Skip to main content

The unit at 15 McMurrich was spacious, which made it attractive to both those downsizing and for those starting out.

Real estate agent Jill Lubinski had no plans to set an offer date when she was getting ready to list a condo unit for sale at 15 McMurrich St. in central Toronto.

But the renovated two-bedroom unit was already drawing attention from neighbours in the circa 1981 building near Yonge and Davenport. One young woman had appeared at the door with her agent in tow while Ms. Lubinski was in the throes of sweeping and cleaning, she recalls with a laugh.

"I could see we were going to get an offer before the stager even left," says Ms. Lubinski, of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

She advised the owner to delay offers so that more prospective buyers would have the opportunity to tour the 1,650-square-foot unit. They set the asking price at $829,000.

She also gave fair warning that the owner would not be looking at "pre-emptive offers." In other words, bullies were not welcome.

"The world thanked me for that because we got a lot of showings," Ms. Lubinski says.

On offer night, unit 904 drew four bidders and sold for $971,000, or $142,000 over asking. "My client was gobsmacked," she says. Indeed, the owner worried that the buyers were overpaying.

Ms. Lubinski pointed out that the buyers obviously saw something irresistible in the unit, which had a redesigned floor plan, extensive renovations and a modern Scavolini kitchen.

But the overwhelming sense that buyers have when they walk in is "wow – space," she says. Every bid was above the asking price, despite the fact that Ms. Lubinski had not deliberately set a low asking price. After she looked at the sale prices fetched by other units in the building, she estimated that market value would fall somewhere between $829,000 and $849,000.

Buildings of that vintage are often popular with buyers who are downsizing from a house, she says, because they offer so much more square footage for the price. They also draw younger buyers who would like to own a house but are turning to large condos as an alternative because prices in the freehold segment are so steep.

"It was perfectly positioned for both markets," she says.

Those combined forces have pushed up the 2015 prices at 15 McMurrich and other "older" condo buildings. "It's gentrifying the way a street does," Ms. Lubinski says.

Many of the units at 15 McMurrich have galley kitchens, she says, and that gave the spacious, open kitchen in unit 904 added appeal.

It also has two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, a den and an outdoor balcony. An old solarium was closed in and seamlessly made part of the indoor living space.

Ms. Lubinski has clients moving from Calgary who have recently been on the hunt for a 3,000-square-foot unit, she says. Others with houses in Rosedale and Forest Hill are ready to move but Ms. Lubinski is advising them not to put their magnificent homes on the market until she has found them a suitably large condo. "This is the most difficult thing for me right now."

Some buildings are very dated – think popcorn stucco on the ceilings, parquet floors and those galley kitchens – but buyers are willing to take them on for the space, she says. The buildings are not sexy but instead very dignified.

According to data from the Toronto Real Estate Board, sales of condos in the Greater Toronto Area jumped 13.2 per cent in May compared with the same month last year. The average price rose 5 per cent to $391,901 from a year earlier. Sales of detached houses rose 3 per cent in the GTA in May from a year earlier while the average price shot up 14 per cent to $829,792.

In the 416 area, sales of detached houses in May dropped 6 per cent while the average price soared 18.2 per cent; condo sales rose 12.9 per cent while the average price increased 5.5 per cent.

Ms. Lubinski says some buyers prefer the condo lifestyle and some are priced out of the single-family market but, either way, all of the building going on in the city is satisfying a demand for that type of housing. "There's not a glut. There's not an oversupply."

Many young people want to buy a condo in order to build equity, she says. Often the down payments are a gift from parents. "The boomers are the ones who have it and they're giving it," she says.

Numbers from the Canadian Real Estate Association this week show highly divergent performances in different regions across the country, says economist Adrienne Warren of Bank of Nova Scotia.

Ontario and British Columbia are the obvious hot spots – and not just in Toronto and Vancouver. Mid-sized cities in those provinces have robust housing markets as well.

Nationally, sales rose 3.1 per cent on a seasonally-adjusted basis in May compared with April. Looking at the year-over-year figures, sales edged up 2.7 per cent in May.

Over all, Ms. Warren expects historically low borrowing costs and moderate job and income gains to help dampen the effect of high house prices across the country. She also expects builders to maintain construction around current levels in the near term.

Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic points out that, much like last year, the spring selling season remains strong after tough weather chilled many markets through the winter. And an interest rate cut provided an added boost to 2015.

"The big picture remains the same: Canadian home sales and prices remain resilient, led by Vancouver and Toronto, but many markets outside those hard-hit by the slide in oil prices are in fine or improving shape as well," Mr. Kavcic says in a note to clients.