Mortgages and Condo Conversions
One of my favourite adages in the real estate business is they arent building land anymore. This is a great metaphor to explain the huge home price increases we have seen the past few years. Its also why I tell my clients in Toronto that buying a house with a backyard is a great investment! I point to this adage when explaining the boom in condo construction. Simply, there isnt enough land and not enough houses. People need a place to live close to work that has some transit options. If they cant find a house, than a condo may be a good viable option.
We Have seen lots ofactivity in Toronto over the years revolving around the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums. Its an investment strategy for those building owners to liquidate an assets at often times at a bigger profit multiplier than simply selling the building. This post starts to explore what does it mean when a building is converted and more importantly are there mortgage issues relating to these conversions?
A building is converted when the ownership is transferred to a condominium corporation. To do this in Ontario, the owner of the building must meet many requirements before the condominium structure is approved by the province. Im not going to go into the legal details, but one important step is the establishment of a reserve fund.
A reserve fund is a pool of money established for the future maintenance needs of the building. Mostly it deals the the costly capital expenditures required to keep the building in good repair. Think new roofs, re-surfacing of parking lots, upgrading of fire sprinklers, etc. Things that cost a lot of money - millions of dollars for big buildings! The reserve fund is established using calculations set forth by the regulators, and then part of your condo fees go towards the strengthening of the fund. Your condo fees arent just to pay for the security guard at the front door, and new plants outside!
Looking at how much the buildings condo fees is an excellent indication of the health of the reserve fund. These fees that are established/increased by the condo board are not only for day to day costs, but also future major capital fixes, like a new roof. High fees mean extra services, or more likely in older building a higher allocation to the reserve fund.
Condo boards on a semi regular basis hire engineers and contractors to look at the building and estimate the economic life of major systems and the cost to replace them. Using the roof example again, the condo board knows how much more life the roof has before it needs to be replaced, and how much its going to cost to replace it. They then will start budgeting for the repair many years before it needs to be done. Reviewing the condo board minutes (which tell you expected future repairs), and the value of the reserve fund indicates if there is enough money to cover these expected repairs. A healthy fund has enough money.. A fund that is in trouble is considered to be under capitalized, meaning not enough money has been set aside for expected repairs. Your lawyer will review these documents and let you know what kind of shape the condo board and its reserve fund are in.
When a fund is under capitalize this is a serious issue. What does it mean for an expected buyer? Expect higher condo fees in the future, or a one time assessment where all owners need to come up with an extra chunk of money. If a new roof is going to cost $500,000 and there is only $200,000 available in the fund, its you and your fellow owners that need to come up with shortfall. If there are 100 units, that and extra $3,000 cheque you will be writing! You can imagine how High these assessments can become when multiple things need to be fixed/replaced in a short time frame.
What does it mean for your mortgage lender? Remember they are lending on the security of the building, as well how easy it would be for them to sell the unit it they have to. A building with a bad roof isnt as valuable. A building with high fees wont sell as quickly. All in all, an under capitalized reserve fund is probably the riskiest thing for them. Expect to have some serious issues getting a mortgage.
So why is this so important with condo conversions? Simply put, older buildings need more repairs. More repairs mean higher fees, and a higher chance of extra one time assessments. They are simply less desirable and pose a higher financial risk. So why do people buy conversions? Price! Always remember that sometimes a deal that seems too good to be true probably isnt. Yes you can still buy a condo conversion in Toronto for $125,000! You can imagine the state of repair of the building, and the the health of the condo reserve fund. One recent example saw condo fees for a one bedroom unit being $820 a month. Pretty high for a $120,000 unit.
Im going to leave the question of is this building a good deal to the real estate and legal experts on your home buying team. However, as your mortgage advsior, I need you to know what to expect. As a general rule of thumb, I tell my clients two things when looking at a condo in Toronto. One, if the pice is under $250,000, this may mean there are issues with the overall value of the building and its fund. Second, any condo fee over $0.75 per square foot is going to give you problems. For conversions, the number in my experience is closer to $0.50. You get what you pay for.. Extra services like a concierge, guest suite, pool, gym, etc. will obviously mean higher fees. But if you see higher fees and no extra services, thats your indication reserve fund issues!
Lenders will really start to question high condo fees. Expect that they will want to review condo documents before an approval.
Here is a well know secret.. Our mortgage insurers in Canada (CMHC, Genworth, Canada Guarantee) review condo building on a regular basis, and keep detailed lists on buildings that have reserve fund issues. Banks have access to these lists and then come up with there own do not lend on lists of buildings.
