Lots of people selling their four-bedroom houses and luxury condos are feeling the slowdown in Toronto’s real estate market. Those properties are sitting on the market longer – especially if they have an asking price north of $1-million.
But some sellers are still confidently holding off offers in hopes of a bidding war: Those would be the owners of humble, two-bedroom bungalows.
The “cute little bungalow” has long occupied a popular niche in Toronto’s real estate market, but in the past it was usually considered a starter home for couples who would move up to something bigger as soon as they built up a bit of equity. This spring the popularity of the circa-1950 post-war bungalow seems more conspicuous as so many buyers go after it while other segments stagnate.
Geoffrey Grace, an agent with Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd., has observed the extreme demand for bungalows and often nudges buyers toward them. He is even thinking about the day when he might buy one as an investment property himself.
“If you’re selling a penthouse for $15-million, how many buyers are out there?” asks Mr. Grace.
Mr. Grace points out that builders like to buy bungalows and either top them up or tear them down. The traditional first-time buyers continue to seek them out, and downsizing baby boomers often prefer them to condos.
Buyers of real estate should always think about the size of the potential target market if they eventually decide to sell, advises Mr. Grace.
Even as real estate sales in the Greater Toronto Area slumped 9.7 per cent in the first two weeks of May compared with the same time last year, some bungalows in popular neighbourhoods were attracting multiple offers.
In Don Mills, a three-bedroom bungalow with an asking price of $588,000 sold for $670,800 after one day on the market.
Mr. Grace was tracking one bungalow listed for sale in Parkview Hills, which is a secluded pocket in East York, just across the bridge from the coveted community of Leaside.
“Some people are getting priced out of Leaside,” says Mr. Grace. In that popular neighbourhood, bungalows sell for more than $1-million to builders who immediately tear them down.
The house Mr. Grace was watching was listed with an asking price of $599,900 and sold for a little less than $700,000 with at least four offers.
Mr. Grace was keeping a close eye on the deal because he was preparing to sell a house on the same street that started life as a bungalow and was later topped up.
That’s also a good strategy for first-time buyers, says Mr. Grace, because bungalows can be expanded and renovated in ways that semi-detached houses and townhouses can’t.
They also tend to have larger lots and a private drive whereas a semi may have no parking at all.
Empty nesters buy bungalows because they don’t want to move again years later when they can no longer climb stairs.
“For the downsizers, they are really targeting the bungalow because they want everything on one level.”
For investors, a good strategy is to buy a bungalow and rent out the basement to one renter and the main floor to another.
“It’s something I have my eye on for an investment down the road,” he says.
Mr. Grace points out that the diminutive houses are becoming a rare breed in Toronto as they’re replaced with larger houses. Most of them were built after the Second World War when troops were returning from overseas and the baby boom started.
Mr. Grace was evaluating one such bungalow when he met one of the original owners on the street.
“The lady two doors down said, ‘I bought mine for $3,500.’”
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TORONTO â€” Caisse de dÃ©pÃ´t et placement du QuÃ©bec is selling some of its European property and redeploying proceeds in assets such as infrastructure while the euro-area economy shrinks, Chief Executive Officer Michael Sabia said.
About 20 per cent of the Caisseâ€™s C$18 billion ($17.5 billion) of real estate assets are in Western Europe, according to its 2012 annual report. Canadaâ€™s largest public pension-fund manager oversaw net assets of about C$176 billion at the end of last year, including C$6.31 billion in infrastructure such as toll roads and a stake in Londonâ€™s Heathrow Airport.
â€œWe are selling real estate assets in Europe,â€? Sabia said in an interview yesterday at the Bloomberg Canada Economic Summit in Toronto. â€œReal estate pricing among top quality, platinum-quality assets â€” the pricing is quite good, and we are trying to benefit from that and in some other asset categories as well, where selectively asset prices are high.â€?
