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Smart features move in to GTA condos

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Condominium living just got a whole lot smarter.

Ten York, the first Tridel Connect-branded building and among the first with smart technology in the GTA, is outfitted with fibre optic wiring, ultra-high-speed internet and its own smart network. Residents of the 69-storey highrise use keyless digital door locks and a tablet-style wall pad for a range of functions including temperature control, security alarm, communicating with the concierge and receiving notifications from the property manager. They can see visitors and let them into the lobby, and also see what’s happening in select common areas.

Homeowner Vivian Sim shows her Ten York smart door app to Jim Ritchie, Tridel’s executive v-p of sales and marketing.
Homeowner Vivian Sim shows her Ten York smart door app to Jim Ritchie, Tridel’s executive v-p of sales and marketing.  (Cole Burston / Toronto Star)

“We studied what we could do in a highrise condo environment that would make it easier for residents to do things in their home,” says Jim Ritchie, Tridel vice’president of sales and marketing. “This started a number of years go, but Ten York is the first Tridel Connect building.” Aquabella, under construction at Toronto’s Bayside neighbourhood, will also be a Tridel Connect condo.

Riverview, by Times Group, is to open sales this fall and will be the first smart condo in Markham. Comprised of two 37-storey towers and one 16-storey building, Riverview represents Phase 4 of the Uptown Markham development at Hwy. 7 and Birchmount Rd. Its connectivity features will allow residents to lock and unlock their suite doors with smart phones and use in-suite wall pads or phone apps to control heating and cooling, and their security system, and receive notifications about community events. The wall pads will also allow them to see and speak to guests, and allow them in, and to communicate directly with the concierge, says Shadi Aghaei, Times Group vice-president.

Riverview and Ten York will also accommodate the growing online shopping trend with an automated parcel delivery system that works with multiple services, including Fedex, UPS, Amazon and Canada Post. (The system is operating at two other Times Group condos.) The delivery person enters a code and a locker opens. The recipient gets a text about their package and photos are taken of the delivery person as well as the individual who picks up the package as a security measure.

“Traditionally, at Christmas time, the concierge has to become a parcel delivery person and that takes away from his other duties,” says Aghaei. “We were cognizant that handling all the deliveries takes a lot of time and effort.”

Another high-tech feature offered by both developers is licence-plate recognition that offers access to the parking garage for residents of the building and their registered guests — no key fob or door opener required. (Tridel’s Aqualina on the East Bayfront has automated parcel delivery and licence plate recognition, but not all the full range of Tridel Connect features).

At Ten York, a distributor antenna system, designed by Rogers, provides connectivity for cellphones. In condo buildings exceeding 30 storeys and those surrounded by other tall buildings, cellphone signals degrade, explains Ritchie. Residents also have unlimited WiFi in their suites and in the building, with the cost included in their condo fees.

Times Group’s Riverview will also include unlimited WiFi in suites and common areas as part of its condo fees.

Aghaei says bringing new smart technology to its condo buildings is a natural progression for the company, which has always been an innovator. It was one of the first developers to adopt LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, the most widely used green building-rating system in the world. LEED-certified buildings save energy, reduce costs and provide healthy indoor air quality. The Times Group built Majestic Court, the first LEED Gold building in York Region, and now has four LEED Gold Certified and one Platinum Certified buildings, with four others registered as LEED candidates. (Gold and Platinum are LEED’s top achievements.) River Park Condominiums, Phase 1 of Uptown Markham, was the first building over 10 storeys in Canada to achieve LEED Platinum.

Times Group scrutizines new technologies and products, to ensure they are advanced enough to be proven and will not be outdated quickly.

“Our (smart) products are all North American technologies,” Aghaei says, adding that hard wiring for the system will be done during construction to allow hardware and software to easily connect.

Riverview will include a two-storey amenity platform with gym, yoga studio, games room, rooftop deck with plantings, barbecues and yoga deck. The building-wide WiFi will allow residents to access the internet in all of these spaces.

With unlimited, high-speed internet available at Ten York and Riverview, and virtual assistants, or chatbots, from Amazon (Alexa), Google (Assistant) and Apple (Siri) now available in Canada, residents can add their own smart devices in-suite — such as lighting, TVs and window coverings that are voice-activated.

Tridel has its eye on future possibilities for its smart network.

“We are looking at a few other things, such as monitoring of water. If a leak occurs, the valves would shut off,” explains Ritchie. “The technology exists, but there are monitoring costs — whether it’s done in suites or in common area — and we’re not there yet.”

