Seriously, stop me if I’ve told you this story…
Raised in a mixed-marriage where we celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah, I obviously developed a special fondness for the former because at the end of the year, for essentially no reason, save from consumerism, commercialism, and conformity, we children received a bounty of presents from an imaginary being whose story is so outrageous that you simply can’t believe it past five-years-old.
My obsession with Christmas continued into my mid-teens, but fell flat when my parents basically said, “Enough is enough,” and indirectly told us that we weren’t cute kids anymore and that we already had everything we needed, and more. So to expect a new stereo every December 25th to replace the old stereo, was illogical, and made us spoiled rotten.
Christmas didn’t really have a “feeling” for me until I was into my early-20’s and a new tradition began: we would sleep over at my Dad’s in Unionville on Christmas Eve, and whichever of the three kids (and significant others) could make it, and whichever ones couldn’t, wouldn’t.
I never missed a single year.
That warm, cozy, somewhat “magical” feeling that existed as a child, when looking up on the neighbour’s roof for reindeer because your parents said they heard something, was recreated as a young adult in a different place, at a different time, and yet with the same people.
I had a tradition at my Dad’s, which is a little silly, but here goes.
They always have this incredible cheese. I don’t know how old cheese can be, I mean, it’s not like a scotch, but you know that “sharp” cheese that literally stings and makes your eyebrow furrow when you eat it? They had that in the fridge, 24/7, 365.
Every Christmas Eve, when my Dad and Lynn would turn in for the night, and my sister and brother too, I would cut up an outrageous amount of cheese, and watch all the “year-end” features until 2am.
Sports, news, movies, whatever it was, I watched it all.
I don’t love endings, and I hate change, so I find it somewhat odd, looking back. But every December 25th for a period of six or seven years, I ate an unhealthy amount of rich cheese while taking in four hours of year-end, year-in-review, and rewind features on TV.
If that doesn’t say “Merry Christmas,” then I don’t know what does.
I love year-end features, and that’s why, among other reasons, I have repeated the same formula here on Toronto Realty Blog for the last five years.
Monday, you get my “Top Five Blog Posts.”
Wednesday, I’ll regale you with my “Top Five Real Estate Stories.”
And Friday, it’s not “goodbye,” but rather “see you soon.”
Unlike previous years, I didn’t find anything too controversial in 2019 that would form one of the “Top Five.”
I didn’t compare the Foundry Lofts to Alcatraz this year, nor did I detail the catastrophic financials of the Printing Factory Lofts.
Maybe I’m getting soft in my middle-age, who knows.
But I did pen a few blog posts that I, myself, really liked, and the Top Five this year is bookmarked by exactly that.
No longer does “a lot of comments” make a top post, since last year (or the year before, I can’t recall) one reader actually took the time to sit down and examine all the comments, and show that while there were, say, 140 comments, a certain percentage was Kyle, a certain percentage was Chris, and then add in a few of the other regular characters, and maybe whoever had an axe to grind that week and provided 9-10 comments him or herself, and voila! A party-of-five, rather than a meeting of the minds from 100+ TRB readers.
This list is subjective, as with every one before it, so I encourage you to comment below if there was something that stuck out to you as memorable, and tell us why.
Here are the Top Five TRB posts of 2019 as I see them…
The theme of a “multi-part” blog series ranking on this list begins with a feature I did in the summer about Liberty Village, and which eventually spanned three parts:
As with most of my blog posts, this one was completely unplanned.
I was visiting clients in 50 Lynn Williams Street who, after living there for about 5-6 years, decided that it was time to move to Aurora. Like most urban-dwellers, they had made a fair amount of money on their condo, and realized that the house they wanted in the central core, would cost $2.5 Million, but in Newmarket or Aurora was only $800,000.
We sat and discussed the housing search that day, but couldn’t help but reflect on where we were, and how the area had changed.
Sitting at the dining table, which faced south and looked out directly at the centre of Liberty Village, we looked at each building and detailed which were there, and which were not, when this condo was purchased years ago.
