Securing financing from A institutions for micro condos—categorized as anything below about 500 sq ft—has always been thorny, and with the COVID-19 pandemic taking a bite out of many downtown condo markets, it’s certain to remain so. However, it can still be done.
The big banks are chary about financing these units because they’re rarely end user-occupied, and nearly always purchased as income properties.
“They’re typically investor units or short-term rentals, essentially serving as hotel substitutes, and there are issues around financing,” said Toronto-based Simeon Papailias, co-founder and managing partner of REC Canada. “The bank always mitigates risk on a default scenario, and it’s not a very marketable property. They look at the heavier risk they take by lending on a micro-unit as opposed to a regular unit.
“There are special programs the five major banks rotate between themselves, depending on what the banks’ goals are for the year. CIBC can do it one year, then TD could the next. There are special programs made for this, and it’s something a prudent investor should know.”
Alternatively, the B channel is a much less knotty way to secure micro condo financing, although the rate will be higher.
“I had private financing with Home Trust, at the time, on a 380 sq ft micro-unit investment property in Yorkville back in 2011, when those units just started becoming more common in the marketplace,” continued Papailias. “Today, around 30% of most condo buildings are under 500 square feet, and the reason has everything to do with affordability.”
Locale is another variable, says Dustan Woodhouse, president of Mortgage Architects. A micro-unit in a building near a university or college, for example, is far more likely to receive funding than a similar-sized condo situated around fewer amenities.
Securing financing for a resale micro-unit is a little easier, he added.
“Pull title on the property,” said Woodhouse. “Pull title on that unit and pull title on four more units in the building and see who the lender is on the title. Then you’ll know who to call.”
The pandemic has left downtown condo markets reeling, but as any savvy investor knows, that’s when opportunity comes knocking.
“Prices on micro condos are dropping the furthest and the fastest over any other type of properties. On the one end of the spectrum, detached houses are rocketing upward, and at the other end of the spectrum you have micro condos dropping in price.”
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Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth – Neil Sharma 16 Dec 2020
Fast-forward to April 2020, at which point COVID-19 public health and safety measures had been in effect for a full month and a number of home buyers and sellers opted to remain on the sidelines. Home sale activity slowed considerably, with double digit sales declines in the City of Toronto in April. For the condo apartment segment in particular, the dip in y-o-y sales in April was a steep 70 per cent.
To understand how COVID-19 measures impacted real estate market dynamics, particularly condo apartment prices in the City of Toronto, Zoocasa used data from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) to compare how median prices changed between February and April 2020 for 35 city neighbourhoods. For neighbourhoods with at least 10 condo apartment sales in April, Zoocasa calculated the dollar and percentage change in the median sold price to get a snapshot of how the market evolved one month after COVID-19 measures were introduced.
The median condo apartment price is defined as the price at which half the condo apartments in an area sold at a higher price than the median, and the other half sold at a price lower than the median price.
City of Toronto Median Condo Price Fell by $65,000 Since February 2020
For the City of Toronto as a whole, the median condo apartment price declined a steep $65,000 (-10 per cent) between February and April 2020 to $574,000. In a true reflection of economic and healthcare measures in place for COVID-19, condo apartment sales dropped 64 per cent since February, with just 482 transactions taking place across the city in April compared to 1,335 in February.
A closer look at all 35 City of Toronto neighbourhoods revealed that 21 city neighbourhoods had fewer than 10 sales during the month of April, which is three times the number of neighbourhoods with a low sales volume in February. In the 14 neighbourhoods with at least 10 sales, the median condo price rose in just one neighbourhood, and fell in all the others. More specifically, the median condo apartment price:
Dropped more than $100,000 in two neighbourhoods
Fell between $50,000 – $100,000 in four neighbourhoods
Declined between $1 – $50,000 in seven neighbourhoods
Rose $34,000 in one neighbourhood to $506,500
Toronto Centre Neighbourhoods Saw Largest Price Declines
Condo apartment prices were significantly impacted in Toronto Centre, with the top five neighbourhoods with the greatest price declines (and at least 10 sales) located in this part of the city. C10 (Mount Pleasant East) topped the list with the median condo apartment price declining $131,500 (-18 per cent) to $617,500.
