Sunday, June 29, 2008

SPIS form could spell rocky legal ride for buyers

An Ontario court decision released last month serves as a potent reminder of the dangers of using a Seller Property Information Statement (SPIS) when selling real estate.

In December 2003, Paul and Judith Riley signed an agreement to buy a home in Tavistock from John and Kimberley Langfield.

Prior to signing the offer, the sellers completed and delivered to the buyers an SPIS on a standard real estate board form.

The form, in wide use throughout parts of Ontario, asks questions about the condition of the home. It states that the answers are being provided for information purposes only and are not warranties. It also warns that sellers are responsible for the accuracy of all answers.
In the Tavistock transaction, the sellers stated in the SPIS that there were no defects in any included appliances or equipment, that the fireplace was in working order, and that the sellers were not aware of any problems with the swimming pool or any moisture or water problems in the basement.

After the closing in April 2004, the purchasers discovered a "flood" in the basement and some of their possessions were destroyed or damaged by the water. They also found that the swimming pool filter and pump were not working.

That summer, a public health inspector visiting a house under construction next door discovered a pipe coming from the Riley property containing raw sewage. He also discovered an abandoned well.

The inspector ordered the Rileys to install a new septic system and fill in the abandoned well.

Fortunately, the Rileys' title insurance policy paid for those costs.

When the extent of their other losses became clear, the Rileys sued the Langfields for damages of $97,500, claiming misrepresentation and breach of contract. The trial took place in February in Kitchener before Justice Donald J. Gordon.

After hearing all the evidence, the judge dismissed the claim for damages to the basement and awarded the Rileys $2,100 for the costs of repairing the pool and the gas line to the fireplace. Legal costs for the lawyers on both sides for the five-day trial could easily have reached $100,000.

The most interesting part of the judge's decision is his criticism of the realtors for each of the parties, for their lack of "any due-diligence inquiry" and especially their failure to take action with respect to the possibility of water problems.

"Realtors are expected to provide advice and direction to their clients," the judge wrote. "They are paid to act as professionals. They are not simply tour guides walking through a residence. The cavalier attitude of both realtors with respect to the SPIS is troubling. The purpose of the SPIS is not to protect realtors from liability. They have a due-diligence obligation."
Lawrence Bremner practises real estate law at Gowlings in Hamilton and is an authority on the use of the SPIS form in Ontario. He is also a director of the Real Estate Council of Ontario, the governing body of Ontario real estate agents.

Bremner emailed me last week to say that the SPIS forms "are used in most of Ontario, in part, to protect agents – but they fail miserably in that regard.

"They are litigious," Bremner wrote, "as they ask simple questions that require complex answers and ask questions that many lay people don't understand and they ask sellers to disclose more than they are required to do.

"The simple fact is that if the seller gets sued, then the agent and the broker will be joined in the action" for their role in using the forms.

I've said it before, if your agent insists on an SPIS, get another agent or hire a good litigation lawyer. Based on the flood of new cases involving the use of the SPIS, chances are increasingly good that you'll wind up in court.

Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818. Visit the column archives at http://aaron.ca/columns/toronto-star-index.htm for articles on this and other topics.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Going Up: Worst things first

By the time a prospective buyer walks into a condo sales office, the developer has already spent millions on land, building design, permits and consultants who can offer guidance on everything from improving wind conditions to choosing a project name.

Building a condo is a very public performance, but not many of us see just what it takes behind the scenes. In this monthly series, we follow the steps involved in building and planning high-rise condos in the Toronto area.

To hear Mazyar Mortazavi tell it, taking his bike for a ride and stopping for brunch in new neighbourhoods is his key way to identify future development sites. "Most of it is intuitive," says the young developer and principal of TAS DesignBuild, adding that the foresight to see value in an emerging neighbourhood is part of the required skill set. His project Zed, at Bathurst and Niagara, is a good example. "People were like, ‘Who is going to want to live on Bathurst?' And now it's the hottest, hippest, happening neighbourhood in the city."

Three years after the provincial government passed its greenbelt legislation, protecting a 1.8-million-acre perimeter of green space around the Golden Horseshoe, Toronto developers are building up rather than out, literally laying the foundation for the next wave of urban dwellers.
The GTA will see almost 18,000 condominium unit starts this year, exceeding the record set in 2005, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. forecasts. Year to date, it is already posting numbers more than 70% higher than last year.

The industry value of apartment/condo building permits issued in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area last year totalled $1.6-billion. In the first four months of 2008, that total was already more than $866-million.

Despite the bullish market, developers fear that increased development charges (already equal to 10% to 20% of the cost of a home) could impede the demand. Development charges for condo construction in the city of Toronto have increased by more than 300% since 2001, according to a Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) report, released last month. BILD is calling on the municipality to back away from any new increases that would decrease the affordability of new homes.

When the payback is often three to four years away, developers have to be adept at managing financing, keeping interest and carrying costs to a minimum when making the initial land purchase. "We like to pay cash for the land. It's where the most risk is in a project," said Sam Crignano of Cityzen, a company currently developing 14 projects with 9,000 units in the
Toronto area.

Delaying the closing date until rezoning and other municipal approvals are in place is one option, especially since banks are reluctant to finance land that hasn't been approved, says Mr. Crignano, who likes to add value through the approval process rather than buy a ready-made site. He is even more conservative than the banks when it comes to presales. While lenders generally ask for two-thirds of units sold before advancing funds, Mr. Crignano likes to wait until he has three-quarters sold before he breaks ground.

Before they look for financing, developers pay a visit to a cost-consulting firm to determine the highest and best use for the property. Detailed estimates of construction costs and soft costs, such as studies, development charges and marketing (which can add another 30% to 60% to the total), are measured against the market condo prices. "With the difference between what you sell it for and your hard and soft costs, you buy two things - you buy the land and you pay for the risk," says Michael Barker, executive president of cost consulting for the Altus Group, Canada's largest independent cost-consulting company. "Developers are prewired to see opportunities where other people see risk," says Mr. Barker, who explains that a 15% profit means that for a 300-suite project, the last 45 units sold are profit, but they're suites that are usually the most difficult to sell.

Choosing to build to environmentally friendly Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards can cost 10% to 15% more, yet provide no guarantee of a higher unit price. "We make less money; it's a big hit on the bottom line," says Mr. Mortazavi, whose M5V development on King Street West has the first LEED-certified sales centre in North America. "At the end of the day we say this is the commitment."

But Mr. Mortazavi sees a potential for misleading marketing within the LEED system. "You can become registered with the Canadian Green Building Council and market that you're going to be green. It's only once you've built that you get your certification."

As the most active and mature condo market on the continent, Toronto has built up a solid community of consultants to shepherd the projects along. "Not only is the bureaucracy vast but the consultancy is vast," says consultant Barry Lyon. "Outsiders to the city are often amazed at how complicated and lengthy our process is, but we're all used to it."

In addition to the lenders and the cost consultants, a developer requires a legal firm to handle the municipal application process. And then, besides the architect, there are the specialists for the studies on parking, traffic, acoustics, shadows, tree preservation, heritage and wind levels for pedestrians.

The wind study alone takes about eight weeks and can cost $60,000 or more. A detailed scale model of the site (about a foot high for a 20-storey condo) is arranged on a revolving platform. "It's like being King Kong on a movie set," says Frank Kriksic, project manager and principal with RWDI, a Guelph company that is the world's largest wind-engineering consulting firm.
The wind-tunnel testing measures structural and cladding wind loads (pressures on the building skin). Pedestrian comfort is also a consideration when high-rise developments create extra-gusty conditions by capturing stronger winds at higher altitudes and redirecting them to ground level.

