If you’re a long-time blog reader, you’ve heard this story from me before, but here goes…
As a child of the 1980’s, one of the most exciting excursions for a kid my age was going to “the downtown.” Whether it was on a class trip, or with my parents, leaving the cozy confines of a residential area with tree-lined streets and homogenous single-family homes to see the hustle and bustle of downtown was fascinating.
Case in point: Yonge & Dundas.
Now, what this intersection looks like today would probably have caused a child’s mind to explode back in 1987. But even back then, the streetscapes were just fascinating.
Do you remember this?
Imagine a 5, 6, or 7-year old walking down the street with his parents, wondering why there were mannequins and clothing stuck to the exterior walls of all these buildings!
I remember taking the subway to the Eaton Centre with my father in 1986 so he could buy our family a Nintendo and I was awestruck at how the subway run under the shopping mall! We just got off the train, and stepped right into the mall! I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends!
Over time, we began to frequent a restaurant called Spadina Garden on Dundas Street, one block from Yonge & Dundas, and after dinner we would head over to Sam The Record Man or HMV to browse the “TOP TEN” wall of current best-selling albums in the form of both cassette and compact disct.
On the southeast corner of Yonge & Dundas there was a store that was always of interest.
Early on, this was, apparently, the world’s biggest jeans store!
Sidebar: if you’re interested in a story about the owners of this property and how the city battled to expropriate the future site of “Yonge & Dundas Square,” here’s a great read from a quarter-century ago:
In The Battle Of Their Lives
November 11, 1998
In any event, and this is where some of you say, “Yeah, David, you’ve done this bit before,” there came a time when the “WORLD’S BIGGEST JEAN STORE” banner was replaced with something else.
It was replaced with three words:
Indeed, the owners were going out of business, since the pending expropriation left them on borrowed time, but if you looked closely at the banner that adorned the front of the building, you expected to see the word “the” but instead, in tiny font, you saw the word “for.”
Going Out For Business
The eye sees what it wants to see.
People will, subconsciously or otherwise, see that there are deals to be had here! They’re GOING OUT BUSINESS and surely jeans and other wares could be had at a discount.
But the owners weren’t going out of business; they were going out for business.
In essence, nothing had changed here. They were just running their business day-to-day as they had before.
I know I’ve told this story on TRB before. I can’t recall what the topic was or how I worked that story into the blog post, but today, the point I want to make is that we often see advertisements, headlines, or captions that are trying to convey a message, when that message isn’t entirely accurate.
The skewing of the narrative is deliberate. It’s done with purpose and it’s done to have an opposite effect of what a person might see, think, or feel if the goal of the message or narrative was accuracy.
Take a look this:
The words “up to” are clear, but not as clear as the giant 70% OFF.
There’s also an asterisk.
And I might add that, whether you see the sales attempt with “now or never” as a gimmick, scare tactic, or attempt to create FOMO, others might not.
The reality of this situation is: perhaps one product or service that this company is selling might be 70% off. But others could be merely 50% off. Or 30% off. Or it could be the case that the ‘average’ discount in this store is 8.5%, but there are a few items 20% off, a few 30% off, and one that’s 70% off.
We see this in the real estate pre-construction game where a developer might say “Starting From $499,900!”
Sure, maybe one condo they’re selling is $499,900, but the average could be in the $800K range. The median might be $900,000.
I say all of this today because we are in an evolving real estate landscape at the moment across the GTA. We’re coming off a ridiculous 15% increase in the average home price in two months, we’ve seen a hike in interest rates – with another one around the corner, the federal government spent a good portion of their budget announcement talking about housing, and there are a lot of bearish sentiments out there in the market right now.
Bearish sentiments have been ever-present in our market, especially in the past two decades when prices have tripled. You will simply never see a day in the Toronto real estate market where you can’t find at least a few bears to commiserate with, although I must say, they were tough to find last fall and into this spring.
An “evolving real estate landscape” could mean different things to different people. Some of you are snickering at my phrasing as we speak.
But whether the market goes up, down, sideways, becomes balanced, goes hot or cold, favours buyers or sellers, or moves fast or slow, there will always be those who want to shape the narrative.
That is what I’m afraid of as we move forward.
We are also approaching a provincial election and thus we’ll find ourselves in “promise season.” Elections in this country, at all levels of government, continue to be “The Great Giveaway!” Whoever gives the most free stuff, makes the most promises, and tells the public with the straightest face, “Everything is going to be okay,” will find themselves in office.
Combine the evolving real estate landscape with a pending election, and I shudder to think what the headlines are going to look like.
For those in society that obtain their news by “scrolling,” it’s going to be several months of misinformation.
It’s not always malicious though. Sometimes, it’s just spinning something that is begging to be spun.
After the March TRREB stats were released, the media could have told one of two stories:
“The average home price is up 18.5%.”
“The average home price is down 2.6%.”
Why? How is that possible?
Well, year-over-year, the average home price increased by 18.5%. But month-over-month, the average home price declined by 2.6%.
Even still, you have to consider that the 2.6% decline on a month-over-month basis included a loss of 6.5% in Durham, a loss of 4.5% in York, a loss of 3.6% in Peel, a loss of 0.9% in Halton, and a gain of 0.6% in the 416.
But what story should be told? I guess it depends on the media outlet, the journalist, and the editor. Often, it’s the editorial board that determines how news should be reported.
When the real estate market gets complicated, we often see media reports that demonstrate those outlets don’t understand and can’t make sense of the market, or media reports that want to tell a particular story.