This was followed by C08 (Regent Park, St. James Town, and Corktown), where the median price dropped $103,400 (-14 per cent) to $611,600. In C14 (Newtonbrooke East, Willowdale East), the median condo apartment price declined 12 per cent to $597,950, marking an $85,050 drop since February. C07 (Willowdale West, Lansing-Wesrgate) and C01 (Downtown, CityPlace, Trinity-Bellwoods, and Harbord Village) rounded out the top five neighbourhoods with price declines of $70,000 and $60,500 respectively.
Emma Pace, a Zoocasa agent in the City of Toronto, noted that new market conditions since COVID-19 have created opportunities for buyers who may have previously remained on the sidelines. Pace said, “due to the competitive nature of the market subsiding, qualified buyers who may have otherwise forgone an attempt at a home search even four to eight weeks ago are now reviewing how they can participate and starting to enter the market.”
Median Condo Apartment Price Rose in One Toronto East Neighbourhood; Prices Fell in Two
When considering neighbourhoods with at least 10 condo apartment sales in April, Toronto East neighbourhoods fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to price declines. The median condo apartment price in E09 (Morningside, Woburn, Bendale) declined exactly $50,000 (-10 per cent) since February to $465,000, and dropped $47,750 (-10 per cent) in E04 (Dorset Park, Kennedy Park).
In E07 (Milliken, Agincourt North) on the other hand, the median price rose by $34,500 (+7 per cent) to $506,000. Of all City of Toronto neighbourhoods with at least 10 condo apartment sales in April, this was the only area that experienced a median price increase. Here, condo apartment sales were down 49 per cent compared to February, representing a less severe sales drop when compared to the City of Toronto’s overall sales decline of 64 per cent for condo apartments.
According to Jelani Smith, a Toronto Zoocasa agent with experience working in Scarborough, showings began to pick up toward the end of April as more buyers started to return to the market. “Properties that were sitting on the market for almost a month started to get sold relatively faster, since showings started to pick up. In some cases, I’ve been involved in bidding wars similar to what we saw before COVID-19,” said Smith.
Median Condo Apartment Prices in Toronto West Neighbourhoods Declined Between $15,000-$45,000
In Toronto West, median condo apartment prices dropped between four per cent and 10 percent since February 2020 in the following neighborhoods with at least 10 sales:
W10 (Rexdale-Kipling, West Humber-Claireville) prices declined $44,500 (-10 per cent) to $418,000
W06 (Mimico, Alderwood) prices dropped $35,500 (-6 per cent) to $577,500
W08 (Islington-City Centre West, Eringate-Centennial-West Deane) prices fell by $25,500 (-4 per cent) to $570,000
W04 (Yorkdale-Glen Park, Weston) prices declined $18,450 (-4 per cent) to $479,000
W05 (Black Creek, York University Heights) prices fell $15,451 (-4 per cent) to $409,999
Carlos Moniz, a Zoocasa agent with Etobicoke and Toronto West expertise noted that when COVID-19 hit, many buyers in the very early stages of their home searches took a step back and slowed down their searches to get a better sense of the impact on the market. According to Moniz, buyers who were further along in their home search recognized this as an opportunity to regain some negotiating power in these new market conditions where there were fewer buyers and less competition.
Here’s a snapshot of how median condo apartment prices changed in Toronto’s 35 neighbourhoods between February and April 2020, including a list of the neighbourhoods with the largest declines. Note: the percentage change in median price is only calculated for neighbourhoods with at least 10 condo apartment sales.
Toronto Neighbourhoods with the Largest Declines in Median Condo Apartment Prices
Based on neighbourhoods with at least 10 condo apartment sales in April 2020.
