GTA House Prices Fall Below Million, Parking Lot Condos and the Handmaid’s Tale of NIMBYism: Weekly Real Estate News Recap

GTA House Prices Fall Below Million Mark

You no longer need to be a millionaire to purchase a house in the Greater Toronto Area, according to mid-month sale and price numbers obtained by the Financial Post.

The average price of a detached dwelling has fallen to $974,212 within the first two weeks of August, a 19.7-per-cent ($240,210) drop from the March market peak of $1,214,422.

While that’s hardly a bargain – the median Toronto household brings in $78,280, according to StatsCan, which qualifies them for a maximum mortgage of $545,692 – it does make house ownership potentially possible for borrowers who want to make less than a 20-per-cent down payment. The option of being a high-ratio borrower is limited only to those purchasing homes worth less than $1 million, a measure mandated by the government in 2012, meaning borrowers can now attempt to pay only 5 per cent down on a house purchase – though with new stress test mortgage qualification rules on the way, those with smaller down payments may not have an easy time.

They Paved Paradise…

And now they’re putting condos on those parking lots. Repurposing shopping mall lots for residential development is a growing trend in B.C’s Lower Mainland, as free land for building is extremely scarce and mall owners realize there’s a veritable gold mine under those parked cars.

For example, a 37-storey tower, currently proposed by Shape Properties, is to be discussed at an upcoming Burnaby public hearing, while a number of towers have already appeared near Coquitlam Centre Mall, with another four in the works.

The malls aren’t required to replace the parking space they’ve sold off to developers, and are considering above-and-underground options should vehicle space shortage be an issue.

The approach has been hailed by local municipal planners as a great way to achieve urban density planning targets and concentrate population growth in the cities’ cores, many of which are looking for ways to support pending transportation projects.

“That plan does anticipate higher-density, mixed-use developments in support of transit infrastructure that is existing and is planned for that neighbourhood,” Ron Gill, manager of area planning for North Surrey – a city poised to receive new light rail – told the CBC. “The community is changing and transit infrastructure is improving. The hope is that reliance on the automobile will be reduced with these transit improvements.”

The Most Expensive Home in Toronto

A $35-million Bridle Path mansion, designed to emulate a French Chateau, has just hit the market – the priciest listing in all of the Big Smoke, reports the Toronto Star. Once owned by notorious real estate developer and retail financier Robert Campeau, this grandiose 30,000-square-foot abode has 10 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, and is dripping in luxury, from golden bathroom sink faucets to a 50-foot-long indoor swimming pool, and gorgeous gardens cover the four-acre lot. While you’d have plenty of star studded neighbours (perhaps Drake will drop by with a casserole), the mansion is a celebrity in its own right, making a cameo in lawyer drama Suits and visited by the likes of Jane Fonda and Pierre Trudeau.

Want more glitzy real estate eye candy? Check out these Celebrity Homes.

Mortgage Rules Will Cool Market Further

New regulations designed to reduce risky borrowing and the amount of insured mortgages in Canada will continue to take a toll on market demand by as much as 5 – 10 per cent, according to a new TD report titled “Navigating a Soft Landing”.

Written by TD Chief Economist Beata Caranci and Economist Diana Petramala, the report calls the number of changes mandated by the government over the last year and a half “unprecedented”, and say they could lead buyers to delay or put off their decision to enter the market altogether, pulling down prices.

“Government policymakers are not done yet with regulatory changes in the mortgage market,” reads the report. “In the year of implementation, we estimate that this new rule could depress demand by 5 per cent to 10 per cent and shave 2 per cent to 4 per cent off of our current forecast for the average price level in 2018.”

Among recent changes are increased down payment minimums for homes over $500,000, implementing the first stress test for high-ratio borrowers, and limiting lenders’ abilities to insure their low-ratio mortgage portfolios.

TD isn’t the only bank calling for regulatory caution: CIBC has also recently expressing concerns, saying rising mortgage rates, coupled with government interference, would lead to “moderation” in the real estate market. Should Prime rise by another 50 basis points by next year (equivalent to two interest rate hikes at the Bank of Canada’s current pace), it would be a “major barrier” to Canadian economic growth.

And it appears the changes are already effectively reducing the insured mortgage market. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a tax-payer backed Crown corporation that backs roughly 50 per cent of all insured mortgages, reveals its mortgages-in-force totalled $496 billion, below its maximum cap of $600 billion.

“New regulations introduced in the fourth quarter of 2016 have decreased the size of the insured mortgage market. During the second quarter, CMHC provided mortgage loan insurance for nearly 79,000 units across the country, while on a year-to-date basis, CMHC has provided mortgage loan insurance for more than 125,000 units.” A year ago, for the first three months of the year, it provided insurance for 117,463 units – a 33-per-cent decline.

“Volumes decreased largely as a result of the new regulations announced by the Government in the fourth quarter of 2016.”

Would You Swap Your City Home for a Cottage?

A growing number of Canadians would consider selling their primary city residence if it meant affording a vacation property, reveals the 2017 Re/Max Recreational Property Report.

A full 28 per cent of Canadians with kids under 18 would consider such a move, as well as a quarter of millennials (aged 18 – 34). Retirees also expressed a growing interest in areas with established recreational property markets, with 55 per cent of Re/Max agent territories experiencing an uptick in demand.

“Continued high real estate prices in regions like Toronto and Vancouver have led to large numbers of retirees and Baby Boomers nearing retirement to sell their homes and put the equity they received from the sale into the purchase of a recreational property,” reads the report.

However, millennials were most willing to get creative to fund their northern getaways: 44 per cent said they’d purchase a cottage with a family member, 39 per cent said they’d buy one and rent it out using a service like Airbnb, while one in five would consider fractional ownership, such as a timeshare.

Iconic Canadian Author Under Fire for Perceived NIMBYism

Author Margaret Atwood, renowned for literary classics such as Oryx and Crake, The Penelopiad and, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale, has drawn criticism from the public for her opposition to a proposed eight-storey building in her Annex neighbourhood.

She, along with well-heeled neighbours including Loblaws grocery magnate Galen Weston Jr. and Eaton’s heiress Cleophee Eaton, have signed a petition and sent emails to local councillors condemning the development, which would replace an existing two-storey commercial building with high-end residential units, saying the mid-rise violates building height bylaws in the neighbourhood.

However, the proposal for the condo, which would be located at 321 Davenport Road, has the support of the city, which is urging the East York and Toronto Community Councils to allow it to move forward.

“Overall, given the site and context, planning staff find the height and massing… to be acceptable,” reads a report to be discussed at city council.

A particularly sore spot for area residents is that a number of shared trees on the edge of their lots would be destroyed to make room for new construction.

Stated Atwood in a letter to local councillor and Community Council member Joe Cressy, “I join my neighbours in their concerns about setbacks that violate bylaws, and about privacy issues, and about the precedent such large violations of bylaws would set, not only for the neighbourhood, but for the city.”

She also referenced a precedent-setting lawsuit case regarding shared trees, saying that without further study, “the developers may find themselves being sued. That would be unfortunate as such cases can drag on for a long time.” Could that be a veiled threat of Gileadian proportions? Praised be for high density population planning.

About Penelope Graham

Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor at Zoocasa. A born-and-bred Torontonian and quintessential millennial, she has over a decade of experience covering real estate, lifestyle and personal finance topics. When not keeping an eye on Toronto's hot housing market, she can be found brunching in one of the city's many vibrant neighbourhoods. Find her on Twitter at @pjeg14.

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