COVID-19: Is the Toronto Condo Market Crashing?
Is the Toronto condo market crashing? What is going on with the market? Where are the hot deals and opportunities? What is happening with the pre-construction market? Andrew answers the most popular questions from investors in this Covid-19 market update.
Andrew La Fleur: Is the Toronto condo market crashing? I'll answer that and other COVID-19 questions on today's episode, stay tuned.
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: Hey there, welcome back to the show. Thanks again for tuning in to The True Condos Podcast. Once again, your host here, Andrew La Fleur, and if you're new to the show welcome. We've got hundreds of episodes like this one at truecondos.com/podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, wherever you're listening, Stitcher, wherever you're listening to this, thanks for being here. And if you're a regular listener, welcome back and glad to be with you here again.
Andrew La Fleur: So, recording this, of course, in 2020 spring time, and we're still in the middle of COVID-19, and well, are we in the middle? Are we at the beginning? Are we at the end? Nobody knows, I guess, but we're still dealing with the new reality that is COVID-19. So if you're listening to this at some point in the future, this might be a historical document into how we were thinking at the time, whether we were right or wrong, or neither. And if you're listening to this in real time in 2020, well, this is my attempt to give you some reflections on things that I'm thinking about and just observations that I'm seeing in the condo market right now, what's happening, what's reality, what is not, what is fake news, and where I see things going from here. So just wanted to get some of my thoughts out to you in this episode.
Andrew La Fleur: So some of the questions I want to look at, what's going on in the Toronto market right now. Is the market crashing? Are there any deals out there to be had? Where are the deals? Are there deals? What opportunities am I specifically watching myself as an active real estate investor, and where do I expect things to be going, specifically in the condo market and the preconstruction market in the remainder of 2020?
Andrew La Fleur: So just to quickly take a snapshot on the market, the latest stats that we have for the month of April, things are changing so much week by week. But if you look at the stats from Toronto Real Estate Board resale market for the month of April, again, the statistic that I... If you've been listening to this podcast and following me for any length of time, the number that I always go back to is the sales to listing ratio. So it's a percentage number and the higher that percentage, the hotter the market is, and it gives you a good idea of the temperature of the market and the direction of the market, which way things are going and how hot things are. So as you would expect, that number is very low considering or relative to where it typically has been in the Toronto real estate market, in the Toronto condo market over the last number of years. So looking at the entire real estate market, all property types, that number sales to listing ratio sits at 28%.
Andrew La Fleur: So generally speaking, as I've been tracking this number over the last 13 years since I've been in real estate, that number, if it goes below 25%, that's generally a definitive buyer's market. So you're right on the cusp of what could be technically classified as a buyer's market. Obviously, some property types are in buyer's markets, some are slightly outside of a buyer's market. But overall, 28% is very, very low for sales to listing ratio, where over the last few years in particular, since 2016, the market of course, has been very hot. On a crazy run the last few years, we've seen that number hit as high as 100% or even higher, and it's been sitting around 70% roughly on average for the last number of years, give or take. So to be down at 28% is a massive change.
Andrew La Fleur: And it's more reminiscent of when was the last time we saw a number like that. You're taking us back to the recession of 2008, when we were seeing numbers in the 20s like that. The condo market specifically is very similar overall. Again, the whole market is 28%, condo market is around 26%, looking just at the downtown condo market, which is, again, something that we are always looking closely at downtown is 24%. So even a little bit lower, but still, maybe not as low as some were expecting, maybe not as high as some were expecting. I mean, it's hard to really say what that number represents, but I just wanted to put that number out to you and give you a sense and a temperature of where things are at. Definitely, the market, obviously, no surprise, has slowed down dramatically, sales, of course, are down massively, roughly around 65, 70% sales are down from where they typically would be or where they were a year ago at this time of year.
Andrew La Fleur: Maybe the most interesting story overall though, of the market in my opinion, is just the resilience of the market, and despite the fact that the government has basically shut down the whole economy, more or less millions and millions of people have lost their jobs either permanently or temporarily and lost a lot of their income, or all of their income in some cases, but yet still the market is really doing relatively okay. And I think the big reason for that is the supply side of things. So we just are not seeing a huge amount of supply still. Again, the supply shortage, the big story has been the big driver, not so much the demand, but rather the supply side of the equation in Toronto real estate has been the big story for the last few years in particular.
Andrew La Fleur: Looking at, for example, supply, the number of condos available for sale downtown, again, that downtown market that we track so closely all these years, supply right now, available condos month of April 773 condos, 773. Put that number in perspective 10 years ago. Let's go back in time 10 years ago when the city of Toronto's population was approximately one million people less than it is today, 1 million people less, 10 years ago, April 2010. April 2010, there were 1374 condos for sale, 1,374. So basically double the supply was available in April of 2010, compared to today.
Andrew La Fleur: So, supply number for downtown condos above 1000, between 1500 and 2000 on any given month, that was normal for most of the last 15 years, the last couple of years aside, that was a sort of a normal number between 1500 and 2000 units available for sale. Right now, again, only 773 units. So supply is very, very low. That being said, demand is very low, and the number of sales actually taking place, as I said, is very, very, very low compared to what it was a year ago. Just comparing supply to last year is actually down slightly, April of 2019, you had 804 units available for sale versus right now you've got 773, so slightly less condos available for sale than even last year.
Andrew La Fleur: Again, typically, if you're heading into this kind of economic slowdown, you would typically associate that with rising inventory as people begin to sell off their assets. That's a typical pattern you would see in a lot of real estate markets in a lot of cities. And yet, once again, Toronto, the strange animal that it is real estate wise compared to other cities in North America and around the world, bucks the trend yet again, the resilience that the Toronto market is showing is incredible.
Andrew La Fleur: And a lot of that, again, is driven in this case, by the lack of supply, we're just not seeing sellers coming out in massive numbers to get rid of properties, to divest, to dump them, whatever you want to call it, we're just not seeing it. And that, in a way, is consistent with what we've seen in the Toronto market for the last many, many years, which we're just not seeing people sell. We're seeing people hold onto assets in a way that is, again, a little bit unusual, but again, this is a reason why Toronto has been such a great market to invest in and will continue to be. It's a market where we don't have enough homes for sale and we have a growing population.
Andrew La Fleur: So to me, that's the most interesting observation of what I'm seeing in the market personally, of what jumps out at me is just even though the number of sales is down, it's off the charts how much the volume of sales has dropped like 65, 70% in one month. It's unheard of, and it's, again, caused by this shutdown by the government of everything, that is unheard of, but yet at the same time, the supply is just not going up. So, I mean, not going up with what you would expect it to be. There's just no panic selling in an abroad sense happening. So very, very, very interesting to me that point there, and again, just speaking to the underlying fundamental, I think, strength and resilience of the market in general.
Andrew La Fleur: So going down a little bit more micro-level, what are we seeing? Things are dramatically down in terms of sales, but we are seeing signs of life and signs of improvement, I call it incremental improvement in the market over the last three, four weeks. It looks like a low point in the market in terms of activity certainly was early April, around three weeks into the whole COVID thing, that was probably about the low point in terms of people just not transacting in real estate at all. And since then we have seen a slow, but steady rise each week in the level of activity. So, hopefully that continues as more people, I think, just adjust to the new reality and become more comfortable with living their lives and just going about the normal things they would do, including buying real estate in this new reality that we're in.
Andrew La Fleur: So we're seeing that steady improvement, but week over week the numbers might look huge, but again, compared to where we typically would be, we're still down big time from what is a normal level of activity. So, [inaudible 00:12:29] here saying, "The worst is over, the bottom has been hit, and it's all just great from here, and we're all just downhill from here." That's another big thing that as I've been watching all these forecasts and being on various Zoom calls and stuff, that is a recurring pattern, people are taking their best guesses and stabs at what's happening and what's going to happen, but nobody knows. Nobody knows what's what's going on. No one knows when, as I said, are we at the beginning, the middle or the end of this thing? Nobody knows, time will tell. And anybody who's saying, "This is the bottom, and it's all downhill from here," You don't know that, let's wait and see how this thing plays out.
Andrew La Fleur: Big question that a lot of people are asking me, "Is the market crashing and are there deals?" A lot of investors obviously, listening to this podcast, maybe that's you. And a lot of my clients are people who own multiple investment properties and developed great relationships with over the years, always looking for deals and opportunities. So that's a question I'm getting a lot is, "Where are the deals? Can you hook me up what's going on?"
Andrew La Fleur: So, unfortunately not, I don't really have any hot deals to report to you or tell you, or say, "Look at this amazing deal here or there." Sale prices in resale, and for the most part, some of them are the same as they were pre-COVID, some of them are a little bit up from where they were pre-COVID, but I would say balanced on average, if you're looking at apples to apples, one property to a similar property pre-COVID, you're probably down five to eight, to nine percent, maybe 10% in some cases. But you're in those high single digits in terms of today's pricing versus, let's call it, late February 2020, right before COVID pricing. So yes, prices are down from pre-COVID a couple months ago on balance, but if you still compare the prices today in April, May 2020, compared to a year ago at the same time, prices are generally still up for most properties. Certainly the condo market prices are still up from a year ago. They're still up five to 10% from a year ago.
