Tom Curtis

Coworking in Cliffside       July/ August 2022 Edition

By Tom Curtis

First things first – what is coworking? Merriam-Webster defines it as “being, relating to, or working in a building where multiple tenants (such as entrepreneurs, start-ups, or nonprofits) rent working space (such as desks or offices) and have the use of communal facilities”. Not so long ago, this was a niche concept. By the late 2000s, coworking had really just started to grow in popularity, mainly within the tech community. Adoption then continued at pace until COVID hit and (temporarily?) changed the way we work in early 2020. As we come out of this strange period, further growth of coworking is anticipated. Real estate services company, JLL, predicts that, “Given industry shifts, flexible workspace and shared amenity spaces are projected to encompass approximately 30% of the office market by 2030.”

The set-up appeals particularly to small businesses, start-ups and freelancers for several key reasons. It allows them to focus on what they do best, rather than on managing office space. It affords them flexibility in terms of being able to avoid long-term lease commitments (instead utilising annual, monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly terms). It is also ideal for project-based assignments, with employers free to scale their workforce and associated space up or down as needed. Additional justifications of these types of offices include the use of networking and collaboration spaces, as well as increased productivity (compared to working from home).

To accommodate and appeal to a wide range of potential users, coworking offices often provide various workstation environments, ranging from private offices and dedicated desks to “hot desks” and day passes.

Maybe the most well-known provider of coworking space is WeWork, which operates 19.8 million square feet of office space in the United States and Canada. The industry giant has plenty of competition in Toronto though, where there is now a growing variety of cowork options, many independently run, and often with niche target users.

One such option is Merge Spaces by LCH Developments in Cliffside, located adjacent to the Merge Condos project. Opening in July, the team is betting on the fact that small businesses and independent workers in south Scarborough and beyond are now ready to get out of their home offices (or their kitchens or off their couches) and into somewhere more productive. While not the first coworking space in Scarborough, it is the first significant provider of the service in the area and, being right on Kingston Road, it seems to be a great option for workers who might otherwise be commuting into the core to use similar spaces.

The space itself is fun and bold, with Scarborough-influenced murals, flashes of magenta and a distinct “house” theme throughout. There is a “Treehouse” presentation space suitable for up to 100 people and a “Clubhouse” with a ping pong table, video games and boardgames. The private offices and meeting rooms have their very own pitched roofs. On-site services include mail/package handling and, of course, bottomless snacks and coffee.

Carrie Pidgeon is the Merge Spaces Community Manager. She sees its launch as “really exciting for Scarborough and the Cliffside neighbourhood”. Carrie sees it as more than a coworking space, she sees “a community hub and place to connect, meet new people, and enjoy exciting events and programming”. Carrie is in the process of coordinating the first series of networking events intended to showcase members and the community. She is also working on office socials, including fun with food, Ted Talks and lunch and learns.

The LCH Developments team has high expectations and hopes to see the model succeed and replicated at other locations. It is anticipated that the local business community is set to benefit too, especially at lunchtime.

Tom Curtis lives in Cliffcrest and is a Real Estate Sales Representative with Royal LePage Commercial (Royal LePage Estate Realty). Contact Tom to discuss how he can assist you at 416-738-9018 or tomcurtis@royallepage.ca

Coming Soon: Garden Suites?       June 2022 Edition

There is a lot of discussion right now about “garden suites” and what their adoption will mean for housing supply and our neighbourhoods. Approved by the City in February, this housing typology is officially defined as “a housing unit, usually located in the backyard of an existing house, but separate and detached from the main house”. The stated intent is that by permitting broad implementation across most residential areas of the city, the supply and type of housing available will be increased. “As-of-right” consent will also result in a streamlined approvals process.

Council’s giving the green light to garden suites is seen by many housing advocates as the logical next step to the 2018 by-law and policy changes which paved the way for construction of laneway suites on qualifying residential properties. Like laneway suites, garden suites are seen as a great option for homeowners to create value and a potential revenue stream on their properties by adding living space for extended family members or tenants.

The City notes that while there is no minimum lot size required for the construction of garden suites, other variables will be considered. These include lot width and depth, the size of the existing dwelling, the location and size of the unit, and access for emergency services. There will also be measures taken to support the preservation of existing, healthy, by-law protected trees and City staff will have the authority to refuse building permits on that basis.

While garden suites have already been approved by Council, the by-law amendment is not yet in force as it has been appealed at the Ontario Land Tribunal by the Alliance of Toronto Residents’ Associations. Janet May, Director of the Cliffcrest Scarborough Village SW Residents Association and Alliance member, believes that the by-law as currently written includes insufficient protection of backyard trees. One of her concerns related to this is that, when digging basements, the required excavation and resulting soil compaction from heavy machinery is likely to lead to the damage of existing mature trees. She also anticipates that the current issue of developers illegally removing trees will be exacerbated through the construction of garden suites. A decision regarding these concerns is expected to be made later this year.

