What’s New

Commercial real estate financing is very different from residential Michael Lee Western Investor

1. Thinking that costs are similar to residential 

There are much higher costs involved when purchasing a commercial property compared to residential. Costs include a commercial appraisal ($2,500 to $3,500), environmental report ($2,500 to $3,000), lender and broker fees (generally 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent) and legal costs of the lender and borrower, which are both to the borrower’s account. 

2. Not allowing enough time 

I can usually get a discussion paper back from lenders within seven to 10 business days, but that’s not something that a borrower can remove subjects on. Getting to a final commitment for commercial financing generally takes about five to six weeks. The length of time to get to a final commitment varies depending on how long it will take to get any of the conditional information in to the lender (personal, corporate, and property information), and to obtain a current commercial appraisal and environmental report. The common mistake investors new to commercial real estate make is that they think they can put in an offer and remove subjects within two weeks.

3. Expecting that projections will be acceptable to the lender

For income-generating property, all commercial financing is based on the actual current net income of the property, and what loan amount the net income shows it can service. Lenders will base their decision solely on the actual net income of the property and will not go by a client’s projections for a property. 

4. No experience with specific commercial property

I see this for all types of commercial property, including apartment buildings, mobile home parks, hotels/motels and construction. Largely, this can be mitigated by showing experience with other rental property, or business experience, and/or by putting a reputable property management company in place. Sometimes it can be offset by having the existing owner stay on for a period of time as a consultant, to assist with the transition. Where construction is concerned, a developer’s lack of experience can be mitigated by hiring a reputable project manager and builder, or by partnering up with an established developer.

 5. Consulting with a mortgage broker new to commercial financing

Commercial financing requires an active commercial broker with experience in the industry and who is aware of current conditions. Unless the broker is doing commercial financing full time, it is impossible to know which lenders are financing what types of commercial property at any given time, and which lender has the best rates and terms for a particular asset class. Even if you are a seasoned pro with commercial property, it is hugely beneficial to make use of a commercial mortgage broker because your bank might not be a good fit for financing that particular type of asset. A commercial mortgage broker can correctly structure the loan request for a particular lender, knows which lenders to approach at any given time, and can shop the mortgage market for a client. 

Michael Lee is a commercial mortgage consultant with Mortgage Alliance.

Home sale activity remains elevated across Metro Vancouver’s housing market while the pace of homes being listed for sale continues to follow long-term averages.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential home sales in the region totalled 3,149 in September 2021, a 13.6 per cent decrease from the 3,643 sales recorded in September 2020, and a 0.1 per cent decrease from the 3,152 homes sold in August 2021. 


Last month’s sales were 20.8 per cent above the 10-year September sales average. 


There were 5,171 detached, attached and apartment properties newly listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in Metro Vancouver in September 2021. This represents a 19.2 per cent decrease compared to the 6,402 homes listed in September 2020 and a 28.2 per cent increase compared to August 2021 when 4,032 homes were listed. 


September’s new listings were 1.2 per cent below the 10-year average for the month. 


“The summer trend of above-average home sales and historically typical new listings activity continued in Metro Vancouver last month. Although this is keeping the overall supply of homes for sale low, we’re not seeing the same upward intensity on home prices today as we did in the spring,” Keith Stewart, REBGV economist said. “Home price trends will, however, vary depending on property type and neighborhood, so it’s important to take a hyperlocal look at your location and property category of choice before making a home buying or selling decision.” 


The total number of homes currently listed for sale on the MLS® system in Metro Vancouver is 9,236. This is a 29.5 per cent decrease compared to September 2020 (13,096), a 2.6 per cent increase compared to August 2021 (9,005) and is 27.7 per cent below the 10-year average for the month. 


For all property types, the sales-to-active listings ratio for September 2021 is 34.1 per cent. By property type, the ratio is 25.5 per cent for detached homes, 53.1 per cent for townhomes, and 36.7 per cent for apartments. 


Generally, analysts say downward pressure on home prices occurs when the ratio dips below 12 per cent for a sustained period, while home prices often experience upward pressure when it surpasses 20 per cent over several months. 


“The total inventory of homes for sale remains insufficient to meet the demand in today’s market. This scarcity limits peoples’ purchasing options and ultimately adds upward pressure on home prices,” Stewart said. “With the federal election now behind us, we hope to see governments at all levels work with the construction industry to streamline the creation of a more abundant and diverse supply of housing options.” 


