June 29, 2011

This week we buzzed over to Urbanation to talk with editor and Executive Vice President, Ben Myers. For those who don’t know Urbanation, it’s the leader in condominium market research and the authoritative source for information on Toronto’s high-rise condo market.

Ben manages the Urbanation team while tracking and analyzing Toronto’s condo market and oversees publishing of the Condominium Market Survey every quarter.

He’s also an efficient time manager (or Superman) because he’s also pursuing a degree in Urban Land Economics at UBC.

BBH: Before you worked at Urbanation, you worked for several real estate firms. What motivated you to get involved in the world of real estate?

BM: Well, actually, when I graduated from university, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I graduated in Dallas and just started looking over the boards for jobs, getting on the Internet searching, and I ended up working at a real estate research firm. I’ve continued on that path for the last decade.

BBH: How long have you been working with Urbanation?

BM: I started at Urbanation in 2007, at the peak of the high rise condo market, when we had 23,000 sales. This year’s looking pretty good, I don’t know if it’ll top that, but obviously the market has been going pretty strong since I started working here and I hope it continues.

BBH: If you could put your process in layman’s terms, how do you compile something as detailed as the Condominium Market Survey?

BM: In terms of getting new information, we get good cooperation from the developers and brokers out there and they give us a lot of the information that goes in our report. We go out to a lot of sales offices and pick up the packages too.

In terms of the resale information, we use the Toronto Real Estate Board and do what we call “upsizing” it based on our database of now over 200,000 units. That’s how we do our resale.

In terms of the proposed section, we go over and over and over city agendas, committee adjustments and landsale databases, and builder/developer websites. And obviously BuzzBuzzHome is a good source of information as well.

BBH: UrbanRental is a relatively new report that Urbanation has compiled. Why is the information in the report so vital?

BM: I think we’ve been quoted in several sources that 45 to 60 per cent of the entire market is to investors and even moreso in the downtown core — probably 80, 90 per cent of downtown core projects. So for investors, they’ll be renting these units out. They want to know what the areas are renting for and what the next hot areas in terms of rents will be. The rents and the sales don’t necessarily coincide, so it’s always good to follow both ends of it.

BBH: The UrbanRental Report shows stagnant rental prices over the past few years for rentals. When do you expect these numbers to rise?

BM: We’re looking at a record number of condo registrations this year. Probably in the neighbourhood of 15 to 16,000 units will register. This is the highest number we’ve ever had in the Toronto CMA and you know more supply typically keeps prices in check. I wouldn’t expect a huge increase in rents the investors will be getting.

It will be interesting going forward because obviously we’ve seen a 7 to 9 per cent increase in the prices of new condominiums. It will be interesting to see if that affects the level of investor activity.

BBH: Growth in the condo market in Toronto has been quite huge during the last few years. Where do you think the market can go from here? 

BM: It’s hard to say. At the start of the year we were forecasting 16,000 sales for 2010 because typically after a large spike year — last year there was 20,500 new condo sales — we expected it to go down.

But certainly, considering the results of the second quarter, it looks like we’ll have in the neighbourhood of 38, 39 new project openings and a lot of them have been very successful so far. We may end up with over 10,000 sales in the first half of the year.

I had upped my forecast to 18,000, but now I might have to up it farther. I don’t know if we can sell 25,000 and I certainly don’t think we can sell 30,000, but even more problematic than sales is deliverance — can we build that many? That’s the issue going forward.

BBH: Do you think the media sensationalizes condo sales surges and dips?

BM: There’s no doubt. I mean, they’re in it to sell newspapers, the same as BuzzBuzzHome wants to get readers to come to their website. You take out the good points and you accentuate them or you take out the bad points and you accentuate them. 

We put out our press release four times a year on the results of the condo market and they pick the one line that shows either up or down and they use that as their headline. That’s just the natural way for it.Unfortunately, it scares some of the buyers, typically the end users. Sometimes they get nervous about there being too much product on the market or sales going down. Sometimes it’s only a three month trend during the winter season, so it’s not going to really show you what’s happening for the entire market.BBH: Are you an iphone, Blackberry or Android guy?

BM: I’m a Blackberry guy.

BBH: Anything about the Blackberry you find more appealing?

BM: I don’t like virtual keyboards, so I would never have a phone that has a virtual keyboard. My wife has an iPhone and I love the screen and the videos and all the fun stuff, but that just distracts me from all the work I need to get done.

BBH: What’s your coffee place of choice?

BM: I’m actually not a coffee drinker. What I usually say is it stunts your growth, so I don’t drink it.

BBH: Speaking of stunted growth, you’re a pretty tall guy from what we’ve heard. How tall are you?

BM: I’m 199 centimetres tall…

BBH: Jeez. That’s up there.

BM: I know, no one uses centimetres. I’m 6’6″. It certainly intimidates the developers and brokers into giving me the good numbers.

BBH: You’ve got some spare time. What do you do for fun?

BM: I play softball and basketball and I peruse BuzzBuzzHome. Is that enough buttkissin’ for ya? *laughs*

Thanks to Ben for taking the time to buzz with us!

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