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Fractional real estate investing allows you to own a small slice of equity in residential or commercial properties, such as apartments or business parks.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A back door has opened for young adults who want to own property, but find themselves priced out of the market.

Fractional real estate investing on platforms such as BuyProperly and Addy allows you to own a small slice of equity in residential or commercial properties, such as apartments or business parks. You can’t live in these properties, but you can benefit if they’re sold later at a profit and receive a little rental income while you wait. You could also lose money if a property is sold for less than the purchase price.

Investing fractionally is officially a thing. Wealthsimple Trade lets you do it with a growing number of stocks, and it’s also possible to buy part ownership of art, stamps and royalties generated by music. But fractional real estate investing is by far the biggest breakthrough, both in helpful and unhelpful ways.

The positives are as much emotional as financial. You can invest successfully over a lifetime without direct property holdings, but a lot of money has been made in real estate lately and those who cannot afford to buy in are feeling the burn. Fractional real estate investing addresses this frustration.

But it also feeds a trend called the financialization of housing, or homes being treated as commodities and investments. Along with low interest rates and pandemic-driven lifestyle changes, the financialization of housing explains why home prices have risen so much.

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We see financialization in the growing number of people who own multiple properties. Why sell your starter home to move up when you can own two properties? Another example is a Toronto condo developer, Core Development Group Ltd., buying single-family homes to rent out. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. recently created a Financialization of Housing Lab to study the trend.

BuyProperly is a fractional investing platform where you invest a minimum $2,500 in a house or condo unit and receive both a quarterly flow of rental income and the potential to profit when the property is sold.

“Fractional real estate investing is about buying shares of a house like you buy shares of a company, basically,” said Khushboo Jha, founder and chief executive officer of BuyProperly.

BuyProperly makes money by charging a fee pegged at 2.5 per cent of your upfront investment. Ms. Jha said that after applying this fee against rental income paid by tenants, you’re left with a return of 1 per cent to 2 per cent a year while you wait for a property to be sold.

With Addy, clients pay a $25 annual membership fee that allows them to invest as little as $1 in commercial properties such as apartment buildings and business parks, with a limit of $1,500 per property.

“Let’s say there’s an apartment building available in a neighbourhood and it cost $1-million,” Addy founder and CEO Michael Stephenson said. “Addy will buy it and then we’ll issue a million shares, each for $1, and anybody, including tenants in the building, can own a piece of the building.”

Money invested through BuyProperly is technically locked in for five years, but the company maintains a secondary market allowing people to sell before that. Addy’s lock-up periods range from three to 10 years, and there’s no means to sell your holdings in advance.

BuyProperly has about 300 investors who have bought into 11 or so deals in the past year, while Addy’s 7,000 or so investors have a stake in about 15 properties. Fractional real estate companies aren’t yet buying up enough properties to stoke demand and, in turn, prices. But that’s where we may be headed if the financialization of real estate spreads – more buyers chasing a limited supply.

Ms. Jha of BuyProperly disputed whether real estate being treated like a commodity is anything new. “I would say that real estate has always been a financial asset,” she said. “It’s just that it wasn’t available to regular people.”

BuyProperly clients divide into two main groups – young people in their 20s who aspire to buy a house in the future and people who already have a house and want to invest in a second property without making a big financial commitment.

Properties for sale on the site have been largely located in Ontario – in places such as Hamilton, the Niagara Region, London and Ottawa. Perhaps reflecting the impact of the financialization of housing, there’s nothing for sale right now in Toronto.

“We haven’t been able to zero in on anything in Toronto,” Ms. Jha said. “We would love to and customers would want to, but it doesn’t make sense, returns-wise.”

Coming soon: An investor’s take on fractional real estate, including fees and risks.

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