Condo living: it’s not just for young single people anymore. In big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, many millennial parents are choosing to set down roots in vertical communities, raising their kids in the dynamic environment they love. As a result, developers are starting to pay attention to the priorities of this up-and-coming homebuying demographic. Is city living suited to your family’s lifestyle? Here are six features to look for when hunting for a family-friendly condo.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 1: More bedrooms
As recently as 2011, many condo-dwelling families had to rely on design hacks to carve out “bedroom” space in a smaller unit. That’s because during the 2001-11 period, less than one per cent of condos on the Toronto market had three bedrooms; today, for example, one major developer dedicates, on average, about 10 per cent of its new buildings to three-bedroom units, and roughly 40 per cent to two-bedroom units. Similar changes have been afoot in Canada’s other major condo markets. The City of Vancouver mandated in 2016 that all rezoning projects hit a target of 35 per cent “family units,” defined as units with two or more bedrooms. In Montreal, developers are also reaching out to the urban family demographic, with one Habitat Design Award-nominated project incorporating not just three-bedroom but even four-bedroom units. Family-sized condos are now easier to find, which means it is less likely you’ll have to use bookcases and curtains to fake out an extra bedroom.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 2: Better storage
A tiny hall closet just won’t do when you’ve got strollers, trikes and other gear to stash. If you’ve got a growing family, maximum closet capacity is key. One way developers max out storage space is to design smaller bedrooms; that’s a small sacrifice to make if it makes getting in and out of your unit easier each day.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 3: Indoor play zones
Just as the party room is a grown-up condo mainstay, indoor kids’ rooms are becoming hot tickets in family-oriented condo developments. With activity-friendly flooring, furniture and play stations, these indoor play centres are the perfect spot to hang out during a rainy morning or to meet up when you think your home is too messy for a play date!
FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURE NO. 4: Outdoor play areas
Many planned communities include parks and playgrounds in their adjacent outdoor space. Other kid-pleasing features include gardens, fountains, splash pads and pathways where kids can bike, in-line skate and play safe from car traffic. Who says you can’t have your own backyard if you live in a highrise?
If moving your brood around includes four wheels, you’ll be looking for a parking spot. Parking is a hot commodity, and many big-city condo buildings have significantly fewer parking spots than they do units. Keep in mind that a parking spot isn’t just a one-time purchase; it’s subject to additional monthly maintenance fees. If you’re an occasional driver, check the building’s proximity to a car share location. Avid cyclist? Look for a building with a secure bike room to avoid condo clutter and cut the risk of bike theft outdoors.
One of the perks of urban living is proximity to work and big-city attractions. There’s something appealing about walking to the museum on a Saturday morning, or picking your kids up at daycare after work and leisurely strolling to a nice restaurant for dinner. Consider walkability and access to public transit when condo shopping. Trimming your commute and streamlining your day makes family life less stressful and way more fun.
Buying a house with Mom and Dad? In competitive housing markets, this seemingly unconventional choice can be a smart strategy for attaining homeownership sooner. That said, any financial partnership requires planning. Avoid conflict by clarifying roles and formalizing financial agreements. Here are two common shared homeownership scenarios, along with tips for making a financial arrangement that works for everyone.
FAMILY HOMEOWNERSHIP SCENARIO NO. 1:
Housing your child during university
Why: Renting can be expensive. Some parents may prefer to buy a home for their child while they attend university or college. This option allows families to build their own equity, rather than pay a landlord rent for three to five years or more.
Size & lifestyle: Choose a home that is appropriate for a single young adult, such as a turnkey condo or small bungalow.
Future plans: What will happen once your child graduates? Will the property be sold? Will your child take over the mortgage payments? Discuss future plans openly to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Written agreement: Use a written agreement to solidify co-ownership responsibilities and expectations, including who is financially responsible for specific homeownership expenses (i.e., mortgage, utilities, taxes and so on), what happens if payments are missed, and what happens if either party wishes to exit the financial partnership.
Ask your mortgage professional about… Genworth Canada’s Family Plan program. This program enables qualified buyers with excellent credit to assist an immediate family member with their home purchase. To qualify, your dependent must have good credit, even if they lack sufficient income to meet typical mortgage qualification standards. The home must meet certain quality criteria, and qualified buyers can make their purchase with as little as five per cent down.
FAMILY HOMEOWNERSHIP SCENARIO NO. 2:
Parents and adult children living together
Why: Forget fleeing the nest. Increasing numbers of adult children are buying a bigger nest with Mom and Dad (maybe even Nan and Gramps too!). According to the 2016 census, a whopping 403,810 households across Canada are multi-generational households with at least three generations of the same family under one roof. Whether you’re inspired by tradition, cost savings or convenience, shared homeownership can be a prudent and fulfilling decision.
