Monthly Archives: February 2016

How Your Future Home Might Be Powered

The winter season was a relatively mild one this year, and I doubt many Torontonians were complaining about the near Spring-like weather we received for most of the month. Despite the unseasonably high temperatures, there’s a good chance your energy bills for the season were also unseasonably high. Was this the case in your home? If so, Toronto Hydro has a checklist you can read that might explain why your jaw nearly dropped to the floor when you opened last month’s bill.

If your winter bill seems higher than expected, consider the following:

  • How do you heat your home?
  • Electric heating can account for over 50% of a home’s power consumption during the winter.
  • Gas furnaces need electricity to run too. Due to the extreme cold, on average furnace fans will run 280 hours longer this winter than last winter (November to February) and will consume approximately an extra 130KWh of electricity (or around an additional $20 on your electricity bill)[1].
  • Is your equipment working properly? Inefficient furnaces and other appliances will consume much more power than newer, more efficient models.
  • Do you live in an older home? Is there proper insulation in the walls, basement and attic?
  • Did you use a significant amount of electricity during the on-peak price period?

Perhaps Toronto Hydro is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “How do you heat your home?”, the question should be, “how are you powering your home?” The advent of cheap solar panel technology and improved battery storage systems have made it possible, for the first time in history, to create what are called “energy positive” homes – those that create more power than they use. Not only can you save money on your electricity bills by turning to green alternatives, but here’s the kicker. If your home or business can produce more power than it needs, it can actually turn a profit, since some local utility companies can buy the excess electricity from you and feed it into the grid for others to use.

The easiest way to outfit your home so that it can generate and store its own power, is to install solar panels that connect to a large battery. Thereby allowing you to save solar energy during the day that can be used after it gets dark outside. Solar panels will soon become a ubiquitous feature of most homes. Especially when you consider that, in Canada, you can go to Costco to purchase solar panels. For $899 you can purchase the Coleman 300 Watt Solar Panel Kit with Charge Controller and Inverter, which comes with three 100 Watt crystalline solar panels, a 30 amp digital charge controller, and a 300 Watt modified sine wave inverter with USB port. IKEA also appears to be getting into the game, announcing that it will have a widely available solar panel offering by some point this year.

When it comes to battery technology for energy positive homes, right now, there’s no real competitor for the Tesla PowerWall. PowerWall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. Tesla claims that with the right number of solar panels, and the intelligence of the technology that runs the battery, it is entirely possible to go completely off the grid. The only downsides at the moment is that the PowerWall is not available in Canada at the moment, although the CBC reports that sales and distribution of the tech will arrive later this year. Also, the unit itself requires a trained and licensed technician to install, which means do-it-yourselfers are out of luck.

Alternative Measures to the New Mortgage Rules in Canada

The newly elected Liberal federal government made cooling down the sizzling hot real estate market a top priority. They’ve demonstrated this sense of urgency by introducing new legislation to temper escalating home prices, as one of their first orders of business. These new laws were made active a week ago, and analysts and commentators online are debating whether or not they will be effective. After the record breaking 2015 with regards to home sales and prices, Canadians unanimously agree that there is an issue of affordability, particularly in the hottest housing markets like Toronto and Vancouver.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation now requires a 10% down payment on the portion of any mortgage it insures over $500,000. The 5% rule remains for the portion up to $500,000. What this means in practical terms, according to the Toronto Star, anyone buying a home for $700,000, for example, means the minimum down payment will rise to $45,000 from $35,000. Any home under $500,000 still requires only a down payment of 5%. Homes that cost more than $1 million still require a 20% down payment.

The problem, according to some, is that the new measures unfairly affect the buying potential of new homebuyers looking to enter the market. Higher down payments mean fewer young homebuyers will be able to afford a home, and perhaps that’s the point. Demand for homes is unlikely to change, if anything, it’s bound to increase as the population in Canada’s major cities continues to grow. The new laws are clearly intended to target supply: fewer homes being purchased translates into more homes available on the market, which should, theoretically, drive down prices.

Jillian Bell of CBC News asked several economists what alternative measures the government could implement to slow down Canada’s big-city housing markets. Each solution identifies a different root cause for the country’s housing affordability issue that the new measures don’t address.

According to John Andrew, director of the Queen’s Real Estate Roundtable, foreign investment in high-end properties is what’s causing prices to skyrocket, especially in Vancouver. The solution, in a nutshell, is to tax foreign property owners more heavily, which is harder than it sounds, because the government would “first have to do its due diligence when it comes to identifying foreign buyers who hide behind a Canadian friend or relative.”

