Friday, May 25, 2012

Toronto home prices jump 7.9 per cent in April

The Greater Toronto Area led the country in rising home prices in April with a nearly 8 per cent gain compared to a year ago, a national real estate index shows.

The average price for a single family home in Toronto was $521,300 that month, according to the index published by the Canadian Real Estate Association. The figure includes semi-detached and detached homes.

Across Canada, real estate prices rose a more moderate 5.2 per cent, the MLS Home Price Index showed. The index tracks so-called “benchmark” homes in five major markets, an indicator that strips out variations in the types of housing sold from one month to the next.

For the overall index, the gain was similar to the previous two months and among the smallest since last August as tighter mortgage rules came into effect.

However, the housing market continues to diverge with Toronto speeding ahead while Vancouver cools off, the report showed.

The Greater Toronto Area saw the biggest price increase, up 7.9 per cent, while Vancouver rose just 3.7 per cent, the index showed.

“Canadian home price gains are generally expected to moderate, but there are a few hot spots where prices are being fuelled by some very strong housing market fundamentals,” association president Wayne Moen said in a statement.

Toronto has less than two months’ supply of housing compared to six months’ average supply nationally, he noted “so it ranks among the tightest of Canadian housing markets.”

It was the second month prices rose in Toronto as a shortage of inventory favoured sellers, particularly in the single family detached category while the condo market remains reasonably balanced.

The Toronto Real Estate Board blames the land transfer tax for dampening sales of single family homes in Toronto. But the board also said very low interest rates may have pulled some home purchases forward during the three-year period before the 2008 recession.

“A lot of people purchased homes that otherwise might have been spread out over time. They’re not ready to move up again,” said Jason Mercer, senior market analyst for the Toronto board. “I’d also argue that in the (city of Toronto), the land transfer tax has played a role. It represents a substantial up front cost. You might decide to borrow to renovate the home you’re in rather than list it for sale.”

Despite the price gains, Mercer says housing in Toronto remains affordable, as very low interest rates have kept the cost of financing a home within most buyers’ reach. The average household is paying between 30 and 35 per cent of combined income on mortgage, property tax and utilities, he said, adding that’s well within generally accepted guidelines.

Year-over-year price gains accelerated in Toronto and Calgary (up 4 per cent) and rose moderately in Montreal (up 2.3 per cent), the MLS index showed.

In all five markets, single family homes posted the biggest gains, up 6.4 per cent, followed by townhouses, up 3.6 per cent, and apartments (which includes condos), up 2.7 per cent

“Just as there are some pretty clear differences emerging across markets right now, there have also been some interesting developments in price trends across housing types,” said the association’s chief economist Gregory Klump.

In the Greater Toronto Area, the average price of a townhouse in April was $319,100 and for apartments, which include condos, it was $293,600, according to the MLS index.

The overall index for all five major markets in the survey is up 55 per cent since to 154.7 points since June 2005.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Drop in Toronto condo sales shows market balancing out, industry group says

Toronto builders call it stability but their latest statistics show condominium sales are down 20.2% this year and now prices are falling.

The Building Industry and Land Development Association says there were 7,047 high-rises purchased over the first four months of the year, down from 8,833 for the same period a year earlier. The average high-rise apartment sold for $431,800 in April, off 3.5% from a year earlier.

The builders say home sales are in line with more typical periods during this boom and comparisons against 2011 are against a record-breaking year.

“We try to use a five-year average,” says Bryan Tuckey, chief executive of BILD, in talking about comparisons. “It’s very positive in that it’s balancing the market. You look at trends and forecasts and actual sales, it’s very seldom a straight line but these [results] are balanced to the way things have been going the past four or five years.”

The exceptions have been 2008 and 2009, years affected by the recession, and the record-breaking pace of 2011, he says. “You have to remember 2011 really was a banner year,” says Mr. Tuckey, adding he doesn’t see downward price pressure because of the demand created from people moving to Toronto.

The drop in sales didn’t come as a huge surprise to CIBC deputy economist Benjamin Tal, who says a 20% drop in sales and 10% decline in prices is what he’s been expecting — something he says will be good for the condo market. “It’s exactly what we expected.”

One factor that could also be impacting the market is the increase in interest rates earlier this year. Rates have crept back up after dropping to a record low of 2.99% on a five-year, fixed closed-rate mortgage. Royal Bank of Canada lowered the posted rate on its five-year fixed closed mortgage by 10 basis points Wednesday to 5.34%.

Not everybody is convinced the condo market is sinking. Urbanation Inc., which also tracks condominium sales, says the first quarter was the highest quarter on record. Urbanation’s stats are not out for April.

“It looks like what happened after the first quarter is that a few sites might not have done as well after their opening,” says Ben Myers, executive vice-president of Urbanation. “Our numbers don’t reflect that and it is the first time we have seen that in a long time.”

Like BILD, Mr. Myers wonders whether expectations are a little high because of 2011. “The new standard is lot different than the past standard. In 2007-2008, if somebody sold 30% of their units in the first three months after launch they would be happy. Now it’s more like 50% to 60%,” he says.

His own data indicates that GTA condo prices are relatively flat with the average sale price in the resale condo market $396 a square foot in the first quarter, down from $400 a year earlier. It was the first time since the recession in 2009 that the market had recorded a quarter over quarter decline.

George Carras, president of RealNet Canada Inc., which compiles the data for BILD, says price comparisons are difficult because condo units have shrunk.

“What has driven the price decline is size,” says Mr. Carras. “We’ve lost about 130 square feet in the index size of a condo. You are seeing prices go down. The reason is you are getting less space for less money.”

Mortgage Broker Vince Gaetano, of Monster Mortgage, wonders whether all the negativity about the condo sector has fuelled the decline. “The negative press doesn’t help,” says Mr. Gaetano, adding tougher mortgage regulations, especially a crackdown on rules for self-employed individuals, may be impacting sales.

Scotia Plaza deal no ‘game changer’ for buyers

Scotia Plaza fetched a lower price than at least one analyst had been expecting.

H&R Real Estate Investment Trust and Dundee REIT announced Tuesday they paid $1.27-billion for the bank’s head office complex with Dundee taking two-thirds and H&R one third.

“Pricing appears slightly better than we anticipated,” said Scotiabank analyst Mr. Saric, in a note to clients on H&R REIT. The analyst had been expecting a cap rate in the 4% to 5% range but estimates the deal implies a 5.2% rate.

Scotia has agreed to take on a lease as the anchor tenant of the main tower with an average term of 13.5 years which Mr. Saric says “adds complexity” to just looking at the going-in cap rate.

He said the deal is not a “game changer” for H&R and that its $422.2 million investment equals about 3% to 5% of its existing portfolio in terms of net operating income once The Bow, its huge new office complex in Calgary, is completed.