The MLS® Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver is currently $ 1,186,100. This represents a 13.8 per cent increase over September 2020 and a 0.8 per cent increase compared to August 2021. 


Sales of detached homes in September 2021 reached 950, a 27.9 per cent decrease from the 1,317 detached sales recorded in September 2020. The benchmark price for a detached home is $1,828,200. This represents a 20.4 per cent increase from September 2020 and a 1.2 per cent increase compared to August 2021. 


Sales of apartment homes reached 1,621 in September 2021, a 1.6 per cent increase compared to the 1,596 sales in September 2020. The benchmark price of an apartment home is $738,600. This represents an 8.4 per cent increase from September 2020 and a 0.5 per cent increase compared to August 2021. 


Attached home sales in September 2021 totalled 578, a 20.8 per cent decrease compared to the 730 sales in September 2020. The benchmark price of an attached home is $963,800. This represents a 17.5 per cent increase from September 2020 and a 1.2 per cent increase compared to August 2021.

The increased activity seen in the Lower Mainland’s commercial real estate market in the latter half of 2020 carried into the first quarter (Q1) of 2021.


There were 576 commercial real estate sales in the Lower Mainland in Q1 2021, a 46.9 per cent increase from the 392 sales in Q1 2020, according to data from Commercial Edge, a commercial real estate system operated by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV).


The total dollar value of commercial real estate sales in the Lower Mainland was $2.655 billion in Q1 2021, a 10 per cent increase from $2.413 billion in Q1 2020.


“Activity in the commercial real estate market has followed a similar pattern to what we’ve seen in the residential market throughout most of the pandemic,” Keith Stewart, REBGV economist said. “Commercial sales and dollar values have increased as REALTORS® and consumers have shown more confidence doing business within the COVID-19 safety guidelines that our public health professionals and WorkSafeBC have developed.”

Q1 2021 activity by category

Land: There were 110 commercial land sales in Q1 2021, which is a 0.9 per cent decrease from the 111 land sales in Q1 2020. The dollar value of land sales was $684 million in Q1 2021, a 35 per cent decrease from $1.053 billion in Q1 2020.

Office and Retail: There were 229 office and retail sales in the Lower Mainland in Q1 2021, which is up 62.4 per cent from the 141 sales in Q1 2020. The dollar value of office and retail sales was $820 million in Q1 2021, a 136.1 per cent increase from $347 million in Q1 2020.

Industrial: There were 196 industrial land sales in the Lower Mainland in Q1 2021, which is a 58.1 per cent increase from the 124 sales in Q1 2020. The dollar value of industrial sales was $664 million in Q1 2021, a 78 per cent increase from $373 million in Q1 2020.

Multi-Family: There were 196 industrial land sales in the Lower Mainland in Q1 2021, which is a 58.1 per cent increase from the 124 sales in Q1 2020. The dollar value of industrial sales was $664 million in Q1 2021, a 78 per cent increase from $373 million in Q1 2020.

Vancouver’s commercial real estate market appears poised for a significant rebound’ led by industrial and office sectors

Jul 2, 2021 7:01 AM By: Darrell Hurst, Colliers

Bentall_Centre copyMore than 60 per cent of office employees expected to return to the workplace. | Chung Chow

As many of us head back to the office this September, the post-pandemic reality for commercial real estate will be revealed. With vaccines now widely available, we’re seeing a growing confidence in Vancouver’s economic recovery, and with that, Vancouver’s commercial real estate market appears poised for a significant rebound. Strong spending, job growth, increased business investment, a low-interest rates environment and pent-up demand are just some of the factors driving improvements across all asset classes in Vancouver and across Canada.

Vancouver has always been an extremely buoyant market, and many companies are realizing it may be even more robust than initially thought. From where I sit at Colliers, there’s an unexpected level of confidence in all business sectors as we return to the office, driving greater demand and activity across the board. Here’s a quick summary of the challenges and opportunities ahead for each sector as we move into the second half of the year.