The euro-area economy contracted 0.2 per cent in the first three months of 2013, data from the European Unionâ€™s statistics office showed last week. That extended the recession in the zone to a sixth quarter.
While stressing â€œitâ€™s the right time to be counter- cyclical in Europe,â€? Sabia said he and his investment team will approach investing in the region with extreme caution. The Caisse had 7.2 per cent of its total assets in the euro region at year-end, according to its annual report.
â€˜DARK AND FOGGYâ€™
â€œThereâ€™s a dark night going on in Europe, a dark and foggy night where bad things come out of trees and bite you,â€? Sabia said. â€œItâ€™s a pretty scary place. In Europe there are investments to be made, and I think itâ€™s possible to be successful there but thereâ€™s no place in the world, other that maybe emerging markets, where the word selectivity is fundamentally important.â€?
Sabia didnâ€™t specify which European properties the Caisse is planning to sell.
On May 7, the Caisseâ€™s Ivanhoe Cambridge real-estate unit sold the Paris building that houses the headquarters of Vivendi SA to French insurer Assurances du Credit Mutuel. Terms of the deal werenâ€™t disclosed.
In addition to infrastructure, cash from asset sales may be reinvested in distressed debt or â€œsituations where a current shareholder needs to liquidate an asset,â€? Sabia said. â€œWe are trying to, in effect, help build our future by trying to benefit frankly from some of the issues and difficulties that other institutions in Europe have right now.â€?
Sabia, 59, said in January that the Caisse plans to add C$10 billion to C$12 billion in what it calls less-liquid investments in the next two years. The fund manager seeks to have about 30 per cent of its assets in private equity, real estate and infrastructure by the end of 2014, up from 25 per cent, the CEO said at the time.
Real estate was one of the best performing asset classes for the Caisse last year, returning 12.4 per cent. The pension fund managerâ€™s overall return was 9.6 per cent.
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Zoocasa, an upstart real estate company owned by Rogers Communications, has launched a revamped website that aims to compete with Realtor.ca, Canada’s dominant listings site, by presenting property listings in a more user-friendly format and connecting clients with realtors from major agencies.
Zoocasa launched the new service for the Toronto area on Wednesday and is hoping to expand it to Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and other cities by the summer.
The website draws on the same MLS database (so far, only for Toronto) used by sites like Realtor.ca, which is run by the Canadian Real Estate Association. What distinguishes Zoocasa, says company president Carolyn Beatty, is the way it presents that data.
The site tries to make data easy to find and use by integrating information about the neighbourhood — demographics, average income, housing prices and availability — with each listing, using catchy, colourful graphics.
“We did some research on what really matters to consumers — things like size of visuals, the ability to look at a Street View of each of the listings, the way that the data is presented on the page so it’s a lot easier for people to digest it and understand it,” Beatty said. “It’s a variety of different things that we believe all, ultimately, add up to an experience that is fundamentally designed with the consumer in mind.”
Consumer experience is focus of site
Zoocasa has branded itself as a consumer-oriented site that, because it doesn’t have its own agents, can focus all its energies on making the house hunting or selling experience as painless as possible for the people doing the buying and selling.
“We don’t have any sort of constraints vis-à-vis a site that’s operated by a trade association; we are strictly focused on the consumer,” said Lawrence Dale, group head of real estate business for Rogers Communications.
An example shows the neighbourhood information that appears with a property listing on Zoocasa.com. It lists everything from average income in the area to which ethnic groups live there. (Zoocasa.com)
Earlier this year, Zoocasa obtained brokerage licences in six provinces (Alberta, B.C., Ontario and the Maritimes, and it intends to get licensed in all regions eventually) and became a member of the major real estate boards so that it could access MLS listings across the country. Prior to that, it had existed — since 2008 — primarily as a search site that had arrangements with specific brokers and agents who got additional exposure by posting their clients’ properties on the site.
The company says the site had more than six million unique visitors last year.