“Assuming normalized 5% leverage, we estimate the transaction is neither accretive or dilutive to H&R,” said Mr. Saric, who thinks the REIT will need to raise $150 million to $200 million for the deal.

“Long-term we believe this transaction is positive for H&R, possibly leading to a slight bump in valuation multiple. Near term, uncertain equity needs may see H&R trade sideways.”

RBC Capital Markets analyst Neil Downey didn’t raise his target price or rating on H&R but said the deal will add “quality” to the REIT’s portfolio.

“We believe the purchase is consistent with some of H&R’s highest portfolio components,” said Mr. Downey in a note to clients.

He said the weighted average lease term of 10.6 years for all leases and the 13.5 years makes the deal work for Scotiabank and added H&R has a “big balance sheet with sufficient equity and liquidity to absorb this transaction.”

Mr. Downey doesn’t think H&R will need to go to the equity markets to finance the deal.

Favourable debt financing for $650-million at 3.45% for seven years enable the 5.2% cap rate to be neutral for H&R’s adjusted funds from operations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Toronto condo boom being fueled by single women

Elli Davis was a woman well ahead of her time when she bought her first condo 26 years ago.

“It took me about an hour. There were just two buildings to choose from in the (central Toronto) area at the time,” says Davis, who wasn’t even 30.

But her agent was so awful at dealing with what was, admittedly, a bit of an anomaly at the time — a single woman buying a place on her own — that Davis would become a realtor herself two years later. Since then, she’s seen the real estate revolution firsthand.

Single women now account for about 20 per cent of all real estate purchases and well over 30 per cent of condo purchases, especially in Toronto’s booming downtown core, realtors and condo developers say.

Their significant buying power, and exacting standards, have helped drive the move to granite and stainless steel designer kitchens, better bathroom storage and even lighting — especially over the makeup mirror, says Jim Ritchie, president of Canada’s biggest condo builder, Tridel.

Related: 5 tips for first time homebuyers

They are looking for locations within walking distance of transit and like the added security of condos, especially concierges who will keep an eye on underground security cameras as they head to their car.

Their style sense has even influenced unit layouts and the look of the lobbies, says Ritchie.

“The good news is, what appeals to female buyers benefits everybody,” he adds.

The average age of Tridel’s female buyers is about 33, says Ritchie, but they’re less likely to buy a unit before it’s built — partly because they want to be able to walk around the place and look out the windows first.

So they tend to buy from investors who are flipping their brand-new units and tend to require less of a down payment, which works well for women who tend to have a harder time coming up with the standard 20 to 25 per cent deposit.

Women see real estate as such an investment in their own future financial security that friends and co-workers are increasingly banding together to buy duplexes or single-family homes where they can share space and costs, says Laura Parsons, a mortgage specialist with BMO Bank of Montreal.

Related: Why we’ve locked in for a 10-year mortgage

“We’re seeing a mix of all sorts of things on the mortgage front,” says Parsons, “some really different approaches” from women.

Three waitresses pooled their money, as did two nurses, in Calgary’s booming housing market, fearing that if they didn’t buy now they risked being priced out of a home forever, says Parsons.

Many buy with an eye to the future, close to schools for the children they hope to have someday.

And the trend shows no signs of letting up: Among Canadians who hope to buy in the next two years, some 49 per cent are women while just 35 per cent are men, according to the recently released RBC Homeownership poll.

“This is a universal phenomenon,” says Hamilton Re/Max realtor Conrad Zurini, who spoke about the female phenomenon during a BMO roundtable discussion on housing earlier this year.

While exact statistics are hard to find in Canada, the U.S. National Association of Realtors did a study in 2011 that found 54 per cent of all first-time buyers are married couples and 12 per cent are unmarried couples. Single females accounted for about 21 per cent of sales and single men just 12 per cent, says Zurini.

“Women have always made a lot of the house buying decisions, but now they have that mandate more than ever, and they can do it on their own, because they bring sizable incomes to the table,” says Zurini.

“We’ve had to rethink the way we market real estate because this group definitely communicates differently. They text a lot. They ask a lot of questions. They are fact finders. And they really look at where do I want to be in the next few years.”

Crime rates and “walk scores” are also critical: “A guy will just get in the car and not really think about that,” says Zurini. “A woman is thinking, ‘Is there a Starbucks on my way to work? They’re thinking lifestyle and they will sacrifice size to augment that.”

Related: Avoid these 5 costly mortgage mistakes

Given that women tend to outlive men, and the first wave of baby boomers are now in their late 60s, the trend of women buying on their own is not only likely to increase, but have a profound effect on housing of the future, says retired architect and urban planning expert Luis Rodriguez who has studied the issue of women’s impact on housing.

They’ll be looking beyond nice kitchens to flexible accommodation that perhaps allows them to share common spaces but also have personal space, much like student housing, says Rodriguez.

“This social trend (of more female buyers) is going to be very important to the housing market,” he adds.

Already they are looking for more durable finishes and turnkey homes that don’t require renovations or extensive maintenance, realtors say.

Even a plaster wall needing repair or missing baseboards in a room can be enough to turn a single woman off buying an otherwise great property, says realtor Sandra Rinomato of the west-end Toronto brokerage Sandra Rinomato Realty Inc. and host of the new HGTV show Buy Herself.

Rinomato spends each half-hour show helping women become homeowners — from the newly divorced to the veteran renter who has nothing to show for 20 years of handing over monthly cheques to a landlord.

Elli Davis was determined not to be there.

She was in her late 20s, had saved up a bit of money and wanted the financial security of owning her own home.

She also wanted a doorman and someplace close to downtown that was easy to maintain.

“Those are the same things that prevail for women today. Except they’ve got a lot more choice.”

Hume: Is Toronto having a mid-rise crisis?

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Toronto, a city of a certain age, is experiencing such a difficult mid-rise crisis.

Though six- to eight-storey development is ideally suited to many corners of the city, we have made it all but impossible to build.

And to listen to residents of the Beach, a mere half-dozen floors are enough to lay waste to a neighbourhood, no matter how well-established, well-liked or well-heeled it might be. Locals there are up in arms over a proposal to build a mid-rise condo on Queen St. E. at Kenilworth.

“It’s going to feel like downtown,” one resident said recently. “It’s not going to feel like a small town.”

“All of a sudden, it’s becoming Toronto,” another complained.

Did we miss something? Becoming Toronto?

Such words should be recognized for what they are — nonsense.

In truth, the scheme these east-end NIMBYs hate so much is one of the finest to come along in a while. It could serve as a model for the sort of development the city badly needs.

And if rampant NIMBYism weren’t enough, City Hall also does what it can to frustrate mid-rise construction.

For decades, architects and builders have railed against the outdated and excessive parking requirements, emergency exit regulations and construction techniques that make the economics of mid-rise so tough. Most sites are too small to accommodate such space gobblers.

Besides, several years ago, the city approved a condo on University Ave. with no parking.