We also lamented how the construction boom at the corner of East Liberty Street and Strachan Avenue seemed to be taking place before any substantial improvements in infrastructure, such a sorely-needed second exit from Liberty Village. Yes, while you can exit off Dufferin Street and from Atlantic to King, those pale in comparison to the intersection of Strachan and East Liberty, where probably 80% of the daily traffic is found. The area needs another entrance and exit like that one, is perhaps what I meant to say.
The corner of Strachan and East Liberty, as it stood on this July day, had somewhere in the neighbourhood of six or seven towers under construction, and the sight was almost unbelievable.
The closest comparison in my recent memory is Jarvis and Dundas, where three new towers stand, but where two were under construction simultaneously for a period of two full years. That wreaked havoc in the Jarvis corridor for years, and still is, since there’s road maintenance going on, and one of the three towers is still being completed.
But here in Liberty Village, a mere two or three towers would have represented a little brother of sorts!
Liberty Village, you see, had six cranes in the sky, with more on the way. The dump trucks owned the roads. Hard-hats were all the rage. And yellow reflector-vests were the clothing of choice.
I pulled over and took out my iPhone and started shooting video, which was tough, because there’s so much pedestrian traffic on East Liberty that it’s almost like watching lemmings roll past, one-by-one.
I also saw a news van; can’t remember if it was CBC or City, filming on the street as well. I never found out what their story was, but something tells me it was either traffic or construction related.
For those who don’t live in Liberty Village, or for those that don’t visit, you simply cannot believe what the construction was like at this point, and probably still is like. That’s why this video was so important, because it’s one thing to tell somebody “there are six condos being built at the same time,” but it’s another thing altogether to see it for your own eyes.
After I shot this video, I had a burning question: how many units are planned for completion, and how many are there currently in Liberty Village?
What started as a simple exercise quickly turned into a full blog post, and eventually, as you can see above, turned into two.
What condos are in Liberty Village?
What condos will be in Liberty Village?
The research on what’s planned for development wasn’t easy, since so many projects have been announced and cancelled, and the developments have changed hands, and been renamed, so many times.
Some developments have gone from condominium to rental, and one vice-versa.
And the artists renderings for these projects? Wow. Comparing two from different times and sources is like looking at police sketch drawings, seriously.
As I described in the blog posts above, residential life in Liberty Village began in 2005 when 466 condo townhouses were built on East Liberty Street, Western Battery Road, and Pirandello Street.
The “first wave” of construction as I also described, from 2005 to 2011, saw 2,177 residential units completed in 6 condominiums and ten blocks of townhouses.
The “second wave,” from 2013 to 2015, brought about 8 condominiums and 2,980 residential units in a very short period of time!
That was 5,157 units, give-or-take, in a decade.
As it stood in July of 2019, there were 3,003 more condominiums under construction, or in development.
And for those who think that “Liberty Village is congested, and there’s so much under development, that prices must be levelling off,” I would caution you to avoid such logic. With the average condominium price rising almost 11% from November of 2018 to November of 2019 in the 416, I would estimate that Liberty Village has out-paced that figure, rather than lagging behind.
My oh my, the fun I had with this post…
Maybe I chose this blog post because it set a 2019-high for comments with 125.
Maybe I chose this blog post because this Top Five list would not be complete without at least one “Friday Rant.”
Or maybe I chose this blog post because it had a little bit of all the things that make for a great read: real estate, taxes, politics, resentment, envy, and debate! Yes, debate!
In fact, this might have been the most hotly-debated blog post of the year, as even those readers that agreed on certain points, would disagree on the exact specifics.
I think you all know where I fall politically, right?
I’m a fiscal conservative, and a social liberal.
But I believe in financial literacy and personal responsiblity, as well as capitalism, and the free market. I have had a job since I was 14-years-old, I am frugal, know how to delay consumer gratification, and wish to God that more of society felt the way that I do about money.
I am not a person that believes in “deserves.”
I am all for the equality of opportunity, but recognize that the equality of outcome is impossible.
I see people like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez suggesting that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson should pay 90% in tax because “He made $60 Million last year and it’s not like he can’t have a nice life if he keeps just $2 Million of that,” as everything that is wrong with the world today.
I have little faith in government, since I believe that the mere concept of politics is corrupt. I believe that very few people on this earth are capable of putting another person’s interest before their own, hence why most people in politics are corrupted before they even take office.