Tracy Hanes is a GTA-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at tracyhanes@yahoo.ca

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New pandemic protocols will change Quebec’s real estate business

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Quebec real estate brokers got some good news Monday when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

For the husband and wife real estate duo of Daniel Arsenault and Jennifer Smith of Royal Lepage Village in Pointe-Claire, it means they’ll be able to once again visit a potential client at their home, albeit two metres apart.

But it’s not completely business as usual as new pandemic protocols must be observed in the buying and selling of properties.

The traditional practice of holding open houses, in which properties for sale are showcased to the general public, will undergo tweaks.

“For example, if a family of five visits a home, only one person at a time is allowed inside,” Arsenault noted. “Given proper social distancing and limited numbers of people in a house at any time, proper sanitation, we’re pretty well back to business.”

In the new normal, virtual tours, or online visual tours of properties, will likely grow in popularity among both buyers and sellers looking to reduce person-to-person contact.

“We were doing it already, but more people will probably do it (now) is drone photography and 3-D virtual tours and floor plans,” Arsenault said. “That will become more of the norm because we want to make sure the people are qualified before visiting.

“In real estate, as in any sales business, you should qualify to lead. Now it’s much more so the case. We need to qualify that the buyers are financially prepared, that they’ve worked for a bit to decide what locations they want to go to.”

The onus on prospective buyers will be to filter info such as location, proximity to transportation lines and schools.

“So it’s a much more detailed analysis or qualification prior to committing to a visit,” Arsenault said.

Montreal’s red-hot real estate market has chilled like the rest of the economy since the city went into COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March. After 61 consecutive months of increases, the Montreal Census Metropolitan Area reported a 68 per cent decrease in residential sales transactions in April 2020 compared with the year earlier period.

“(The pandemic) is going to affect economy in ways we can’t even imagine,” Arsenault said. “Where there were 10 buyers before, now there might be five, so supply and demand might force prices down a bit.”

Arsenault said homes under $500,000 will likely remain attractive in a sagging economy.

“The low end of the market, in good locations, is insulated from (a downturn) … because if you’re in a bigger house and you need to downsize you’re going to go to the lower end. It’s more frugal.

“On the other hand, houses in a fringe location or are outliers in terms of size … is going to be a challenge. In other words, the house that was harder to sell before will be harder to sell now.”

Arsenault speculates that other factors, such as the type of housing and proximity to others, could affect the real estate market going forward.

“If you’re an elder person and planning to go into a retirement home, you’re holding off for now,” he said. “We have clients who are doing exactly that.”

Arsenault said the Montreal condominium market could also take a hit if buyers start looking for single-family homes with backyards and more space between neighbours.

“If people were on the fence, this will be a catalyst,” he said.

But other factors, such as proximity to medical services, must also be weighed if people move farther away from the city.

“We’re going to see fear of proximity,” Arsenault said. “No matter what the government is telling them, there is going to be a vast portion of the population that is going to be afraid to be around other people.

“Historically, after every major economic crisis, one of the trends was more people moving into smaller properties closer to major cities. So reduce your financial footprint.

“And now we have both happening at the same time. We have the financial crisis but we also have fear of proximity.”

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What Will Happen to the Real Estate Market in Calgary?

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The City of Calgary has been weathering its own storm, long before the COVID-19 public health crisis roared into the spotlight. The city is heavily reliant upon the energy sector, and as a result, the local economy has been suffering from the fallout of sinking oil prices. Investment levels have been weak within the city, and Calgary’s construction sector has been dealing with a downturn of its own.

On the flip side, 2020 brought a promise of change for Calgary. The city’s GDP was expected to expand by 2.4% over the next three years as the energy sector started to show signs of stabilization. There was hope that this economic boost would help to lift demand within the city’s housing market, which has struggled with a surplus of real estate inventory. According to Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) statistics, there was a year-over-year increase in sales of 4.35% in the first quarter of 2020, setting the Calgary housing market up for the best first quarter in years!

Unsurprisingly, the spread and implications of the COVID-19 crisis has derailed some of this optimism. The Calgary housing market has had to forfeit the gains it had made earlier in the year as many realtors, buyers, and sellers have had no choice but to press pause and stay home. Below, we dive into how the pandemic has impacted the Calgary real estate market, and what we can expect to see in the months to come.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Calgary Real Estate Market

In early March of 2020, Calgary businesses and residents adjusted to a new normal amid social distancing measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19. While the real estate industry, deemed an essential service, was continuing to operate, REALTORS® were forced to pivot, forgoing open houses for virtual home tours and 3D 360-degree imagery.