Size & lifestyle: Upfront, family members should be on the same page about living arrangements. Will this be a one-household home with shared living quarters? Or will the property be divided into suites, with each household residing in a self-contained unit?
Future plans: Involve the whole family in discussions around shared homeownership and include adult siblings who are not buying in with you. Be frank about family assets and the future care needs of older relatives. Is there an expectation that you shoulder this responsibility due to proximity?
Written agreement: As with any shared homeownership situation, clarify co-ownership responsibilities and expectations in a written agreement.
Ask your mortgage professional about… Genworth Canada’s Progress Advance program, which helps qualified homebuyers finance a custom-built home with as little as five per cent down. Dual master suites? A bachelor-size nanny suite? An approved home builder or contractor can create a house perfect for your multi-generational family’s needs.
Or, if you’d prefer to renovate a resale home, ask about Genworth Canada’s Purchase Plus Improvements (PPI) program, which can finance home improvements and combine them with your mortgage in one easy mortgage, also with as little as five per cent down. Check out our PPI calculator and guide at homeownership.ca/ppi.
Finally, if your family has immigrated to Canada within the last five years, consider Genworth Canada’s New to Canada program. Don’t let a lack of Canadian credit history derail your family’s homeownership dreams. The New to Canada program can help qualified borrowers who have full-time employment and a strong history of rent and utility payments in Canada buy their family home with as little as five per cent down.
For years, no one quite knew what would become of the 200-acre historical agricultural property known as the Britannia Farm.
Now, it looks like plans to transform the property are closer to becoming reality.
City of Mississauga council approved changing the zoning of a 32 acre parcel of land located on Britannia Farm from institutional to mixed use. That means that the city and the Peel District School Board (which owns the farm) are now free to transform the parcel of land located on the northwest corner of Hurontario Street and Bristol and move forward with a proposal to have the land include a variety of housing types, including affordable housing.
The entirety of the Britannia Farm is currently zoned as institutional, with the exception of the Cooksville Creek.
This specific parcel on the Farm has been the subject of discussions for a number of years, as approval has been necessary for a variety of components to prepare the lands. Back in 2010, the Heritage Advisory Committee needed to give the PDSB approval to move three heritage properties from the 32 acre parcel to another area of the farm.
The historic properties on the site include the red brick Britannia Schoolhouse (c. 1870), Britannia Farmhouse (c. 1860 and 1870), two-storey Gardney-Dunton House (c. 1830) and Conniver Barn (c. 1880).
The purpose of moving the heritage buildings is to clear land in order to develop housing, as well as to move the properties to a section of the farm that will be used for educational purposes. The historical portion will also include an improved Farm lane, a historic corridor that links the various zones together and connects the Farm to Hurontario Street.
However, a report at the Heritage Advisory Committee on April 10 showcased images that suggested the heritage buildings could remain where they are. In these images, buildings were simply built around the heritage properties. Councillor Carolyn Parrish expressed displeasure with the idea of building around heritage buildings and said that it would be something that could be devastating to the significance of the properties.
Most community members who attended a public meeting back in October 2017 did approve of the idea of moving the heritage properties to another place on the farm. Parrish says that, at this point in time, approximately 99 per cent of the individuals within the community are convinced that this is a good project.
As for what will happen going forward, the PDSB will look at either selling the land to a developer or leasing the lands for continuous revenue streams. Once this happens, the city will receive studies and agreements for review. New housing is a possibility, as these may include a draft plan for subdivisions and/or condos and a site plan.
There will be other reports regarding stormwater management, a feasibility study and an environmental assessment among other documentation.
Phylis Hampshire, a resident that came forward during question period, asked if the citizens of Mississauga can somehow be assured that this will be the only proposed development on the land.
“It’s a very special piece of land in the middle of Mississauga, it would be nice if it could stay open,” says Hampshire.
“We adopted [the land] as a future outdoor education centre. The current Peel Board Chair has done everything in her power to keep that land the way it was intended by King William the Fourth, which was for the benefit of the children of Peel,” says Parrish. “As far as selling any more pieces of land off, it’s not going to happen. This piece at the front is just so they can finance 168 acres of outdoor education centre.”
Historical properties on the farm
The development of these lands is important, as they’re located near the future Hurontario LRT stop and the soon-to-be-reinvigorated Hurontario Street corridor. For that reason, the city says the parcel must be developed with attention to its surroundings. In short, it’s an attractive yet sensitive project. Since the parcel surrounds 170 acres of historic and cultural landscape and the connection to downtown, the development should include a number of criteria discussed in the Master Plan.
The Master Plan recommends student-focused environmental and agricultural programs, the establishment of landscape zones, a development parcel that will be 32 acres in size and phased public access in partnership with the city of Mississauga.
It is recommended that the proposed development include open spaces, parks, trees, and “a place to foster community.” For example, it is recommended that parking for any of the proposed developments be primarily underground and out of view from the public realm.