So whenever I hear the word “tax” used, it strikes a chord with me, not because I don’t want to give away another penny on every dollar earned, but because I have a severe lack of trust in the logic of the tax, the source of the tax, the oversight of the tax, the implementation of the tax, the collection of the tax, and ultimately the place in society where that tax will be used to better people’s lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for making people’s lives better. But at the risk of running into some sarcastic rebuttal about a “gravy train” at city hall or “draining the swamp” down south, is it so unreasonable to assume that governance most often lacks efficiency, and that increasing taxes isn’t always the answer?
The type of taxes that often get created out of thin air really bother me. The Land Transfer Tax is a big one in that regard, since people have completely accepted it as normal, even though it’s anything but. It’s arbitrary, in my opinion. And it’s exceptionally punitive. Why does the purchase of a $1 Million house come with a $33,000 fee to the city? For what? Garbage collection? Snow shovelling? Hydro? Public school? Isn’t all of that covered by property taxes and income taxes?
I believe that a tax, in order to be considered remotely fair, must be able to be traced back to the source. To tax people for moving is arbitrary, and the fact that there’s a $75 fee just to pay the stupid tax to the city, is literally akin to returning to the scene of a crime to pleasure oneself.
So alas, the idea of a vacancy tax.
If the government does implement this, which they will, because very few taxes discussed ever remain as such, I would only be okay with the tax under one condition: the government must be honest about the reason for the tax, and the subsequent usage of funds.
“We recognize that this tax will do absolutely nothing to increase the supply of housing in the marketplace, and are merely choosing to hop on the bandwagon here since the public is frustrated with the idea of vacant housing so we feel we can sneak this one through. We also acknowledge that this tax will not directly result in any new housing measures, whatsoever.”
Failing that announcement, this tax would be an absolute sham.
As I wrote in my blog from November, taxing “vacant” properties will not result in more of these properties being put up for rent, because the people who can afford to keep properties vacant, and forego, say, $2,500 per month in rent on a 1-bedroom condo, will not be affected by a 1% or 2% tax.
I mean, really? Has the government looked into this? A $500,000 condo gets $30,000 per year in rent, and we’re talking about the idea of a $5,000 to $10,000 vacancy tax motivating that owner to put it up for rent? If the owner can afford to forego the $30,000 in rent, why can’t they afford to pay the extra $5-10K?
The mere logic behind the tax is flawed. The idea that a vacant unit will end up in the rental pool because of the burden of the tax is so far-fetched, it’s almost as though anybody in government suggesting this tax has a place, knows it doesn’t, and merely seeks to raise new revenue.
It seems as though the government’s solution to every problem is a new tax. “There’s a cat, stuck in a tree! Don’t worry, a tree-tax will solve this problem! If people didn’t have trees, there would be no cats stuck in them! Ergo, we tax trees! Problem solved!”
Childish, yes. Point made? You decide.
Perhaps I’m coming off as libertarian here, but perhaps many of you are simply so used to being taxed half to death that you don’t blink when a new tax is created out of thin air. And remember, taxes are not short-term. They are not pilot projects. They are absolutely, positively, permanent.
This idea for a tax really irked me, not only beacuse it was discussed after some downtown condo-dweller did a “study” on how many condos are vacant based on who turns their lights on and off at night, but also because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this tax would do nothing to create more inventory in a market that sorely needs it. The best way to justify a new tax is to demonstrate that it will have an effect, but I know there would not be one.
So what are we left with?
More money for Montblanc fountain pens for staff at Toronto City Hall, or Queen’s Park, or for whichever level of government institues a tax under the lie that they are “addressing a problem” when they’re basically just adding this money to an existing pile, which is already mismanaged.
Hmmm, did I just create a Monday rant?
Okay, so I have not one but two Friday Rants on this list. That’s not by design, but rather it’s just the way things shook out.
If I learned anything during the collection of this year’s “Top Five Blog Posts” it’s that I’m a hell of a lot less inflammatory than I used to be, wow!
I looked through my Excel spreadsheets from 2016, 2017, and 2018, and for the Top Five I had short-lists of a dozen or more. This year, I had exactly four when I went through the blogs for the first time. I added two more, then dropped one.
