Mortgages and Condo Conversions
One of my favourite adages in the real estate business is they arent building land anymore. This is a great metaphor to explain the huge home price increases we have seen the past few years. Its also why I tell my clients in Toronto that buying a house with a backyard is a great investment! I point to this adage when explaining the boom in condo construction. Simply, there isnt enough land and not enough houses. People need a place to live close to work that has some transit options. If they cant find a house, than a condo may be a good viable option.
We Have seen lots ofactivity in Toronto over the years revolving around the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums. Its an investment strategy for those building owners to liquidate an assets at often times at a bigger profit multiplier than simply selling the building. This post starts to explore what does it mean when a building is converted and more importantly are there mortgage issues relating to these conversions?
A building is converted when the ownership is transferred to a condominium corporation. To do this in Ontario, the owner of the building must meet many requirements before the condominium structure is approved by the province. Im not going to go into the legal details, but one important step is the establishment of a reserve fund.
A reserve fund is a pool of money established for the future maintenance needs of the building. Mostly it deals the the costly capital expenditures required to keep the building in good repair. Think new roofs, re-surfacing of parking lots, upgrading of fire sprinklers, etc. Things that cost a lot of money - millions of dollars for big buildings! The reserve fund is established using calculations set forth by the regulators, and then part of your condo fees go towards the strengthening of the fund. Your condo fees arent just to pay for the security guard at the front door, and new plants outside!
Looking at how much the buildings condo fees is an excellent indication of the health of the reserve fund. These fees that are established/increased by the condo board are not only for day to day costs, but also future major capital fixes, like a new roof. High fees mean extra services, or more likely in older building a higher allocation to the reserve fund.
Condo boards on a semi regular basis hire engineers and contractors to look at the building and estimate the economic life of major systems and the cost to replace them. Using the roof example again, the condo board knows how much more life the roof has before it needs to be replaced, and how much its going to cost to replace it. They then will start budgeting for the repair many years before it needs to be done. Reviewing the condo board minutes (which tell you expected future repairs), and the value of the reserve fund indicates if there is enough money to cover these expected repairs. A healthy fund has enough money.. A fund that is in trouble is considered to be under capitalized, meaning not enough money has been set aside for expected repairs. Your lawyer will review these documents and let you know what kind of shape the condo board and its reserve fund are in.
When a fund is under capitalize this is a serious issue. What does it mean for an expected buyer? Expect higher condo fees in the future, or a one time assessment where all owners need to come up with an extra chunk of money. If a new roof is going to cost $500,000 and there is only $200,000 available in the fund, its you and your fellow owners that need to come up with shortfall. If there are 100 units, that and extra $3,000 cheque you will be writing! You can imagine how High these assessments can become when multiple things need to be fixed/replaced in a short time frame.
What does it mean for your mortgage lender? Remember they are lending on the security of the building, as well how easy it would be for them to sell the unit it they have to. A building with a bad roof isnt as valuable. A building with high fees wont sell as quickly. All in all, an under capitalized reserve fund is probably the riskiest thing for them. Expect to have some serious issues getting a mortgage.
So why is this so important with condo conversions? Simply put, older buildings need more repairs. More repairs mean higher fees, and a higher chance of extra one time assessments. They are simply less desirable and pose a higher financial risk. So why do people buy conversions? Price! Always remember that sometimes a deal that seems too good to be true probably isnt. Yes you can still buy a condo conversion in Toronto for $125,000! You can imagine the state of repair of the building, and the the health of the condo reserve fund. One recent example saw condo fees for a one bedroom unit being $820 a month. Pretty high for a $120,000 unit.
Im going to leave the question of is this building a good deal to the real estate and legal experts on your home buying team. However, as your mortgage advsior, I need you to know what to expect. As a general rule of thumb, I tell my clients two things when looking at a condo in Toronto. One, if the pice is under $250,000, this may mean there are issues with the overall value of the building and its fund. Second, any condo fee over $0.75 per square foot is going to give you problems. For conversions, the number in my experience is closer to $0.50. You get what you pay for.. Extra services like a concierge, guest suite, pool, gym, etc. will obviously mean higher fees. But if you see higher fees and no extra services, thats your indication reserve fund issues!
Lenders will really start to question high condo fees. Expect that they will want to review condo documents before an approval.
Here is a well know secret.. Our mortgage insurers in Canada (CMHC, Genworth, Canada Guarantee) review condo building on a regular basis, and keep detailed lists on buildings that have reserve fund issues. Banks have access to these lists and then come up with there own do not lend on lists of buildings.
