Investing in Toronto Condos For Non-Residents of Canada
Listen to Sharon Goldberg, Property Manager of DASH Property Management, talk to Andrew la Fleur about what non-residents of Canada need to know about investing in the Toronto condo market.
Sharon Golberg Interview Highlights
00:22 Who is Sharon Golberg?
2:00 Urban Living is Here to Stay
7:00 How Sharon Golberg Got Into Real Estate
8:50 What Should International Investors Know When Investing in Toronto’s Condo Market?
10:11 Income Taxes & HST for Non-Residents
14:02 Why Go to Sharon Golberg Instead of Managing It Yourself?
15:20 What is Driving the Toronto Condo Market & Has That Drive Changed?
17:00 Why People Were Buying Back Then & Why They Are Buying Now
18:30 Trends in the Condo Rental Market
20:30 Are People Splitting the Cost of 2-Bedrooms Now?
21:45 Dens As Second Bedrooms
22:50 Declining Trend of Furnished Rentals
26:58 Sharon Golberg’s Personal Advice on Condo Investing
30:00 The Biggest Challenge
31:43 How to Reach Sharon Golberg
How to Leave a Review for The True Condos Podcast on iTunes
Sharon Golberg Interview Transcript
Andrew la Fleur: Hello, and welcome back to The True Condos Podcast. Once again, I’m your host, Andrew la Fleur. Thank you for listening. On today’s show, we have a very special guest, Sharon Golberg. Sharon is the Managing Director of DASH Property Management. DASH is actually in-house property management company at my brokerage RE/MAX Condos Plus, and they’ve got hundreds and hundreds of clients whose properties they manage. Many of those clients are from overseas and nonresidents. Sharon is really an expert in the rental market, and in property management, and in working with international nonresident investors.
If that’s you listening today especially, you definitely want to listen to this interview to understand some of the implications that there are if you are a nonresident of Canada. Certainly, Canada is very open into international money. We are … That’s one of the great things about being the democracy that we are. Your money is welcome here, but there are certain things you do have to be aware of and certain rules that you do have to comply with especially when it comes to taxation and dealing with Revenue Canada.
We will get to that interview in a moment, but first, I just wanted to continue the trend we’ve been doing the past few episodes. I’m talking about a particular article that’s in the news right now about the condo market. I’m going to include a link to this in the show notes for today’s episode. The show notes will be over at TrueCondos.com/Sharon. That’s S-H-A-R-O-N. This is from the CBC. It was picked up, the story by a few different papers, but two different media outlets of the CBC headline “Downtown living is the ‘new normal,’ report says”. Subheading, “Employers move to urban course to attract qualified workers and retail follows.”
This was a report that PricewaterhouseCoopers put out and the nonprofit Urban Land Institute put out into basically saying that, “Listen. This whole urban living thing is here to stay. This is a major trend. It’s something that’s not going away.” What we’re finding certainly on the ground as realtors working in the downtown core, I’m finding that the millennials, people born 1985 or later, they’re very interesting group of people, and they’re really driving the boom in the condo rental market downtown. These people do not want to live in the suburbs. They want to live in the downtown. They want to live close to work. They want convenience.
It’s interesting. They’re not … They’re delaying major life decisions such as buying a car, getting married, having children, buying real estate. They tend to want to rent rather than to buy. This is all good news for downtown condo investors. What they love is freedom of time and freedom of money. Those things, they value above the things that may with their parents or the previous generations have valued such as status symbol, material possessions like cars, houses, condos, in terms of owning those things. They use Zipcar rather than own a car. They rent their condos rather than buy them.
This is driving rental prices up in the core despite the fact that … Again, and we talked in previous episodes how the number of rentals this year and last year is up 20% to 30% depending on the quarter over the previous year, and yet condo rental prices continue to go up. How can this be? The number of condos rent is going up so significantly, but yet the prices continue to go up. Oh, well. This is the trend that we’re seeing, and this is going to continue to happen.