When requests for rezoning and other development changes can't be resolved, projects can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, an independent tribunal.

Mr. Crignano estimates about half of his projects end up before the OMB for rulings. While some developers welcome the OMB's influence, others say it is only a stopgap measure in a process that is too politicized.

"The OMB is a very convenient scapegoat for politicians who don't want to put themselves on the firing line," says real estate lawyer Patrick Devine of Fraser Milner Casgrain. "Very good projects get turned down for political reasons. Unfortunately, other than the mayor, there's no one elected to city council who has the mandate to look broader than their own individual ward."
So-called chequebook planning is another controversial issue. Under the Planning Act, the municipality can permit zoning density increases in return for community benefits. Community benefits can include park land, public art, daycare centres and street improvements or cash-in-lieu.

City planners point to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which uses an old bank building left extant inside the complex of Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place), as an inspired example of Section 37 benefits, saying the clause is one of the most misunderstood planning tools out there.

Many developers dislike the subjective approach. "Rules are not very clear, negotiated on site-by-site basis," says Mr. Devine, citing a Minto project in Yorkville where developers were asked for $2.6-million in benefits. "The city kept lowering its demand, and finally we went to the OMB and it ruled that the city had no right to ask for anything."

Cathie Macdonald, president of the Deer Park Residents Group, agrees that the system could be improved. After negotiating with the developer of a proposed project at Yonge and St. Clair, Ms. Macdonald's group got its requested height reduction (residential towers dropped from 32 and 39 storeys to 16 and 37 storeys). Also part of the plan were more than $2-million in Section 37 benefits, such as a new park, and street and sidewalk improvements. Still, she's uneasy about the process. "I don't like the ‘let's make a deal' approach," says Ms. Macdonald, who trained in architecture and is a former city planning employee who volunteers with advocacy group People Plan Toronto. "It's up to the ward councillor to make the decision for their ward."

In the 10 years since amalgamation, Toronto area planners have worked to harmonize guidelines and create avenue studies that spell out requirements right down to the individual street level. But while developers want fewer design and bylaw fetters, neighbourhoods look for more focused plans. "There has to be intensification in the city," Ms. Macdonald acknowledges. "The problem is, there are no rules about how it should happen."

Why Dealing with a Full Service Bank Makes Sense

In the competitive mortgage market with Toronto Real Estate purchases, clients are chosing Virtual Lenders to get the lowest rates possible. In principal this makes sense.

"Over 30% of all my June closings have required bridge financing" said Lindsay Doke, Trusted Mortgage Adviser with Royal Bank.

Bridge financing occurs when the client is moving into their new property prior to the closing of their existing home. With homes now staying on the market longer than they were 6 months ago this is a huge issue.

"This has been a blessing for me and my branches given many of my deals which had been approved conditional on the sale of their home but did not firm up till within weeks or some instances days of the purchase closing" continued Doke.

With a mortgage broker, a bridge loan takes much more time and is far more complicated. The broker is paid a commission to secure the deal with the many institutions he can place it with, also since many of these are virtual lenders the client has to drive out to offices in remote locations to sign bridge loan documents. i.e.. MCAP a large provider of mortgages broker sourced which is located in Kitchener, Ontario.

Bridge loans can take up to 5 days to be processed for this reason and that puts huge stress on the purchaser and the relationship he has with his or her agent. "I saved a deal this week which was anchored with a broker who was taking too much time to complete bridge financing. I closed the deal in less then a week during the busiest time of our year and saved the transaction." continued Doke.

A bank mortgage specialist such as Lindsay Doke, works with his branch partners, liases between the lawyers, so the client signs the bridge documents when they sign the mortgage documents. In some cases they even drive the bridge loan documents to the lawyers! Think about this next time you are looking to send a deal to a broker whether he is on-house in your office or someone you do business with.

If you are not using my services perhaps its time you thought seriously to try me. Lindsay Doke is a Trusted Mortgage Adviser with The Royal Bank in west Toronto thru to Oakville.
Doke, Lindsay [lindsay.doke@rbc.com] or call him direct at 416 464 6423.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will you have a staycation this year?

A 'staycation' can help beat the high cost of gasoline without compromising the need for relaxation and renewal.


staycation: A vacation that is spent at one's home enjoying all that home and one's home environs have to offer.

"Even though I live and work in Toronto, I don't always get to enjoy all it has to offer, what with my work commitments, but I sure did have an awesome time here during my summer staycation. "

Summer is all about hitting the road and enjoying the sunshine, but the reality of taking a vacation is complicated.

High gas prices, sky high airline price, the hassle of getting away from work, kids who want to hang out with friends -- the list goes on. But things are looking up for those who want a great summer escape, but can't swing Euro Disney.

Welcome to the staycation. Imagine a vacation you can take on your couch, or not too far from it, where you can have fun for less, learn more about where you live and get away without going too far.

Set a date for departure like you would a real vacation. Give yourselves a budget, if you are staying in or heading out, you want to be able to splurge on some things and be frugal with others. Make sure to get into the holiday mindset. That means you are allowed to buy that hideous sweatshirt, eat that extra piece of cake and splurge on that GPS you have always wanted. No matter where you live or your finances, staying close to home might just be the refreshing break you need.

Staycation strategies

The Honeymoon: A honeymoon, or just a weekend in with your sweetheart, is all about guilty pleasures. Start with a "do not disturb" sign on the door, and make sure friends and relatives know about your time together and ask that they treat it like they would a real getaway. That means only contacting you in case of emergency.

Fun and Games: What better way to start off a romantic weekend then with a bottle of wine and a game of Twister? There are plenty other game options to choose from, both naughty and nice.

Snapshot: What is a vacation without photos? This is a great way to start collecting photos to put on the fridge, and instead of a wish-you-were-here postcard, complete with a tropical background, you'll have a candid shot of the two of you enjoying each other's company to send off to family and friends.

Play House: You can use this as the time to start your lives together and to settle into your home as a married couple. Figure out personal space, rearrange the furniture and get messy. And after a hard days work, indulge in a couple of romantic movies, some junk food and relax.

Take-Out: There is no better way to blow through that allotted budget than some fancy delivery. Take a break from pizza and beer to enjoy a filet mignon, gourmet burgers or lobster dinner. If they don't deliver, pick it up. It can be like a mini road trip.

If you are doing really well budget wise, hire a personal chef to come in and cook a romantic meal for two.

GETTING AWAY WITH KIDS
You may want to plan something adventurous that the whole family will enjoy, making everyone forget the everyday stresses of life.

Picnic: Look for the oasis in your own community. Forget the travel books, look for the perfect spot you already know, such as Toronto Island Park. maybe take in a soccer game or the Blue Jays have Cito back! Explore the Humber Bay Shore Mark Goodman Trail on your rollerblades. Canoe on the Humber River.

Urban Camping: There is nothing more exciting for kids than doing something that is out of the ordinary in the place they feel most comfortable -- their home. That is why pitching a tent out back can be more fun that actually going anywhere. Get the whole family involved in setting up and picking out all fun and games you can enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Realtors brace for backlash

NEW RULES: Ottawa requires property buyer, seller info

Canadian realtors are bracing for a customer backlash starting today, as they become new foot soldiers in the battle against money-laundering.