Office market rebound

Vancouver’s office market is experiencing a strong rebound, and demand for quality space and greater amenities is likely to continue. According to Colliers latest quarterly report, asking rates for office space in the Greater Vancouver area rose by 12 per cent in the second (Q2) 2021, with vacancy seeing just a slight increase, from 6 per cent to 6.5 per cent, quarter over quarter. With renewed optimism about returning to the office, there has been increased leasing activity in Q2, and while sublease space continues to make up around 30 per cent of all available space, this number is slowly diminishing as companies retreat from previous return-to- work expectations.

The office sector appears well-positioned for a strong performance. Vancouver is very much on the radar of multi-national tech and life sciences companies. And despite the pandemic’s inevitable impacts to flexibility demands and working from home, it is increasingly acknowledged that culture is crucial to corporate success and that is formed only when people are together. Employees want more flexibility than they had pre-pandemic, but whether this results in less occupied office space is still to be determined. With 62 per cent of office employees expected to return to the workplace after this Labour Day, the effect of increased vaccinations is starting to be felt positively in the office sector.

Industrial sector tightens

Industrial demand remained high during the pandemic, as e-commerce continued to gain in strength. The big news in this sector is that for the first time in the history of Vancouver, vacancy levels have now dropped below 1 per cent – to 0.7 per cent in Q2 2021. Amazon is a big part of that story with significant commitments in the past year to Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

The pricing of industrial land and space has been escalating for a number of years, pushing out a lot of smaller businesses to markets like Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley, markets now experiencing their own record-level lease rates and land prices. To continue this growth, we need to unlock more land and density, improve the pace of municipal approvals and stabilize development costs.

Multi-family draws investors

Multi-family continues to see strong growth, with capitalization rates compressing further. Yet Vancouver remains a top choices for investors. Increasingly, institutional investors are allocating capital to this sector, driving investment sales volumes. The repositioning of rental and condos shows the stability of this asset class and the attractive return metrics. The challenge with multi-family, and residential market overall, is the lack of supply. This is driven by the slow pace of municipal approvals and rising costs related to construction, labour and the supply chain. This has led to more municipalities offering bonuses to developers willing to build affordable and non-market housing, which in turn has driven developers to consider building rental projects. This should start to increase supply.

Retail has changed forever

If there is an unknown, it’s what’s going to happen in retail.

There’s been a lot of discussion about what the future of this sector will look like, and the general consensus is that e-commerce has changed retail forever. Post-pandemic business sentiment is improving, but many small businesses do not share this optimism. Some big boxes may never return to their pre-COVID status and are looking at ways to reinvent. It is expected that retail vacancy rates across all asset sub-types will continue increasing throughout 2021, but then either slow or begin to reverse in 2022. Retail rents have also taken a hit and are expected to continue falling well into 2022 when they will begin to stabilize.

In summary, the big difference for commercial real estate’s outlook for this fall is the renewed sense of optimism. Industrial demand remains strong, and with increased job growth, multi-family demand will be supported. The ongoing easing of restrictions and increased spending will aid retail. The recovery will be uneven, but it will continue to support commercial real estate demand in Vancouver.

Darrell Hurst is senior managing director of brokerage for Colliers in Vancouver.

Canadian Retail Sales (April 2021) – June 23, 2021
Canadian retail sales decreased 5.7% m/m to $54.8 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in April. This was the largest monthly decline since April of last year. Sales declined in 9 of 11 sub-sectors, with the largest declines in clothing and general merchandise. Excluding the more volatile sectors like motor-vehicles and gasoline sales, retail sales were down 7.6% in April. Drops in sales were driven by third wave restrictions implemented across the country in April. One in twenty Canadian retailers were closed for at least one business day in April due to lockdowns.  

In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales declined just 0.2% m/m as COVID-19 cases peaked in the middle of April. Retail sales rose 0.7% m/m in Metro Vancouver. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, BC retail sales were up by 47% compared to the same time last year.   

In April, Canadian e-commerce sales were up 58.7% year-over-year to $4 billion. E-commerce accounted for 7% of total retail sales, up from 6.6% in March. In April of last year, in the midst of the first wave, e-commerce accounted for 10.2% of retail sales. 




Significant vacancy rate increases throughout region, with some decreases

CMHC SPEAKS

The 2020 CMHC Rental Market Report for Metro Vancouver has just been released. Highly anticipated by politicians and planners, lenders, and real-estate professionals and owners, the report focuses on the state of the rental apartment market by area in the region.