Andrey Pavlov, a real estate finance professor at Simon Fraser University, agrees that foreign owners should pay more taxes, arguing that, as the law currently stands, most foreign home investors pay practically no taxes in Canada. The reason for this is that the current law only requires foreign investors to pay tax on their Canadian income, as opposed to their worldwide income. The solution is for the government to change the definition of residency “so that someone who owns a $4-million home in Vancouver pays taxes on their worldwide income, not just on their Canadian income, which is typically zero.”

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Toronto Home Sales and Prices Keep up Momentum in 2016

Many real estate market analysts were curious to see whether the increased sales and escalating price momentum from 2015 would trail off into this year. The most recently published TREB data suggests that Toronto’s housing market is still going strong, but the areas surrounding the city are doing ever better.

“It is clear that the handoff from 2015 to 2016 was a strong one,” said TREB president Mark McLean.

According to the most recent statistics published by the Toronto Real Estate Board, housing sales went up 8.2% (up to 4,672) year-over-year in January, while prices were up by 14.1%. The MLS home price index, which is deemed a better measure, showed an increase of 11.2%.

Here is a breakdown of the average home prices (for all home types):

  • GTA – $631,092
  • City of Toronto – $636,728
  • 905 Region – $627,871.

Michael Babad of The Globe and Mail, the numbers show that the price gains in the suburbs far outpaced the city of Toronto. Using detached homes as an example, in the 416 area code, prices rose by 11.6% (to an average of $1.06-million), but surged 20.9% in the 905 region (to average of $783,565).

According to TREB:

“The difference in the annual growth rates for the MLS [home price index] and average price was largely due to a greater share of high-end detached homes sold in the regions surrounding the city of Toronto this year compared to last.”

The TREB report had some interesting information regarding the state of the luxury housing market in Toronto, which they claim, accounts for some of the spike in prices in the 905. With regards to detached homes in the GTA:

  • 181 sales valued at between $1-million and $1.25-million
  • Over 100 sales in the $1.25-million to $1.5-million range
  • 68 sales from $1.5-million to $1.75-million
  • 36 sales from $1.75-million to $2-million
  • 84 sales of homes valued above $2-million

Daniel Tencer of The Huffington Post, price growth is not only keeping momentum from last year, but is actually accelerating. Tencer crunched a few numbers, and determined that If price growth continues its current pace, a single-family home in Toronto’s 905 suburbs would average $1.46 million five years from now, in 2021. That assumes $135,000 in house price growth annually over five years. Assuming the same growth rate for Toronto detached homes, potential homebuyers could expect to pay an average of $1.62 million five years from now.

Tencer also notes that the biggest factor influencing price inflation in the GTA has to do with a lack of supply. Fewer and fewer people are putting their homes up for sale, with the number of new listings falling by 6.2% year-over-year.

TREB president Mark McLean said in a statement:

“Recent polling conducted for TREB by Ipsos suggested 12 per cent of GTA households were seriously considering the purchase of a home in 2016.”

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TORONTO REAL ESTATE MARKET WATCH: Strong Start to 2016

The New Year has started strong with Toronto Real Estate Board President Mark McLean annoucing the 4,672 residential transactions for January 2016.  This result represented an 8.2 per cent increase compared to January 2015.

“It is clear that the handoff from 2015 to 2016 was a strong one. This is not surprising given that recent polling conducted for TREB by Ipsos suggested 12 per cent of GTA households were seriously considering the purchase of a home in 2016. Buying intentions are strong for this year as households continue to see home ownership as an affordable long-term investment,” said McLean.

012016.INFOGRAPHIC

The MLS® Home Price Index Composite Benchmark Price for January 2015 was up by 11.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis. The average selling price over the same period was up by 14.1 per cent.  The difference in the annual growth rates for the MLS® HPI and average price was largely due to a greater share of high-end detached homes sold in the regions surrounding the City of Toronto this year compared to last. The MLS® HPI removes the impact of shifts in the share of different property types sold from one year to the next.

“Market conditions in January were tighter compared to a year earlier, with an annual increase in sales up against a decline in listings. This is why growth in the MLS® HPI benchmarks continued to be strong, especially for singles, semis and townhouses, where there has been a persistent lack of inventory,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis.