diligence on the building and the board. Incompetent condo boards are really the biggest problem with high fees. It is running corporation. We met the owners of the toy factory lofts and they went through their entire budget, they renegotiated almost 60 contracts, and they took control of their fees. There’s not a lot of condo corporations that are being run that well. That’s something that condo owners can really, if they want to bring their fees, get involved in your board and put the pressure on your condo board to do their …

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah it’s one of those classic catch 22 type situations. Everybody wants a better condo board but nobody wants to be on the board.

Carl: Exactly.

Andrew la Fleur: Everybody has their opinion on how it should be run, but nobody wants to step up and run it themselves or be involved in the highest level decision making.

Carl: Hey, I think it’s time that we should start valuing a good condo president and boards should be prepared to pay him something to get the best person to run the building well.

Andrew la Fleur: Because it’s all volunteer, of course. The only person I guess who gets paid is the property manage, of course, whose the one professional you count on to be there and to help make all these big decisions. Everybody else is just people who own in the building and who volunteer their time.

Carl: Property management in general, they’re in a bit of position of conflict because they’re left to manage the cookie jar but there really isn’t, in many buildings, the incentive to ensure that the spending is as low as possible. That’s something that condos really need to ensure happens because obviously with kickbacks on management fees, property management companies do have to get paid somehow and condo corporations should look at that to ensure that there’s no reverse incentives with the management company.

Andrew la Fleur: What about the idea that lot of people say, “I don’t want to buy in a building with a lot of amenities because I want to have lower maintenance fees, so I’m going to go in a building with less amenities.” Is that always the case?

Carl: In general it is the case, but there are buildings that have lot of amenities that have very low fees, the toy factory being one of them. It has an outdoor hot tub, it has a full time concierge, a gym, party room and all of that stuff and their fees are low. There are buildings in the city that have almost no amenities that have very high fees, like the [inaudible 00:26:18], the fees are really high there and there’s no amenities. It is building by building, but in general fees do contribute.

I think we looked for a sample of buildings that had a pool, a full time concierge, a gym, I think there was one … then we looked for a sample of buildings that didn’t have those items. The difference was almost 19 cents a square foot. You can look at our info graphic at condos.ca to get the exact numbers. There is a difference, so fees obviously do contribute. It makes sense, concierge is a big thing, pool and a gym..
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, absolutely. Parking and locker fees, what did you find out about those? First of all, a lot of people are always surprised that there are maintenance fees on parking spots and lockers, but what else did you find out?

Carl: That’s exactly right. The way a condo determines the fees on parking and lockers, they look at the buildings entire square footage footprint. Every bit of it is either divided or assigned to a particular unit or the portion the portion that’s not to unit is your common elements. Building will attribute a fee to a parking spot based on it’s square footage relative to the rest of the building. You my have a parking spot that’s 0.001% of the building, but that 0.01% shares the portion of the buildings budget.

People should be aware that their parking spot, on a monthly basis, has a fee attributed to it. On average I think it was $45 was the average amount of maintenance fees a parking spot adds to a unit. There was some buildings in the city that had higher fees and some that had lower for parking. Some buildings that had parking on the exterior of the building, not underground, had much lower ones. In general an underground spot is around $45.

Andrew la Fleur: What was the average fee for lockers?

Carl: The average for a locker was $12.

Andrew la Fleur: $12 a month. What were the high points for those parking and lockers?

Carl: The highest point for parking I know as around $148. When we got the number we were shocked by it so we actually confirmed it, it’s the Pantages condos at Victoria street.

Andrew la Fleur: By the Eaton Center.

Carl: Yeah. Those condos have $148 a month on their maintenance fee.

Andrew la Fleur: I don’t know off hand, any idea what spots rent for in that building?

Carl: I don’t, but the number just wouldn’t make sense to buy a parking spot there for an investment because you could rent across the street or down the street. In the area there’s a lot of parking options for rent. I certainly wouldn’t buy spot in that building with that fee on it every month.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. With the rising cost of parking spots, it’s one thing I always tell my investors, you really got to look carefully and invest wisely when it comes to parking spots because you look at the maintenance fees, you look at the taxes, and look at your mortgage payments on them based on escalating prices on these things. Most of the time you’re not breaking even if you’re thinking about a rental price that you could get for it. Most of the time it makes more sense to not own it and just to rent it.