One issue that came to light was a part of the report that included development of a road within the park. Parrish cautioned staff at the city, saying “an area of caution I would give to [city staff], is when you talk about the potential opportunities for future road construction, it better not be on the 168 acres [of outdoor educational space].”
Since the Britannia Farm has just received approval for the mixed use zoning, the city has taken the first step in what could be a long process. In the future, there will be more discussion on the planning of the site with developers and potential for sale of the land.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds next.
“It’s a very proud day for me,” says Parrish who been on this project since she was a trustee on the school board with Councillor George Carlson.
Janet McDougall, chair of the public board, was acknowledged at the meeting for her significant contribution to the project over the years, and with McDougall retiring this year, it will be a legacy project for her as she enters retirement.
“Janet I want to congratulate you myself for all your years of service, thank you, and also for protecting this jewel that our residents are very protective of as well. It’s a piece of land that people don’t want to see altered in any way, you’ve respected that and we thank you for your plans,” says Mayor Bonnie Crombie.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misidentified Janet McDougall as Janice Baker, Mississauga’s city manager. We regret the error.
Haider-Moranis Bulletin: In the long run, rent controls reduce the growth in available rental stock, which further accelerates the increase in rents
Do stricter rent control laws slow the increase in residential rents? Housing advocates and left-leaning governments believe they do. However, recent data from Ontario appears to offer further proof that this is not the case.
In April 2017, Ontario’s then-Liberal government introduced the Rental Fairness Act, which expanded rent control to all private rental units. The Act restricted rent increases to 1.5 per cent in 2017 and introduced additional provisions to protect tenants from being evicted.
The Act was enacted to protect against “dramatic rent increases.” Chris Ballard, then the Minister of Housing and Poverty Reduction, claimed that the Act would ensure that Ontarians “have an affordable place to call home.”
The Toronto Real Estate Board’s (TREB) Rental Market Report for the second quarter of 2018 revealed that the Rental Fairness Act has had no observable impact on market-based rents, which grew at similar rates from 2017 to 2018 as they did from 2016 to 2017. In fact, three-bedroom apartments experienced a significant increase in average rents in 2018.
TREB’s data is based on its rental listing service for the Greater Toronto and surrounding areas. From April to June 2018, almost 12,000 apartments were listed while 8,497 were leased. One and two-bedroom apartments constituted the largest segments of rental units. Also, almost a thousand townhouses were listed and 665 leased for the same period.
TREB data provides more of a market-based view of the rental market than what has been reported by the CMHC. Unlike TREB, which lists market-based units (condominiums and townhouses) that are primarily owned by private investors, CMHC’s reporting of rental markets is largely for, but not restricted to, purpose-built apartment rentals.
Despite the differences in rental stock between CMHC and TREB, even CMHC’s data reveals that instead of a break, rental rates accelerated in 2017. For instance, rents for two-bedroom units increased by 3.3 and 3.2 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively but jumped 4.2 per cent in 2017. If proponents of stringent rent controls were hoping for a decline in rent acceleration, it didn’t happen.
The purpose-built rental universe has remained steady across most of Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the number of purpose-built rentals has remained around 330,000 units for more than a decade. During the same time, the number of rental condominiums in the GTA increased from under 50,000 to more than 100,000 units.
CMHC data for October 2017 reported average rents for two-bedroom units at $1,392 and $2,263 in purpose-built rental buildings and condominium apartments respectively. In comparison, TREB reported the average rent for two-bedroom condominium apartments in the fourth quarter of 2017 to be $2,627. Even for the condominium apartments, TREB reports higher rents attributed most likely to the higher quality of the underlying stock.
CMHC reported rents for purpose-built rental buildings are significantly lower because of their less than ideal location and dilapidated condition, a result of age and deferred maintenance. These buildings have remained under rent control for decades, and their owners are disincentivized to improve the quality of the rental stock. TREB data, by contrast, is based on privately owned rental condominiums whose owners, until recently, were incentivized to maintain their units in a state of good repair.
Since April 2017, condominium rentals and other dwelling types have also come under the rent control regime, thus creating the same disincentives for structural improvements of units as the ones observed for the purpose-built rentals.
The CMHC data reveals that, as expected, average rents in older buildings were lower than rents in newer buildings. Furthermore, rents on average are higher in the high-density urban core than the low-density suburbs, making suburbs significantly more affordable to rent than in or near the downtowns.
With high turnover rates where new tenants are not subjected to rent restrictions, rent controls are ineffective tools for addressing rapid rent increases. The average rent for units in purpose-built rentals and condominium apartments has risen far above the stipulated rate since the Rental Fairness Act was enacted. In the long run, rent controls reduce the growth in available rental stock, which further accelerates the increase in rents.