The white picket fence, the house in the suburbs, detached and all that, it’s just not on their radar screen. More important to these people is a good spot to find a falafel and a soy latte sort of thing that’s within a 5-minute walk of your apartment. They like to move around. They want to live at Bay Bloor this year, and next year, they want to try out King and Spadina. When you’re renting, you’re very flexible, and you can move around, move about the city. You can change jobs quickly. You’re not tied to any particular employer. You can quit your job, and start your own business, and do your own thing on the side.
Again, it comes back to the values that they have around freedom of time, freedom of money. What are the takeaways for you as an investor looking at the condo market in Toronto? What I’d say is you want to continue to focus on the core of the city. I’ve been saying this for years. Don’t fall for the fool’s gold as it were of the suburban areas when it comes investment this is. Suburban areas and even areas that are on transit lines, on the subway line, but they’re not in the core. Those areas can be okay. You might do all right, but you’re always going to do better investing in the core because of this trend that we’re talking about.
You want to focus on areas with great retail close by, great restaurants close by, and in particular, and we talked about this actually in the interview with Sharon, grocery stores. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a good grocery store within a couple of minutes’ walk of your property or even better, right in the building itself. That’s the ultimate rental property. Of course, you want to be a buy-and-hold investor. Forget about this flipping nonsense. Buy and hold, especially if you’re buying in these locations in the core.
Rents are going to continue to go up. Twenty years from now, you’re going to thank me if you listened to that advice and you buy and hold. The core of Toronto is just going to continue to outperform and appreciate at a very nice clip in the long term. That’s enough for me for this week. I’ll … Check out the show notes for the link to that article, and let’s get to the interview. Here is Sharon Golberg.
Andrew la Fleur: Okay. It’s my pleasure to welcome to the show, Sharon Golberg. Sharon is the Managing Director of DASH Property Management. Sharon, welcome to the show.
Sharon Golberg: Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for having me.
Andrew la Fleur: Thanks for being here, and I’m looking forward to talking to you about your experience as a property manager here in Toronto and working with investors both local investors as well as international investors. Why don’t we start by, if you can just tell us a little bit about your story, your background, where you from, and how you got started in real estate?
Sharon Golberg: It’s quite interesting. I got to Toronto by a fluke 13 years ago to graduate my accounting degree at York University. As I … Pursuing my C designation, I was contacted by different investors who bought condominium units in Toronto and were looking for someone to manage their portfolio, their units. From a quick research I’ve done, I really couldn’t find someone that was geared to offer those services to those investors. Quickly, I realized there is a potential to open a rental management services company. That’s how DASH was created.
Andrew la Fleur: Okay. Similar story to a lot of entrepreneurs where you saw a need in the marketplace that wasn’t being filled or wasn’t being filled properly, and you decided to just do it yourself and start the company?
Sharon Golberg: That’s right. The initial group was nonresidents, and for them, one of the key elements was someone that can file their taxes and make it a very smooth transition for them being so far away. With my knowledge, with my some experience in the field, I managed to put a package for them to offer them a turnkey solution from A to Z. Other than buying the property, they didn’t have to look for anything else.
Andrew la Fleur: Why don’t we jump right into that, and in terms of international investors because a lot of people listening to these podcasts are not in Canada, nonresidents, or international investors looking at getting into Toronto condos and investing in Toronto condos? What are some of the things that you would go through with a new investor? What are some of the things that people need to know about, and what are the services that you provide as property management?
Sharon Golberg: I think first and foremost nonresident investors, even Canadian investors should know that Toronto’s rental market is a very solid market. The real estate is doing very well. It’s very tightly monitored by different levels of government and obviously by the private sector. From there, once they feel comfortable, I think what we offer them is really a hassle-free tool. A vehicle that will take them from buying the property to generating cash flow, and for us to be really their eyes and ears to make sure the property is well-looked after, the rent is fully collected, that the rent is at the maximum level that … At the market, and at any given time, if there is anything wrong happening with the property, they have someone that would represent their best interest.
Andrew la Fleur: What about like from the taxation point of view, dealing with Revenue Canada? What does an international investor needs to know about the rules around income from rents, and filing income taxes, and all those sorts of things?