Growing demand for urban life has brought thousands to Toronto; most growth now occurs in the city, not the suburbs, and most of that is highrise. People are now willing to pay dearly to live in tiny units, as long as they’re downtown.

“We’re seeing mid-rise development spread across the city,” says Roland Rom Colthoff, the architect who designed the Beaches condo. “It’s all about livability. People aren’t interested in sitting on the DVP for hours. But we still have to struggle with the city….”

Colthoff is referring to the technical services, works and planning departments where rule-bound apparatchiks are apparently out of touch with Toronto’s mid-rise building guidelines, which council approved in 2010. The way the city wrings its hands over the issue, looking for reasons to say no, you’d think mid-rise was a form of child molestation.

One takes heart from the fact community council ignored residents and approved the condo, but the outburst showed Torontonians at their absolute worst — ignorant, selfish, misguided and ultimately, self-defeating.

Colthoff’s firm, RAW Design, has a dozen mid-rise condos in the works, with more on the horizon.

“There’s an explosion of interest in mid-rise right now,” he insists. “The price of condos makes these projects viable. Plus there’s a cultural shift going on; there are new ideas about sociability in the city. Mid-rise buildings are not for investors but people who want to be part of a neighbourhood and what’s happening.”

Mid-rise hotbeds include Ossington, Queen (east and west), King St. E., Dundas St. W., the Junction and Gerrard and Woodbine.

The only thing they all have in common, Colthoff argues, is ready access to transit. Little wonder so many cities in the world, especially across Europe, are awash in mid-rise; it is the urban residential form par excellence.

The nattering nabobs of NIMBYism notwithstanding, the work of Colthoff and others proves that mid-rise can be adapted to Toronto, practically and beautifully.

Beaches-East York Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon explains away her constituents’ protests as “passion.” Perhaps, but more probably it’s petulance, unbecoming in any part of town, no matter how many storeys there may be.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Thousands walk for Israel

Toronto hospital researcher Judith Elbaz praised Canada’s tolerance towards Jews before embarking on Monday’s seven-kilometre United Jewish Appeal walk.

“We are very happy,” the Mount Sinai Hospital researcher, who was born in France, said of the life she and husband Uriz Elbaz, 38, an opthemologist, have with their four children.

“I like Canada very much,” said Elbaz, 34, who came to this country from Israel 11 months ago on a fellowship. “It’s a very welcoming country, where people can be friends from different cultures.

“In France, it’s not like this,” she said at Confederation Park.

And the local Jewish community “are very nice people,” Elbaz added.

The 44th annual UJA walk, which organizers announced attracted more than 10,000 people, raised more than $500,000 for several disadvantaged areas in Israel before participants — including infants, seniors and dogs — spilled onto Lake Shore Blvd. sidewalks at 10 a.m.

With many carrying Israeli and Canadian flags — and Toronto Police stopping traffic at several intersections — walkers enjoyed sunny skies along Queen’s Quay, then along York and Adelaide Sts.

The event was peaceful, but as in previous years, a small group of protesters were waiting, carrying signs including “Jews against Israel’s war crimes,” “Gaza. We will not forget” and “Wall Apartheid.”

There was a brief confrontation after several flag-waving walkers crossed Queen’s Quay, but as police officers watched nearby, it ended peacefully.

Considered one of the world’s largest Israel solidarity events, the event began in a temporary bandshell with guided warm-up exercises and songs featuring Canadian R&B and hiphop artist JRDN.

Soon to leave Canada, Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul general here and in Western Canada, told the crowd he was “privileged to be in Toronto for five years, where the friendship between the two countries is important.

“Canada is Israel’s best friend,” he said.

Pulling twin daughters May and Neta, 3, and daughter Eden, 1 1/2 in small carts, annual UJA walker Karen Croitoru, 32, said she and husband Haniel came “to support Israel and the Jewish community.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Plan to tear down Gardiner has died

TORONTO - Any prospect of tearing down the Gardiner Expwy. died quietly almost two years ago.

Waterfront Toronto spent around $3 million in 2010 on the start of the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment that would have looked at a number of options including tearing down the Gardiner east of Jarvis St.

But David Kusturin, Waterfront Toronto’s chief operating officer, said once the terms of reference for the EA were finished in the fall of 2010, the study was put on hold.

The remaining $4 million for the assessment was spent on other priority projects.

“At that time it was determined because there was no funding available and no real potential for funding for any of the potential solutions — tearing it down, rebuilding it, burying it — that the money would be reallocated to other Waterfront Toronto priority projects,” Kusturin told the Sun Wednesday.

He said the decision came during the budget process with the city, province and federal government. The EA remains “on hold” rather than scrapped entirely.

“At this moment the project is what we call unfunded, while it exists on our books there is no funding to complete it just yet,” Kusturin said.

Waterfront Toronto officials said the $3 million spent on the incomplete EA was not money lost.

“There would probably have to be a refreshing done of the terms of reference if the project is re energized,” he said.

Public Works chairman Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called the proposal to look at tearing down the Gardiner “on the far back burner” for everyone involved.

Waterfront Toronto echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t think it is anyone’s priority right now,” Kusturin said.

“Waterfront Toronto has always said we can live with the Gardiner or live without the Gardiner, however it turns out,” he added.

Metro Hall sale won't net City much: Report

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford’s City Hall won’t be flush with cash if it unloads Metro Hall.

A staff report going to the government management committee next week says there would only be “marginal financial benefits, if any” if the city were to sell the John St. property. City staff also say further study of the idea would take eight months and require $400,000.

“The preliminary analysis concludes that there are marginal financial benefits, if any, associated with the sale of Metro Hall when compared to the cost of relocation,” Joe Casali, director of the city’s real estate services, wrote in the report.

Around 2,800 city staffers currently work in Metro Hall which houses a variety of city services including the 311 Toronto call centre.

Staff looked at three options including selling and leasing back space in Metro Hall, selling Metro Hall and relocating staff to a non-downtown leased location and selling Metro Hall and relocating staff to a non-downtown purchased location.

The report also included a confidential attachment with the current estimated value of Metro Hall.

Back in January, government management committee chairman Councillor Paul Ainslie floated the idea of looking at selling Metro Hall.

Ainslie argued at the time the city should look at its options for the 27-storey downtown building given Toronto’s hot real estate market.

“We need to be looking at our assets,” Ainslie said.

Ainslie could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Caviar condos set to flood Toronto market

TORONTO - Five months after buying one of Toronto’s new luxury hotel condominiums, Oliver Baumeister is girding for a glut of suites like his to hit the market as the biggest names in the hotel business open hundreds of units in Canada’s largest city.

Baumeister, himself a real estate agent, is in no rush to sell. When Toronto’s untested market for five-star condo living absorbs the surplus - say by 2016 - he intends to offload his sky-high unit for a tidy 20 percent profit, and look for his next Canadian real estate investment.

