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Sales, prices, listings down. What’s up with Toronto’s high-end homes? Add to ...

A $4-million house perched on the edge of a ravine in the desirable South Hill area of Toronto recently found new owners after a full year on the market.

The buyers first toured the house in the spring of 2012, then kept looking. They came back 12 months later because they couldn’t find anything else that compared to the location, says real estate agent Jimmy Molloy of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

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Mr. Molloy represented the homeowners during the time it took to actually strike a deal. He says that property is a good barometer of high-end real estate in Toronto this year: houses are selling, but they are sitting for longer. Sellers are not offering firesale prices and buyers are patient.

“It’s tough. I can’t say I haven’t done business, but it’s hard work,” Mr. Molloy said.

In the upper echelons of Toronto real estate, properties are listed for $1.8-million to $10-million and above. One Toronto business titan has just quietly listed his house on Old Forest Hill Road with an asking price of $20-million.

In all of those segments, many agents say they are working longer to bring deals to fruition.

High-priced neighbourhoods such as Rosedale, Forest Hill and Lawrence Park still entice buyers, but the potential purchasers are not worried that prices are rocketing upwards the way they were in the past few years, says Mr. Molloy.

“People aren’t pricing in appreciation – they’re pricing in flatness.”

During the dizzying spring markets of 2011 and 2012, for example, buyers were more willing to throw an extra $100,000 into an offer because all of the momentum was upwards. People who weren’t planning to flip the house were confident it would appreciate, so they didn’t worry about paying more than the current market value.

This year, that intangible momentum has slowed and the market is more balanced between sellers and buyers.

“It’s still a very good market. The buyers are so savvy today, they know what everything trades at,” says Mr. Molloy. “It’s good – that’s why the Toronto market has stayed strong.”

Matthew Sapera, a builder of carriage trade houses, recently purchased a lot in Forest Hill for just under $5-million.

He plans to spend approximately 18 months building a house of 8,000 or so square feet. The classically proportioned, Georgian-style house will sit on an 80-by-175-foot lot in a prime block of Dunvegan Road, and Mr. Sapera is not worried that he could be building during a declining market. Prices in the core of the city only seem to be going up, he says, and many buyers have the money to spend on houses with high ceilings, large principal rooms and modern amenities. While high-end construction has slowed somewhat this spring, he says, that softness is likely temporary.

“In the core, there’s quite a bit of work going on. I know four projects on Dunvegan alone.”

Mr. Sapera says the project could find a buyer immediately, and he will then build the house to that owner’s specifications.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to go through the process on their own because it can take three or four years,” he says of the time it takes to hire an architect, obtain permits and then build.

Another person who isn’t worried about Mr. Sapera’s plan is his mother. Ethel Sapera of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., Johnston and Daniel Division, has been selling real estate for more than 33 years and she helped her son acquire the property.

She says business has been picking up in the past few weeks, with several multi-million dollar deals passing through her office.

Meanwhile, buyers in China and Russia are still keen to own in Toronto and many international buyers prefer new houses.

“I have clients who are looking for a large lot,” she says.

Part of the cooling in the 2013 spring market has likely been caused by frosty temperatures that lingered right through May, James Warren says, an agent with the Johnston and Daniel Division of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.

“We just got the icebergs out of the streets three weeks ago,” jokes Mr. Warren, who recently listed a house on Crescent Road in Rosedale with a cascading garden styled after an Italian villa and listed under heritage protection. The listing hit the market three weeks later than he would have liked because the perennials weren’t yet in bloom.

“You want to have access to a beautiful garden.”

In a typical spring in the C9 area, which includes high-priced Rosedale, about 46 houses sell for prices above $1.8-million , says Mr. Warren. This year, he estimates, the tally will be approximately half that.

“Supply is down considerably.”

Mr. Warren is working with a couple of prospective buyers who have budgets of $8-million and $9-million respectively. They haven’t been able to find the right properties because listings are scarce and some sellers are not being realistic about their asking price, he says.

“If the seller won’t pay attention, they move on.”

In the luxury segment, says Mr. Warren, most properties are selling for 95 or 96 per cent of the asking price. In years past, Mr. Warren says, negotiations tended to be more adversarial.

“You really just have to sit down with the other agent and say, ‘Let’s get this done, ’” Mr. Warren says. Meanwhile, he is hoping that more listings will stream onto the market.

“A lot of buyers right now are sitting on the fence. To get them off the fence, we have to meet their price or we have to get more product that’s tasty.”

 

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