Sharon Golberg: Typically talking, the government requires any nonresident owner of property in Canada that generates rent to pay 25% of the gross rent at the end of the month, for 15 days at the end of the month. Then at the end of the year, to file a tax return, and when you sell, there is a capital gain. What we offer, we offer a solution that would look after those withholding taxes, the 25% on the monthly basis on behalf of those nonresident investors.
Andrew la Fleur: Okay. That’s an important first point, I think. Twenty-five percent of the monthly income is withheld from the …?
Sharon Golberg: Correct.
Andrew la Fleur: You hold on to that as property manager?
Sharon Golberg: No.
Andrew la Fleur: Or you remit that to CRA directly on behalf of your clients before you can give them … Cut them a check or give them the balance?
Sharon Golberg: Exactly, so we attend for each client an individual tax account with Revenue Canada. In this account, that’s where we remit all those 25% withholding taxes. Then at the errand, we file an actual tax return. If there’s any amount owing, the client would make the difference. If there is a credit, Revenue Canada will submit a check back to the client.
Andrew la Fleur: Right. Is there anything else with regards to what somebody needs to know with regards to ongoing rental of the property, or is that pretty much it, and then it’s just a matter of when you sell it? You have that, the capital gains question.
Sharon Golberg: There is a capital gain. I think there is a common mistake that many foreign investors think that they can rent a place, and then look into the tax solutions, and it comes back to bite them. In many cases, they have a relative or a friend down here that is looking after the tax issues for them. Without knowing, they get into trouble, and they redeem their taxation for those nonresidents for no reason. We strongly recommend to consult a tax accountant or a tax advisor. We are always there if someone needs a help and explain exactly how to be the best way to structure those remittances and withholding, then avoid those unnecessary penalties and interest.
Andrew la Fleur: Like you said, a big mistake a lot of investors make is they just jump right in, purchase a unit, start renting it out without having a tax plan in place without taking to somebody like you or an accountant who can set them up properly, so they don’t have headaches, and fines and penalties down the road with the CRA?
Sharon Golberg: Correct. Otherwise, the downside is when you sell the property, the lawyer that acts on your behalf knowing that you’re a nonresident would have to withhold 25% of the gross sell price and not just the profit. In order to get a portion of it back, you have to make sure that you comply with all your tax going back while you were renting the property. If you haven’t done so, Revenue Canada won’t take their time to issue any refund to you. What we do, just by sending in a client properly from the get-go and filing the capital gain at the end of transaction when the property is sold, we’re able to expedite to rebate to the client and minimize their taxes as well.
Andrew la Fleur: That’s great. Now, you work with a lot of international investors. What about local investors as well here in Canada or even in Toronto? Who’s your typical client, or why do people come to you as opposed to managing it themselves?
Sharon Golberg: It’s a great question. I think Toronto and real estate specifically in Toronto became a commodity. People buy real estate because that’s a better revenue for them to do an investment. They realize that it’s easy to liquidate, sell, and rent. I think today, our portfolio is pretty much split even there between Canadians and nonresidents.
Andrew la Fleur: You’re about half and half now? You started originally you said with all your clients were people from overseas, but now it’s about 50/50?
Sharon Golberg: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Different reasons people invest in Toronto. I think one is the fact that Toronto is a safe market relatively. People think that in the long run, their money would depreciate, and the return is guaranteed. The other reason is for their kids in the future, their tax planning. A gift when they will get older, and they’ll be able to set up their kids in the future. Some of them, just for assisting their kids when they go to school, so they have a place to crash.
Andrew la Fleur: What do you think, speaking of like demand in your …? You’ve been doing this for I guess about 13 years, is it?
Sharon Golberg: Correct.
Andrew la Fleur: What is driving do you think the demand still for Toronto from an international perspective, and have you seen a change in what’s driving the demand from when you started to today?