Kyle Springer is a Project Manager at Garden Suites Toronto, a 2×2 Construction Company, with a focus on adding density and infill via additions, single-to-multi-family conversions, laneway and now garden suites. He anticipates plenty of business in lower-density parts of the city like south Scarborough, noting specifically that “areas with bungalows and 50’ by 150’ lots are prime for garden suites”. Kyle sees adding density as an ideal way to increasing housing supply and, as a 30-year old professional, his hope is that this will help to stabilise prices for his generation.

If we do witness widescale construction of garden suites, there will be even further demand for builders and continued upward pressure on already-expensive labour and material costs seems likely. Kyle notes that Garden Suites Toronto is one of just a few builders that currently specialises in these smaller and often challenging projects. That will have to change quickly if the level of demand for these units is as high as many expect it to be.

For more information on the Alliance of Toronto Residents’ Associations, you can visit https://buildingbetterneighbourhoods.ca/

For more information on Garden Suites Toronto/2×2 Construction, you can visit https://gardensuitestoronto.com/

Tom Curtis is a Sales Representative with Royal LePage Commercial/Royal LePage Estate Realty. You can contact Tom at 416-738-9018 or tomcurtis@royallepage.ca

Yes, The Housing Market is Absolutely Crazy       April 2022

Everyone knows that the housing market is out of control right now. Maybe you’ve heard that prices have risen by almost 28% over the past 12 months, or that the average sale price was $1,334,544 in February, or even that Toronto is now officially the most expensive city in Canada. To be honest, although I work in (commercial) real estate and was well aware of all of the above, I’ve still come away completely shocked by my recent personal experience with this market.

Way back in 2021, my in-laws decided that they wanted to move closer to their young grandchildren. Living several hours away from Toronto, the thought was that I would guide them through what was likely to be a stressful search for us, what with video tours and them then travelling immediately to Toronto every time they liked the look of a house. I don’t think that any of us expected it to be easy.

The search began and we made our first offer in late September. A nice, bright, modern bungalow in Port Union, close to the family and a neighbourhood that was a good fit. They’re moving from a modern bungalow in a smaller town and liked the idea of some of the same features–leafy, a safe area, high ceilings, double garage, etc. A bungalow was essential due to some mobility concerns. This one fit the bill. It was a baptism of fire–16 offers arrived on offer night and the property sold for almost $300,000 over asking. We showed well though and they were only $30,000 away from winning on the first attempt. Maybe this won’t be so bad, we thought.

Next up was one of my personal favourites, a sprawling ranch-style bungalow on a wide lot in Pickering that came up at the end of November. This one was listed a little higher, so we decided to go in at $150,000 over asking. There were only six offers (single digits!), but we were blown to pieces as the house sold for another $150,000 over our bid. When you’re that far off, it’s easier to take the loss. On to number three.

As the new year began, fearing that our budget was not going to get us where we wanted to be, we expanded the search to include Stouffville, which at a 40-minute drive away is significantly further and less convenient for visits. This is where house number three presented itself at the end of January. It was beautifully renovated and was an instant hit with all of us. We upped the original budget by about $100,000 and went all in. After 12 offers, it sold for $165,000 more than our effort and $325,000 over the list price. Comparable sales from only a couple of months earlier had sold for $250,000 less so this was a major wake-up call and we were concerned that our window had already closed after just four months of looking. We then watched from the sidelines as another inferior bungalow sold for even more and decided that we didn’t like Stouffville anyway.

Number four was out in Whitby. Again, we didn’t initially want to have to travel this far from Scarborough, but the place came available and it looked like a solid fit. A bully offer went in after one day on the market. Fortunately, the in-laws were staying with us at the time so we managed to move fast enough to get our own offer in, then it sold for $600,000 over the asking price (we were a humble $475,000 over).

Two more came up, in Rouge and then Pickering, at which point our list of “must haves” had become a little more flexible, including an appetite for renovations and two-storeys, neither of which were ideal. There were also conversations about condos (which were quickly shut down) and even giving up and settling for the existing two-and-a-half-hour drive to visit the grandkids. However, they stood strong and, finally, we ended up right back where we started, in Port Union.

Having been thoroughly schooled on how to buy GTA houses over the past six months, we submitted our own bully bid well within 24 hours of listing and just half an hour into the first open house. Two other offers came in, but we came out on top. As real estate hunts go these days, I think this is considered a happy ending – we’d bid on seven properties across four municipalities, and the budget had been increased twice, but we ended up right where we started and everyone was delighted.

Tom Curtis lives in Cliffcrest and is a Real Estate Sales Representative with Royal LePage Commercial (Royal LePage Estate Realty). Contact Tom to discuss how he can assist you at 416-738-9018 or tomcurtis@royallepage.ca

Big Changes Coming for Bluffs Neighbourhoods?       March 2022

A New Build; beside a typical house in the Bluffs’ neighbourhoods.

The Province is being encouraged to open up neighbourhoods for densification as a solution to the ongoing housing crisis.

Comprised of a team of industry leaders, the Province’s Housing Affordability Task Force delivered a report to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in February, packed with 55 recommendations to increase housing supply. The report is clear regarding the challenge the region faces, outlining that “we do not have enough homes to meet the needs of Ontarians today, and we are not building enough to meet the needs of our growing population.” It states that the consequence of not acting is simple, “If this problem is not fixed – by creating more housing to meet the growing demand – housing prices will continue to rise.”