Along with opening up the whole range of MLS listings, the new Zoocasa site will also recommend specific real estate agents in the areas where consumers are looking. The agents are vetted by Zoocasa and come from a range of established agencies, including big national names like Re/Max and Century 21 and smaller, local independents like Harvey Kalles.
“We’re looking for a top agent — to us, what that means is they’re experienced, they’re service-focused, they have local knowledge in the areas that they’re purporting to have expertise [in] and they’re productive,” Dale said.
Users will be able to browse a series of profiles of agents that will list their specialties and qualifications such as languages spoken and number of years in the business.
“We’re not trying to force one on you; we’re saying here’s a good selection, and any one would be a great choice for you,” Dale said.
Those who use the services of a recommended agent can rate and review that agent on the site.
Referral fees for Zoocasa, rebates for users
Agents can’t buy their way onto the recommended list, Dale said, and the company only makes money once an agent makes a sale.
The agents pay a referral fee to Zoocasa that is equivalent to the industry standard of roughly 35 per cent of the commission they make, which in Toronto is about 2.5 per cent of the selling price, Dale said.
Zoocasa passes some of that on to consumers by giving a rebate to those who use an agent recommended on the site. The rebate is equivalent to about 15 per cent of the commission — although some of the rebate will come in the form of gift cards for businesses such as Home Depot, Canadian Tire or Best Buy.
A house that sold for $400,000 would generate a $1,500 rebate, about $200 of which would come in the form of gift cards, Dale said.
More pressure to provide detailed real estate data
Zoocasa was last in the news about two years ago when it launched Zoopraisal, a feature that allows you to estimate the market value of a given property. The service, which is run by Centract, came under some criticism from the Appraisal Institute of Canada, which argued that property owners should have to consent to their home appraisals being circulated online.
But Dale said the company stands by the feature and considers it just another way of helping people navigate their way through a real estate transaction.
“We just think it’s one of those tools that definitely provides people with a sense — whether it’s a starting point, a gut check. It’s not designed to be a be-all and end-all,” he said.
The launch of Zoocasa’s revamped site comes at a time when the kind of data available on real estate sites is coming under greater scrutiny thanks to a case launched by the Competition Bureau two years ago. The federal agency argued that the Toronto Real Estate Board should allow its members to provide more detailed housing information — such as demographic data and historical pricing information — to their clients and has appealed a ruling by the Competition Tribunal, which had dismissed the case earlier this year.
Dale said if the Competition Bureau is successful in its appeal and more information does become available, Zoocasa will happily post it on its site.
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Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, May. 22 2013, 4:08 PM EDT
Wednesday, May. 22 2013, 5:07 PM EDT
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Charles MacPherson knows a thing or two about good manners. He’s the founder of the only registered school for household managers and butlers in North America (having spent more than 20 years in the biz himself) and has just penned the handbook The Butler Speaks: A Guide to Stylish Entertaining, Etiquette and the Art of Good Housekeeping. We asked MacPherson to answer Globe readers’ questions on modern-day civility, and in true gentlemanly fashion, he obliged.
Question: If we bring a very good bottle of wine to a dinner party at someone’s house and explain to the host that it is ready to drink, is it okay for the host to put it in his cellar? Never to resurface again! And is it then acceptable that the host proceeds to skimp on the wine, offering only two bottles during a dinner for seven people? We thought it was bad form but perhaps we expect too much?
– Brenda, Vancouver
Answer: When you bring a hostess gift to someone’s home, it is just that, a gift. It is never reasonable or appropriate to expect the host to display and/or use the item that very evening. In fact, many hosts would have prepared their evening with flowers, wine, food, etc., and your item may not go with what is being served.
However, if the host has asked you to bring something for the dinner (i.e. a simple potluck of some kind), then it is understood that what you bring will be served that evening.
It is always the decision of the host/hostess as to what they choose to serve and drink and whether you agree or disagree, it is never a reflection on you.
Question: How does one politely eat a muffin?