Rent stability is achievable primarily by increasing the supply of the rental stock. This requires changes in regulations to facilitate, instead of hindering, new residential development.
Cities west of GTA gain ‘notable traction’ in sales in first six months
New condominium buyers deterred by soaring Toronto prices are apparently venturing further afield to Hamilton, Kitchener and Waterloo, which offer more bang for their buck and the promise of new transit links that will improve accessibility.
Sales of new condominiums in these areas gained “notable traction” in the first six months of the year as regional economic activity picked up and Metrolinx moved forward with its $43-billion expansion plans, according to Altus Group, a market intelligence firm.
In Kitchener, sales between January and June rose to 806 units, up 93 per cent from the same period a year earlier, while 262 units were sold in Waterloo, a 51-per-cent jump. Though sales fell more than 20 per cent in Hamilton to 360 units, the city’s condominium market remains one of the most active outside Toronto, suggesting a continued flight to affordability, said Ray Wong, vice-president of data operations at Altus.
“The amount of demand in downtown Toronto, especially in the office market, has been well known for the last number of years and with that, demand for housing has steadily ratcheted up,” he said. “As these outlying areas are developed with more infrastructure in terms of restaurants and retail, it’s made them a lot more attractive.”
Those areas offer another powerful draw: the chance to secure a much larger space with a limited budget.
A buyer in Toronto with $500,000 to spend would likely have to settle for a one-bedroom unit of about 521 square feet, said Kruti Desai, manager of national research insights at Altus. But the same budget in Waterloo would secure a two-bedroom unit of 967 square feet.
Those in search of even more space could consider Barrie, Brantford, Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener and St. Catharines, where $500,000 will buy a two- or three-bedroom unit with more than 1,000 square feet of space, she said.
“Individuals can get more bang for their buck when looking outside the Toronto market,” Desai said, adding that Hamilton, Kitchener and Waterloo are seeing the greatest amount of activity.
Momentum in Kitchener-Waterloo was linked both to affordability and to the economic growth kickstarted by Kitchener’s innovation hub and Waterloo’s Idea Quarter, a growing cluster of startup and technology companies operating in former BlackBerry Ltd. buildings.
Located close to the University of Waterloo campus and a future light-rail station, the Idea Quarter has attracted a range of firms — including OpenText Corp. and Auvik Networks Inc. — that “are now successfully competing for talent against Greater Toronto Area companies, helping stimulate condominium development,” Altus said in its report.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is expected to remain an attractive place to live for professionals working in Toronto, especially those who can take advantage of flexible working arrangements, Altus said.
A spike in new condominium sales in the city during the first three months of the year was credited to Television City Phase I, a 30-storey tower released in May 2017 that has since sold 80 per cent of the units on offer. Phase Two of the project, released in March, had sold 50 per cent of its units by the end of the second quarter.
I was determined to own property, in some form. Sadly, I couldn’t afford anything in my home city of Toronto, so I decided to buy a property in a neighbouring city and rent it out until, or if, I was ready to move.
After looking at several possibilities, I decided to buy in Hamilton because of transit options, affordable housing prices and a low vacancy rate.
I found a cute bungalow divided in two units. After all the paperwork went through, I found great tenants.
It’s now one year later, and I’ve learned a lot. Here are five lessons I learned:
Plan for Extra Costs
I needed way more money than I thought in order to buy and manage a rental property. The closing costs alone were thousands of dollars in cash. In Ontario, closing costs include land transfer tax, legal fees, a home inspection, pre-paid property tax and PST on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation insurance — if you put less than 20 per cent down. My closing costs totalled $6,000.
In the first year, I spent $2,700 on maintenance, and that’s for a small, fully-renovated house. Just recently, a windstorm knocked shingles off my roof. Totally unexpected and $500 to fix.
Budget for all anticipated expenses, and then add a few thousand dollars to be safe.
Figure Out the Rent
How do you know if you have enough money to be a landlord? Easy: use a spreadsheet. You need to know exactly how much your house costs to run so that you can charge sufficient rent.
And how embarrassing would it be if you forgot whether a tenant paid you first and last months’ rent? Think of an investment property like a business, and keep your books accordingly.
Don’t Forget Tax Time
I was shocked when I had to pay $1,500 this April to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The CRA taxes rental income at your marginal tax rate. I now have an automated monthly savings set up to set aside tax money and avoid last-minute scrambling.
Check Your Tenant’s Credit Worthiness
What you need as a landlord is a tenant who pays their rent promptly each month. A credit score can tell you if a person has a history of paying their lenders on time. Ask for a credit report and employment letter to confirm that your tenant can pay their rent each month.
To Include Utilities or Not?
I decided to include utilities. I have two units but one meter, and I couldn’t figure out a way for each tenant to split it fairly without hassle. So I called the utility companies, asked them for the monthly average of the previous year, added 30 per cent, and included it in the rent.