“A bunch of it will sit for a while and it will take time to sell,” said Baumeister, who has been buying Toronto condominiums with his brother for the past four years.

“But we bought it with the belief that the Toronto hotel condo market definitely has a future. When we sell, hopefully ... we’ll see about a 20 percent profit.”

The model of ultra-fine condos attached to luxury hotels isn’t new - cities like Hong Kong and New York are full of them.

But Toronto, a relatively small city with no five-star hotel condominiums a year ago, is coming to the game late but with a vengeance.

By the end of this summer Toronto will have four such projects, as Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Trump and Shangri-La open massive towers in a city where a red-hot market for all types of housing has brought rising concern about a real estate bubble.

The granite-and-glass towers, including two of Canada’s tallest residential buildings, are opening in quick succession, adding hundreds of hotel rooms and more than a thousand condominiums just as Canadian housing hype hits a fever pitch.

Signs of success are mixed. None of the four projects, whose condos cost from just under $1 million to $28 million, has sold out, and the push by developers to sell their remaining units before a resale market kicks in has the feel of a ticking time bomb.

“I think any developer has concerns about that,” said Howard Tikka, director of marketing Talon International Development Inc, which is developing the Trump property.

“If you have units left to sell, and people are taking them to market to resell, there is just not a whole lot you can do about it.”

With the Ritz Carlton already open and the other three not-fully-sold projects due to hit the market this summer, the developers will compete with sellers of their own luxury condos as speculators and investors try to cash in.

While all four projects boast paper profits for early investors, the simultaneous sale of dozens - perhaps hundreds - of exquisite suites may prove too much of a good thing.

“I think on the luxury side, the market has already peaked,” said Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network, an author who invests his own money and advises others about buying into Canada’s housing market.

Campbell said six groups identified the same hole in Toronto’s luxury market about 10 years ago. Four projects went ahead, and all of them are coming on line at the same time.


The Trump project, a 65-story paragon of glitz with a “champagne and caviar” theme, appears the most troubled. Plagued by bad press, construction delays, disgruntled buyers and a hybrid model of residences and pooled hotel condos, the project has the largest proportion of unsold units despite being the first to open its sales office, in 2004.

Talon said 80 percent of the tower’s 379 units have sold, powered by the hotel condos, currently priced from $967,000. But 40 percent of the residential condos, priced between $2.3 million and $6.3 million, remain unsold.

It said Trump has the most left to sell because it has twice the number of units as competitors at the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton, and focused first on selling its hotel rooms.

The Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Shangri-La projects have kept their condo and hotel rooms separate. The condo owners have access to hotel amenities but no direct stake in its operation.

Trump, on the other hand, is trying to sell all its hotel rooms to private investors as condos. Owners can live in the suites, or put the rooms into a rental pool and take a cut of income from the hotel guests staying there.

The business structure means buyers of the pooled hotel condo units are subject to commercial tax rates rather than lower residential rates, and the bar for financing is higher.

“I called every major lender regarding Trump, and the only one I could find that was willing to finance was HSBC,” said Callum Ross mortgage consultant Jason Friesen.

“There were some units that had $20,000 (annual) property taxes for an $800,000, or 1,500 square foot, unit because it was zoned commercial. So lenders wouldn’t touch it.”

Real estate lawyer Bob Aaron, who represents “a handful” of disgruntled Trump buyers, said some are trying to get out of their contract or walking away from $250,000 down payments.

“The monthly costs are too high, or they realized too late that they had overpaid, or can’t finance it, or didn’t realize they were getting into a business venture superimposed on property ownership,” he said.

“They had very smooth sophisticated marketing, and I think buyers were dazzled by being partners with Donald Trump.”

The American property mogul has licensed the Trump name to the project but he does not own it. His Trump Hotel Collection operates the tower.


The debate about who is buying them dogs Toronto’s condo boom. There are no figures for foreign buyers in Canada, which is seen as a financial safe haven amid global woes, but talk of affluent Asian, European and Middle Eastern investors abounds.

Janice Fox, director of sales at the Four Seasons, estimates 30 to 40 percent of buyers there have been foreign, but she said they intend to live in the units, at least part of the year.

Some 90 percent of the Four Seasons 210 condos have been sold, including one last year for $28 million, the highest price ever paid for a Canadian condominium. That buyer is foreign, but the family intends to move to Toronto, Fox said.

The resale market may be a gold mine for early buyers, as some prices have doubled since the first investors signed on in 2004 or 2007.

“There’s been a big gain in price. There’s probably a small group who bought in 2007 who has had a massive gain and want to cash out on that,” said Michael Braun, marketing manager for Shangri-La developer Westbank Corp.

With more than 50 of 393 units remaining to be sold before August, when contracts close and buyers can start re-selling, Braun says it could take until early 2014 before Shangri-La sells all of its units.

Realtors estimate between 10 percent and 20 percent of pre-construction sales are made by investors who intend to flip the units as soon as the deals close.

The Ritz Carlton, open since mid-2011, is a cautionary tale of the risk of resale. More than 90 percent of its 159 units have been sold - but nearly two dozen are back on the resale market, diluting the sales power of the developer.

“I think the values have been hurt at the Ritz, where you’ve had some powers of sale,” said real estate agent Brian Persaud, referring to forced sales due to mortgage default. “That’s going to harm the value, definitely.”

As the summer openings of the three other projects approach, developers and investors seem to have one eye on the clock and one eye on historically low interest rates, desperate to sell before the talk of a bursting Toronto condo bubble comes true.

“There has to be a correction - but hopefully not within a year .... it is scary,” said a Toronto banker who bought one of the Shangri-La luxury units in 2007 and hopes to resell at a 15 percent profit as soon as he can.

“Obviously there is going to be a spiral-down effect (when all the units hit the market) but that is to be expected,” said the banker, who bought the unit with his parents and declined to be named to protect their privacy. “At worst we’ll break even.”

Real estate agent Persaud is more sanguine. He believes all the luxury condos will be sold, especially once resale values stabilize and buyers can get a first-hand look at the finished five-star product.

“I don’t think they’ll be vacant forever,” he said. “Eventually the market will catch up to it, but there is going to be blood in the streets for a while.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ford targets bag tax

Mayor Rob Ford used his weekly radio talk show to push his plan to ease the bite of Toronto’s plastic bag fee. Mayor Ford said Sunday that the five-cent bag fee is unnecessary and he wants to give retailers the option of not imposing the charge on customers. “The bag tax has been around for too long,” Ford told Newstalk 1010 listeners. “It has served its purpose and let’s move on ... We’re trying to make it optional, that’s what were trying to do.” Ford’s executive committee is slated to deal with the issue on Monday. The levy was imposed in 2009 under then Mayor David Miller. It was intended to offset the environmental impact of plastic bag usage. City bureaucrats produced a report that said the use of plastic bags has dropped by 53% since the introduction of the tax. “People say it has reduced the amount of plastic bags in our garbage but I think you can see in other places like Mississauga and Vaughan that they can get along just fine without it,” said Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who was a phone-in guest on the show. “It is such a ripoff, it’s ridiculous.” The fee generates approximately $5.4 million dollars annually for retailers. That money does not go into the city coffers. A city report released in April recommended that Toronto councillors try to encourage big retailers to donate a portion of their bag fee profits to a municipal tree canopy program.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ontario horse racing crisis puts future of young thoroughbreds, standardbreds at risk

LUCAN, ONT.—Finale Seelster meets the world two front hooves first.