Note to self: be more annoying in 2020. It makes for better blogs…
If you’re looking for “inflammatory,” then perhaps there was no better blog title in 2019 than “I Hate Real Estate Agents.”
But this post wasn’t a list of transactions that licensed agents do (or don’t…) each year like in 2017, nor was this post about questions asked on an offer night, or terrible attempts at bully offers.
This was a story from the “trenches” of Toronto real estate about an agent who lost his mind during a viewing when I showed up with my clients to see the home, and who physically barred me from entering the home, and locked the door.
Thinking back to some of the more bizarre experiences I’ve ever had in this job, I’m not sure where this would rank.
Surely behind this one:
No, seriously, that happened.
Real estate is just an absolutely insane industry for those that live and breathe it like I do. You have no separation between “work” and “life,” since work is your life, and you’re go, go, go, 24/7. There are no two days the same. There are no two clients alike. And every day, there’s a new experience, even if that means getting punched in the face by a drunk, homeless guy as you stand in front of Royal LePage talking to your client, or if you’re locked out of a house by a Mississauga agent who is wearing cargo shorts and a give-away Toronto Blue Jays shirt with advertising on the back.
This wasn’t really a top blog per se, but as a stand-alone story? It was noteworthy!
Perahps lost on many of the readers is that every reader wants something different on TRB.
I met with folks last week who are long-time readers and they said the part they enjoy the most about my writing is details on my family and personal life.
“We love stories about your daughter,” one of them said.
And at the same time, one reader infamously referred to the onset of most blogs as a “folksy intro,” which sent Moonbeam, aka, my mother, scrabmling to the keyboard to defend me.
As boring as many readers find my “MLS Musings,” I probably get more positive feedback about those than anything else.
The stats-heads and bean-counters love the market update blogs, or anything with an x-axis and y-axis, and probably couldn’t give a hoot about virtual staging.
So when it comes to the stories I tell on TRB, which I try to represent at least two blogs per month, “I Hate Real Estate Agents” was my favourite of 2019.
This blog didn’t garner an exceptional level of comments, nor was it controversial.
Blink, and you might have missed it.
But the take-away, even as I read this three months-later, is still the same.
The lesson, conclusion, or underlying premise has been the same for almost as long as I’ve been in the business, and sadly, it will continue into 2020 and beyond.
I’ve already started working on my “Top Five Stories” for Wednesday, and at the risk of playing spoiler here, I’ll tell you that one of the topics will have to do with a problem we have in the real estate industry with regards to representation, and as a direct result, a lack of information possessed by many of today’s buyers.
Information is so cheap, and so free in 2019, that I’m shocked at how unprepared many buyers are out there today.
The irony is this: many unprepared buyers out there would be less unprepared, or if it’s easier to understand – more prepared, if they did not have a real estate agent.
How ironic is that?
And how much flak would I take from my industry colleagues for saying this?
From all the stories I’ve told throughout 2019, one of the common themes has been bad agents. But bad agents work on behalf of buyers who end up unprepared, uninformed, misinformed, and sadly, without properties.
We’ll save that little ditty for Wednesday, but there’s a parallel to the blog I wrote in September called “An Open Conversation With A First-Time Buyer.”
This buyer was so incredibly uninformed, naive, and clueless, and I gave her as honest an opinion on her situation as I could, while risking coming off as a complete asshole in the process. I then proceeded to write about the experience, once again, risking coming off like a jerk.
Thankfully, most of the blog readers felt I was being helpful, and I appreciate that.
The most intriguing comment on the day’s blog was this one:
This had the “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t” feel to it, for me at least.
I have a very successful practice and almost all of my clients are people I truly enjoy working with, most of whom came to me, and not the other way around. In our industry, most agents are out there looking for business, whether they’re knocking on doors, working open houses, or kissing babies on the street corner. I write blogs, and that can be considered the same as sending out admail, or knocking on doors if you want it to. But my clients typically read my blog, like what I have to say, and come to me.
When I’m “out there,” I always try to be the opposite of most real estate agents, since I don’t like most real estate agents.
If an unrepresented buyer comes to me and asks questions, I’m not going to jump all over that buyer like most agents would. My first instinct isn’t “I have to get this person signed to a Buyer Representation Agreement,” nor do I see that person as a flashing dollar-sign.