Federal regulations that kick in today will force realtors to start asking property sellers and buyers personal information never before required.

In Ontario alone, 47,000 realtors will be expected to fall in line or face stiff penalties.
"We know there is going to be consumer rejection on this and we are just following the law," said Gerry Weir, a London realtor and president of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).

Realtors will be required to ask for the name, address, date of birth and occupation of property buyers and sellers, plus ID such as a driver's licence or passport.

Weir said Ottawa has made little effort to educate people about the changes, and realtors feel they're being forced into an uncomfortable enforcement role.

He said realtors will have to keep the information for seven years and submit it on request to the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), a federal agency set up to track suspicious transactions that could be related to money- laundering or terrorism.

If the buyer is foreign or from another part of Canada, the real estate broker will be required to hire an agent in the buyer's community who can confirm the buyer's ID.

If a client refuses to disclose the information, Weir said, a realtor would have to walk away from the deal or report the person to FINTRAC.

"Even if I have known you for 30 years, I still have to ask for that information," he said.
Weir said it could get even worse.

He said Ottawa also wanted to require a receipt-of-funds record, with information on anyone who actually supplied money for sales, including relatives or friends.

Weir said the government backed down on that, but he expects it will only be temporary.
"That is the next step; that will happen," he said.

FINTRAC officials appear confused about the new rules.

Spokesperson Peter Lamey at first said one piece of ID was needed from buyers and sellers, and information such as date of birth and occupation wouldn't be required.

He later said the information wouldn't only be required from buyers and sellers, but also from anyone who contributed money to a deal as part of the receipt of funds record, contradicting Weir's belief that Ottawa had backed down on that provision.

Negotiations on the rules were handled by the federal Finance Department and not FINTRAC, Lamey said.

Weir said he understands the need to deal with the problem of money laundering.
For years, realtors have been required to report any suspicious financial transactions to FINTRAC, especially those involving cash payments of more than $10,000.

Weir said he's reported three transactions in recent years, and two involved someone trying to buying a house to set up a marijuana growing operation.

Still, he said only a very small number of real estate transaction are suspicious.
Weir said the government will only do spot inspections during the next six months to ensure realtors and brokers are meeting the requirements.

After that, any realtor or broker who doesn't meet the requirements could face hefty fines or jail time.

Weir said the OREA wants to educate people about the changes, but there've been long negotiations with the government and the rules weren't firmed up until last week.

"We have 47,000 realtors in Ontario that we have to educate by (today)," he said.

Sample forms are available here

FINTRAC Guidelines

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Second wave of western waterfront condos underway at Mystic Pointe

It was 31 years ago when Toronto's western lakefront got its first waterfront condo -the Palace Pier. That celebration of luxury by the lake stood in splendid isolation for more than two decades.

Today the Etobicoke waterfront booms with life and activity. Innovative, imaginative projects have sprung up starting just west of the Palace Pier and its newer companion, Palace Place. They shimmer in grays and greens and march along both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard.

But those existing developments are just the prelude to a second wave of waterfront condos. A handful more will be launched this summer and major developers have already snapped up sites further west into what has been called "motel row."

In fact, the developers have even renamed the area Mystic Pointe, a lyrical label for a neighbourhood built on dreams of a rich lifestyle. As newer waterfront projects join the established ones, prices are starting to climb.

"The lakeshore area west of the Humber was originally conceived as a lower priced alternative to Harbourfront," says Eve Lewis, president of Market Vision Real Estate Corp. "That now seems to be changing."

Paul Golini Jr., executive vicepresident of Empire Communities, creator of the astonishingly successful Beyond the Sea community on the north side of Lakeshore Boulevard (the speed with which it sold surprised even him, he admits), agrees with Ms. Lewis.

"The first tower sold in the $360 to $380 a square foot range; the second tower was about $400 a square foot and our third tower, which is already 80% sold, goes for about $420 a square foot," he says. "We would love to do another similar project but frankly the land cost is just too pricey."
Emilio Testolin, senior vicepresident high rise for the Monarch Group, which has already built 4 towers at Waterview on Marine Parade Drive just south of Lakeshore West and will start construction on a fifth this summer, says its sixth and final tower, which will be released for sale this fall, will be priced at between $550 and $600 a square foot.

So what is the attraction in the western waterfront? It is a heady combination of lifestyle and location, say the experts. Those lakeshore condos offer a waterfront lifestyle far enough removed from the heart of the city for quiet enjoyment and a touch of nature, yet close enough so that within 15 minutes residents can be boogying in the Club district or dining along Queen West.

"Buyers told us Beyond the Sea was a hidden gem," says Mr. Golini. "It was right next to parks, within minutes of the waterfront and yet close enough to Mississauga that you could work there and still live 15 minutes from the heart of downtown Toronto."

Mr. Tesolin saysWaterview experienced the same phenomenon. "Commuting, even to the airport, was a breeze, they told us, because they were commuting against the traffic. Mississauga buyers figured this was the best of both worlds."

New projects are hoping to cash in on that broad geographic appeal and each seems to be defining the lifestyle it offers through the choice of name. Amexon Development Corporation for example is launching its South Beach Condos + Lofts at Lakeshore Boulevard and Park Lawn Road.

There will be twin, 28-storey towers, one in blue glass the other in green, topped by the stylized square arches that are the signature touches of some South Beach landmarks. There is the Shore Club and Ocean Drive lounge, with 40,000 square feet of amenity, lifestyle and fitness space. Then, right next door will be a retail walking street with 16,000 square feet of shopping-just like in Miami. At night it dazzles with blue, green and pink neon, the pastels that give South Beach its distinctive look and feel.

Suites range from 454-square-foot one-bedrooms through ones-plus-dens and twos to a sweeping, two-level, 2,170-square-foot penthouse. Prices start at $188,000 and rise to more than $1 million.

To switch coasts, Camrost-Felcorp, which has already created 1,300 units at Mystic Pointe, will unveil its new California project this summer. It will be 31 storeys tall and offer such eye-popping amenities as an infinity pool and a gym where residents can work out as they take in the shifting patterns of light and cloud on the lake.

Like previous Camrost-Felcorp projects, California targets singles and couples from their 20s to their 60s; what binds them together is a desire for an active lifestyle and waterfront views - all close to but not part of downtown. The mix of suites reflects the prospective buyers.

"What we have found works best in this area is 40% one bedrooms, 40% one-plus-dens and 20% two-bedroom suites, says Camrost president David Feldman. "That reflects both demand and affordability."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

GTA Resale Housing Continues Steady Pace

June 18, 2008 -- The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) resale housing market continued at a moderate but healthy pace throughout the first half of June, Toronto Real Estate Board President Maureen O’Neill announced today.

Prices continued their upward trend in the first half of this month. The GTA average price is currently $398,542, up four per cent over the $384,576 average from the same timeframe a year ago and up 11 per cent from the $358,648 recorded at mid-June 2006.

In the City of Toronto the current average price is $439,469, up three per cent over the $424,888 average a year ago and up 14 per cent over the $386,960 average in the first half of June 2006.

In the 905 Region the average price is $371,686 up four per cent from the $357,359 average a year ago and up 10 per cent from the $338,578 recorded at mid-June 2006.

“With 4,374 transactions in the first two weeks of this month, sales in the GTA declined 14 per cent compared to the same timeframe a year ago when 5,074 properties were sold,” said Ms. O’Neill. “However, compared to the first half of June 2006 when 4,074 properties changed hands, this month’s activity is up seven per cent.