The foal’s mother, an older brood mare of 18, is worn out from two days of labour. It takes two people and a forceful tug of the colt’s lanky front legs to pull him out onto a fresh pile of hay.

For 10 seconds, the heap of matted grey fur lies there under fluorescent barn lights, lifeless. Then, a tiny breath. Then, two.

Just like that, the aptly named Finale is born. A horse bred to kick up the dirt on local racetracks now facing closure, and maybe become the next best thing on a circuit now under siege.

The fact is, Finale’s career, and quite possibly his life, may be over before either really begins.

Horse racing in Ontario is in crisis. Earlier this year, the provincial government announced plans to scrap its slots-at-racetrack program by spring 2013. Since 1998, the industry has received a 20 per cent cut of the money made from government-owned slots at 17 tracks — $345 million per year. Those dollars, say the Liberals, will be filtered to health care or education.

Last week, Windsor Raceway announced its likely closure, having already lost its slots. The suspicion is that many more rural tracks will follow, with race dates dropping by at least a third.

Horse people, as they call themselves, say the industry contributes $1.1 billion to the economy and employs 60,000 people, from hot walkers and jockeys toiling on the backstretch to veterinarians and breeders. Many will lose their jobs.

Other people feel it’s time for racing in Ontario to reinvent itself and become self-sufficient, just like other professional sports.

On a typical day at Woodbine’s track, the mecca of Canadian racing, aging fans are sprinkled through the stands. A half century ago, crowds roared alongside thundering hooves. Today, the sport’s popularity has been surpassed by ultimate fighting, and its wagering has been siphoned off by slots and casinos.

With the larger industry threatened, there are thousands of horses that have already been born — this year’s and last year’s foals, in particular — that are facing a dire future.

Thoroughbred owners, whose horses race at Woodbine and Fort Erie tracks, are feeling pressure. But the standardbreds, like Finale — harness-racing horses whose jar-shaped heads have earned them the nickname “jugheads” — are poised to take the hardest hit. Three thousand standardbred horses will be born this season alone.

There are rumours that breeders are already euthanizing their foals to avoid paying hefty stud fees — due after a foal is born — for horses that have little hope of returning their owners’ investment. There are fears horse people will soon be forced to choose between feeding their families and feeding their animals.

Ronda Markle, 57, a trainer and owner with a small farm near Cobourg, Ont., thinks of the 15 standardbreds she’s raised for the last two decades as a part of her family. Feeling that she’ll be unable to keep up with the $1,700 per month it costs to feed them all, which doesn’t include veterinary bills, shoeing and property maintenance, she’s now considering destroying them.

“I almost think this would be more humane than what they have in store for them,” she writes in an email. With animals that now have “no future as a racehorse,” Markle says she will have to make decisions that “I do not know how I will be able to live with.”

Finale was conceived last May by way of artificial insemination, was gestated the expected 11 months and four days to term, then was nearly another three weeks overdue. He is the son of Finesse Seelster, who has a world champion in her bloodline, and Santana Blue Chip, a 3-year-old stallion that retired with more than $1.6 million in winnings.

At Seelster Farms in Lucan, Ont., a bucolic stretch of rolling fields dotted with white barns, breeding is painstakingly planned. It takes three years to create an equine athlete. The process begins with matching mares to stallions, includes the lengthy gestation time, then the additional time it takes to grow a foal into a yearling ready to be trained for the tracks, owner and manager Ann Straatman says.

The cost of that process per horse ranges from $20,000 to $21,000. About 150 foals are born at Seelster each season. Their yearlings have typically sold for an average of $26,000 at fall auction, for a profit of $4,000 per horse.

That was before the guillotine fell.

The Ontario Sire Stakes racing program is the cornerstone of standardbred breeding and racing in the province. It redistributes an estimated $20 million in purses to winning Ontario-bred horses and hands out awards to local breeders. As a result, the program has encouraged the breeding of horses for racing within the province’s borders.

Sire Stakes purses range from $24,000 at the grassroots level to a $300,000 super final.

Half the money for the program, however, comes from the slots, putting its future in peril.

Finale is considered a mid-priced horse and likely would not be fast enough to race the Grand Circuit — harness racing’s Olympic equivalent that takes place in the United States, says Straatman. Finale was bred for the province’s Sire Stakes, at tracks like Clinton Raceway, Georgian Downs or Mohawk Racetrack. All are facing possible closure.

Risk comes with the business. If a horse breaks a leg, she’s finished. But if a horse has no opportunity to race, to make back the money doled out to purchase, train and feed it, Straatman questions, who would take that risk?

The provincial government has said it is considering an agreement to help ease a transition, but has yet to say what that would look like.

“Without a commitment to the Ontario Sire Stakes, it’s hard to wait,” says Straatman. “Every day costs money to keep and feed these young horses.”

The commercial breeder, 46, says she’s open to change. She could sell a slice of her farm if there’s less demand for horses. The government, she says, gave too little notice and no plan to help bridge the gap between the old and new way of racing.

“It was never our intention to create unwanted horses,” says Straatman, adding that Finale’s future changed, in an instant, from “wide open and full of potential to not sure where we would go.”

Just a few minutes after Finale’s birth, the foal tries to push his skinny legs up underneath him, crashing down on his soft bed. Within two hours, though, he is up walking around his pen. After one day, he is running through the pasture, just as he was bred to do.

If the foal born to race in Ontario can not run, “I don’t know in all honesty that there is another option for (Finale),” says Straatman.

The U.S. market likely wouldn’t be interested in him, she says, adding adoption programs in Canada and across the border are already overburdened.

The best scenario, says Straatman, would be for the Mennonites in St. Jacobs to take him as a buggy horse, or for a family to adopt him as a riding horse. Both paths mean a massive financial loss for the breeder, and the number of unwanted standardbreds is likely to flood potential demand anyway.

That leaves the slaughterhouse, an option Straatman refuses to consider, although she admits owners of smaller farms may feel forced to sell their horses for their meat price. That sits at just under $700 per animal.

Straatman’s grandfather bought his first horse after immigrating to Canada from Holland. Her father took up the business, “a hobby that got out of hand.”

“No one ever wants to slaughter their horse or euthanize their horse,” Straatman says. “That is absolutely the very last, most desperate decision that anyone could make. But it is, in some cases, the kindest thing you can do for them . . . An uncared-for horse is the worst kind of fate you could ever want, for any animal.”