The full impact of these measures and business closures were most felt by the Calgary economy and real estate market over the month of April. Overall home sales plummeted almost 63%, new listings were down 54%, and the average price of a Calgary home fell more than 8%. These trends were mirrored in the communities surrounding Calgary; over April only 60 sales were reported in Airdrie, and 17 homes were sold in Okotoks.

Amid an environment of business closures, social isolation and depressed consumer confidence, it comes as so surprise that demand within the market is falling, and that sales activity is on the decline. Chief economist for the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) Ann-Marie Lurie commented in the CREB market update for April: “Demand is also falling faster than supply. This is keeping the market in buyers’ territory and weighing on prices.”

In April of 2019, the average price of a home was $460,953 – by the end of April 2020, the average home price was sitting at $422,655. The steepest price plunge has been seen in homes priced over $600,000.

Reignited demand in the Calgary market will help to re-balance the market and flatten the curve in terms of dropping real estate prices. The question remains as to when those waiting out the pandemic will feel safe enough, and financially ready to return to the market.

Calgary’s Return to Business-as-Usual

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has already announced a multi-stage rollout for the province to emerge from its COVID-19 lockdown, with some businesses given the green-light to open as early as May 14th. The success of this plan, Kenny comments, will depend on the capacity of Albertans to continue to heed rules put forth by public health officials, including limiting public gatherings of over 15 people.

With the local economy and daily life within Calgary already on the path to recovery this month, there is much hope that by summer, there will be enough of a climb in demand within the housing market to start reversing some of the dips caused by the public health crisis.

Hope for the Calgary Real Estate Market

Mid-way through April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would be pledging $1.7 billion to clean up orphan wells across the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. As well as providing environmental relief, this move will bring a much-needed boost to the struggling prairie provinces.

Effective immediately, this incentive will help to provide thousands of jobs within the receiving provinces, also helping large corporations (some of the region’s main employers) avoid bankruptcy in the midst of the public health crisis and the plummeting oil prices. With this investment helping to maintain 5,200 jobs in Alberta, there is optimism that this will also provide a modest boost for real estate within the province’s major markets, including Calgary.

Prior to the outbreak, despite its high unemployment rate, the city of Calgary continued to grow in population, attracting residents from other areas of Alberta. As the city maintains its reputation as one of Canada’s top 10 affordable real estate markets, it will continue to pull homebuyers in, who will be even more keen to take advantage of low prices and low interest rates post-crisis.

Other financial incentives and programs introduced since the onset of COVID-19 will also help to soften the economic blow to homeowners in Calgary. Mortgage deferral programs will also prevent spikes in new listings which can further imbalance the market during periods of high unemployment. With listings declining proportionately with sales over the second quarter, says Lurie, this will make the market less competitive for those selling their homes in Calgary. “Given the nature of this crisis, the situation is evolving rapidly. If additional government policies and programs are enacted, it could help soften the economic burden faced by Albertans”, Lurie says.

While so much uncertainty remains regarding the economic, political, and real estate climate within Calgary, hope and a spirit of resilience remains strong.

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Edmonton’s real estate market looks to bounce back after sales drop due to COVID-19

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As much of Alberta tries to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, Edmonton’s real estate sector is among the industries hoping to bounce back.

After facing a major decline in home sales in April, many realtors say they are looking forward to a relaunch of their own.

“Mid-March we got that announcement that everybody needed to stay and work from home and that sort of dropped off, and then we really saw the effects of that impact happening in March in April,” Jennifer Lucas, chair of the Realtors Association of Edmonton, said.

Buyers and sellers started expressing safety fears about touring homes. In the latest report released by the Realtors Association of Edmonton, sales of single-family homes were over 55 per cent in April, compared to the same period last year.

The average sale price of single family homes is $410,200 — a drop of just over 4.14 per cent from last year.

With no exact timeline for a market rebound, there has been some indication that things are changing.

“We’re starting to see now that the government has introduced their phase-in plan for the economy, that people are starting to feel comfortable with the protocols we’ve put in place… they’re starting to get their houses back on the market and we’re getting a lot more calls from buyers to start looking at houses,” Lucas said.

“There’s no question this last week, week-and-a-half we’ve had tons of conversations with buyers and sellers that are definitely looking to get going,” realtor Ryan Boser with Sarasota Realty said.

While many realtors switched to virtual showings and assessments during heightened COVID-19 restrictions, they said making such a large transaction could benefit from a more personal approach.

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