While we had anticipated significant changes, we’ve never seen statistical change like this. In one area, vacancy rates increased by 3,000%!

Here are the main takeaways we see:

VACANCY RATES INCREASES

  1. Vancouver West End: Up from 1.0% in 2019 to 4.0% in 2020
  2. City of Vancouver: Up from 1.0% in 2019 to 2.8% in 2020
  3. Vancouver CMA: Up from 1.1% to 2.6% overall

Almost all markets showed significant vacancy rate increases. Not surprisingly, the sharpest were in Downtown Vancouver, South Granville, UBC and City of North Vancouver.

VACANCY RATE DECREASES

Despite COVID, some areas still saw vacancy rate decreases – not good for tenants!

  1. Langley: Down from 3.3% in 2019 to 2.0% in 2020
  2. Tri-Cities: Down from 2.2% in 2019 to 1.9% in 2020
  3. Maple Ridge / Pitt Meadows: Down from 1.8% in 2019 to 1.5% in 2020

Of the decreases, the most shocking and frustrating has been in White Rock, because of the politicking behind it. In White Rock, vacancies dropped from 1.7% in 2019 to 0.8% in 2020. This comes on the heels of the first new rental building proposed (80 units) in 40 years in this market. City Council voted it down 4–3 on January 25.

Here’s an article chronicling the two-year process the White Rock builder went through: https://www.peacearchnews.com/news/white-birch-developer-feels-betrayed-by-city-of-white-rock-council/

This decision is another example of backwards thinking on a council’s part at the expense of tenants and the broader community.

RENTAL RATES CONTINUE TO RISE IN SOME AREAS, MOSTLY SUBURBS

  • Average rental rate increases: Ranging 1.0% (Kitsilano) to 12% (North Burnaby)
  • Largest average rental rate increases: Delta, District of North Vancouver, Surrey, UBC, Vancouver – East Hastings

In the first month of 2021, Metro Vancouver’s* housing market continued the pattern set at the end of last year with home sale activity outpacing the supply of homes listed for sale. 

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential home sales in the region totalled 2,389 in January 2021, a 52.1 per cent increase from the 1,571 sales recorded in January 2020, and a 22.8 per cent decrease from the 3,093 homes sold in December 2020. 

Last month’s sales were 36.4 per cent above the 10-year January sales average. 

“With home sale activity well above our January average, the supply of homes for sale isn’t able to keep pace,” Colette Gerber, REBGV Chair said. “This is causing increased competition amongst home buyers and upward pressure on prices.” 

There were 4,480 detached, attached and apartment properties newly listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in Metro Vancouver in January 2021. This represents a 15.7 per cent increase compared to the 3,872 homes listed in January 2020 and an 86 per cent increase compared to December 2020 when 2,409 homes were listed. 

The total number of homes currently listed for sale on the MLS® system in Metro Vancouver is 8,306, a 3.6 per cent decrease compared to January 2020 (8,617) and a 2.7 per cent decrease compared to December 2020 (8,538). 

For all property types, the sales-to-active listings ratio for January 2021 is 28.8 per cent. By property type, the ratio is 26.3 per cent for detached homes, 37.6 per cent for townhomes, and 27.8 per cent for apartments. 

Generally, analysts say downward pressure on home prices occurs when the ratio dips below 12 per cent for a sustained period, while home prices often experience upward pressure when it surpasses 20 per cent over several months. 

“Shifting housing needs during the pandemic and historically low interest rates have been key drivers of demand in our market over the last six months,” Gerber said. “People who managed to enter the market a few years ago, and have seen their home values increase, are now looking to move up in the market to accommodate their changing needs.” 

The MLS® Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver is currently $1,056,600. This represents a 5.5 per cent increase compared to January 2020 and a 0.9 per cent increase compared to December 2020. 

Sales of detached homes in January 2021 reached 740, a 68.6 per cent increase from the 439 detached sales recorded in January 2020. The benchmark price of a detached homes is $1,576,800. This represents a 10.8 per cent increase from January 2020 and a 1.4 per cent increase compared to December 2020. 