In the City of Toronto 1,733 sales took place to mid-June 2008. This represents a 15 per cent decrease compared to the 2,045 properties sold a year ago but a two per cent increase over the 1,690 transactions in the first half of June 2006. A different story emerges when you compare the first half of June 2007 before the Toronto Land Transfer Tax went into effect to the same period in June 2006, a period showing a 21 per cent increase in sales.

In the 905 Region, the scenario was similar. In the first two weeks of June, 2,641 properties were sold. This represents a 13 per cent decline compared to the 3,029 homes sold in the first half of June 2007 but an 11 percent increase over the 2,384 properties sold at mid-June 2006. When you compare the first half of June 2007 to the same period in June 2006, sales increased by 27 per cent.

Certain communities including Riverdale, West Agincourt, Caledon and Richmond Hill South experienced strong activity in the first half of this month.

In Riverdale (E01) transactions increased 28 per cent compared to the first half of June 2007 driven by strong condominium apartment sales.

Condominium apartment transactions also drove West Agincourt (E05) to a 24 per cent increase in sales compared to the same timeframe a year ago.

In Caledon (W28) detached home transactions lead to a nine per cent increase in sales over the same period a year ago.

Richmond Hill South (N03) also experienced strong detached home sales, which resulted in a five per cent increase from mid-June 2007.
“With employment and interest rates holding steady and a 17 per cent increase in available listings compared to a year ago, it is an ideal time to take advantage of all that the market has to offer,” said Ms. O’Neill.

MLS smacks down maverick website

It was an antidote to Toronto's sprawling housing market: a simple website created by two self-described "computer geeks" to ease their first home search, and then help a city of frazzled buyers.

That is until this week, when the Multiple Listings Service - the reigning king of online listings in Canada - unleashed its lawyer on housing123.com and banished the new kids on the block.

"It was always this overhanging axe that was ready to fall," said Travis Fielding, the 31-year-old co-founder of the website, which allowed users to search MLS listings plotted on a Google map of local neighbourhoods.

After all, MLS has crushed upstarts before. Two Toronto-based sites, Realtysellers Ltd. and Realestateplus.ca, shut down in the past two years after run-ins with the Canadian Real Estate Association, which owns the MLS trademark. Housing123.com is accused of using its information without permission.

But some industry watchers say MLS may be losing this online turf war, as what's happening in the United States may soon happen here: Sites such as Redfin, Zillow and Yahoo Real Estate now carry the lion's share of new listings, while MLS is losing ground.

They say the MLS business model - giving people only a taste of a house and directing them to an agent for more - won't stand up against competitors that will give you every detail about a house and its surroundings, including local crime stats, school reviews and previous purchase prices, along with 360 tours and a break on the commission.

"They're basically saying, 'You know what? People want to search listings themselves,' " says John Pasalis, founder of Realosophy.com, a website that dishes details about Toronto and Greater Toronto Area neighbourhoods. "The problem in Canada is we can't do this because the real-estate boards don't allow us."

Adds Mr. Fielding: "I think they're stuck in the past."

The idea for housing123.com bloomed a couple of years ago after Mr. Fielding's friend and fellow software developer, Kevin Lai, became frustrated with his own home search. Sick of navigating MLS, and frustrated by an agent who missed good houses, Mr. Lai thought he could design a better system.

On his laptop, he basically created what is known as a "Google-map mash-up," which allows people to plot customized data (in this case, MLS listings) on top of a Google map application.
It worked so well that, just for kicks, he enlisted Mr. Fielding to help him take it to the public. It took about three weeks to work out the kinks, and they developed a way for the program to automatically add new listings. "On a scale of 10, it's probably like six," Mr. Lai, 29, says of the difficulty level. For their day jobs, he and Mr. Fielding design software for financial companies.
Since the site was launched 10 months ago, it averaged about 400 to 500 unique users per day, Mr. Fielding says.

Users appreciated its simplicity. House listings appeared as dots on a map of Toronto, which users clicked on to take them to the MLS listing. Houses were colour-coded by price so users could see which areas were pricey or affordable.

By contrast, MLS has no way to narrow a search to a neighbourhood. If you're looking for a Victorian in Kensington Market, you have to search in zone C-01, which covers Yonge to Dufferin, and Bloor to the Lakefront. (That includes the Annex, the waterfront, Kensington, Little Italy, Trinity-Bellwoods, University, the downtown core, and others.)

The search engine spits out hundreds of listings, and users are stuck flipping between MLS and Mapquest.

Still, the housing123.com founders knew it would just be a matter of time before MLS came knocking, because they were using listings that were the property of MLS.ca.

Last week, Mr. Lai received a letter from a CREA lawyer saying they had violated copyright laws. Remove the site, it said, or we'll sue. "They were scraping data from our website," says Calvin Lindberg, president of CREA, which represents more than 94,000 brokers and agents. "It's something that we deal with on a regular basis. ... Obviously whenever we see it happening, we send a letter asking them to turn it off."

Since the site folded on June 15, dozens of users have voiced their dismay on a blog, urging the duo to keep going or seek legal advice. One user wrote: "MLS is brutal and your site made finding the right place in the RIGHT location a breeze."

By the end of the summer, MLS.ca will have a map component, Mr. Lindberg says. Beyond that, he says, the site does not need to be improved. "We've created a very effective and efficient system that the consumers love."

Others disagree. One simply has to look south to see the potential for informative sites, Mr. Pasalis says. Those sites, however, have only been made possible through tough legal battles. In May, the U.S. National Association of Realtors settled its antitrust case with the Department of Justice, giving online realtors - which have been offering fees that are significantly lower than traditional realtor rates - full access to the MLS database.

Mr. Pasalis says the onus should be on Canada's Competition Bureau, not individual entrepreneurs, to fight to ensure fair competition is allowed in Canada too.

For now, Mr. Lai and Mr. Fielding say they are dreaming up new projects. "At least we helped a lot of people find their dream home," said Mr. Lai, who is now in the market for a downtown condo.
The pair say they may revive their site, but only to post properties from individual sellers or brokers - not MLS. "We can't afford the lawsuit, that's for sure," Mr. Fielding says.
Days after his site folded, Mr. Lai and his wife bid on a downtown condo they had spotted using housing123.com - but no dice. His search has resumed on MLS.ca.

HAYLEY MICK June 21, 2008 The Globe and Mail

Friday, June 20, 2008

Common Law or Married

Another Reason to Tie the knot.

Even though common law marriages are becoming commonplace, the law is still more protective of the rights of married couples. Currently, Ontario law gives special treatment to a home in which a married couple resides- their "matrimonial home". If only one of the spouses ownes the matrimonial home, then he or she needs to have the other spouse's consent to the sale. ( This consent is given both on the Offer at the time of the sale of the home and again on the Deed at the time of closing.)

In the case of a couple. who have been living together long enough to be considered "common-law spouses" , the home owning spouse does NOT require the consent of the other common-law spouse to sell.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Study Finds Acceptance of Sustainable Housing Forms

June 18, 2008
Study Finds Acceptance of Sustainable Housing Forms
A unique study has found a high degree of flexibility in what residents in the Greater Toronto Area would or could accept as their type of residence. The results suggest a much greater opportunity for suburban municipalities to accommodate new urban growth in a compact and sustainable manner, according to a new study by the Sustainable Urban Development Association (SUDA).