My business model is different. It sounds cheezy, but it’s true. I put myself out there, and if people want to work with me, then great.
In this case, I gave the buyer every piece of advice I had, and I let her go off into the real estate wilderness as she saw fit.
So when Appraiser asked if I offered to help young Nicole, the answer is technically no, but there’s always an inferred notion that a Realtor would like a client, is there not? Nicole knew where to reach me, and in the end, I never heard from her.
Cynically, it reminds me of the last scene in Dumb & Dumber when the bus full of models pulls up and asks them for directions…
But maybe Nicole wants a younger Realtor or an older Realtor. Maybe she wants a discount agent. Maybe her brother’s friend is an agent in Niagara Falls, or her friend from work sells real estate on the side, on weekends. Who knows.
The point is this: I started Toronto Realty Blog in 2007 with a mission to bring transparency to an industry that had absolutely zero. I decided that I would provide a free education on all things real estate, while discussing long-taboo subjects with regularity, in hopes that buyers and sellers would gain knowledge and insight, and that the industry as a whole would take note, and better itself.
Going on thirteen years later, I truly believe that buyers are more clueless today than they were back then, and that’s partially because the market has become so much more complicated, but also because, for whatever reason, buyers have their backs up.
Some buyers, and I’m stereotyping here but I notice it more among the young ones, have the mentality, “I don’t need any help. I’m gonna do this on my own.” More often than not, their ego and stubbornness get in the way.
Some buyers are once-bitten, twice-shy. Or in many cases, it’s thrice-bitten, twice-shy. Bad experiences in real estate are as common as they come, and it’s incredibly hard to trust a real estate agent, mortgage broker, home inspector, contractor, lawyer, and the like, when you’ve been burned before.
Other buyers just suffer from fear, and that leads to inaction, or often the act of putting yourself in a position to never actually transact.
My “open conversation with a first-time buyer” may have fallen on deaf ears, and may have been ready by countless others who told themselves, “I’m glad I’m not like that,” when all the while, they were just a different version of the exact same thing.
I’m not turning this section into an advertisement for “why to hire a real estate agent,” but I will say, yet again, that I don’t believe it’s ever been harder to transact in real estate in the city of Toronto than it is today, and conversations like the one I detailed in this blog post, will certainly not be the last…
As many of you remember, since this feels like yesterday but was actually less than two months ago, this was a three-part series.
Here are all three links just so you have something to do on the TTC ride this evening:
I’ve done a few “series” over the years, notably my 4-part series called “The Tao of the 2014” buyer and the follow-up in 2016. If I sat down and looked through the archives, I think I could find a few others.
I’ve also been guilty of “TMI” as the kids say, or too much information when it comes to sharing personal details, such as my 2016 post: “Sooooo……..I’m A Dad.”
The series I penned in October about our 2018 home purchase was a combination of sharing personal details in my not-so-private life, as well as carving out a unique and captivating multi-part series that genuinely left the reader looking for the next episode, not unlike how we used to watch TV back in the day, you know, before “binge watching” existed.
After children, and marriage, there is no bigger milestone than purchasing a home. Whether that big moment only qualifies if its’ your first home or your “forever home” is subject for debate, and while even the mere suggestion that this should place in the top-three might sound like an occupational bias on my part, I think many folks would agree with me here.
While I purchased my house back in May of 2018, and moved in August of 2018, it took me until October of 2019 to actually sit down and write this series. Honest to goodness, it’s not like I was debating whether or not to tell the story, since we all know I’m an open book and this would make for great TRB fodder. I just didn’t try hard enough to carve out the time, and the result was a lot of my clients saying, “You mean to tell me you’ve been out of the downtown core for over a year now?”
Like I said, my life is an open book. Some of my clients, and even readers who had emailed me, felt like I should have told the story sooner!
I mentioned in my Pick5 videos many times that we had moved, but the blog series just kept getting pushed back. You know me – I think if you’re going to do something, you have to do it right, and I didn’t want to half-ass this series. You only ever get one chance to do it right.
What I was so excited to share in this series was just how exceptionally-difficult it was for my wife and I to close on a house, as well as how emotional a journey it was.