It goes on to list nine proposals specific to addressing how the government can quickly increase the supply of housing by “allowing more housing in more locations “as of right” (without the need for municipal approval)”. Maybe not surprisingly, many of these focus on increases in density close to major transit stations and along main, transit-served streets.

There are already plans in place for substantial high-rise projects adjacent to local GO Stations (see Scarborough Junction at Scarborough GO, for example), and most of Kingston Road is designated as “Mixed Use” in the City’s Official Plan, encouraging mid-rise development. With some exceptions, the Task Force’s proposals in these areas generally call for (much) more of what we are already seeing in this part of the city.

However, arguably the most transformational and controversial recommendations relate to the proposed densification of residential neighbourhoods. The authors’ position is that “Too much land inside cities is tied up by outdated rules. For example, it’s estimated that 70% of land zoned for housing in Toronto is restricted to single-detached or semi-detached homes.” Based on this, their recommendations include as of right “secondary suites, garden suites, and laneway houses”, as well as “residential housing up to four units and up to four storeys on a single residential lot”. This last recommendation is a potential game-changer and would presumably be realised via replacement of existing housing stock with fourplexes or townhouses.

Economically, it’s clear that this is where much of the opportunity to materially increase the supply of housing is. Chris Spoke, advocate for increased housing supply and Editor of local development newsletter, “Skyline”, explains, “Excluding land, it costs about $200 to $400 per square foot to convert or redevelop a detached house into a fourplex. By contrast, the cost for a new high-rise development is currently upward of $600 to $800 per square foot.”

If these recommendations are pursued, it seems likely that this is where the Government would see the most substantial pushback. These proposals have the potential to drastically reshape neighbourhoods, perhaps especially in the Bluffs where we have ample space to accommodate such change. We’re in a unique part of the City, there aren’t many neighbourhoods that can boast vast 50’ by 150’ lots home to post-war bungalows – many newer suburban homes in other parts of the region are situated on lots a quarter of that size.

For those alarmed by the proposals, perhaps it is worth noting that there is already an unprecedented amount of neighbourhood transition taking place? We are continuously witnessing dozens of older bungalows being replaced with 3000+ square foot new builds. It could well be the case that the addition of different forms of housing doesn’t necessarily mean substantially larger built form than this, but instead more, but smaller, units.

It will be interesting to see which of the 55 recommendations the Province has the courage to pursue going forward.

Tom Curtis lives in Cliffcrest and is a Real Estate Sales Representative with Royal LePage Commercial (Royal LePage Estate Realty). Contact Tom to discuss how he can assist you at 416-738-9018 or tomcurtis@royallepage.ca

A New Approach To Condo Commercial Space

By Tom Curtis

January’s article focused on some of the reasons why condominium retail space often sits empty for long periods of time, despite the generally low vacancy rate of commercial units in the area. Following up on that, I recently discussed with one developer, KAD Development Group, their plans to take this challenge head-on by delivering a development that offers an innovative and community-focused solution.

Yasmine Hay is the Project Manager for the new 3355 Kingston Road condo and describes how the team is attempting to create a “precedent for a positive approach to development” at this location. In a sentence, KAD plans to do this through the production of a “mid-rise condominium building with a dynamic, arts-focused, ground-floor space for residents and the local community.”

When putting forward a development proposal like this, the City of Toronto expects to see a plan that considers and addresses the job displacement associated with the project. Typically, this results in schemes that incorporate replacement commercial space into the design of the building. However, as we often see, occupancy and jobs do not always follow.

Yasmine explained to me that KAD’s “art-loving and philanthropic” investors have put forward a new approach, one which will provide studio and community space instead of the more typical retail dedication. The hope is that this will help to address the widespread problem of artists, those at more settled stages of life in particular, who often find themselves pressured to leave the city in search of cheaper locations that enable the joint pursuits of both focusing on their crafts and raising their families.

Similar initiatives do exist in the city, such as Artscape’s projects, which are focused on the live/work model (combined living and creative spaces). KAD’s approach at 3355, however, is a more family-friendly combination of distinct living and working quarters. In practice, this means affordable dwelling units for “artist-led families,” as well as 4,300 square feet of studio and community space on the ground floor. The intent is that this model will include reciprocation by the resident artists via service to their neighbours and the broader local community. This will be achieved through the creation and delivery of grass-roots programming, the content of which will be decided via a panel that includes direct community representation.

Hay concluded that KAD sees ample and currently untapped potential for art as a tool for strengthening communities and views this development as a “community catalyst.” In her words, she expects that “the provision of affordable home ownership for artist led-families and separated work studios that also allow for community involvement, will change the discussions around new development and the communities they create.”

The KAD team hopes that what is built here in Scarborough Village will ultimately be replicated across the city.

Tom Curtis lives in Cliffcrest and is a Real Estate Sales Representative with Royal LePage Commercial (Royal LePage Estate Realty). Contact Tom to discuss how he can assist you at 416-738-9018 or tomcurtis@royallepage.ca