Carl: Absolutely, especially at the Pantages.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. What’s next for you? I know you’ve always got big plans. You got anything coming down the pipe or any big plans, things that you’re working on or expansions to the site?

Carl: Yeah. We’ve got a few really cool feature that we’re working on. We’re planning to launch floor plans of every unit, that’s a a big project, but we’ve got floor plans in the pipeline for all of the condos.

Andrew la Fleur: Every single condo unit in the GTA?

Carl: In the city, yeah. It is a big project, we’re going to be starting with the biggest buildings that have the highest or the …

Andrew la Fleur: The highest turnover?

Carl: The highest turnover, so at least it’ll became a more functional feature of the site pretty quickly. Based on the way that we’re going, it’ll probably take us a year to two years to get that feature built out completely. Then we’re also working on an app, but the app is actually something that we’re launching more for real estate agents to help consumers find smarter agents. That’s an app that we’re working on.

There’s probably about 15 big features on the site that are going to come out this year. Adding developer profiles, that’s going to happen pretty soon; you’ll be able to go on an search Tridel and see all of the buildings that Tridel have built if you like Tridel buildings. You’ll also be able to see some analytics of what Tridel buildings trade for in the resale market.

Andrew la Fleur: Interesting. You’ll be able to compare for example Tridel buildings how they appreciate over the years versus …

Carl: You can see versus the neighborhood, versus another developer. You could look up any builder and see what their real numbers are and how they’ve actually performed in the resale market. I would like to do a deal with Teranet to get the original pre-construction prices of condos, so we could start looking at buildings and see how much investors made. Look at the original pre-construction. We’ve done a bit of research into that, but it’s something that as soon as we’ve got the resources to do it, that’s a feature I’d like to add. Really just make it a site that’s an informative tools for condo buyers.

Andrew la Fleur: Great. Sounds very exciting. Looking forward to those features and roll outs. If people want to get ahold of you personally or your company, obviously condos.ca we said it about a million times. Other than condos.ca anywhere else you want to direct people to?

Carl: Yeah. If they’re looking to buy or sell condo they can reach out to us through the site or my email directly is carl@condos.ca.

Andrew la Fleur: Great. Carl, thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it. All the best this year.

Carl: Cheers, Andrew. Thanks very much.

Andrew la Fleur: Thank you. Okay, there you have it. That was my interview with Carl Langschmidt of condos.ca. I hope you enjoyed that. For all the show note on this episode just head on over to truecondos.com/carl, and you’ll find everything there. Just wanted to touch on one more thing that we talked about in the podcast, and that’s something that Carl and I agree on. That is, most pre-construction condos are not a good investment. You might be saying, “Wait a minute Andrew, isn’t this podcast all about investing in pre-construction condos?” Yes, that’s exactly what it is and that’s exactly what I help my clients do everyday. What I always tell everyone one is, “listen, 90% of the condos that are out there are actually not a great investment option.”

My job, as a realtor, and as your realtor if you’re working with me, is to find you the ones that are a great investment, the diamonds in the rough so to speak. The ones where there is a great prospect for making excellent profits in the long term and excellent cash flow in the long term. It’s not just a matter of going out and picking any old condo out there, there’s a lot more to it, there’s a lot more research and insight into the market involved. That’s what I do every single day as a realtor and a as a realtor that specializes in working with investors in the pre-construction condo market, is to find the projects and find the opportunities for my clients that are great investments and that are going to make you excellent returns in the long run.

Okay, thank you very much again for listening to the podcast. If you want to leave a review of the podcast on iTunes, that would be great. Feel free to share this episode with anyone that you know who might benefit from listening to this conversation that I had with Carl. Again, for all the show notes on the episode head on over to truecondos.com/carl. Thank you very much for listening. Until next time, have a great week.

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