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November 29, 2016 | Why I rent

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.


Over half of all new condos in Toronto are bought by speculators. Some call themselves investors. Some are proud flippers. Others crave to be amateur landlords, even if they lose money every month. About three in a hundred are foreign dudes, according to CMHC.

As mentioned a time or two, I rent a condo in the core. Steps from the soul-sucking office tower I’m occasionally held hostage in. It’s a cool space, but I’m not buyin’ it. As an owner, I’d be down over $1,200 more a month than my rent. Ouch. I’ll let the landlord take the hit.

Meanwhile directly beside my building is a new condo tower nearing completion. It’s 55 stories. In the last month the parking lot next door sprouted a sign announcing 28 new floors of condos. The venerable Albany Club down the street is being rezoned for a 25-storey condo tower. The site next to it is under construction for a 30-storey condo tower. Oh yes, directly across King street a heritage building now wears a placard warning it’s soon to shoot higher by almost 40 stories. Yup, all condos.

When I’m downtown on business for a few days a week, I walk Bandit in the only sizeable park for blocks, surrounding Toronto’s oldest cathedral. At 7 am there are enough dogs running around to fertilize Argentina. And Millennials everywhere, spilling out of their 500-square-foot boxes perched far above, blinking in the daylight.

Local realtors are reaping a high rise windfall at the moment, as recent mortgage rule changes and limited supply put detached houses, semis, townhouses or even garages out of reach. Sadly, many people don’t understand that real estate equals dirt, while condo ownership is more about space and risk – and not being a renter. I think all this activity will end badly, since without steady, consistent, annual appreciation in condo values, buying one of these units is a financial death trap. Especially if you plan on being a landlord.

A fatal flaw investors of all kinds have involves recency bias – believing what’s happening now, or has just taken place recently, will go on forever. It might be stocks, Hatchimals or condominiums. All the same. Most things bought for emotional reasons (like wanting ‘security’ in where you live) end up in distress. Just ask condo owners in Calgary, for example.

It’s a good example of what externalities can bring about. Crappy oil prices caused economic activity to decline and that sucked off jobs. Over 21,000 positions have vaporized in the past year – about 2.5% of all the jobs – and this has been enough to kick the crap out of all the people who, three or four or five years ago, thought it would be a great idea to buy a Calgary condo (or two) and rent it out.

The stats are now grim. There are 2,500 empty apartments in Cowtown for a 7% vacancy rate. That’s up three times in three years and at the highest level in 25. From a peak in 2014, rents have fallen between 25% and 35% – and are still declining. Landlords are throwing in free months of rent, paying moving expenses or coming over to give tummy rubs, all to get their units occupied. Condo prices, meanwhile, are traveling lower right along with lease rates.

Not just Calgary, either. Things are worse in Edmonton, in most of the Maritimes and Saskatchewan. In that flat province, for example, the apartment vacancy rate has bloated from 6.8% at this time last year to 9.4% today. The average rent is now below a grand a month. In Estevan, almost 30% of all apartments are unrented and unloved. In Saskatoon the vacancy rate tops 10%.

This is what happens when supply exceeds demand. In Alberta, Saskatchewan, parts of Quebec and much of the Maritimes, weak commodity prices and a sucky economy have brought condo prices and rents down simultaneously. In Toronto the threat is a surge in condo units hitting the market just as the draconian new mortgage rules transform the market and when mortgage rates are normalizing. Of course, you can be like realtor Casey Ragan, who yesterday put out a media alert to let everyone know how well he’s doing.

“In 2016, units are selling almost faster than I can show them,” he says. “Sometimes condominiums and lofts in some of the most popular locations are shown the same day as they are listed, or they are sold before the following day.”

Good for you. And who’s buying?

The speckers. The flippers. The wannabe landlords. Firsters. People without calculators.

Housing analyst Ross Kay tells me $191 billion in real estate equity has been lost in BC in the past five months, as sales and prices diminish. Meanwhile the nation’s lowest vacancy rates are in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

Not for long. And now you know what may be coming. Renters rock.

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November 29th, 2016

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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