You can also let the tenants pay utilities themselves. Because electric and gas are so expensive in Ontario, you don’t want to be on the hook unless you have to be. It’s a lot easier for tenants to leave the lights on when someone else is footing the bill.
A Learning Experience
I learned that owning an investment property is much like having a child. Make sure you can comfortably afford it before you start trying, and if it’s exhausting you, consider hiring a nanny—that is, a property management company.
Source: Tangerine.ca – Written by Danielle Kubes Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
On the opening day of sales for the glitzy new condo project in downtown Ajax, the lineup of hopeful buyers spilled out of the sales office onto the sidewalk, wrapped around the building and extended hundreds of metres.
Inside, the office was cramped like a concert venue. Sales agents struggled to find flat surfaces on which to sign contracts, as investors and first-time home buyers clamoured to get in on the ground floor of one of the region’s most anticipated new developments.
The frenzy continued for three straight weekends and Central Park Ajax was sold out in less than a month.
Two-and-a-half years later, ground has yet to be broken, the project is mired in litigation and frustrated purchasers are asking for their deposits back.
Central Park Ajax is not officially dead — a court decision expected sometime this fall could save it — but it is on life support. For now it seems destined to become the latest failed venture by the LeMine Investment Group, a company headed by Tong (Thomas) Liu, a developer who dreams big but can’t seem to get anything built.
Liu’s failure to deliver his ambitious projects has left hundreds of purchasers in the lurch. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old is embroiled in at least 14 lawsuits that allege, among other things, that he misrepresented himself, owes millions to investors and doesn’t pay his bills. Earlier this year a judge found that Liu engaged in self-dealing and acted in bad faith.
Liu admits his lack of experience has led to some mistakes, but he says his intentions were always noble.
“It was never the intention to hurt someone, to hurt investors or to hurt individuals who have worked with us before,” he said in an interview.
Among the sites of Liu’s good intentions is an overgrown, empty lot at 3070 Ellesmere Rd. That’s where he says he still intends to build The Academy, a 26-storey condo tower marketed to investors as providing much-needed rental housing to the growing student population at the nearby University of Toronto Scarborough. Presales for the project sold out in 2014, but construction has yet to begin and the project seems irretrievably stalled, although it is not yet canceled. “We’re stuck,” Liu said.
Leveraging slick marketing in a nearly insatiable real-estate market, Liu convinced investors, municipal officials and eager purchasers to buy into his plans, despite having no track record in development. He used industry accolades and photo-ops with politicians to project credibility, but there was little substance behind his self-promotional sheen. While he tied up valuable land and collected millions of dollars worth of deposits without ever breaking ground, purchasers watched their money lose value. Many are now priced out of the market. Investors, meanwhile, are turning to the courts to recover their losses as land that could have helped ease the region’s housing crunch remains unused.
Liu isn’t the only GTA developer to strand purchasers. Twelve condo projects have been canceled in the Torontoarea since the beginning of last year, according to market research company Urbanation. Two massive developments in Vaughan were recently canceled, leaving more than 2,000 buyers in their wake and leading to calls to increase protections for purchasers. With rising construction costs making it harder for developers to secure financing — or reap their desired profits — more cancellations could be on the way. Liu, who struggled to secure financing for his Ajax project and won’t say if he ran into a similar problem with The Academy, insists his projects are merely delayed.
The Star reviewed court records, documents obtained by Freedom of Information requests and interviewed more than 20 people with connections to Liu and his companies (former employees, partners and consultants, as well as industry executives who worked with LeMine), many of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared a lawsuit from Liu.
“His intentions were excellent,” said architect Clifford Korman, whom Liu describes as a mentor. “His experience and follow-through were not.”
“I didn’t trust him at all,” said Allan Duffy, the former mayor of Richmond Hill who said he was courted by Liu as a potential advisor. “I dropped him and told everybody I could to do the same.”
“I’ll be happy to get my money out and move on,” said Ayesha Karatella, one of the Central Park Ajax purchasers.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government said it is looking into increasing protections for consumers when developers don’t deliver.
In the meantime, Liu said he’s looking forward to his next project.
LeMine’s Richmond Hill office could be a metaphor for the company itself — impressive from a distance but mostly empty. Emblazoned with the company logo, it stands two storeys and stretches the length of half a city block, just west of Highway 404 on 16th Ave. LeMine has only a handful of employees, Liu said, but he rents the entire building — he wouldn’t say for how much — because he said he likes to be able to accommodate partners, investors and contractors. On a recent weekday afternoon the office was quiet. The front door was locked and there was no receptionist.