When you are looking at a condo conversion to buy, the first thing I do is contact the insurers to see if they will insure that building. I will then speak to some banks to see if they will lend on that building. If we are good, I will tell you that. You still have to decide if the condo fees are worth what you are getting, and your lawyer still needs to review and approve the condo documents. If one of the insures says no we have concerns with that building, then options become limited. Expect that not all banks and lenders will lend on that building; meaning you may not qualify for the lowest rates out there. Also expect that you may need to come up with a higher downpayment.
Regardless of the building, you will get approved... But at what price?
Im one recent case, only one Big Bank was lending in a particular building. My client ended up paying a higher rate (extra 20 bps) because that bank knew there was no competition. In another case, no big bank was lending in a building. This meant my client had to go with a private mortgage with 35% down payment and a 9% rate. Was it still a good deal for them? Yes, because the mortgage payment and condo fees were still lower than there current rent.
The vast majority of condos in Toronto are perfectly fine. Just beware when you see high condo fees combined with a low selling price. Ask your realtor about the condo reserve fund. Speak to your mortgage professional about that particular building. Its always best to know if there will be any issues, and options to over come; before you put in that offer.
This is an exciting time looking for your home. Lets work together to make it a smooth process.
Index growth slows further in January
In January the TeranetNational Bank National Composite House Price IndexTM was up 0.3% from the previous month. It was the third consecutive month in which the index rose less than the month before. The increase was led by five of the 11 constituent markets: Hamilton (2.0%), Montreal (1.0%), Victoria (0.6%), Halifax (0.4%) and Vancouver (0.4%). Rises of less than the countrywide average were reported for Quebec City (0.3%) and Ottawa-Gatineau (0.1%). Indexes were down from the month before in Toronto (0.1%), Calgary (0.2%), Edmonton (0.4%) and Winnipeg (0.4%). After three months September, October, November in which all 11 markets of the composite index were up from the month before, it was a second consecutive month in which one or more markets were down on the month.
The price rise is consistent with the rise of home sales volume over the last several months as reported by the Canadian Real Estate Association. For a fifth straight month, the number of sale pairs entering into the 11 metropolitan indexes was higher than a year earlier. The unsmoothed composite index, seasonally adjusted, was up 0.9% in January, suggesting that the published (smoothed) index could continue its uptrend.
Canadian home sales continue their momentum to start 2021
In January, Canadian home sales increased 2.0% month-on-month, building on Decembers 7.0% gain. On a year-on-year basis, they were up 35.2%.
Provincially, sales were up in 8 of 10 provinces in January, with strong gains recorded in PEI (+20.5% m/m) and Alberta (+11.9%). On the flipside, a relatively steep decline was recorded in Nova Scotia (-8.3%).
New listings dropped by 13.5% m/m in January. The combination of rising sales and falling new listings brought the months supply of inventory measure to under 1.9 months.
The national sales-to-new listings ratio also increased to 90.7% its highest level by far. Every province was in sellers territory in December, and many of those in the eastern part of Canada had ratios over 100% (Quebec: 128.3%; New Brunswick: 116.0%; Nova Scotia: 114.3% and PEI:101.5%). This means that there were more sales than new units listed last month in these provinces. This is a rare situation, but has occurred before in the Atlantic Provinces. However, January marked a first on this front in Quebec. Elsewhere, ratios were particularly elevated in Manitoba (86.1%) and Ontario (88.6).
Strong demand and historically tight conditions were reflected in prices. Indeed, Canadian average home prices surged by 4.7% m/m in January. On a year-on-year basis, they were up 22.8%, marking an acceleration from December. However, prices were up in 8 of 10 provinces during the month, with the largest gains occurring in Alberta (+8.1%) and Ontario (7.4%).
Compared with the average sales price, the MLS home price index, a more like for like measure, increased 2.0% m/m. Single family home prices rose 2.6% m/m (and a robust 17.4% y/y), whereas apartment prices advanced by a smaller 0.2% m/m (and decelerated to 3.3% y/y). In Toronto, apartment prices increased 0.4% m/m, the first gain in 4 months.
Home sales picked up right where they left off to start 2021. Demand was likely given a lift by ultra-low mortgage rates, which dropped again during the month. Januarys robust gain coupled with a strong handoff into this year virtually ensures that sales will increase in the first quarter. However, with sales likely running above fundamentally-supported levels, we think some cooling in activity will take place, especially in the second half. A dwindling supply of inventories, when benchmarked against the current sales pace, could also weigh on activity moving forward.
With todays data showing a solid gain in prices last month and new supply collapsing across nearly the entire country, markets were historically tight. This points to further strong price gains ahead in the near-term.
Also notable was that benchmark condo prices grew for the first time in several months in Toronto. Although supply remains elevated, conditions are becoming tighter than what we saw last fall. This suggests that further gains are in store.