1. C10 – Mount Pleasant East
Condo apt median price, Apr 2020: $617,500
Condo apt median price change from Feb 2020: -$131,500 (-18%)
Condo apt sales, Apr vs. Feb 2020: 16 vs. 37 (-57%)
2. C08 – Regent Park, St. James Town, Corktown
Condo apt median price, Apr 2020: $611,600
Condo apt median price change from Feb 2020: -$103,400 (-14%)
Condo apt sales, Apr vs. Feb 2020: 74 vs. 127 (-42%)
3. C14 – Newtonbrooke East, Willowdale East
Condo apt median price, Apr 2020: $597,950
Condo apt median price change from Feb 2020: -$85,050 (-12%)
Condo apt sales, Apr vs. Feb 2020: 28 vs. 70 (-60%)
4. C07 – Willowdale West, Lansing-Westgate
Condo apt median price, Apr 2020: $580,000
Condo apt median price change from Feb 2020: -$70,000 (-11%)
Condo apt sales, Apr vs. Feb 2020: 11 vs. 57 (-81%)
5. C01 – Downtown, Entertainment District, CityPlace, Trinity-Bellwoods
Condo apt median price, Apr 2020: $677,500
Condo apt median price change from Feb 2020: -$60,500 (-8%)
Condo apt sales, Apr vs. Feb 2020: 106 vs. 330 (-68%)
Median condo apartment prices and sales for April 2020 and February 2020 were sourced from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.
The median price is the price at which half the homes in an area were sold at a higher price and half the homes were sold at a lower price.
The percentage change in median price is only calculated for areas with 10 or more condo apartment sales.
Grammy Award-winning artist, songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams is collaborating with developers on a new midtown Toronto condominium project.
Westdale Properties and Reserve Properties launched the marketing for their two-tower residential development, called untitled, today during a press event in Yonge-Dundas Square. Williams, who introduced the project via video on the screens across the public square, partnered with the developers on the design and creative elements of the condominium tower.
The future condo building, located near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, will consist of 750 one- to three-bedroom units divided between two towers and a joint-podium.
“This partnership has evolved from a desire to do something really unique for Toronto in architecture and design as a whole,” said Sheldon Fenton, president and CEO of Reserve Properties, at the launch. “We believe that by bringing in a cultural icon with vision and ideation, from outside the realm of real estate, it would allow us to break the mold in terms of what has been traditionally done.”
Untitled is said to focus on key themes surrounding, “essentialism, connections to the elements and the universality of space,” according to a project press release. Williams desired to create an ethos of universality within the project, whereby “physical space is only a backdrop.” Drawing from these ideals, the project team landed on the name, untitled.
“We wanted to make sure that it continued to give you the message of this amazing vibration of being home, and once you get in it, you make it you,” said Williams via a recorded video, who could not be present for the launch in person. “It’s universally beautiful, but there’s enough space for you to get into it and make it yourself.”
Working with the project team, which also consists of Toronto-based architects IBI Group and local interior design firm U31, Williams played a role in crafting the vision and material aspects of untitled. His involvement ranged from consultation on the architectural and interior design, to choosing the furnishings in specific spaces. Williams is best known for his appearances as a judge on The Voice and his 2013 chart-topping single, “Happy.” Untitled marks his debut into multi-residential development.
“The opportunity to apply my ideas and viewpoint to the new medium of physical structures has been amazing,” wrote Williams in the release. “Everyone at the table had a collective willingness to be open, to be pushed, to be prodded and poked, to get to that uncomfortable place of question mark, and to find out what was on the other side. The result is untitled and I’m very grateful and appreciative to have been a part of the process.”
Michael Webb is a lucky man. An architecture and design critic, he has lived for nearly 40 years in a modernist hilltop apartment in Los Angeles, the same development where Orson Welles used to live. It is “well-planned…with abundant natural light”, surrounded by trees that give shade and privacy, and has windows “that pull in breezes from the ocean”. Two of its previous owners, Charles and Ray Eames, loved living there so much that when they moved out they wrote to its architect, Richard Neutra, to thank him.
Unsurprisingly, Webb is a strong advocate for flat-dwelling. In the introduction to his new book, “Building Community: New Apartment Architecture”, published by Thames and Hudson, he speaks of an “urgent need to build many more apartments” to relieve housing shortages in our cities, to use land more economically and to avoid long commutes to suburbia – which he describes as a “wasteful delusion”. (You can’t imagine him being a fan of the British government’s proposed solution to the housing crisis, which is to build houses in new, commuter-friendly garden villages.)