SUDA, in collaboration with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University, released The Housing Alternatives Acceptability Study (HAAS) about the acceptability of a variety of housing choices. In particular, the study found a relatively high level of acceptance of compact housing forms such as townhouses and condominium apartments. Among some of the findings:

· About half of respondents considered living in a townhouse as "acceptable" or "may be acceptable". Higher levels of acceptability were found for townhouses with large private backyards compared to townhouses without.
· Slightly more than half of respondents would accept or may accept living in a semidetached home.
· Almost three quarters would accept or may accept living in a medium-value single detached home.
· Only 32% of respondents considered owning a single-or semi-detached home as a "must have".
· 51.6% of respondents would accept or could accept living in a large condominium
apartment; this percentage held true for all household sizes. Acceptability was strong for both respondents living in Toronto, and for those in other GTA municipalities.
· Low-rise apartment living is preferred to high-rise living by a wide margin.

Because growth in municipalities in the region will be largely by immigration and intra-regional migration, these findings, based on GTA-wide responses, are appropriate for decision-makers throughout the region to consider as they plan for the housing mix in their communities. “These findings open the door to more opportunities for accommodating growth with less reliance on single detached housing as the predominant housing form,” said John Banka, President of SUDA.

“The Greater Toronto Area is growing by close to 100,000 new residents per year. The region cannot afford to continue with business as usual, or with policies and plans that assume "demand" for sprawling subdivisions,” said Banka.

“People buy what’s available, and public decision-makers determine what that will be,” said Banka. “Public officials determine the degree to which growth will add to car-dependent congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, the excessive loss of natural and agricultural land, and exposure to the coming global energy crunch.”

The study also asked about the importance of owning a single detached home. 32% said it is a "must have". The study did not investigate whether this was because the market did not offer other options such as townhouses with backyards, or extra large condominium apartments with facilities for kids. "If the only options you see for your family is a narrow townhouse with no yard, you may be inclined to say ‘must have’ to other choices that are available."

The HAAS also asked questions about the importance of investing in better public transit. 82% of respondents stated that public transit in their area needed some improvement or a great dealof improvement. Moreover, 68% of respondents are willing to pay additional money in order to improve public transit services.

“This is an important finding, as it demonstrates a high level of awareness about the importance of public transit to people. If our cities and towns are to move towards sustainability, transit services must be significantly enhanced, and the willingness of the public to pay for improvements should send a positive message to decision-makers who are struggling with finding money for transit expansion,” said Banka.
Other findings related to housing choices and community:

· An overwhelming 90% of respondents said a healthy and natural environment was either very important or a "must-have".
· 68% said that being able to walk to their daily destinations is either very important or a must-have. “This suggests a great potential for changing the design of new communities to bring employment, shops and services much closer to where people live,” said Banka. “It speaks to the growing need to reduce our dependence on travel by automobile.”
· 32.4% of respondents were concerned enough about energy prices that it would affect their choice of housing ‘very much’. "It is likely that these percentages are even higher today, given that the survey was undertaken in the summer of 2007, when oil and gas prices were significantly lower than they are today," said Banka. "SUDA believes that the combined impacts of future energy costs and energy's detrimental impact on the environment will increase the demand for energy-efficient housing forms such as apartments and attached homes."

Principal investigators of the study were John Stillich, General Manager at SUDA, and Associate Professor Sandeep Kumar Agrawal of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University.

For more information, call John Stillich at 416-400-0553. The entire study is available by clicking here

Sustainable Urban Development Association SUDA
2637 Council Ring Road, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1S6
Tel: 416-400-0553; Fax: 905-820-8156; www.suda.ca; e-mail: contact@suda.ca

For home sellers, 'staging' is the new show in town

I blame Roger Hazard for the hell I am now living. Let me explain.

For reasons I already can't remember, I have joined more than 4,000 other Victoria residents trying to sell their houses. Listing our home seemed like such a good idea when my husband and I started seeing it as too big for the empty nest stage on our horizon.

What better time than when there's a lot on the market for us to choose from?

But that's also the problem. There's a lot on the market for everyone to choose from -- a record number since 1998 -- making us feel insecure about the salability of the home we love.

With a For Sale sign on our lawn I am becoming painfully aware of how reality television has reformatted our view of perfection in a home and changed the real estate business since we bought our last homes.

Roger (I feel I can call him on a first-name basis), and others involved in similar TV shows, has fuelled what is known as the staging business with Sell This House.

"Staging" in this case has absolutely nothing to do with theatre and everything to do with marketing. It requires that you add, subtract and change things in your home with the goal of never distracting a prospective buyer with the details of your life, but having them make an emotional connection with it.

Christine Rae, the president of Canadian Staging Professionals, calls staging a "necessity" for buyers wanting to get the most money from their home. If the staging business has burgeoned from non-existent to the point where more than 1,100 have been trained by her organization alone, it's because the real estate industry was the last bastion where a commodity was typically sold "as is." Even car sellers "detail" their vehicles before selling, she adds.

Don't think for a moment that staging is a Toronto-centric phenomenon, or more likely to be employed by sellers of urbane Yaletown lofts in Vancouver. From Sooke to Port Alberni, you can find a home stager to dismiss your wedding photos as too distracting. There's even a staging category in the Yellow Pages, and many decorators and real estate agents have added the service to their business repertoire.

Rae notes that staging is easier for decorators because "when you stage a home, you get to dictate what needs to be done," unlike the decorating world, where a client wants more say.
Tony Joe, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, said the staging industry isn't as well developed here as it is in the East, but it is definitely becoming a factor for "consumers and real estate professionals looking for ways of tipping the ball in their favour."

Joe and Rae believe staging can improve the selling price and sell a home more quickly. The challenge for sellers is that they have to keep their homes absent of any evidence someone actually lives there.

This is a problem when you actually do live there, and have for 20 years, putting down roots requiring a lot more than a company's-coming-for-dinner vacuum to erase.

Now, every time I come home, rather than taking comfort upon seeing my long-familiar things, I find myself recoiling at the sight of items such as a small collection of clocks of sentimental, not monetary value.

A shoulder check while leaving the house can trigger a full-on family fracas if a cup has been left on the counter. After seeing other homes on the market, we are apparently a freakishly abnormal family because we sometimes leave things on the counter before racing off to our daytime duties. I'm now certain ours is the only house where socks land on the floor.

This is 2008 and so different from two-and-half decades ago, when I fell in love with a home for sale that had a clutter of children's art on the fridge and the mild messiness elsewhere bespoke a family that valued time together over fastidiousness.

As I erase many of the traces of our life in our home, no buyer will ever know of the happy times there. Of the marriage that has lasted. The family that almost always sat down for dinner. The mega family and friend gatherings around holidays. And the card games in front of the fire. All of the things that make a house a home.

They're too distracting for buyers tutored by reality TV.
cheiman@tc.canwest.com © Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

I laughed when I read this this morning. Our market is so influenced by the media and what we see from over the border and HGTV, but I sure do like the fix and Flip Shows.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

GTA Resale Housing Continues Steady Pace


June 18, 2008 -- The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) resale housing market continued at a moderate but healthy pace throughout the first half of June, Toronto Real Estate Board President Maureen O’Neill announced today.

Prices continued their upward trend in the first half of this month. The GTA average price is currently $398,542, up four per cent over the $384,576 average from the same timeframe a year ago and up 11 per cent from the $358,648 recorded at mid-June 2006.

In the City of Toronto the current average price is $439,469, up three per cent over the $424,888 average a year ago and up 14 per cent over the $386,960 average in the first half of June 2006.