I have this saying: “The guy who works at Bay-Bloor Radio is likely going to have an exceptional home-audio system,” and I use it all the time when describing how real estate agents live. It’s as if to say that a person in virtually any industry is going to benefit from their place within that industry, ie. an auto mechanic might have a better than average car, but it also runs very smoothly!
So I figured that most people, upon hearing that we bought a home, would assume that it was easy, or that we got a deal, or that we purchased off-market, and the like. Since our property search was anything but easy, and that we were in competition with another bidder, and that we purchased a home that was listed by a top firm in a central location, I found a tremendous amount of irony in the process, and figured that the readers would take a little bit of pleasure in knowing that even we real estate agents have a tough time out there.
Misery loves company, does it not?
For all the buyers I’ve put through the ringer of multiple offers, and for all the sellers who I’ve forced to pack up 80% of their belongings and move them to storage (before moving themselves out for a week during showings), now they can all sleep easy knowing that I went through the exact same process.
I’m currently typing this blog post from my mother’s house, which is where my wife, daughter, and I lived for eleven days when our condo was for sale in 2018. What started as a breath of fresh air, as we pushed the baby stroller through the nieghbourhood on a quaint weekend, quickly turned to my wife saying, “I WANT THIS TO BE OVER.” There’s nothing easy about selling your home for top dollar in the Toronto real estate market, and it takes a tremendous amount of work, sacrifice, and a good number of compromises. It also takes understanding an agreement from your partner, as well as trust in your agent.
My wife and I agreed and understood each other, but by day six, or seven, or eight of being displaced, living in Scarborough, being without routine and comforts of home, and me coming home at 10pm or later every night and offering zero support to our infant child, she’d just about had enough – and rightfully so!
My mother was amazing, as she always is. She worked so hard to ensure we had everything we needed, and that’s probably the last part of the equation right there: wherever you go, you need support. I’ve had clients tell me that they moved in with their brother, or their grandparents, or whoever, and all they did was fight the whole time. Selling your home is tough enough as it is; it’s made even worse when you’re not someplace you’re wanted.
Mid-August, 2018, the transition was complete.
The house was bought, the condo was sold.
And then the house was closed, move completed, and condo closed soon thereafter.
We were in our “forever home” now, and while it was so incredibly new and different, the feeling that it was “right” made it seem as though the change was seamless.
I moved down to 230 King Street in 2005 and remained there until 2011.
In 2011, I moved to 112 George Street, and my girlfriend, turned-fiance, turned-wife lived there with me until we moved into our new house in 2018.
Thinking back even further: I was born at 218 Airdrie Road in 1980.
We lived at 128 Parkhurst Boulevard from 1981 to 1992.
Our family moved to 96 Bessborough Drive in September of 1992, and the house remained in our family until 2007, though the last five years included a revolving door of family members, due to divorce, Toronto-based internships and co-ops at university, post-graduate work, and young-adulthood. There was a time when the entire house was only occupied by one of the three children for months on end, and no parent lived there for the last four or five years at all, if memory serves me correctly.
Some real estate transactions are easy and simplistic.
Others leave you in a state like the one I’m in right now, analyzing life and the circle that life produces, with all the stops along the way.
A buyer of a one-bedroom condo likely isn’t going to experience reflection and nostalgia the way I did with this home purchase, but oh-so-many of you know exactly what I went through, and still am – with baby #2 about to fill the empty bedroom down the hall.
That is what made this story so special for me, and I thank you all for reading and for sharing with me.
Eek. You don’t want to know, but it definitely starts with a “5.”
In the spirit of having A.D.D., can I tell you right now that when I started throwing the idea of a “blog” around back in 2006, one of the people I met with told me that blogs should be, at most, 200 to 400 words? True story! He also said that a “good” blog need only contain one new post per week.
Geez. I don’t imagine he’s reading this, but I wonder what he would think about this, as I approach 6,000 words…
So those are my “Top Five Blog Posts” of 2019, and thank you to all the readers and commenters for being apart of them, as well as the other 140-something posts as well.
As mentioned above, if there’s anything I missed, I’m all ears.
See you Wednesday for the “Top Five Real Estate Stories” of 2019. Any predictions?Back To Top Back To Comments