Yesterday, I saw this in my social media feed:
What in the actual hell does this mean?
Prices drop “up to” 22%.
That’s not even grammatically or functionally correct. It’s attempting to tell a story.
If you looked at five areas and one was down 2%, one was down 4%, one was down 6%, and one was down 14%, you could say, “Prices drop up to 14% in some areas,” and you would be correct. If we really want to get into semantics, then “areas” is plural, and thus this is actually incorrect. But you get my point.
But the most intersesting part of this story, aside from the fact that the 22% figure, experienced in one segment, is attempting to paint the whole market with the same brush, is how this outlet decided to “get the jump” on the competition.
TRREB stats are typically released 3-4 days into each month. So by the end of this week, May 2nd to 6th, we’ll have seen the stats, and a lot of media outlets will have reported.
If you read the article above, dated April 28th, you’ll read that this is comparing housing data in the “month of April,” but only up to and including April 19th.
It seems to me, somebody out there wanted to make a point – and do so before others! They also said “play” instead of “pay,” so you just know they rushed this out!
To compare February to April, but only up to April 19th, is clearly taking liberties with the data.
Then again, there’s quote that reads: ”
“We are starting to see significant drops in some communities of more than 20 per cent for single detached homes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)”
“Some communities,” which could mean one, two, three, but out of how many? What if it were two-hundred?
I’m not denying that the April housing data will show prices are, on average, down from February. We all know this.
But my concern is in how this data will be reported, since the article above is cherry-picking the worst possible data and using it in a headline to speak generically about the entire market, while doing so before the data set is complete.
Headlines are dangerous.
More dangerous, of course, is when people simply gloss over headlines and stories.
Look at this one:
This news is groundbreaking!
It’s going to change the face of real estate as we know it.
With individuals and corporations being forced to pay a 20% tax on a third property, nobody will buy a third property. It’s open and shut.
And an increase for each additional property? Like, 25% for the 4th, and 35% for the 5th?
It’s official: nobody in this country will ever own more than two properties ever again.
This is the single-biggest piece of real estate news in the history of the country.
Except, well, it’s not.
Because if you scroll further down, you’ll see the note below:
“…featured in Ontario Green Party platfor…”
What’s that? Is it worth investigating?
Let’s see what the actual article says:
Ontario’s Green Party is promising to tackle housing affordability by implementing a 20 per cent tax on domestic buyers who own multiple properties as part of its provincial election platform.
So an election promise by a fringe party that currently occupies one seat out of one-hundred twenty-four is currently being reported as “news?”
This is so dangerous.
I’m sorry to anybody that has high hopes for the Green Party, but whatever happens in the year 2056, we’re in 2022, and this is, by definition, a fringe party. What they promise doesn’t matter because they will never be in power. They can promise whatever they want!
So for the CBC to report this as news is one thing, but to do so in the way they did above, with the headline standing along, and the actual half-mention of this being a Green Party promise to be found underneath the lead photo from the story, is so, so, misleading and dangerous.
We’re in a real estate landscape that is showing softness and declining prices in some areas, with interest rate increases both in the rear-view mirror and the horizon ahead, and with a provincial election that is bound to include a lot of talk about real estate. If, all of a sudden, tomorrow we found there was a 20% tax on the purchase of third properties in Canada, the real estate market would nosedive.
So shouldn’t media outlets be more careful with how they report “news?”
I’m shocked by that headline above from CBC Ottawa. Absolutely flabbergasted.
Sometimes, the news isn’t deliberately misleading, but rather just confusing.
Check this out:
We talked a lot about inflation over the past two years, especially as we saw a record 6.7% rate of inflation in March.
But do you know we never ever talked about?
In fact, nobody does. Is that even a thing? Provincial inflation?
I mean, we use the Canadian dollar, not the Ontario dollar, right?
There are two big problems here:
1) When 99.999% of discussions about inflation revolve around federal inflation, and there’s an article with a headline that says “record high inflation” but which notes the discussion is about provincial inflation in the article, we have a problem.
2) There’s a fat chance of decreasing inflation when you’re going to spend at record levels.
Yeah, that’s what’s so funny here, because immediately after an article about “decreasing inflation,” we see this contradiction:
So we’re going to spend at record levels but we’re also going to curb inflation.
And we’re curbing provincial inflation, mind you. Because that’s a thing.
And that story literally followed the previous one in Global News’ feed on Instagram.
It’s like seeing a company pitching weight-loss in one advertisement and then selling chocolate cake in the next.
I don’t blame Global News here, per se. I would blame the Ford government for being either stupid or misleading, since I’m not privy to internal discussions over there, and I don’t know if they think they can actually curb provincial inflation while taking on a massive deficit to spend at record levels, or if they know this isn’t possible but just plan to lie and promise to naive constituents like every other politician and every other party has done since the dawn of time.
I’m 41-years-old going on eighty.
I shake my fist at clouds. I do.
I tell the neighbours’ kids to “keep that racket down” even though the neighbours don’t have kids, and there is no racket.
So don’t listen to me. I’m just an old fuddy-duddy.
But as more and more social media applications, news feeds, and portable devices compete for our time and attention, it’s making it far more difficult for individuals to absorb complete and accurate information.
Whether an individual wants to read the first headline and conclude, “All homes are worth 22% less this week,” is up to them.
I just know, from experience, the changing market and the coming election are going to wreak havoc in what you read.
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