CBC Doc Zone: “The Condo Game”

I don’t want this to come off as shameless self-promotion, but I do want to inform everybody of the CBC’s documentary on Toronto condominiums that is airing on Thursday night at 9:00pm.

It’s not a “condo bashing” piece, but it’s not pushing the real estate agenda either.

I’ve been involved with this project since the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what they’ve put together.

Here’s a preview of the documentary, and my comments to further explain the program below…

Well they seem to have condensed that version on YouTube to 90 seconds.

Click HERE for the extended Doc Zone preview for “The Condo Game,” airing on Thursday evening, at 9:00pm EST.

I haven’t seen the finished documentary yet, but I’m excited to!  And no, not just because I’m a part of it; I really want to see what message the film-makers are able to convey.

This isn’t a “condo bashing” piece as some people have surmised.

Don’t get me wrong – Adam Vaughan is a part of this piece, and I can only assume that he’ll be bashing anything remotely capitalistic.

But the overall point that I’m hoping the documentary will make, is this:

There is a problem with how Toronto condominiums are planned, sold, and constructed, and it needs to be addressed.

That is why I wanted to be a part of this film.

I was contacted almost a year ago by a documentary filmmaker named Lionel Goddard.  He’s the kind of person that knows everything, about everything, if you know what I mean.  He’s the kind of guy that if you’re walking down the street, and a leaf blows by, he could tell you how many kilograms of leaves are removed by the city of Toronto each year, how they’re disposed of, and how many nano-particles would be spread into the air if we burned leaves.  This guy just knows everything, and it comes out in his films.

The first time we spoke, I believe we chatted for almost an hour.  I talked about the problems with pre-construction condos in Toronto and how developers lie, cheat, and steal, and he knew exactly what I was talking about, and, educated me further.  He knew everything – and he wasn’t even in the real estate business.

We hit it off right away, and even though I’m only in the film for a couple minutes, I was so happy to talk shop with the writers and producers about buildings, developers, sales centres, Realtors, investors – everything under the sun when it comes to the condominium construction industry in Toronto.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple of years now, you know this: I don not sell, or advise the purchase, of pre-construction condominiums.

WHY is a long story, and it can’t be explained in anything less than a few dozen blog posts that I’ve written over the years.

But the basic premise is this: everybody makes money except the consumer.  The city of Toronto makes tons of money through taxes and development fees, the developer makes boat-loads of money, as do the architects, designers, construction companies, and every person or company who works on the project.  The Realtors make far more than they should – often taking in 6% commissions.  And what’s left at the end for the consumers?  Nothing but hidden fees, “adjustments” upon closing, material defects, poor workmanship, delays beyond belief, and my favorite – an “occupancy” period that can last an indeterminate amount of time.

So while I cannot warn everybody about the dangers of purchasing properties in pre-construction, perhaps a prime-time CBC documentary can.

And more to the point: if we’ve ever going to change anything in the condominium sales and condominium construction industries, we need to bring the issues to light.

Many people might not know, or care, about the issues that plague the industry.  But that doesn’t mean something shouldn’t be done about it.

I’ve often said that the Condominium Act, which was written in 1997, is out of date, and it needs to be revised.  The example I’ve given in the past is the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in the NHL, that expires every 7-8 years, and is the cause of the last two lockouts.  The owners and general managers start to find ways to work around the rules and regulations, as they were intended, just as condominium developers have completely manipulated the system and framework in which they work, to screw consumers to the fullest.  And this is why the Condo Act needs to be re-written.

I did an interview the other day on this subject where I was asked, “If could change one aspect of the way condos are sold and constructed in Toronto, what would it be?”

Even though I had never been asked that question before, and never really given it any thought, I knew right away what the answer was: we need to do away with the “occupancy period.”

When you sign your Agreement of Purchase & Sale, in the flashy condo sales-centre, with the pretty girl – you may or may not be aware that you’re agreeing to take “occupancy” of your unit, when the UNIT itself is done – not the building, but the UNIT.

So when your unit is finished on the fourth floor, and tradespeople are still jackhammering away on the 5th floor, and pouring concrete on floors 6-through-30, you are under obligation to take the keys to your “finished” unit, and start paying the developer an “occupancy fee” that can be anywhere from, say, $1,000 – $4,000 per month.

The building is under construction for an indeterminate amount of time, as the amenities aren’t finished, nor are the common areas (hallways have no carpets or lights), nor is the lobby, and essentially anything other than YOUR individual unit.

But yes – you are now the proud “occupant” of this finished unit inside a construction warzone, and you’ll be the occupant for upwards of 25 months as you continue to pay a monthly fee, all of which is a sunk cost.