– Kim, Toronto
Answer: A muffin is actually eaten with your hands and on a plate, but not with a knife or fork! First, remove the paper at the bottom fully, then either slice the muffin down the centre or horizontally. This is dependent on if you just want to eat the muffin (down the centre) or if you have a preference for eating the muffin top or bottom. Remember, you are not really supposed to bite into the muffin, so taking small pieces off that will fit into your mouth easily is most appropriate.
Question: What is the ideal routine for a stay-at-home mom that ensures all chores get done, including serving up healthy meals for the family? Can you suggest a “day in the life” schedule?
– Stephanie, London
Answer: I would think mornings devoted to housekeeping and laundry with afternoons devoted to errands and cooking. This way, by the time children get home you can focus on them for after-school activities and homework. More importantly, having a routine where kids help you set the table or clear the dirty dishes and/or make their bed might be a great way to get them into a habit while helping you along the way!
Question: Do I always need to have assigned seating for special family dinners (Easter, Christmas, etc.)? I always tell my family to sit wherever they’d like, but I’ve been told that’s a faux pas.
– Sandra, Stratford
Answer: As the hostess, you have the choice if you would like to assign seating or if you would like your guests to sit where they are, so this is not a “social faux pas” the way your family says. However, guests often don’t like to have open seating, as it is stressful. Where am I going to sit? Who will be beside me? What if I don’t get a good seat?
So if you do a seating plan, you both help guests out and you also control the table and mix couples and people to allow for the conversation at all ends of your dinner table to flow. Casual seating is for a barbeque; otherwise spend a few minutes and it will pay off in the end!
Charles MacPherson will be interviewed by The Globe’s Carley Fortune at a subscriber-only Globe Recognition event in Toronto on June 2. For details and tickets, visit globerecognition.com.
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As they say in pop music, what often counts is not who does something first, but who does it second. This hard fact came home to architect Rodolphe el-Khoury recently, when the builders of a 15-unit apartment block in Hamburg boasted it was the “world’s first architecture with an algae-bioreactor façade.”
In terms of structures you can live or work in, that’s true: The BioIntelligent Quotient House, which opened in March, is the first to use external tubes of algae to help heat, shade and generate power for the building. But Khoury Levit Fong (KLF), the Toronto firm in which el-Khoury is a partner, came up with the idea six years ago, and incorporated it into a design that won – then lost – an international competition for a huge new museum in Shenzhen, a major Chinese city near Hong Kong.
“I want this to go on record, that ours was the first project to integrate algae bioreactors in the outer wall,” says el-Khoury, a sigh deflating his robust frame. “We think maybe it scared the client, because this was unheard of, the idea of integrating living matter into a building envelope.” After KLF’s algae building won Shenzhen’s anonymous international competition, the client decided to hold a runoff with three other invited projects, and chose a curvy glass and metal design by the prolific Austrian firm, Coop Himmelb(l)au.
If there’s any consolation for el-Khoury, it’s that people around the world are watching – and even copying – what he does at KLF, and at Responsive Architecture at Daniels (RAD), a cutting-edge design lab he helps run for the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. With his RAD colleagues Christos Marcopoulos and Carol Moukheiber and a posse of graduate students, el-Khoury is exploring ways in which buildings can quit being inert structures and start acting more like intelligent biological systems that adapt to changing conditions. Computing power has become so miniatured and dispersed that you can put small micro-processors into any object. RAD’s mission is to figure out what happens when you do. Their speculative probes often lead to prototypes that could radically re-engineer our built environments while giving new scope to architecture’s traditional quest for beautiful form.
“What happens to a wall when you embed some intelligence in it, when it gains the possibility of becoming responsive?” says Moukheiber, who founded RAD last year. An intelligent wall could analyze information from heat sensors or building occupants, and expand or contract areas that admit warmth and light. Or it might allow external bricks to swivel to optimize exploitation of solar energy. Or it could take over and disperse through its surface the HVAC functions now concentrated in machines in the basement.
These possible outcomes find solid form in Make Alive: Prototypes for Responsive Architecture, a book full of RAD’s striking and sometimes whimsical plans for the future. The book features plans for whole structures, such as the Out-House, an arid-zone dwelling built around a luscious green area that includes bioreactors, sand filters and wetland space for recycling all organic waste as clean water or power. “Eden is sustained by the toilet,” says the book’s playful description of this project by Moukheiber’s and Marcopoulos’s firm, Studio (n – 1). But the need for such innovation is real, especially in fast-growing desert metropolises like Las Vegas, where chronic water shortages have forced the city to think of new ways to conserve.
Other plans bring AI close to the skin. IM Blanky is a blanket whose swirling ornamental surface is actually a low-voltage electrical system that allows the blanket to know its own position in space – a basic form of self-awareness. Dozens of tiny tilt sensors feed their data into a computational network. The three architects developed the blanket as an experiment in material sentience, but its practical worth was spotted immediately by medical practitioners interested in monitoring patients’ movements, breathing and temperature through their sleep cycles. The U of T’s Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is involved in later iterations of the blanket, and will test it on humans.
Just as you don’t have to be a computer engineer to put microchips into bricks and blankets, you no longer have to be a materials engineer to convert a drawing into an object. Many RAD projects exist in prototype form, fabricated by the architects and their students in the lab’s underground facility adjacent to Toronto’s Bay subway station.
“Because of computer-assisted design and techniques like 3-D printing, making has become part of the design process,” says Marcopoulos. RAD sometimes sells its prototypes, he says, as a way of getting feedback that can be incorporated the next time the project goes through the 3-D printer.
One maker of devices for measuring the deterioration of concrete came to RAD to help find ways to embed the technology in the concrete itself. Some day, we may not need inspectors to find out which parts of Toronto’s elevated Gardiner Expressway are about to crumble – the road will just tell us.
That kind of functional objective may seem remote from architecture as an engagement with beautiful form. But RAD’s principals say that almost all of their projects include design features that don’t fit into an engineer’s brief, such as the play on traditional ornamental patterns on the surface of IM Blanky.
It’s hard to say how soon any of this will appear in a building or bedroom near you. Many RAD designs involve self-reliant energy systems that will become more commercially attractive, el-Khoury says, as fossil fuels become more expensive. It seems inevitable, however, that the same revolution that has put microchips in cars, phones and toaster ovens will change the buildings in which we live and work. RAD is on the frontier of that revolution.
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Home-improvement projects don’t have to eat up all your time or empty your wallet. Nor do you necessarily need to call in experts. There’s a long and growing list of ways to add a dash of design to whatever living space you call home all on your own.
Take, for example, creating a 21st-century version of a stained glass window made from Instagram photos. The smart-phone app that allows you to apply different filters to pics creates gorgeous photos, and this is a fantastic way of displaying them, as recently featured on Photojojo, a photography website. Sure, you could print and frame your Instagram pictures. But putting them in a window this way means you can get some really cool colour textures as sunlight streams through. Just be careful with the super glue.
What you’ll need
Plastic binder pockets
Instagram photos, printed on transparency sheets
3M adhesive hooks
The whole project should take less than two hours, not including going to get the photos printed.
What to do
Measure your window. Aim to cover a majority of the window for the best effect. You can do as much cutting and pasting as you like, but for simplicity’s sake try to keep each 81/2-by-11 inch transparency whole.
Using Photoshop or a similar program, lay out your Instagram photos in a grid. Keep in mind that they will be printed on transparencies measuring 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. I sized mine so that there were 12 images per transparency – four rows of three images. Pay attention to the overall colour scheme of the grid.
Print your photos. Any place that prints transparencies should be able to do it, but you’ll have to do the individual page layouts yourself. I printed mine at Staples.
Cut the white strip off the binder pocket. The holes on the strip will be used to hang the finished product on the window. Leave about one inch below the holes to glue the transparencies onto. Take your first transparency and glue it to the strip you cut from the binder pocket. Press and hold until the glue is dry.