In the 905 Region the average price is $371,686 up four per cent from the $357,359 average a year ago and up 10 per cent from the $338,578 recorded at mid-June 2006.

In the City of Toronto 1,733 sales took place to mid-June 2008. This represents a 15 per cent decrease compared to the 2,045 properties sold a year ago but a two per cent increase over the 1,690 transactions in the first half of June 2006. A different story emerges when you compare the first half of June 2007 before the Toronto Land Transfer Tax went into effect to the same period in June 2006, a period showing a 21 per cent increase in sales.

“With 4,374 transactions in the first two weeks of this month, sales in the GTA declined 14 per cent compared to the same timeframe a year ago when 5,074 properties were sold,” said Ms. O’Neill. “However, compared to the first half of June 2006 when 4,074 properties changed hands, this month’s activity is up seven per cent.

In the 905 Region, the scenario was similar. In the first two weeks of June, 2,641 properties were sold. This represents a 13 per cent decline compared to the 3,029 homes sold in the first half of June 2007 but an 11 percent increase over the 2,384 properties sold at mid-June 2006. When you compare the first half of June 2007 to the same period in June 2006, sales increased by 27 per cent.

Certain communities including Riverdale, West Agincourt, Caledon and Richmond Hill South experienced strong activity in the first half of this month.

In Riverdale (E01) transactions increased 28 per cent compared to the first half of June 2007 driven by strong condominium apartment sales.

Condominium apartment transactions also drove West Agincourt (E05) to a 24 per cent increase in sales compared to the same timeframe a year ago.

In Caledon (W28) detached home transactions lead to a nine per cent increase in sales over the same period a year ago.

Richmond Hill South (N03) also experienced strong detached home sales, which resulted in a five per cent increase from mid-June 2007.

“With employment and interest rates holding steady and a 17 per cent increase in available listings compared to a year ago, it is an ideal time to take advantage of all that the market has to offer,” said Ms. O’Neill.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Good renovation advice available to both owner and contractor


A bizarre news story out of Shoreham, England, serves as a powerful reminder that the failure to have a signed home renovation contract can create significant problems for both the owner and contractor.
The drama began late last year when Anita Dovey hired builder Nigel Gray to add a porch and a conservatory to her council house. (In the U.K., a council house is a form of public or social housing built and operated by municipal councils. Eligible tenants obtain secure leases at below market rents.)
Gray quoted Dovey £15,000 (about $30,500) for the job, but when it was completed he had difficulty obtaining payment.
After receiving a couple of NSF cheques, Gray gave up trying to get paid for the job and obtained permission from the local district council to knock down the porch and repossess the conservatory.
In April, in the presence of a crowd of photographers, Gray and his crew used sledgehammers to demolish the brick porch and its red-tiled roof, and remove the conservatory from the house.
Gray said, "The only reason I am smashing it down is because there is no way I am going to be mugged off." (Urbandictionary.com defines "mugged off" as the way someone reacts after being offended, insulted or disrespected.)
A spokesperson for the local council said that Dovey would be billed for the cost of restoring the property back to its pre-renovation state.
Following considerable media attention, Gray donated what is now Britain's most famous conservatory to the Argus Appeal, a local charity, where it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Harvey Kirsh is a senior partner at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt in Toronto, and a recognized specialist in construction law. Last week I asked him whether a similar outcome could occur on this side of the ocean.
"The simple answer," he said, "is no, not in Canada."
Kirsh explained that an unpaid contractor has a choice of remedies in Canada, including court action for collecting unpaid funds or registering a construction lien. A self-help remedy such as demolition or removal of the improvement exposes the contractor to criminal charges and a claim for damages caused by the removal.
In England, Kirsh said, there is no construction lien legislation which would entitle a contractor to take legal action against the lease of a tenant in a council house.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of good advice available for both contractors and owners or tenants contemplating a renovation in Ontario.
One of the best sources of information I've found is the website of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) at http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/.
Click on consumer and choose renovation as a topic: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/renoho/index.cfm. CMHC offers renovation guides, videos, energy-saving tips, fact sheets, inspection checklists, financing options, and details on getting refunds of part of the mortgage loan insurance premiums for energy-efficient renovations or home purchases.
Best of all is a sample renovation contract at http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/renoho/refash/refash_019.cfm CMHC says that a detailed written contract between the homeowner and the contractor is essential to any renovation or home repair project, no matter its size. Even the smallest job should be put in writing.
For a home renovation project, the CMHC contract template and the accompanying commentary are just as good as any of the expensive ones in my law library.
Topics covered include a description of the work, responsibility for obtaining permits, timing, terms and timing of payment, change orders, washroom facilities for the workers, standards of work, warranties, workers' compensation compliance, insurance, default, and – most important – dispute resolution.
There is no section in the sample contract about demolition of the work in the event of nonpayment.
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818. Visit the column archives at http://www.aaron.ca/columns/toronto-star-index.htm for articles on this and other topics.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gas pains: Go broke or stay home

Jun 11, 2008 04:30 AM Robyn Doolittle Staff Reporter
Dear Lord, please grant us lower gas prices.

That's the silent prayer being offered at the Peace Lutheran Church in Mississauga, where Pastor Svante Olson speculates that high gas prices are affecting Sunday turnout. Over the last few weeks, attendance has been hitting all-time lows.

"We were averaging about 46 in attendance; (now) with this scam of gas prices, we've been in the mid-30s," Svante said. "And it's certainly not my preaching."

Numbers had already been dwindling at the small congregation as families move out of Mississauga toward more affordable areas, such as Caledon and Milton, he said.

"And now we're being charged an arm and a leg for gas," he said.

It's expensive to drive everywhere, he said, even church.

From churches and charities to your pizza delivery guy, everyone is feeling the gas and oil crunch as prices continue to hover around $1.35 a litre.

On Friday, the Toronto Ride program, which transports about 4,000 elderly clients to primarily medical appointments, voted to increase fees for the first time in four years, says the group's director Sarah Singh.

"It's incredibly difficult. But with the gas the way it is – and we're getting wind it could be $1.50 by late summer – we had to, " she said.

The organization voted to increase fees by 20 per cent in the near future. Right now, a 5-kilometre ride costs about $4.50 and a 10-kilometre ride about $7.50. The tragedy, says Singh, is that when it's a non-profit, there's no customer to off-load the cost.

"We've had to increase our clients' fees, but we are very well aware that the clients that we serve are the more marginalized and can't afford to pay the nominal fees that we charge."
Meals on Wheels is another organization affected by the rising price of gas. In B.C., the Victoria Meals on Wheels announced last week that after 35 years – thanks to gas prices – it was closing down for good.

Here in the GTA, things aren't quite as bad, but they may soon be heading in that general direction.

"All Meals on Wheels programs are going to struggle – struggle like Victoria? No – but we're all going to struggle," said Mirela Giannidis, a co-ordinator for Meals on Wheels in the Parkdale area.

"Some of our volunteer drivers have discussed with me about pulling back their hours. If they're normally doing two 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. shifts, they'll maybe change to one," she said.

Drivers typically receive a stipend to help cover mileage costs. Most volunteers donate the money back, but with costs continuing to climb, Giannidis says she expects this to change.
"It's mainly affecting our volunteers who are on a fixed income, volunteers who are retired. And they have to budget for this extra fuel cost, and where is that coming from?" she said.

Drivers have actually had to ask for additional mileage reimbursement.