Sharon Golberg: If you tried globally to compare Toronto to other big city, you’ll see Toronto is still trading at the lower prices per square foot, especially if you do it in the US. Versus New York, or Miami, or LA, even Chicago, you’ll find out that Toronto is much cheaper. Toronto offers a very low vacancy rate. I think it goes currently in and around to 1.3%, 1.2%, and that … Obviously, including the outside boundaries and suburban territories as well that we go. In the court, the demand is … It’s very strong. It’s very solid. We see an ongoing increase in rents. For the last few years, increase is in some pockets where double digits.
We don’t see much of a change coming towards us even though there’s a good pipeline of large projects under development and some new ones that are going to be completed in the next 5 to 10 years. There is a natural growth to the city. Internally within Canada, people are migrating to Toronto, and lots of international traffic as well.
Andrew la Fleur: Have you seen like from when you started, that’s like 2001 like what were some of the reasons why people were really buying in Toronto then compared to now, or is it really … Or the same story, really? Is Toronto seen as a safe growing slowly and securely kind of a place as opposed to a lot of cities around the world or a lot more volatile, and there’s a lot more ups and downs, and that sort of thing, and so they’re driven to the security? Is that what you see?
Sharon Golberg: I think currently, it’s definitely the security that is a big driver. Back then, there were different reasons. Mainly, the Canadian dollar was very affordable. It was trading at about 50% less than the US dollar. Most of the buyers that came here were either trading in US or living in US dollar currency, and then they’re big leaf, the big leverage against the Toronto market. The key factor, the prices in Toronto back then were so much more affordable. You could buy back in 2001 properties for about 250 bucks per square foot including parking in key areas. Today, cost of construction is probably times and a half, just for the …
Andrew la Fleur: Just to build the lawn?
Sharon Golberg: Exactly.
Andrew la Fleur: Not including land cost?
Sharon Golberg: Yeah, and profit obviously.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. What are you seeing at the rental market? What trends are you seeing in the rental market right now, 2014? What’s hot? What’s not? Managing hundreds of properties, what are you seeing?
Sharon Golberg: If you traveled across the city for the last six months, the biggest thing is traffic, and it’s not getting better. We see more and more road closures in TTC. It’s not the most efficient tool, but it’s currently the only one that we have. Definitely, being close to a subway line and efficient transportation … Probably transportation, it’s key. We’ll see how this is going to develop in a city that definitely going to dictate the future development of Toronto.
I think apart of that, there are some neighborhoods that are going through quite a big change located … Looking in and around the future on American game site, so the eastside of downtown. There is lots happening there. I personally think that over the last few years, we focused more as investors as real estate on the small stuff just because it was cheaper and it was easier to rent.
Andrew la Fleur: Right, small units and a big trend. Developers are building more and more studios, one-bedrooms. They shifted away in the past couple years from two-bedrooms.
Sharon Golberg: I see this trend coming back. I think …
Andrew la Fleur: You think it’s swinging back the other way now?
Sharon Golberg: Right. One-bedrooms used to go for $1,200, $1,300 a month. Now, they’re closer to $1,650, $1,700. It depends where you rent; whereas two-bedroom units are in and around the $2.200, $2,300, $2,400, so it makes muck more economic sense for roommates to get together and share a two-bedroom.
Andrew la Fleur: For two people to share, yeah. Affordability is always a factor. You always go to … As an investor, you’ve always got to look at affordability trends and where is … Where can you be providing a product at your condo that is affordable to the most number of people.
Sharon Golberg: That’s right.
Andrew la Fleur: You’re seeing … Are you seeing that happen? Like are two young people teaming up and renting a two-bedroom more as opposed to five years ago, they would just each take a one-bedroom by themselves?
Sharon Golberg: Definitely. I think it became much more popular, at least in our portfolio. I see that there is a … Two-bedroom allows you more flexibility in a sense that if you have a couple that lives there or two roommates, one moves out, the other one get together and decides to grow a family, he can … He or she can stay within the same two-bedroom and carry on for a longer period which is a great thing for the investor, for the property owner.
With the one-bedroom, your options are quite limited in a sense that it’s … You can outgrow in the space quite quick, and then it probably dictates that you level a quicker turnoff or off tenancies versus a two-bedroom or a one-plus-den that the den is key only if you can use it as a second bedroom.