Glue another white strip to the first one, making sure to keep it level. Add as many strips across as needed to fit the desired width of the finished product.
Line up the next transparency with the first. If it’s printed with a blank border, trim appropriately. You want as little blank space as possible. Glue the second transparency to the white strip at the top and along the border of the first transparency.
Once the top row of transparencies has been glued to the white strips, continue to add rows of transparencies to the one above, always trimming any excess blank space.
After you have glued all your transparencies together, take the finished piece and hold it up to the window and mark the location of the holes along the top edge. That way you will know where to apply the adhesive hooks. You could apply the hooks as you hold up the piece, but it’s way more awkward.
Hang the finished piece. Wait for sunlight to come streaming through the window. It’s going to look extra amazing.
Pay close attention to lining up each transparency properly. The look of the finished product really hinges on having every edge straight. Also, let the glue dry before you start cutting new pieces (I super glued my scissors together).
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Zoocasa, an online service for home seekers, is aiming to win market share with rebates to buyers and sellers that will refund roughly 15 per cent of the commission they pay their real estate agents.
The web service’s new strategy, which includes becoming a licensed real estate brokerage so that it can tap into the latest housing data from real estate boards across the country, adds to the pressure on real estate commissions industry-wide.
Zoocasa, which is owned by telecommunications giant Rogers Communications Inc., is not hiring any agents of its own. But it is boasting that it has sifted through the cream of the crop from all of the top brands such as Re/Max and Royal LePage, and has created a tool that will allow consumers to search through those agents using a variety of criteria, such as the languages that they speak, years of experience or whether they specialize in condos. By becoming a brokerage, Zoocasa will be able to collect a fee for referring customers to agents.
The new service will be available this week in the Greater Toronto Area, and will be rolling out to other markets across Canada in the next few weeks.
Agents not affiliated with Zoocasa might find themselves offering customers a 15-per-cent commission discount to compete with one who is. Zoocasa will earn a referral fee of roughly one-third of the commission, so the agent and their brokerage will be splitting a smaller commission than they otherwise would on the same deal.
“We are an objective third party who has done the preliminary vetting of all agents in our directory and we stand behind these agents with our consumers,” said Lawrence Dale, group head of the real estate business at Zoocasa. “We are not telling consumers which agent to use, but providing a comprehensive select group of top agents across top brands and brokerages. …
“In addition to a better way to find a top agent, consumers have been looking for better value, and we have recognized that by providing consumers with a rebate worth thousands of dollars for the typical buyer or seller,” he added.
The rebate on a $550,000 sale or purchase of a home would amount to roughly $2,060, which is 15 per cent of the typical 2.5 per cent commission. The majority of the rebate will be in the form of cash, with the remainder coming in the form of gift cards from national retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, Canadian Tire and Rogers, Zoocasa said.
Zoocasa’s decision to obtain brokerage licenses across the country in order to access housing data that are held by real estate boards was made at the same time the Competition Tribunal was deciding the outcome of a lengthy case that the Competition Bureau had brought against the Toronto Real Estate Board. In what was seen as a national test case, the bureau argued that the real-estate board, which represents more than 35,000 agents, was unfairly keeping data about home sales away from online services that threaten to compete with real estate agents or eat into their commission structure.
The tribunal dismissed that case last month, and the Competition Bureau recently announced that it was appealing.
Startups such as Zoocasa are hoping that the bureau will win its appeal and pave the way for certain data to become more accessible online, such as information about how much a house has sold for in the past.
The Toronto Real Estate Board argues that it is protecting consumer privacy by locking down such information. “What we were being asked to do is provide private confidential consumer information, such as what your property has sold for and the seller’s name, so I could go online and find out that you sold your property for X dollars,” Von Palmer, chief government and public affairs officer at the Toronto Real Estate Board, said recently.