To date, there has been no discussion about raising food prices to clients, she said.
"But we may have to look at that down the road," she said. "Then again, we're talking about people with $200 to $300 disposable income each month. How much more can we ask?"
Hot meals currently cost $5 each. The group plans on expanding the number of cycling routes to help with costs.

That's what pizza delivery man Paul Shanmuja plans to do.

"I'm planning to buy a bicycle and deliver that way. Seriously," said the 45-year-old. "Last summer, I was paying at most 30 bucks a week. Now I'm spending more than $40 filling up my tank."

The pizza companies, which are already getting slammed with higher food costs, typically don't compensate their drivers for mileage. Shanmuja already commutes to Mamma's Pizza at Yonge and Adelaide Sts. from Markham five days a week. "It's expensive," he said with exasperation.
At least one real estate agent is hoping to capitalize on this sentiment.

Re/Max agent David Pylyp is offering a prepaid gas card worth $1,000 to anyone who buys a home worth $300,000 or more.

"Some agents are offering cash back, some free furniture. I thought: `People are concerned about gas; about commuting from the 905.' I thought it'd be a nice program for people," he said.
And he's not the only one hopping on the free gas card bandwagon. The Metropolitan is one of several hotels to offer gas cards with reservations. For a one-night stay, starting at $185, travellers get free parking and a $25 Petro card – just ask for the Fuel for Inspiration package.

"We're encouraging people to take a scenic route, drive around Toronto," said spokesperson Sarah Etherden. Driving? For fun? Not at these prices.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Second wave of western waterfront condos underway at Mystic Pointe

It was 31 years ago when Toronto's western lakefront got its first waterfront condo -the Palace Pier.

That celebration of luxury by the lake stood in splendid isolation for more than two decades.
Today the Etobicoke waterfront booms with life and activity. Innovative, imaginative projects have sprung up starting just west of the Palace Pier and its newer companion, Palace Place. They shimmer in grays and greens and march along both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard.

But those existing developments are just the prelude to a second wave of waterfront condos. A handful more will be launched this summer and major developers have already snapped up sites further west into what has been called "motel row."

In fact, the developers have even renamed the area Mystic Pointe, a lyrical label for a neighbourhood built on dreams of a rich lifestyle. As newer waterfront projects join the established ones, prices are starting to climb.

"The lakeshore area west of the Humber was originally conceived as a lower priced alternative to Harbourfront," says Eve Lewis, president of Market Vision Real Estate Corp. "That now seems to be changing."

Paul Golini Jr., executive vicepresident of Empire Communities, creator of the astonishingly successful Beyond the Sea community on the north side of Lakeshore Boulevard (the speed with which it sold surprised even him, he admits), agrees with Ms. Lewis.

"The first tower sold in the $360 to $380 a square foot range; the second tower was about $400 a square foot and our third tower, which is already 80% sold, goes for about $420 a square foot," he says. "We would love to do another similar project but frankly the land cost is just too pricey."
Emilio Testolin, senior vicepresident high rise for the Monarch Group, which has already built 4 towers at Waterview on Marine Parade Drive just south of Lakeshore West and will start construction on a fifth this summer, says its sixth and final tower, which will be released for sale this fall, will be priced at between $550 and $600 a square foot.

So what is the attraction in the western waterfront? It is a heady combination of lifestyle and location, say the experts. Those lakeshore condos offer a waterfront lifestyle far enough removed from the heart of the city for quiet enjoyment and a touch of nature, yet close enough so that within 15 minutes residents can be boogying in the Club district or dining along Queen West.
"Buyers told us Beyond the Sea was a hidden gem," says Mr. Golini. "It was right next to parks, within minutes of the waterfront and yet close enough to Mississauga that you could work there and still live 15 minutes from the heart of downtown Toronto."

Mr. Tesolin saysWaterview experienced the same phenomenon. "Commuting, even to the airport, was a breeze, they told us, because they were commuting against the traffic. Mississauga buyers figured this was the best of both worlds."

New projects are hoping to cash in on that broad geographic appeal and each seems to be defining the lifestyle it offers through the choice of name. Amexon Development Corporation for example is launching its South Beach Condos + Lofts at Lakeshore Boulevard and Park Lawn Road.

There will be twin, 28-storey towers, one in blue glass the other in green, topped by the stylized square arches that are the signature touches of some South Beach landmarks. There is the Shore Club and Ocean Drive lounge, with 40,000 square feet of amenity, lifestyle and fitness space. Then, right next door will be a retail walking street with 16,000 square feet of shopping-just like in Miami. At night it dazzles with blue, green and pink neon, the pastels that give South Beach its distinctive look and feel.

Suites range from 454-square-foot one-bedrooms through ones-plus-dens and twos to a sweeping, two-level, 2,170-square-foot penthouse. Prices start at $188,000 and rise to more than $1 million.

To switch coasts, Camrost-Felcorp, which has already created 1,300 units at Mystic Pointe, will unveil its new California project this summer. It will be 31 storeys tall and offer such eye-popping amenities as an infinity pool and a gym where residents can work out as they take in the shifting patterns of light and cloud on the lake.

Like previous Camrost-Felcorp projects, California targets singles and couples from their 20s to their 60s; what binds them together is a desire for an active lifestyle and waterfront views - all close to but not part of downtown. The mix of suites reflects the prospective buyers.
"What we have found works best in this area is 40% one bedrooms, 40% one-plus-dens and 20% two-bedroom suites, says Camrost president David Feldman. "That reflects both demand and affordability."

National Post June 06, 08.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cheque scam threatens to slow down real estate transactions


A recent spate of counterfeit certified cheques hitting Toronto-area law firms threatens to slow down the efficient processing of real estate transactions.

In the closing of a typical residential home purchase, a buyer will deliver to his or her lawyer a certified cheque for the remainder of the down payment (after deducting the deposit paid with the offer), plus legal fees, expenses and taxes.

The client's cheque is deposited into the lawyer's trust account, along with the proceeds of the mortgage. Then the buyer's lawyer certifies his or her cheques for the closing proceeds and couriers them to the seller's lawyer.

All of this usually takes place within a matter of hours on the day of closing.

The key to the whole process is that the buyer's lawyer will accept his or her client's certified cheque without having to verify that it is genuine.

If lawyers can no longer trust their clients' certified cheques and are forced to verify them by telephone for each transaction – a time-consuming and often difficult task – many real estate transactions will be unacceptably delayed.

Markham lawyer Alan Garbe told me last month how he almost became a victim of a scam involving a bogus certified cheque. Garbe was approached by a client who asked him to act on a transaction in which the client would obtain financing for equipment being purchased by the client's new construction business.

The client brought in the lender's very sophisticated loan documentation to be signed. Last month an apparently certified cheque arrived by courier from the office of the lender, a non-existent financing corporation allegedly carrying on business in Toronto. The $273,000 cheque was payable to Garbe in trust. He deposited it into his trust account and then issued a cheque for $270,000 to the company that was supposedly selling equipment to the client's business.
Fortunately, Garbe asked his own bank to verify the cheque, only to discover that the cheque itself was valid but the certification markings were forged. The funds were never advanced.

The current issue of The Lawyers Weekly newspaper reports that Toronto sole practitioner Alnaz Jiwa got hit for almost $256,000 by a similar scam, leaving him with a shortage in his trust account.

Another Toronto firm lost $150,000 in another scam.

In all cases, the clients presented genuine-looking photo ID to the lawyers involved.

The Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company (LawPRO) insures all Ontario lawyers. Coverage is generally available for losses experienced by the lawyer's honest clients resulting from a counterfeit certified cheque in their lawyer's trust account.

Can the lawyer report his own client to the police? The official view is that the client's activities are protected by solicitor-client privilege and cannot be reported.

My own opinion is that if a client is a crook with respect to the transaction involving a lawyer, the client waives normal confidentiality. The public interest in reporting a crime relating to a lawyer's trust account should override the dishonest client's expectation of confidentiality.

In January of this year, the Law Society issued a fraud alert to the profession warning of scams like this.

It recommended that lawyers dealing with new clients or clients who are not well known to the lawyer should ask their own bank to contact the bank issuing the certified cheque to verify its authenticity and confirm that funds have been cleared.

Unfortunately, that is not always possible in a timely fashion for real estate deals, especially while the movers are charging by the hour and the buyers are clamouring for their keys.

Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818. Visit the column archives at http://www.aaron.ca/columns/toronto-star-index.htm for articles on this and other topics.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Steady GTA Resale Housing Market in May

June 4, 2008 -- The Greater Toronto Area resale housing market recorded 9,411 transactions in May, Toronto Real Estate Board President Maureen O’Neill announced today.

On a year-over-year basis the GTA average price increased four per cent to $398,148 in May from the May 2007 average of $382,787. Prices increased three per cent in the City of Toronto to $434,271 from $422,163 during the same period a year ago, while in the 905 Region there was a five per cent increase to $374,629 from $355,341 last May.

“Price gains show that real estate continues to be a solid investment for the consumer,” said Ms. O’Neill. “We are confident about the market because employment in the GTA continues to be strong and interest rates remain low. As long as consumers have the financial resources to buy homes and a variety of choices to manage carrying costs, the market should remain stable.”

“May’s sales figures represent a 16 per cent decline in the GTA from the record month a year ago when 11,146 sales were recorded,” said Ms. O’Neill. “More than 9,000 properties changing hands still represents considerable market activity.”

In the City of Toronto, there were 3,711 sales, down 19 per cent from last May’s 4,578 sales and down 6 per cent from May 2006. In the 905 Region, 5,700 transactions were recorded, which represents a 13 per cent decline from the 6,568 sales during the same period a year ago but up 4 per cent from May 2006.

“The Toronto Land Transfer Tax has been in effect for four months and the decline in sales has been running for the same time period,” said Ms. O’Neill. “We’re keeping a close watch on the effect of this new tax.”

Two specific areas North of Toronto experienced increased sales activity in May. In Uxbridge (N16) sales were up 10 per cent, while Stouffville (N12) saw a 12 per cent increase in sales, driven mainly by detached home transactions.

Go to complete copy of TREB’s Market Watch Report.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Great Places for almost Seniors - Etobicoke Condos


With so many choices along the west end of Toronto, I can recommend many that would suit an almost retired but active community with access to the Toronto Transit System at the foot of your building.

Kingsway on the Park, 1 ABERFOYLE CRESCENT (Islington/Bloor) Located in the west of the Kingsway, at Islington and Bloor, "Kingsway on the Park" is steps to the subway, Kingsway Shops, Theatre and restaurants, facilities of the building include an indoor pool, sauna, exercise room, 24 hour concierge and tennis courts. Direct access is available via a walk thru to the Clarica Center and the TTC.

The Kingsway 2855 Bloor Street West (Old Mill at Bloor) Winner of the 2002-2003 Ontario Home Builders Association Award for Most Outstanding Condominium Project.The Kingsway is an eight storey building with 135 units. A distinguished elegant presence in the Kingsway. The Kingsway rich brick, pre-cast and stucco facade blends well into its park-like setting. Generous nine and ten foot high ceilings, sumptuous baths and beautifully appointed kitchens. The rooms are large, the outdoor spaces and gardens extravagant, the finishes and quality second-to-none.


Barclay Terrace is one of Etobicoke's premier condominiums and friendliest buildings in Toronto. Walking distance to shops, restaurants, subway and less than 15 minutes to downtown, Barclay Terrace boasts an award winning lobby and first class amenities.
Barclay Terrace includes; 24 hour concierge, large swimming pool, 2 Jacuzzi's, squash, racquet courts, sauna, social nights and activities. The residents of Barclay Terrace love living in this building and rarely leave and when suites do come up in the Barclay, they do not last long.
Maybe you would prefer something with a view of the lake and the Mark Goodman Trail?
Call for building recommendations and for unit availabilty.

Barclay Terrace


1300, 1320 Islington Ave.,

BUILDING DESCRIPTION

In the heart of Islington Village, the Barclay Terrace is one of Etobicoke's premier condominiums and friendliest buildings in Toronto. Walking distance to shops, restaurants, subway and less than 15 minutes to downtown, Barclay Terrace boasts an award winning lobby and first class amenities.


Barclay Terrace includes; 24 hour concierge, large swimming pool, 2 Jacuzzi's, squash, racquet courts, sauna, social nights and activities. The residents of Barclay Terrace love living in this building and rarely leave and when suites do come up in the Barclay, they do not last long.

Building is two towers styled with a center pod for receiving guests, guest parking is underground, with separate entry and exit ramps.

Units in this building are sought after because of the proximety to the Islington Subway station. Building is mature and "Stan" knows all the residents by name.
PRICE RANGE OF SUITES FOR SALE
Two Bedroom 1100 sq. ft. from $ 290,000;
Two Bedroom 1300 sq. ft. from $ 317,000
Three Bedroom 1600 sq. ft. from $410,000
For those most interested in the buildings value; recent sold unit postings are available with site sign up.
Are you an Owner?
If you own a unit in this building and you would like to sell your condo, click here and get a free condo value analysis.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Montgomery


The Montgomery 3085 Bloor Street West


BUILDING DESCRIPTION


Montgomery overlooks Mimico Creek and boasts the renowned shops and restaurants of Bloor West Village right at your doorstep. A formal private garden featuring a gazebo and a spectacular water feature offer a perfect oasis. Some of the many special features of this complex include: 9' ceilings in living area 1 bedroom & den -1220 sq. ft. - $299,000+ individually climate control of centralized heat and a/c in each suite ensuite laundry executive concierge and much more ...


Suites 705-1610 square feet


PRICE RANGES OF UNITS FOR SALE
One Bedrooms from $224,000
Two Bedrooms from $362,000


Sold data is available with site sign up

One Sherway

One Sherway Garden

Building Description

“With its strikingly beautiful glass fa├žade, One Sherway is the kind of residential master piece that comes once to a city. Every detail of this exceptional address reflects the meticulous devotion to perfection. Stunning contemporary architectural detailing through out. Resort inspired amenities include a 1 acre park and recreation centre. And of course lake and city views that are nothing short of spectacular”.

Brilliantly positioned next to Sherway Mall, One Sherway enjoys excellent hassle free transportation links and quick access to the very best in shopping, dining, health care and entertainment. Should you need to venture downtown whether for work or play, you are just minutes away.

Amenities included

This is a 26 storey landmark tower with 24 hour Concierge. Club One Sherway includes an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool, his & her saunas, fitness and weight rooms, virtual golf & putting green, billiard room, media lounge, lounge bar, party room and private dining room with servery. One acre landscaped park.


As at May 31st, 08 Tower One is preparing for occupancy, Tower two is still under final construction. Tower three pricing has been released.