Outside of real estate, LeMine’s other undelivered promises include a billion-dollar trade deal to send Canadian canola to China and a commitment to invest in a private rail project in Ottawa. Neither materialized. Liu said the canola deal fell apart because the Canadian government did not get a required import certificate from China. The director of the Ottawa rail project said he and his staff declined to work with Liu after reviewing his company.
There is nothing tangible to which Liu can point that his company has successfully delivered. Asked to explain LeMine’s greatest achievement he mentioned the company’s investment philosophy and also a “flash mob” organized in Yonge-Dundas Square in 2014 to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Chinese independence. “We have over 50-million views on the Internet for a single event,” Liu said, adding that the video was shared widely on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform.
In a wood-paneled boardroom, Liu, who grew up in China’s Hunan province — “famous for spicy food and pretty girls” — said the purpose of his company is to “create a platform for Chinese capital.”
Liu first came to Canada when he was 18, completing his final year of high school at a private boarding school in Hamilton. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto Scarborough before opening a small immigration consultancy. When one of his Chinese clients asked him about development opportunities in Canada he realized there was an opportunity to connect Chinese investors with Canadian real-estate projects. He started LeMine in 2011.
In January 2014, he paid $1.9 million to buy the land at 3070 Ellesmere Rd., on which he planned to build The Academy. Liu hired Kirkor Architects, Korman’s firm, to design the tower, Devron Developments as project managers and the Milborne Group as sales agents.
Like Central Park Ajax, the project sold out quickly and was heralded for its sleek design. LeMine and its partners won the “People’s Choice Award” in an online vote by the Building Industry and Land Development (BILD) Association. Liu was named the Chinese Business Chamber of Canada’s “Person of the Year in Real Estate Development and International Business.”
Despite the accolades and rapid sales, Liu did not begin construction. He was backed by foreign investors but undercapitalized and he couldn’t secure sufficient financing, according to interviews with three people familiar with the project.
That didn’t stop him from simultaneously taking on another major project. In September 2014, he signed a deal with another developer to take over a multi-phase condo development on land owned, in part, by the Town of Ajax. That project would eventually become Central Park Ajax, envisioned as the first step in a long-term revitalization of the downtown area.
Rob Chaggares, who worked for LeMine as an accountant in 2015 and 2016, said Liu’s “downfall” was taking on too many projects at once. “I thought: What are you doing? Just focus on trying to figure out how to get a shovel in the ground.”
Liu saw himself and his company in grandiose terms, Chaggares said. “I remember one time he said, ‘Let’s not talk millions, let’s talk billions.’ ”
Liu is alleged to have mortgaged The Academy property to finance the Ajax development, according to a statement of claim filed by an investor named Xiangdon Zhao, who said he invested $2 million in The Academy and has not been paid promised dividends. He accused Liu of making “negligent misrepresentations” and leveraging the undeveloped property to fund other projects. Zhao declined to comment through his lawyer.
Liu, in his statement of defence, denied the allegations made by Zhao, whom he said is not currently entitled to any dividends. Liu also insisted The Academy project is still alive and that Zhao’s funds were used exclusively for its development.
Another group of investors in The Academy sued Liu saying he breached their contracts, cannot account for their money and won’t return their deposits. A default judgement, issued in May after Liu did not file a statement of defence, awarded the investors $541,275.
Before these troubles with The Academy emerged, Liu was building his relationship with the Town of Ajax.
In the fall of 2015, he arranged a two-week trip to China for Mayor Steve Parish and three other Ajax officials. There were business meetings, but also sightseeing trips to The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and other tourist spots. (The town covered the airfare and cost of visas for the mayor and staff, while LeMine covered all other expenses on the trip.)
LeMine’s design for the project — a 10-storey building comprised of two, six-storey residential condo towers on top of a four-storey podium — was fully approved by December 2015. As part of the agreement, LeMine was required to begin construction by July 15, 2017.
The Town of Ajax enthusiastically endorsed the project. They publicized it on their website, advertised it on municipal property and even had government officials appear in LeMine’s promotional videos.
Purchasers who spoke to the Star said the town’s official stamp of approval gave them confidence the project was secure. “The town so openly supporting it the way they did led us to believe that this was pretty much a surefire thing,” said Christopher Chong-St. Amant, who is among the purchasers awaiting the outcome of the court case before deciding whether to ask for their deposit back.
Before sales launched, 3,500 people had already registered on LeMine’s website, according to Liu.
Carl Hamilton, another Ajax purchaser, remembers the rush to buy when sales opened. “There wasn’t really time to second guess because there were droves of people behind you that were ready to sign.” Chong-St. Amant said the sales centre was “like a madhouse” on the opening weekend.
As with The Academy, Central Park Ajax was a marketing triumph and pre-construction sales of the 410-unit project sold out in a matter of weeks.
Problems arose almost immediately. Just weeks after selling out, Liu met with the mayor and said he wanted an additional five storeys — a 50-per-cent height increase.