Sadly, he explains, most modern apartments are terrible. Risk-averse, profit-hungry developers conspire to produce blocks and towers packed with “claustrophobic cells [that] open off double-loaded corridors. Light and air come from one side only, and balconies are usually vestigial.” A brief survey of the finest modernist and brutalist schemes – from the Isokon building in Hampstead to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille – is a depressing reminder of our current paucity of imagination.
In an attempt to demonstrate the “unrealised potential” of the apartment building, Webb has gathered together 30 examples of recent developments from around the world. They range fom luxury flats to social housing; from low-rise buildings to high-rises. There aren’t as many photographs of the interiors as there might have been and while Webb has interviewed many of the architects you long to hear the voices of the residents (who are, after all, the ultimate judges of a building’s success). But it’s fascinating to see these creative responses to the deceptively simple challenge of fitting a lot of people into a small space.
CityLife, Milan, Zaha Hadid Architects (2004-14)
During the noughties, starchitects were falling over themselves to build apartments for the well-to-do. Zaha Hadid’s flats form part of the gated residential complex at CityLife, a 1km sq development in central Milan, which includes skyscrapers by Hadid, Daniel Libeskind (who also designed apartments) and Arata Isozaki, as well as a park and its own subway station. The streamlined curves of some 1930s flats (see the Isokon building) were a nod to the design of ocean-liners. Hadid’s apartments, with their rippling façade of cedar and white enamel, have all the subtlety of a mega-yacht. She wasn’t commissioned to design the apartment interiors (“probably just as well”, says Webb) but she did “shape the spaces”, adding even more curves for interior designers to contend with.
The Interlace, Singapore, OMA/Ole Scheeren (2007-13)
Imagine two giants playing Jenga and you have the Interlace, an apartment complex that is at once outrageous and awe-inspiring. Ole Scheeren, its architect, was so bored with the clusters of high-rises that were springing up all over Asia, that when he got a brief to fit 1,040 units over 20 acres, he decided to try a novel approach. The result is a kind of deconstructed high-rise – complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and a thoughtful amount of greenery – that Scheeren believes is a prototype for affordable living. He is proud that the Interlace is 90% occupied, “unlike many upscale towers that have become ghost towns because apartments are bought for speculation and sit empty.”
25 Verde, Turin, Luciano Pia (2007-13)
If the Swiss Family Robinson moved to Turin they would feel right at home in this green-fingered fantasy. The block incorporates 150 trees, looked after by residents with help from gardeners, who also tend the building’s communal garden. It is part of a growing trend for architects to “build” live trees into their creations. As well as being pleasing aesthetically, trees muffle noise pollution and provide shade and privacy. The 63 apartments, which, says Webb, “have attracted a diversity of middle-income residents”, range in size from 480 to a generous 1,720 sq ft.
Sugar Hill, New York, Adjaye Associates (2012-14)
“We tried not to make something merely acceptable to the poor – I find that idea quite offensive…what excited me was to create a building that was not just about housing [but rather] a new urban experience.” It was precisely David Adjaye’s excitement that convinced Broadway Housing Communities, a non-profit organisation, to commission him to build this 13-storey, mixed-use development in Harlem.
Clad in dark concrete that has been ribbed to catch the light, it is dotted with square windows which playfully reference the local architecture (although some neighbouring residents have compared it to a prison). As well as 124 flats – 70% are for people earning less than half the average wage and 25 are for homeless people – the building contains a children’s education centre, a children’s museum and workshops where residents are encouraged to make their own art.
It’s disappointing that the flats don’t have balconies and that most are single-aspect, with windows at just one end. It’s also a shame – especially given the family-focussed public areas – that there are so few three-bedroom flats (each floor contains only one, compared with five studio apartments). But architects have to work within tight constraints, both financially and in terms of the units they are asked to provide.
V_Itaim, Sao Paulo, Studio MK27 (2011-14)
One of the biggest objections people have had to living in flats is the lack of privacy. This is even more of a problem now, with the ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows found in modern developments. The architects of this tower block in Sao Paulo have devised an ingenious, and beautiful, solution. Shutters made from perforated freijo wood can be slid and folded across the windows, shielding residents from nosy onlookers and providing shade, as well as adding an ever-changing pattern to the concrete façade. If only the developers of the London flats that are overlooked by the viewing gallery at Tate Modern’s new extension, the Switch House, had been so imaginative.