Laugh at me for even suggesting this (but the problem here is the mere fact that my idea will come of as so far-fetched), but I don’t believe a developer should be able to give occupancy until the building is sold, finished, registered as a condominium corporation, and all the units are closed.

Insane idea?

Or have we just grown so accustomed to being screwed by developers, TARION, and the condominium construction industry in general that we can’t imagine a world where a condo is actually FINISHED before we’re given the keys?

These “occupancy periods” are financially crippling people.  Whether it’s 24 months to register the West Side lofts, 25 months to register Bridge Condos, or 25 months to register Couture – these monthly sunk costs are killing condo-owners.

If a developer can’t get a building registered in a timely fashion, why should the 300-500 condo-buyers suffer the consequences?  This just opens the door to developers deliberately delaying registration so they can sell all their other crappy pre-sale projects.

We’ve come to expect an “occupancy period” while we wait for final registration, but I don’t think condo buyers should go through all this crap.  The developer, selling a condo in pre-construction, should close the deal when the building is registered, and NOT provide “occupancy” during construction.

I don’t see this ever changing, however.  Never, ever, ever; not in a million years.

But if I could change just one thing, it would be this…….and then a few dozen others…

The CBC Doc Zone “Condo Game” on Thursday night will hopefully bring to light many of the issues that exist in today’s condominium construction industry.  Problems like the one I identified above, problems like those I’ve ranted about on my blog in the past few years, and problems that we haven’t even discussed – like the urine content of the soil in Cityplace (thanks to dog owners…), and whether or not the glass used in waterfront condos is strong enough to withstand the winds coming off Lake Ontario for the next 20 years…

While I’m a bit nervous to see the final cut of the documentary, since I’m hoping my opinions won’t be misconstrued, I’m excited at the same time.

I really am passionate about our city of Toronto, and passionate about real estate, and my opinions (and frustrations) about pre-construction condos are a by-product of my love for Toronto real estate.

If the documentary can help bring about change, then I’ll feel like I’ve helped in some small way…

Enjoy! 🙂

12 Comments

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  1. Rob Fjord says:

    i missed the first twenty minutes, was it any good?, the rest of it SUCKED!

    1. @ Rob Fjord

      In a completely unrelated story, I wasn’t in the last 40 minutes of the documentary at all! 🙂

  2. Joe Q. says:

    For those who aren’t able to watch it “live”, looks like you’re likely to find it here after it airs:
    http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episodes/

  3. Bryan says:

    I am looking forward to watching the documentary as well. I am the Director of Communications for the Minister of Consumer Services, and we are responsible for the Condominium Act. I am a bit puzzled that the producers did not contact our Ministry for comment when they put their film together. I would think that they would have spoken to us.

    You mention that the Condo Act needs to be revised. I have good news: we have been conducting a review of the Act for the past 14 months are planning to bring forward comprehensive reforms in the very near future.

    There is more information about our review on our website here: http://www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en/Pages/oncondo_about.aspx

    Canada’s Public Policy Forum has been conducting our review using an innovating public engagement process. Thousands of people have participated in this review. Details can be found here: http://ppforum.ca/events/ontario-condominium-act-review

    There is still time to contribute to the review if you want to send in your suggestion about occupancy.

  4. Philip says:

    Is Brad Lamb going to be in the video extolling the virtues of his new buildings? How is this idiot qualified to be giving estate planning advice like this?

    This bald bastard sucks the fat one.

    http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/Brad+Lamb+strategy/8261406/story.html

    1. ScottyP says:

      I just vomited in my mouth while reading that article.

  5. JC says:

    I mentioned this to some clients as we saw a few units in a building the other day that is still under construction. My client started it with “can you imagine living here during all this?”

    They were floored when I told them that the people living there weren’t even paying their mortgages yet, but paying occupancy fees to the builder.

    Even more so when I told them that some builders won’t even allow you to rent your place out during occupation because technically, you don’t actually own it yet.

    “Why would ANYONE buy new then?” She asked.

    Indeed.

  6. Jason says:

    Same thing in Montreal. No occupancy period. Units are delivered when the building is complete.

    Occupancy periods were a big adjustment when I started investing in Toronto condos a few years ago. It didn’t make a lot of sense and I agree that it should be abolished!

  7. Joe Q. says:

    David, any idea if or when this will be able for viewing online? Maybe through the CBC website?

  8. Darren says:

    It’s my understanding that in British Columbia there are no occupancy periods. People move in when the building is complete.

  9. moonbeam! says:

    Looking forward to this Doc Zone episode & to your part in it, David!

    1. Balade says:

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