Sales of apartment homes reached 1,195 in January 2021, a 46.8 per cent increase compared to the 814 sales in January 2020. The benchmark price of an apartment home is $680,800. This represents a 2.2 per cent increase from January 2020 and a 0.6 per cent increase compared to December 2020.  Attached home sales in January 2021 totalled 454, a 42.8 per cent increase compared to the 318 sales in January 2020. The benchmark price of an attached home is $815,800. This represents a 4.3 per cent increase from January 2020 and a 0.2 per cent increase compared to December 2020

In a period where the COVID-19 pandemic constrained economic activity and caused businesses to limit in-person operations, the Lower Mainland’s commercial real estate market saw overall declines in demand.

There were 387 commercial real estate sales in the Lower Mainland in the third quarter (Q3) of 2020, an 8.9 per cent decrease over the 425 sales in Q3 2019, according to data from Commercial Edge, a commercial real estate system operated by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV).

The total dollar value of commercial real estate sales in the Lower Mainland was $2.628 billion in Q3 2020, a 31.7 per cent increase from $1.995 billion in Q3 2019.

“Businesses across all sectors have been adapting their operations during this pandemic. With the intensive move to a remote workforce, demand for commercial space declined in the third quarter of 2020,” Colette Gerber, REBGV Chair said. “To understand COVID-19’s lasting impact on the commercial real estate market, we’ll need more time and data. Pandemic aside, we continue to have a diverse economy with broad needs for industrial, retail, office, multi-family and other properties to support business activity and job growth in the region.”

Q3 2020 activity by category

Land: There were 93 commercial land sales in Q3 2020, which is a 20.5 per cent decrease from the 117 land sales in Q3 2019. The dollar value of land sales was $1.732 billion in Q3 2020, a 106.6 per cent increase from $838 million in Q3 2019.

Office and Retail: There were 165 office and retail sales in the Lower Mainland in Q3 2020, which is down 1.8 per cent from the 168 sales in Q3 2019. The dollar value of office and retail sales was $342 million in Q3 2020, a 26.1 per cent decrease from $463 million in Q3 2019.

Industrial: There were 108 industrial land sales in the Lower Mainland in Q3 2020, which is a 12.2 per cent decrease from the 123 sales in Q3 2019. The dollar value of industrial sales was $257 million in Q3 2020, a 37.6 per cent decrease from $412 million in Q3 2019.

Multi-Family: There were 21 multi-family land sales in the Lower Mainland in Q3 2020, which is up 23.5 per cent from 17 sales in Q3 2019. The dollar value of multi-family sales was $296 million in Q3 2020, a 4.9 per cent increase from $282 million in Q3 2019.

Owners of secondary properties in Vancouver have at least one reason to dread 2021: a near-tripling of the city’s Empty Homes Tax.

On November 25, after Vancouver city council voted in favour of the increase, Mayor Kennedy Stewart spoke about how the higher tax should benefit the city’s renters.

“It is clear that the Empty Homes Tax has helped make billions of dollars worth of housing available for people, not just speculation,” Stewart said in a statement. By raising the tax from its current level of 1.25% to 3% in 2021, Stewart said “we’re sending an even stronger message that homes are for people, not speculation.”

The increase came on the same day data from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation showed the effectiveness of the Empty Homes Tax in bringing more supply to the city’s rental market.

CMHC said Vancouver’s rental market swelled by more than 11,000 condo units in 2019, with the Empty Homes Tax playing a critical role in the increase. Of the 11,118 units listed for rent, CMHC said 2,294 were new products rented out by investors. The remaining 8,824 were previously being used by their owners for other purposes – but are now available as long-term rentals.

CMHC credited other levies imposed by various levels of government in British Columbia – its provincial speculation and vacancy taxes, various city bylaws limiting the use of properties for short-term rentals – for their part in increasing rental supply, but warned that the vacancy rate in Metro Vancouver remains below 1%, a trend that has lasted for six years.

“[The Empty Homes Tax] has helped move thousands of homes back on to the rental market,” Stewart said, “but there are still too many homes that remain empty.”

In most cases, having to pay a 3% tax on anything won’t garner payees too much sympathy, but considering the cost of real estate in Vancouver, where $1 million might be enough to secure a two-bedroom condo, homeowners already paying down gigantic mortgages will soon be on the hook for a rather colossal increase in annual cost. Even someone paying off a property valued at a relatively modest $500,000 will see their Empty Homes Tax rise from $6,250 to $15,000 – every year.

Xeva Mortgage broker Sabeena Bubber told Mortgage Broker News that, even at it’s current 1.25% level, Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax has already forced some people to move on from their properties.

“Some people did end up having to liquidate properties because they couldn’t afford the size of the property taxes that were associated with it,” Bubber said.

The obvious solution would appear to be for the owners of taxed properties to list them for rent, but Bubber said that can sometimes be easier said than done. Many of the properties eligible for the tax aren’t necessarily renter-ready. Some are generational properties filled with heirlooms, others are vacation properties currently outfitted for personal use.

“It’s an emotional thing for people to rent out that home,” Bubber said, “but they don’t necessarily want to get rid of it either.”

Bubber said the looming tax increase hasn’t impacted her clients, nor does she think it will dampen real estate activity in Vancouver. Her biggest fear is that the confusion ushered in by the Empty Homes Tax will continue to unnecessarily worry the city’s homeowners.

“What was disruptive was that the forms were unclear, and a lot of people were worried they were going to be taxed when they had family members living in second homes,” she said. “It was confusion for a lot of people for the first couple years.”

Michael La Prairie, president of Century 21 In Town Realty, doesn’t share Bubber’s view of the tax increase.

“We are very worried. It could drive people away from living in Vancouver,” La Prairie said. “It will harm not only the owners but businesses, too.”

La Prairie said it is unfair for real estate investors to be taxed after making such substantial purchases by a mayor who “owns nothing and has no investments and continuously attacks” people in the city who do.

“Some will have to sell because the city of Vancouver is trying to tax the air we breathe,” he said.

by Clayton Jarvis
23 Dec 2020

Rock-bottom mortgage rates will drive B.C. home prices up over the next two years, says Central 1 Credit Union. Others aren’t so sure

Vancouver-based Central 1 Credit Union is among those forecasting that the “exceptionally strong” 2020 housing market in B.C. will continue to surge, with average prices rising 5.6 per cent in 2021 and a further 4 per cent in 2022.

The outlook is in contrast to the Royal Bank, which is calling for an 8 per cent decline in Canadian home prices next year; and both Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.(CMHC) and Moody’s, which are predicting up to double-digit drops in prices.

Real estate brokerage Royal LePage, however, contends the current strong housing sales and rising prices will continue into 2021, led by Metro Vancouver.

In a release December 15, Royal LePage said the average price of a home in Canada will increase 5.5 per cent year-over-year to $746,100 in 2021.

Phil Soper, Royal LePage president and CEO, said, “With policy makers all but promising record low interest rates to continue, the upward pressure on home prices will continue.”

Royal LePage forecasts that Vancouver will see the second-largest increase in average home prices in 2021, increasing by 9 per cent to $1.26 million, when compared to this year.

Central 1 Deputy Chief Economist, Bryan Yu in Central 1’s latest B.C. Housing Outlook: 2020-2022, released December 21, is also quite bullish on B.C.’s housing market.

“The rebound in housing demand from pandemic-induced lows in the spring has been spectacular,” said Yu.

He noted that average home prices in B.C. were up 13 per cent year-over-year in October, with the strongest gains recorded in the Interior and Island markets due to increased demand for recreational properties

“The median price of a home in B.C. is forecast to rise by 9.3 per cent (to $585,000) this year, with a further 5.6 per cent increase (to $615,000) expected in 2021, followed by a 4 per cent increase (to $640,000) in 2022,” Yu forecasts. “ Annual resale transactions are forecast to see a 20 per cent increase this year, reaching 85,080 units, followed by a further rise of 12 per cent in 2021 to 95,200 units.”

Extremely low mortgage rates are a key catalyst for surging home sales, the Central 1 outlook confirmed.

“ Elevated liquidity at financial institutions will likely mean aggressive mortgage pricing through the spring to compete for market share, driving rates even lower and maintaining rock bottom rates until mid-2021,” Yu said.

HSBC drew headlines recently with a 0.99 per cent five-year variable mortgage rate, the lowest in Canadian history, and it is not uncommon for mortgages to be offered at sub-2 per cent.

Housing demand will also lead to a rebound in B.C. housing starts, which have dropped 21 per cent this year, compared to a year earlier, which Yu said can be traced to the pandemic, and the foreign home buyer tax.

“Total housing starts are forecast to rise 6.5 per cent in 2021 to 37,700 units, increasing by a further 4.5 per cent in 2022 to 39,400 units, “ he now predicts.

Some are not so confident in B.C.’s housing outlook.

“There are zero fundamentals supporting the rise in the housing market, other than the Bank of Canada’s printing press and people’s fears of a currency continuing to lose purchasing power,” said Vancouver realtor and analyst Steve Saretky.

Citing “tremendous risks” from the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said it stands by its forecast, first issued in May, that average Canadian home prices will fall between 9 per cent and 18 per cent from pre-pandemic levels before beginning to recover in the first half of 2021.
In October, CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan reiterated that forecast in a call with journalists, although he cautioned that it’s difficult to predict the “peaks and troughs.”

Royal Bank noted that Vancouver has the worst affordability rate in Canada, with 78 per cent of the average household income required to afford the payments on a typical home. The RBC “best case scenario” is for home prices to flatline in 2021.

Frank O’Brien – Western Investor.

Amanda Stephenson

When the COVID-19 pandemic began and offices transitioned to work-from-home arrangements, many people speculated that remote work could become the norm and replace the physical office forever. But a new survey suggests the office is not dead, as employers appear to be growing less enthusiastic about remote work as the pandemic drags on.the tower of the city: A halo around the sun shines above downtown Calgary's skyscrapers on June 5, 2020.

According to a report by commercial real estate firm Colliers, employers surveyed in June estimated that working from home had caused employee productivity to drop by 22.6 per cent. In a November survey, this number had increased to 23.4 per cent.

John Duda, president of real estate management services at Colliers Canada, said growing concerns about employee productivity, the potential erosion of workplace culture and a general feeling of “Zoom fatigue” means employers are now less likely to say they will need less physical office space going forward.

For example, in June, 46 per cent of respondents to the Colliers survey expressed a desire to reduce their office space, but this number dropped to 37 per cent in the November survey. Compared to June, tenants were 20 per cent less likely to indicate they need less space, and 30 per cent more likely to want more or the same amount of space.

“At the beginning, there was almost a bit of a euphoria. It was, ‘we can do this, we can work from home, I’m going to get rid of some of my space,’ ” Duda said. “And now that this is setting in and people are seeing the lack of productivity . . . they’re seeing that people are fatigued by the whole thing, and they’re saying ‘wait a minute, I can’t function like this as a business.’ ”

The Colliers report also reveals that 54 per cent of businesses across the country expect 100 per cent of their employees to return to the office after a vaccine is available, which Duda said indicates that people value the role of the workplace and want to return when it’s safe to do so. Regional and small businesses are more likely than national and international businesses to indicate that 100 per cent of their employees will return to the office.

“Things are changing very quickly, and it’s possible attitudes will shift again once the vaccine is in place,” Duda said. “What we’re seeing on the leasing side is, very few people are making long-term decisions (about real estate needs) right now.”

Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, said she has not heard of any significant Calgary companies that have made the decision to make remote work arrangements permanent. She said different companies will gauge the success or failure of these past nine months of work-from-home differently, but added the general consensus is that productivity goes down when employees work from home any more than two days a week.

“I do worry about the mental-health implications of it, too,” Moran said. “As convenient as it is to roll out of bed and head to your home office, the monotony of it is not healthy. Limited social interaction during the day is not healthy.”

Prior to the pandemic, Calgary was struggling with sky-high downtown office tower vacancy, due to ongoing weakened oil prices and rounds of layoffs in the energy sector. That downtown vacancy rate remains elevated, at 27.8 per cent, Moran said.

While some Calgary companies may opt for more flexible work arrangements or remote work options even after a vaccine is available, Moran said, it is unlikely that these changes will result in any significant increase in the city’s downtown vacancy rate. However, that doesn’t mean that problematic vacancy rate is coming down anytime soon.

“The more acute problem that I’m worried about is the consolidation in the energy sector, which is going to have a negative impact. The Husky-Cenovus (merger) was a big surprise to a lot of people, but we know there’s going to be a lot more of that. And I think there’s going to be shedding of office space that way,” Moran said. “I’m more worried about that in the short-term than about people deciding that everyone’s going to work from home.”

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