It may come to the point, she says, where Finale is costing money the farm doesn’t have.

“And, as much of an emotional attachment we have to our animals, we have to make a business decision as well. . .

“We don’t know and hope that we’re never faced with that. It’s never been so real for us as it is right now, that those decisions would have to be made. We would have never ever fathomed that this could even be a possibility.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Toronto casino: Pressure building for waterfront complex

Pressure is building on Toronto councillors to approve the idea of a local casino, particularly on the waterfront.

While the primarily suburban allies of Mayor Rob Ford seem open to the idea, other councillors warn that pressure for a quick decision could backfire.

In recent days:

• Paul Godfrey, chair of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., which plans to build a casino in the GTA, has blitzed newspaper editorial boards. Rather than wait for municipalities to express interest, Godfrey pitched an “iconic entertainment centre” with fine dining, shops and theatres on Toronto’s waterfront. He warned OLG won’t wait until October 2014 when Toronto could put a casino referendum question on the civic election ballot, and said the agency will woo councillors and residents in coming weeks.

• The Canadian Gaming Association, has registered to lobby councillors. Vice-president Paul Burns said the trade association won’t pitch a particular location or operator but will counteract the anti-casino “emotion” expressed by some opponents. “When we look at other communities that have had experience with gaming, a lot of the issues that were raised — prostitution, crime, all those things — never came to pass,” he said. “We want to make sure that they are dealing with the facts as they make a consideration.”

• MGM Resorts International, which is pitching a casino entertainment mecca on the waterfront, recently visited the office of Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee. He was home sick but heard, by phone, their pitch for a multi-billion-dollar investment and the creation of more than 6,000 full-time jobs, he says. “We don’t have enough information about the potential negative impacts, the social impacts, the possible merits, but we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” added the Ward 37 Scarborough Centre councillor. Thompson also suggested a referendum could be held soon for much less than the projected $7 million cost of a one-day, election-style vote by putting polling booths only at the civic centres, and leaving them there for a couple of weeks or a month.

The casino question will be on the table at the meeting of Ford’s executive committee on Monday. The motions, one from Councillor Mike Layton and another from Councillor Adam Vaughan, are anti-casino but will open the door to discussion by advocates.

In an interview Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) said he would fight any efforts to hold anything less than a full referendum. Council needs to know what revenues the city would get, see OLG’s relevant studies, get a police review of crime in casino cities and hear from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on potential addiction impacts, he said.

Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) is also warning that a huge complex with restaurants and theatres would suck revenue out of nearby small businesses.

“Council will make as rationale a decision as we can and the data out there suggests the drawbacks outweigh the benefits,” he said.

Centrist councillor Josh Matlow took exception to Godfrey’s tone.

“It seems like the OLG is trying to play poker with the residents of Toronto and that’s not going to work here — we hold the cards,” said Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s). “The pressure tactic is unwelcome. We’ll take our time.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mimico waterfront: Another “wall of condos” disaster in the making?

When Waterfront Toronto was created in 2001, the agency was promised wads of public funds and told to undo the pell-mell planning that has marred a crucial city asset: its lakeshore.

Now, some residents of southern Etobicoke are concerned that the same mistakes are being repeated along the western waterfront, and no one is watching.

“They built a wall of condos, and now they’re paying (hundreds of millions) to fix it,” says Mimico resident Kyle Gojic. “We’re doing the same thing here, but on a larger scale.”

Like so many Toronto stories, this one starts with condominiums.

In 1997 Doug Holyday, then mayor of Etobicoke, announced plans for a new neighbourhood: Humber Bay Shores. The former “motel strip” — a seedy area south of Lake Shore Blvd. W. and east of Park Lawn Rd. — saw its first new condo a year later.

Since then, highrises have sprouted like toadstools.

“There’s very large numbers of people in buildings that are just higgledy-piggledy scattered across that area. There’s no coherent pattern of public spaces, there’s no shopping or retail,” says Ken Greenberg, an architect and urban designer who has consulted for Waterfront Toronto.

“It’s one of the most egregious, terrible examples of lack of any kind of decent planning one can think of.”

Some may disagree. But many in Mimico — the next community over, where a massive revitalization plan known as “Mimico 20/20” is underway — look east to Humber Bay Shores as a warning.

“The multi-multi-multi-storey buildings? It scares me,” says Bob Poldon, president of the Mimico Residents Association.

A century ago, wealthy Torontonians came to Mimico to build luxurious beachfront estates. But in the mid-1900s, politicians, some of whom were eventually embroiled in a corruption scandal, let developers build blocks of nondescript midrise rental apartments south of Lake Shore Blvd. W.

“I call it the Great Wall of Mimico. If you drive by, and you aren’t from the area … half the people wouldn’t even know that the water is right there,” says Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke–Lakeshore).

There are “parking lots right up onto the water’s edge,” he points out. “It’s ridiculous.”

Grimes launched the Mimico 20/20 revitalization plan in 2006. But the process has stopped and started, and some residents find the plan opaque. Gojic recently sent a letter of concern signed by 80 of her neighbours to city planning staff. They want to know, for one, whether the plan will set height and density restrictions for new buildings.

In Mimico at large, fears are swirling over one site owned by Longo Development Corp., which now hosts six lowrise rentals near the lake, all huddled around a historic early 20th century villa. Last year, Longo submitted an application that describes redeveloping the site into two midrise towers to replace the rental units and, controversially, six more towers ranging from 20 to 44 storeys. The historic villa was not described in the plans.

Dino Longo, principal of the company, says the application is incomplete and will be resubmitted once Mimico 20/20 is complete. He called the plans “exciting” and said residents’ concerns over the historic villa will be addressed, but did not back away from the proposed tower heights.

Grimes doesn’t believe a 44-storey tower fits the neighbourhood. “But the community has to also understand that for all this redevelopment that most of people want to happen, something’s gotta give.”

By law, for example, developers must replace all torn-down rental units. For the landowners redeveloping those aging midrise apartments, “A four-storey building, it’s not going to happen. Otherwise you can put this study back on the shelf,” says Grimes.

Both Gojic and Poldon say residents strongly support revitalization and to preserve the kind of affordable units that will maintain Mimico’s un-gentrified, mixed-income makeup. But they want the revitalization process to better engage residents — and all Torontonians. A community workshop is planned for May 29.

“This is the western waterfront. This is a huge deal,” says Gojic. “I think we’re really going to lose out unless people start to pay attention.”

And Gojic, unlike Poldon and councillor Grimes, thinks Toronto needs one steward for its entire lakeshore. Waterfront Toronto gave $20 million for a new strip of lakeside parkland in Mimico, but its jurisdiction ends at Parkdale.

“If I was to dream a dream,” she says, “it would be that Waterfront Toronto would be given the mandate to oversee” Mimico.