Andrew La Fleur: So, you're peeling back to call it, October, November 2019 pricing in terms of where the pricing is at today. So, call it the gains, between October, November until March 1st, March 15th, those gains that were observed in the market have been erased in that sense, and you're going back a little bit there. But again, the market was so hot and price gains were significant, call it 15% or so, across the board on average from a year ago til right before COVID hit. So if you're taking off five or 10%, you're still above where you were a year ago. So, that's my take on it.
Andrew La Fleur: The rental market, let's talk about the rental market. If you want a deal, become a renter, that's where you're definitely seeing year over year, rental decreases certainly month over month, big decreases. So rental market is bad right now, there's a lot of supply. And just generally speaking, people just do not want to move, and you can understand why. So, just the demand on the rental side has dropped off dramatically. And I did a podcast of course, on the rental market earlier this year, you can go ahead and listen to that. And I talked about the fact that 2020, this is before COVID, 2020 was going to be a really bad year for the rental market, and it just was. And that was primarily due to a lot of supply in the market and a lot more supply expected to come in with a lot of new completions of condo buildings.
Andrew La Fleur: So we knew that 2020 was going to be a bumpy year for the rental market, big picture thing. Again, it's just a blip in the longterm rental growth of Toronto, but that was the context going into COVID, and now COVID has just hammered the market over the head even more. So rental market is really bad, really slow right now. So that's just a reality if you're looking for a deal, you can get a great deal if you're renting right now, because there's just not a lot of people who want to rent or want to move, I should say. And a lot of tenants are obviously just staying in place for obvious reasons. But yet, buildings are still being completed and landlords are still adding to the supply of stuff that's on the market. So hopefully, that situation will improve.
Andrew La Fleur: But again, we knew going into this year that it's going to be a rough year for rentals. Staff is still renting, we are active with our investor clients renting out their units. Anecdotally, rents are two to $300 a month on average, less than what they were three, four months ago. So staff is renting, but you've got to lower your expectations on rent, at least for the coming year ahead.
Andrew La Fleur: What am I watching? What opportunities am I looking at? Well, I'm actually starting to look at something I didn't expect to look at necessarily, but this is where, if you're looking for deals, you might want to look at freehold properties in central Toronto. And this is primarily, if you're an investor with a decent portfolio, you've been doing this for a while, maybe you have five or 10 condos, but you're looking to diversify a bit, and you're looking for opportunities, opportunities in the condo market, they will always have those opportunities for you. But opportunities in the freehold market, especially in Central Toronto in prime neighborhoods, they don't come along very often. And we've seen the trajectory, and we know the trajectory of Central Toronto freehold properties is just going to continue to go up, and up, and up in the macro-sense over the next two, three, four decades.
Andrew La Fleur: So, this is nothing crazy, but if you're looking for opportunities, I mean, you look at say, I'm looking at some properties in lease side, I'm thinking maybe it's time to get something like that. As much as it goes against my comfort level in terms of, and I talked about this many times, investing in condos versus investing in houses, houses are very annoying to own and maintain, but they can be very lucrative in the long run. Condos are very easy to own and maintain and rent out. They also can be very lucrative in the long run, but it's just a simple matter of they're building more condos in the city, they are not building any more houses in this city.
Andrew La Fleur: So that's just a reality, if you're able to, if you're financially capable of getting into, let's call it starter homes in prime neighborhoods, 1.2 to 1.5 range, there's some interesting numbers out there we're seeing where the property might be 150 or in some cases, maybe $200,000 less than it was in February for a great property in a great location that you know, 10 years from now is going to be worth double or more what you're buying for today.
Andrew La Fleur: So little opportunities like that are opportunities that typically wouldn't look at, but maybe you're starting to look at opportunities like that, I'm starting to look at opportunities like that, balance out the portfolio. And, and just again, as a rare chance to get into some of those prime Central Toronto freeholds that you otherwise, two months ago you were in a bidding war with 20 people and it's going 10% more than the blast previous sale. Now, the property, you can go in and scoop it up for maybe 10% less than the sale that just happened in February, and you're not at a bidding war. So let's see what happens there, I'm not jumping out of my seat for these properties, but it's something I'm starting to look at and weilll be tracking. Who knows, maybe in a few months, I'll look back and say, "Dang, I really should have picked something up, because now the praises are back up to where they were in February," kind of thing. We'll see what happens here. I'll keep you posted on that, if I decide to make a move, anything there personally.