When you are looking at a condo conversion to buy, the first thing I do is contact the insurers to see if they will insure that building. I will then speak to some banks to see if they will lend on that building. If we are good, I will tell you that. You still have to decide if the condo fees are worth what you are getting, and your lawyer still needs to review and approve the condo documents. If one of the insures says no we have concerns with that building, then options become limited. Expect that not all banks and lenders will lend on that building; meaning you may not qualify for the lowest rates out there. Also expect that you may need to come up with a higher downpayment.
Regardless of the building, you will get approved... But at what price?
Im one recent case, only one Big Bank was lending in a particular building. My client ended up paying a higher rate (extra 20 bps) because that bank knew there was no competition. In another case, no big bank was lending in a building. This meant my client had to go with a private mortgage with 35% down payment and a 9% rate. Was it still a good deal for them? Yes, because the mortgage payment and condo fees were still lower than there current rent.
The vast majority of condos in Toronto are perfectly fine. Just beware when you see high condo fees combined with a low selling price. Ask your realtor about the condo reserve fund. Speak to your mortgage professional about that particular building. Its always best to know if there will be any issues, and options to over come; before you put in that offer.
This is an exciting time looking for your home. Lets work together to make it a smooth process.
Week in review
Real GDP continued to recover in August, gaining 1.2% m/m, a result above the +0.9% print expected by consensus. This marks the fourth monthly gain in a row for this indicator, however total output is still down 4.6% from its pre-pandemic (February) level. Production rose in 15 of the 20 industrial sectors covered in August, with two others remaining flat in the month. Goods sector output climbed 0.5% on decent rises for construction (+1.5%) and manufacturing (+1.2%). Industrial production edged up 0.1%. Services-producing industries, meanwhile, experienced a 1.5% surge in production, with the steepest progressions occurring in arts/entertainment (+13.7%), accommodation/food services (+7.3%) and educational services (+3.4%). Year on year, total economic output was down 3.8%.
Canadian GDP registered yet another advance in August but the economic recovery remains highly uneven. Some sectors have now fully recovered from the COVID-19 shock and currently stand above their pre-pandemic peaks. That is the case for agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting (+2.5% compared with February), finance/insurance (+2.1%), real estate (+1.5%), wholesale (+1.3%), retail (+1.2%) and utilities (+0.8%). That said, certain industries continue to suffer. For instance, production in the mining/quarrying/oil and gas extraction segment remains 17.2% below its February level thanks in large part to depressed energy prices. The sectors most affected by social distancing measures are also struggling to recover. Output in the arts/entertainment segment is roughly half what it was before COVID. Production in accommodation/food services, meanwhile, remains 28.2% short of pre-pandemic levels. Transportation and warehousing is also tracking 20.5% below February. While the economic rebound is likely to have extended into September Statistics Canada advance estimate suggests production expanded another 0.7% in the month the steep gap between the best and worst performing industries is likely to endure in a context in which people continue to avoid social contacts. Looking further ahead, the real question remains whether the recovery can be sustained, especially now that COVID-19 cases are surging back up, forcing some provincial governments to reintroduce social distancing measures.
Is the BoC Doing Enough?
There was no shock and awe in the Bank of Canadas overall set of communications this morning (here, here and here). In fact, the overall guidance appears to be well short of crushing it in my opinion. CAD was little changed in the aftermath of the communications, but it had been depreciating ahead of time with the driver being Covid-19 effects on global risk appetite. The Canada curve was also little affected post-communications with less than a basis point rise in the two-year yield.
Here is what they did on policy measures:
Purchases of Government of Canada bonds were reduced to at least C$4B/week which is down by $1B from previously.
GoC bond purchases will now be skewed toward longer-term bonds in the 3, 5, 10, 15 and 30 year segments of the curve but with MPR guidance (page 25) that purchases in the 3- to 15-year maturities tend to have the greatest effect on household and business borrowing rates. Watch for the next statements of operational details ahead of the next secondary market purchases of GoC bonds for elaboration on what they are targeting in what proportions.
Guidance on how long the purchases will continue remains vague and simply states they will continue until the recovery is well underway. Macklem has previously defined that point to be somewhere between the initial stages of recovery and closure of the output gap, though he did not repeat that today or offer anything else. For modelling their balance sheet Ive tended to assume until mid-2021 as a middle ground, but it could be longer.
Forward guidance was moderately strengthened. They did so by now attaching a statement-codified timeline to the closure of the output gap and achievement of the 2% inflation target sometime in 2023 until which rates will remain on hold. Previously they had indicated they would not hike until this was achieved but did not attach a timeline in the statement. This shouldnt really surprise many by way of new information. Its priced, and we had already largely figured this to be roughly the case.
source: Derek Holt, Scotiabank Economics