Andrew la Fleur: Right. What do you think about dens as second bedrooms? A lot of developers are building their projects now or selling the floor plans where the den can be used as a second bedroom. Are you seeing the demand for that type of product from … In the market?
Sharon Golberg: I think first of all, we have to define what is a den because we can go to 10 different developments, and a den can be a full bedroom and not on the wall, or just a wider corridor and some developers call it a den. To us, a den is really a room that you can use as an office, as a second bedroom. Some of them can be used as a dining if it’s close by or it’s in the right layout, but a den is a great play, and I think it allows you a great flexibility considering the design is there. In some cases, it ends up to be a very good investment compared to a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom as well.
Andrew la Fleur: What about furnished rentals? Curious to hear your opinion on furnished rentals because some people believe that furnishing their condo and selling … Renting it furnished, looking for that so-called executive tenant is the way to go because they’re going to get much higher rents per month. I talked to you about this before. Won’t you share your opinion on furnished rentals, and is it worth it?
Sharon Golberg: Furnished … About 20% of our portfolio is furnished units. I think years ago, furnished units was a very good option for investors.
Andrew la Fleur: Like when was it a great option? You say years ago, like two years ago, three years ago, 10 years ago? Is it declining trend?
Sharon Golberg: We see a declined trend in returns about the last four years, and the reason being to furnish a place now is much cheaper than it used to be with the different stores and the different options that you have out there, and just because there is so much more competition. The premium that you can charge on a furnished unit is significantly less than it used to.
Andrew la Fleur: What happened? Like did everybody … Four years ago, everyone jumped on the furnished bandwagon, and there were just a lot more furnished rentals out there, and the demand just didn’t keep up with it?
Sharon Golberg: I think that’s one reason. Many people thought that it’s easy to run a furnished unit business, and they … Furnished unit with … Through a store like Ikea for 5,000 bucks and thought everyone is going to follow and pay the extra 300, 400 bucks a month, and then they found out that it’s not the case. I think the key element is as you go to a furnished business is to find out that the building has all the utilities included. Otherwise, it’s an added expense as a landlord.
You can’t really forecast how much you’re going to end up with paying getting a building that has enough amenities because usually, people tend to go into furnished units. They’re in between going into a hotel option, but they want something cheaper and to feel much more cozy. Therefore, they go to a condo. You would like to be in the core area by a subway line or by a big employment zone. Mainly, in the Financial District because this is the type of crowd that is looking to stay on a year, six, or three months period.
Andrew la Fleur: Right. Yeah. Where would you say the boundaries are for you like the sweet spot to be geographically if you are going to furnish a unit?
Sharon Golberg: I would try to stay south of Bloor and in between Church, Spadina, and down to Front Street.
Andrew la Fleur: Waterfront, for example. You don’t … You’d want to stay away from that area probably? You want to be very … It sounds like you’re making a circle around the Financial District?
Sharon Golberg: Right. I think the reason is people will come new to the city, and they go down to the Waterfront, and their life focus is work. A year in their contract, they see the physical barrier the Waterfront and the Financial District. They’ll walk if you have to do to cross under the Gardener. For them, it’s not really walkable, feasible, and we all agree that if you come in the winter and you try to go through this experience of walking from the Waterfront to the Financial District, it’s a big pushback.
Andrew la Fleur: It’s freezing cold.
Sharon Golberg: It’s windy. Yeah.
Andrew la Fleur: You have the South Core area around Maple Leaf Square. A lot more commercial buildings are going up around there as well. I guess that … You think that’s going to be … That could be a good spot as well in the years to come?
Sharon Golberg: I think it is very well. Yeah. Yeah. Maple Leaf is doing very well. I can only forecast it. Ice 1 and Ice 2 will do well as well. This entire pocket was different few years ago. Now, with some of the new office buildings were completed, it’s definitely a great spot to go in.
Andrew la Fleur: I know you’re a condo investor yourself, so can you share with us your opinions or your advice for condo investing in general? What do you look for in a building, in a location, in a unit type right now?