Andrew La Fleur: So that's something I'm looking at there. And of course, why don't we finish off with the preconstruction market? Talk about the preconstruction market, reason why maybe I left it for last is because there's really not too much to say, there's really nothing much happening at all, the preconstruction market has really just frozen in time, which is a characteristic of this market that a lot of people, I think, don't appreciate it. It's largely a self-correcting, self-regulating piece of the market. If the market slows down as it is right now, then developers just simply stop releasing new projects. New projects just don't come online, new supply does not come online. If the market is really, really hot and heating up, then they speed things up and they add more, and more, and more, and more projects into the market to take advantage.
Andrew La Fleur: So, basically, there hasn't been any new launches at all of any significance during the COVID era. So not much to report, the market is largely driven, of course, by new launches. So when the monthly and quarterly stats start coming out for the preconstruction market, you're going to see numbers dramatically down from what they were a year ago, and the headlines will be screaming, sales are down, I don't know, 60, 80, 90%, it's going to be some astronomical numbers. But always remember, of course, that's because nothing new has launched primarily, that's the number one thing. But also, I think the industry is taking a similar approach as the individual condo investor for the most part, which is they're taking a wait and see approach. Wait and see, "Let's see what's happening, let's see how this plays out."
Andrew La Fleur: There's a lot of builders that we're talking to each week and they're still doing everything to get their new projects ready for the market. But I think this sentiment is really, let's wait and see, we don't need to rush into anything. Everyone is waiting for the other guy to launch their project first to see, "Okay, you put yours out." "No, you do yours." "No, you do yours." "You go first," "You launch yours and I'll launch mine," kind of thing. So that's interesting to see. And the whole big reason for that as well is just the whole industry has been built primarily on a face-to-face, belly to belly event-driven model of selling in person. Yes, some virtual sales and DocuSign and stuff has been happening, but again, the bulk of this business is built on good old fashioned face-to-face, belly to belly selling.
Andrew La Fleur: So, the whole industry is now taking a step back and saying, "Okay, how do we actually sell in this new reality where everything has to be virtual and online? Yes, we have the technology and tools to technically do it, but we've never actually done it before." So they're trying to figure that out. Well, at the same time, I think they're looking at each other as developers and builders and saying, again, "You go first with yours." "No, you can go first and then we'll go after you." It's interesting to see.
Andrew La Fleur: So obviously this won't go on forever and projects will begin launching soon. Speaking of which, this is a good time to let you know that perhaps Daniels will be the first builder in the GTA to release a major new project during this time. And it looks like if things go according to plan that they'll be launching the Thornhill, the second building of the Thornhill, which is the Beverly condos in Thornhill. And shortly after that, they're looking at launching artsy condos in [Regent 00:26:54] Park. So both of those projects by Daniels expected to come out sometime in the weeks ahead. It's a bit of a moving target, but sometime in the weeks ahead here, we're hoping that those projects come out.
Andrew La Fleur: Both of those projects, by the way, will have a 10% deposit structure. So only 10% will be required before occupancy. Thornhill, Beverly will require an additional 10% at occupancy, and the Regent Park artsy one will be only 10% with nothing else due at occupancy, similar to what they've done in their previous Regent Park buildings over the years. So if you're interested, of course, in either of those projects and a 10% thing, I think is a great move and it's going to make them very attractive. And I think it's going to help them tremendously in a market that we're in right now to have such a great deposit incentive. If you're interested in either of those, of course, hit me up email@example.com, call me, text me (416)-371-2333. And we'll be sure to get you out the top of the waiting list for when those two projects come out soon.
Andrew La Fleur: Okay. I think I've gone on long enough. I hope you got some value from today's episode, a bit of a ramble and rant on various questions and things that were on my mind, and things I just wanted to update you with. I hope you're doing well, I hope that you are healthy and safe, and if there's anything that we can help you with, where you're looking to buy, sell, invest, assign a unit, if you just need a consultation on your portfolio, if you have a question about investing in condos or anything, hit us up anytime, once again, truecondos.com is the website, firstname.lastname@example.org is my direct email, and (416)-371-233, is my direct cell phone, call or text me there. Okay. Until next time, hope you're having great week and we will talk to you soon.
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