“I indicated that this would not have my support,” Parish wrote in an internal email describing the conversation to his staff. Parish wrote that he told Liu adding the extra storeys after selling the presales would be “unfair to existing purchasers,” “contrary to our longstanding agreement” and “could cause political difficulties.” Liu “did not want to hear this,” Parish wrote. “(He) seems to think he can have whatever he wants.”
Korman, the designer on both projects, said he believes Liu once again “undersold the project versus the construction costs. … He got caught the same way in Ajax as he did on The Academy — without enough finances to carry the project through.” Liu said this is not true.
Liens started to appear on the property from unpaid tradespeople. Town officials grew increasingly concerned. In September 2016, lawyers for the town wrote LeMine a stern letter, saying they were spending too much time responding to “various lien claimants and their lawyers.”
In November, fewer than nine months before the deadline to begin construction, LeMine sought to amend the approved site plan by increasing the project from 10 to 12 storeys and from two to three levels of underground parking. (The town says in court filings they did not consider the material LeMine submitted to be a complete application because it was missing key elements.)
Meanwhile, LeMine’s sales centre was becoming a symbol for the project itself. Rain and wind had badly damaged the facade, while the company’s signage was torn and peeling. The place looked abandoned. If LeMine couldn’t spend “a couple grand” — as one town staffer put it — to clean up the sales centre, how would it build a multi-million-dollar condo?
Ajax’s chief administrative officer, Rob Ford, who has since retired, wrote Liu twice in the first four months of 2017 to request “urgent” meetings. Ford listed a litany of issues: LeMine still hadn’t fixed the sales centre; they were ignoring emails; liens had not been cleared and new ones were being added; and LeMine still hadn’t secured financing to begin construction.
Real estate agents who brokered sales began contacting the Town on behalf of their clients with concerns about the viability of the project. In one email a Royal Lepage agent whose name is redacted lists a number of questions for the Town, including: “Does the Town of Ajax regret doing business with LeMine Investment Group as much as my clients and I?”
Some skittish purchasers started asking for their deposits back.
Problems persisted throughout the summer of 2017 and when the July 15 deadline to start construction came and went without any progress, Ajax sent LeMine formal notice that it intended to invoke its right to repurchase the land. This triggered a 90-day grace period. There was nothing stopping Liu from beginning construction at this point, the Town’s lawyers would later argue in court. “LeMine had only to file for its building permit, but it did not do so.”
Even after the grace period elapsed, Ajax gave LeMine a new deadline of Dec. 8 to pay its creditors, bring its mortgages into good standing and secure construction financing. That deadline also came and went. On Jan. 11, 2018, the town publicly announced its plans to repurchase the land and formally end its partnership with LeMine.
Six days later, a frustrated Liu stormed into Ajax’s town hall and demanded to meet with Ford. Liu had been asked to leave the offices three months earlier because he had made staff “uncomfortable,” according to internal town emails. On this occasion he was escorted out, the emails said.
Speaking recently, Liu said there was “miscommunication” with town officials, but he wouldn’t elaborate. He said he did have concerns about the “economic feasibility” of the Ajax project last year, but it is “ready to go now” if the town was willing to work with him.
In March, Liu sued Ajax for $300 million for the “unlawful termination of a land development contract.” Liu said the town did not have the right to repurchase the property because they had not yet made a decision on his revised site plan application. The town said his application was incomplete. The trial was held this summer and a decision is expected before the end of the year.
“The town is blaming the developer, LeMine is blaming the town; I don’t really know where the blame lies,” said Karatella, one of the purchasers. “But I don’t care whose fault it is, someone should be accountable for the money I could have made on my investment.”
In an emailed statement to the Star, Parish, Ajax’s longtime mayor, said that when LeMine approached the Town “it presented a solid proposal which detailed a vision for the project, work being done in other jurisdictions, resources and a healthy financial picture.”
While Liu, the town and purchasers who haven’t yet pulled their deposits await the court’s decision, Liu is dealing with a slew of other legal problems.
Among the lawsuits filed against Liu are former consultants and contractors claiming he owes them money; investors who said he can’t account for their funds and won’t pay them back; and allegations that Liu misused investors’ money.
In one case, decided earlier this year, investor Valbonne-Canada won a judgment against Liu for more than $2.1 million. The case related to a proposed townhouse development in Thornhill, which was never built or pre-sold to the public. Liu later sold the undeveloped properties, but not before he “pilfered” the project funds for his own benefit, paid his own company $761,000 in dubious “project management fees” and “drained” the bank account that once held the investors’ money, according to Valbonne-Canada’s allegations.
In a scathing decision, Justice Thomas J. McEwen ruled against Liu and found him personally liable, saying he acted in bad faith, engaged in self-dealing, and showed “an utter disregard for the legal rights of the Applicants.”