Toronto residents weigh in on the future of Casa Loma, which needs $20 million in repairs

Canada’s most famous castle is “at the tipping point’’ and badly in need of $20 million worth of external repairs, says Lyle Hall, a spokesman for HLT Advisory Inc. which was hired by Casa Loma Corp.

The City of Toronto created CLC to manage the iconic century-old residence and estate buildings constructed by Sir Henry Pellatt and come up with recommendations for their future. Hall spoke at a Thursday night community meeting held at Grace Church on the Hill, not far from the castle, attended by CLC members, area residents, people in the business and entertainment community, Casa Loma staff, city councillors and staff.

Hall said that estimates for interior repairs are unknown at this point. But the “capital need is urgent,’’ he warned.

Revenues from admittance to Casa Loma and from special event rentals come to around $1 million after expenses.

The Casa Loma Corp. has a mandate to suggest long-term use and ownership of the historical buildings to the City of Toronto and will be making a recommendation to council’s executive committee June 12.

One member of the audience had reservations about the stewardship of Casa Loma, which was long managed by the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma.

Trelawny Howell, great grandniece of Pellatt, told the Star, “they’ve had it for 80 years and they’ve made a mess of it for 80 years.’’

The castle should be used “day and night . . . it should be the go-to-place in the city,’’ she says, with multiple uses, including theatre, teaching, exhibitions, perhaps a jazz supper club with a dance hall, which was one of its uses many decades ago.

When the city took over control from the Kiwanis Club, the plan was to “stabilize” the aging relic before deciding what to do with it.

Area councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) said the castle “brings in a fair amount of revenue through its events operations,” with the problem being to find the money to pay for the backlogged repairs.

Shooting their mouths off about Toronto gun ban

TORONTO - I was wrong about Josh Colle.

He’s not as mushy as I thought.

Shooting from the hip Wednesday night, he told the leftist anti-gun hysterics on council that while the city does have a huge problem with guns, it won’t be solved if the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show is at the Metro Convention Centre on Front St. or at the CNE, a few kilometres away.

Colle went one better. He told the left-wing kooks that residents of his ward, where there have been seven shootings so far this year, see the “fake” ban-guns-on-city-property debate as one “that makes downtown white people feel better that they’ve done something.”

Oh my gosh Josh, you sure did shoot their sanctimony full of holes.

So much so, that Gord “Guard His Perks” resorted to the cheapest of shots — telling Colle to f-off (for which he promptly apologized).

No wonder. Colle couldn’t have expressed it better.

Mayor David Miller’s infamous handgun bun from June of 2008 — which contained a package of ridiculous PR measures aimed at banning the use and promotion of LEGAL handguns in city facilities — has accomplished absolutely nothing except to unfairly target law-abiding sport shooters, Olympic hopefuls and legitimate handgun owners.

I still remember visiting the CNRA Gun Club, unobtrusively tucked in the rafters of Union Station for 81 years back in June of 2008. It was home to 130 old duffers and the training facility for then Olympic hopeful Avianna Chao, until Miller made the shooting range his target and forced the club to shut shop for no good reason.

I would bet a day’s pay Miller’s legal gun ban has done nothing to stem the flow of illegal handguns onto the streets of Toronto or lessened the gang violence in this city.

One unfortunate by-product of this socialist charade — which Miller’s sidekick Joe Pantalone didn’t realize until too late — was that the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show was forced to relocate for three years to the Metro Convention Centre from Exhibition Place, after being located there for 62 years.

Councillor Mark Grimes, who led the charge on the Wednesday night motion to return the show to its original home, said that cost Exhibition Place $1.1-billion in gross annual revenue.

The 19-11 vote in favour will see the show back at Exhibition Place next February, he added.

That notwithstanding, Grimes said Wednesday night’s debate contained a lot of “fearmongering” and misinformation from the left, most especially Councillor Kristyn Wrong-Turn (er Wong-Tam) who showed pictures of AK-47s (banned in Canada) and kept saying people are allowed to fire guns at the Sportsmen’s Show (which is untrue.)

Yep, those leftists weren’t going to give up without shooting their mouths off — no matter how silly and pathetic their arguments sounded.

In addition to dropping the F-Bomb, Gord “Guard His Perks” contended that losing the revenue from the Sportsmen’s Show was but a small price to pay to show council has “clean hands” on this issue and is taking a “principled stand.”

His partner-in-crime Sister Janet Davis — in a desparate attempt to put a figurative gun to councillors’ heads — claimed that there will be displays at the CNE encouraging young men and women to come and “shop for a gun.”

She also implied, in what was truly an erratic diatribe, that people who do buy these guns could be “wonderful” spouses on the day they married but can “turn into vicious murderers” — emphasizing that women are being shot by their spouses not the other way around.

“We have too many violence from guns .. What we really need is peace, not violence killing people,” shrieked Raymond Cho, his contribution to the gun ban proving yet again that the man needs to be retired and put out of his misery.

I asked deputy mayor Doug Holyday why stop there — why not lift the gun ban in its entirety.

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Ford administration to look at,” he said. “This is tokenism at its should be undone.”

Councillors better show for jury duty: Attorney general

TORONTO - Toronto councillors who want out of jury duty are out of order, the Ontario government says.

Elaine Flis, a spokesman for Attorney General John Gerretsen, said the province is always reviewing this issue.

“But we have no plans to amend the Juries Act to exempt city councillors from jury duty,” she said Thursday. “However, if a city councillor or any other potential juror is concerned that serving on a jury will cause undue hardship, there are avenues available to such individuals to make applications for individual exemptions.”

Toronto councillors voted 23 to 11 Wednesday to ask the province to exclude them while they are in office from the citizen’s chore.

Councillor Adam Vaughan said that municipal politicians are part of the legal process and should be ineligible to serve as jurors.

“I think strike 44 people from that list while they are in office is a small gesture, a recognition of the work we do here,” Vaughan said.

Federal and provincial politicians and members of the senate are given a pass on jury duty as are a number of other professions.

Lawyers and law students, doctors and vets, judges and justices of the peace are all excluded from jury duty.

The no-jury duty list also extends to police officers, firefighters, jail guards, wardens and sheriffs.

Regular folks who want to skip jury duty — for reasons such as work, business, schooling or personal circumstances — must make a case for a break.

Toronto condo market ripe for a correction?

Surging housing starts in Toronto have led to the number of new condo units being built far exceeding the absorption rate in the city, raising the risks of a correction.

That was the conclusion of Marc Pinsonneault, an economist with National Bank Financial, in a note he put out on Thursday titled Toronto condo market: Ripe for a correction? Mr. Pinsonneault warned in the note that the number of new condos under construction has grown to represent 34 months of Toronto’s current absorption rate — up from 20 months just six months ago.

He is worried that this creates the potential for a glut of unoccupied condos in the city. Toronto has seen large increases in the number of condos under construction before without a huge surplus of unoccupied units, but Mr. Pinsonneault wonders if this time will be different.