Sharon Golberg: They’re the basic fundamentals, price, size, location, et cetera. The one other aspect that people typically not considering or at least I didn’t experience with working with different investors, the uniqueness factor. Toronto had so much supply coming up over the last 15 years. You try to differentiate yourself from the general competition. If it’s a building that is predominantly controlled by one and one-plus-den sized units, I would seriously consider going for a two-bedroom or a large two-bedroom pending the location and vice versa.
If you go to a building that is a boutique building and has large units and there are few less small units, I would look into the small units because at the end of the day, you have … You’re living in a competitive market and prices is one thing; but if you want to be in a certain area and there aren’t too many large units, you can ask a premium if you own one of those large units. Necessarily, it’s going to fall in the same scheme of 3 bucks per square foot. You’ll be able to probably rent …
Andrew la Fleur: For rental, yeah.
Sharon Golberg: Exactly.
Andrew la Fleur: Three dollars per square foot as a ballpark rule of thumb rental rate for downtown prime locations.
Sharon Golberg: Right. Definitely, it would help you when you decide one day to sell. Uniqueness is definitely a non-science factor that I’m looking into when I’m considering investments. Over the years, I picked up various condos and various projects trying to diversify it from my … Different intersections, different areas in the city that would accommodate different type of crowds. I think the key element is really to get someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who can stew them in the right direction, the investors, give them the full picture.
Buying a condo in Toronto is as easy as going to a supermarket and picking up your groceries. The nice thing is that you have those 10 days to change your mind, whereas there is no penalty and you’re not going to be held through your contract. Take your time, get the option, secure a unit first, and then start doing your research because many people lose the opportunity by researching, and being afraid to actually sign the APS, the Agreement of Purchase and
Sale, and not knowing that they have the option to walk away. Yeah, definitely. If you feel that real estate is for you, walk in. Remember, you have 10 days to do your property diligence.
Andrew la Fleur: Just as a final question to make you think a little bit, put you on the spot. Is there any question that nobody has ever asked you about yourself, or about your company, or about the real estate market in general, but that you wish that somebody would?
Sharon Golberg: Wow. Wow. This is definitely a question no one asked me so far.
Andrew la Fleur: This question?
Sharon Golberg: Yeah. I think for us, the biggest challenge is always to create value to our clients. In some cases, people always feel that everything is going to work out on its own and that sometimes getting the manager onsite is probably not necessary. They always find us when things are going downhill and need us to bail them either on the tax level if they have issues with their tenants. I always treat ourselves as an insurance policy for our clients. Knowing that they have us here is only to protect them.
I think later on, we … Probably, property managers in general as an industry would be a hand tool solution for all investors because going and buying real estate without knowing how to manage it would be a difficulty. Yeah. I think there is lots that we can do on behalf of lenders to improve their portfolio holdings.
Andrew la Fleur: That’s great. If people want to get a hold of you, Sharon, what’s the best way for people to reach you, or where can they find you online?
Sharon Golberg: We can be found either through our website. It’s DASH, D-A-S-H, PropertyManagement.com or simply call our office, 416-222-6175. Any of our staff members would be able to assist you.
Andrew la Fleur: Great. Thank you. I’ll definitely include a link to the website on the show notes for this episode. I just want to thank you again, Sharon, for your time, and I appreciate your insights today.
Sharon Golberg: It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew la Fleur: Great. Hopefully, we can have you on the show again soon.
Sharon Golberg: Thanks.
Andrew la Fleur: Okay, there you have it. That was my interview with Sharon Golberg of DASH Property Management. I hope you enjoyed that, and I hope you took something from that. Once again, if you like to get a hold of Sharon directly or if you have any questions, you can check out the show notes for this episode, TrueCondos.com/Sharon, S-H-A-R-O-N. Okay. Thank you very much for listening. Thank you for supporting the show.
If you have any feedback for me, you can always email me, Andrew@truecondos.com. You can always leave a comment on the website. You can find me on Twitter. Basically, I’m very easy to get a hold of, so don’t be shy. If you do like the show, I would greatly appreciate it if you’d leave me a review on iTunes. Thank you very much, and talk to you soon.