The judgment included a “notice of garnishment” against Liu, but Liu said it is not being enforced and he is working on a settlement. Valbonne-Canada’s lawyer declined to comment.
In another case in which both Liu and his spouse, Yixuan Wang, are defendants, Toronto Capital Corp. and other creditors are seeking to take possession of Liu’s Willowdale home, which was cross-collateralized with the Ajax property, meaning a default on either mortgage would count against the other.
Liu and his wife allegedly defaulted on the Ajax mortgage in April 2017 and owe more than $2 million, according to court documents.
A default judgment was issued in February, but Liu said he didn’t lose his house and the lender was eventually paid. He said he didn’t default on the Ajax mortgage. He did not explain why the judgement said he did. “I consider this as one of the hard lessons we had to learn when dealing with Jewish people … Jewish lenders.” Asked to explain the comment, Liu said, “On the deals, they’re difficult. … Chinese (people) tend to believe people are good. Sometimes when we have that perspective we corner ourselves and they take advantage of our willingness.”
Liu declined to explain what happened or who specifically he was speaking about. Frank Mondelli, the principal broker of Toronto Capital Corp., declined to comment.
Another case alleged Liu and his staff told Chinese investor Miaogen Zhou that he could obtain permanent residency in Canada if he invested in The Academy. Zhou alleged he paid Liu $496,703, which he believed would be held in trust. Despite “repeated requests,” Zhou claimed Liu has “failed to provide a single piece of information … showing what happened to Zhou’s funds.” Liu has not filed a statement of defence, but he denied offering Zhou permanent residency in exchange for an investment.
Liu declined to discuss the lawsuits in detail but said he has never used investors’ money for other projects without their permission. He suggested litigation is simply the cost of doing business in the development industry. “I believe if you look at any of the big developers in Toronto you would find the same or even much more trouble than what we have now.”
Speaking generally, Liu admitted to making mistakes, attributing it in part to being a first-generation Canadian running a complex business. “Sometimes we learn in a hard way,” he said.
Others said Liu got in over his head. “His reach far exceeded his grasp,” said a former consultant to LeMine with extensive experience in the development industry. “But it wasn’t a minor gap — it was a big gap.”
In an overheated housing market, it’s often the purchaser who is most vulnerable when developers like Liu falter, said James McKellar, professor of real estate and infrastructure at York University’s Schulich School of Business. In the “race to sell out,” McKellar said, Liu probably set his prices too low and didn’t account for realistic construction costs.
But the cost to purchasers isn’t just financial, McKellar added. “If you buy something with the anticipation you’re going to get it in four years, you’re planning your family, etcetera. The interest rate is a very small part of it. It really sets you back.”
For Karatella, 29, the two-bedroom condo unit she purchased in Central Park Ajax was going to be her first home. She hasn’t asked for her deposit back yet, but if the project doesn’t go ahead she isn’t sure what she’s going to do. “To get something comparable to what I purchased is $100,000 more,” she said. “It’s totally ridiculous that my money is just sitting there and nobody’s accountable for it.”
McKellar said there should be penalties for developers who can’t deliver. “People are paying the price for this exuberant industry,” he said. “This is why governments have to step in.”
NDP housing critic Suze Morrison, who represents the provincial riding of Toronto-Centre, agreed there should be more protections for condo purchasers, but she didn’t think the solution was penalizing developers. Morrison said the NDP is looking into possible reforms to the Tarion Warranty Corporation, but did not provide specific details.
Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith, the minister of government and consumer services, said in an emailed statement that his government is looking into the issue “to determine how best to strengthen the protection of consumers.” Smith did not provide specifics, except to say that the government will work with “industry, stakeholders and consumers as we determine next steps.”
Liu’s court troubles persist.
In June, a numbered company which is Liu’s current partner in The Academy — his original partner cut all ties with the project in 2016 — got a court order to temporarily freeze the property after alleging Liu kept trying to borrow against it without the company’s consent, according to the judgement. Liu said the property at 3070 Ellesmere was not frozen. He did not explain why there are documents showing otherwise. Property records show there are three mortgages on the property totalling $13 million. Liu said the actual amount owing on the property is less than that.There is also a $3.95 million construction lien.
Sitting in his boardroom, Liu agreed his company is in trouble.
“Yes, I am,” he said. “(But) you say trouble, I say it’s difficult matters that we need to handle. We’re in business. Every business has difficulties and we need to manage them.”
Some of Liu’s former partners said his reputation within the industry is in tatters, but Korman said he would be willing to work with Liu again — as long as he’s paid upfront. “I’m not stupid.”
Liu said there are still lots of good things happening with his company. New investors are coming in every month, he said, and he’s working on launching a new project. He declined to discuss it.
Source: Toronto Star – By BRENDAN KENNEDY Investigative Reporter Thu., Sept. 27, 2018