“According to Urbanation, unsold units in condo projects in Q1 increased 4% over Q4, and could rise by a further 9% in Q2, a worrisome trend,” he pointed out.

Mr. Pinsonneault also raised questions about the role of speculators and their potential to harm Toronto’s housing market if things start to go downhill.

“The worst outcome is that speculators continue to buy at already high prices, spurring starts, but only to find themselves unable to flip with profit down the road,” he said.

But while bubble fears have continued to hover over the Toronto housing market, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in its annual report on Tuesday that it does not see signs of overheating yet in any of Canada’s cities.

“Clear evidence of a bubble is lacking,” CMHC said. “[We] continue to monitor very closely housing prices and underlying factors such as demographic and economic fundamentals and financial conditions across all major urban centers, including condominium markets.”

So what does Mr. Pinsonneault think will be needed to ease worries over the housing boom in Toronto? Some moderating in housing starts would be a good start.

“A healthier outcome is that declining pre-selling rates cause project cancellations,” Mr. Pinsonneault said.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sportsmen’s Show returns to the Ex as council debates gun issues

The Toronto Sportsmen’s Show will return to Exhibition Place after city council gave it an exemption from a decision made by David Miller’s administration to ban any event that promotes firearms on city property.

The council debate quickly turned to domestic violence and gun crime, to the annoyance of Councillor Josh Colle, who seconded the motion. “I guess I naively thought this was an economic development issue,” he said. “To make this some debate about how we’re saving the city from guns is so disingenuous.”

The Sportsmen’s Show will bring $750,000 to $800,000 in profits for Exhibition Place and overall estimated benefits to the city of $6 million.

The show has taken place at the Ex from 1948 to 2009. Councillor Mark Grimes’s approved motion will exempt the grounds from the policy.

Walter Oster, chair of the Canadian National Sportmen’s Shows, said he was delighted, but disappointed with councillors who tried to suggest the show inadvertently promotes gun crime.

Meanwhile, Toronto is urging the province to ask Ottawa for records on local gun owners from the soon-to-be destroyed long gun registry.

By a 39-5 vote Wednesday, council reaffirmed Toronto’s support for the federal registry, ordered city lawyers to look for ways to prevent the deletion of records of more than 287,000 registered firearms in the GTA, and to ask other cities to do likewise.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion got a thumbs-down from Mayor Rob Ford. Councillor Doug Ford voted for it, but later said he erred and backs the federal Conservative government in wanting the records destroyed. Mississauga passed a similar motion in December, while Quebec is challenging Bill C-19 in court.

Council demands gun registry data

Toronto city council fired a shot Wednesday at the federal government for killing off the long gun registry.

Councillors voted 39 to 5 to urge the province to ask the federal government for the data in the registry before it is scrapped. The vote also reaffirmed Toronto city council’s long-standing support for the gun registry and ordered the city solicitor to look for ways to intervene to stop the deletion of data on the approximately 287,000 non-restricted firearms registered in the Greater Toronto Area.

Mayor Rob Ford, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday along with Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Denzil Minnan-Wong and John Parker were the five councillors to vote against the motion brought forward by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

“I think that overall council has sent a very strong message to (Premier Dalton McGuinty) and they would like the government of Ontario to intervene,” Wong-Tam told reporters. “I would like to see us join the fight, join Quebec for the legal injunction (to preserve the registry).”

The rookie councillor said the message from a majority of councillors in Canada’s largest city is they support the request from police organizations to save the gun registry data.

“They know that tossing away the data is actually not the right thing to do,” she said.

Councillor Doug Ford admitted he voted mistakenly in support of Wong-Tam’s motion.

“I’m not in favour of keeping records, I’m against it,” Ford said.

“I don’t support municipal councillors, and this isn’t the first time (Wong-Tam’s) done it, bringing up federal issues all the time. I think every council meeting she brings up a federal issues, let’s stick to municipal issues and let them stick to federal issues.”

Holyday said council didn’t have the information to make a “responsible decision” on the gun registry information.

“I don’t think the province is eager to get into the fight and I don’t think we should be pushing them,” he said.

Friday, May 4, 2012

GTA detached home sales jump in April

Detached homes are becoming so “precious” as the GTA continues to surge skyward, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for families to find, let afford, the Holy Grail of housing — a place that isn’t attached to the neighbour’s.

Demand is so strong for that shrinking share of the region’s housing stock, that sales of detached homes jumped 22 per cent across the GTA in April. The strong sales of those higher-priced homes helped push up the average price of homes (including condos, semis and detached) to $517,556 across the region — some 8.5 per cent higher than April of 2011, according to statistics from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB.)

“The single family detached home is the most precious — they are always going to be the bonus houses,” especially given the limited supply in Toronto and the fact condos continue to far outpace new home construction across the GTA, says realtor and board president Richard Silver.

A strong supply of new units coming on the condo market kept annual price growth to an average of 4 per cent, according to TREB statistics. But the continuing low inventory of houses for sale, and strong demand for higher-priced detached homes in particular, resulted in a 9 per cent price increase in April over a year earlier.

Detached homes sold for an average of $831,214 the 416 region in April, compared to $579,278 in the 905 regions.

Condo prices averaged $360,807 in the 416 region in April, up just 3 per cent from a year earlier, compared to a 7 per cent jump, to $289,819, in the 905 regions.

The statistics show the impact of provincial greenbelt policies that, while effective in drastically reducing costly sprawl, have seen the housing market shift dramatically over just the last decade, says George Carras, president of RealNet Canada Inc. which tracks all new housing construction across the GTA.

The explosion of condo development has actually seen the proportion of detached homes across the GTA slip to 59 per cent as of 2006 from 69.4 per cent of the total housing stock in 1991. And that number is expected to have dropped considerably when the 2011 census figures on housing are eventually made public because so much condo construction has happened in the last six years, far outstripping the creation of low-rise housing, says Jason Mercer, senior market analyst for TREB.

Just one new house is being built for every three condos now — it used to be one condo to every three houses just a decade ago — and that dwindling supply of homes, in the face of increasing immigration and demand, is contributing significantly to price escalations for low-rise homes, says Carras.

At the same time, at least one study has shown that just 20 per cent of Baby Boomers, the first wave of whom are nearing retirement age, have any intention of downsizing and putting their homes up for sale, he adds.

“Baby boomers are becoming a major force in this market. The majority of (detached) homes are owned by a demographic that really doesn’t want to move, which is causing a bit of a supply shortage.”

Veteran ReMax realtor Tom Cook said he’s seeing another issue contributing to the shortage of house listings: Homeowners who bought in the last decade but have seen their incomes lag well behind house price escalations.

While their homes may be worth far more on paper, at least, than a decade ago, they haven’t had the added income to pay down the mortgage, which means they can’t afford to list and move up.