'Shadow inventory' of high-end penthouses, unsold units could be even higher
The number of $1 million-plus condos for sale in Toronto has reached such “shocking” levels, it would take about 20 months to sell them all given current demand, more than four times what it would take to clear the current inventory of more conventional condos.
What’s even more worrisome is those numbers don’t include “shadow inventory,” which could easily exceed the number of high-end condos that were listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service as of the end of June, says Toronto realtor Andrew la Fleur who did the math recently on behalf of an investor.
That shadow inventory includes units that have yet to sell in five-star hotel projects like the Trump International Hotel & Tower, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La and Four Seasons, all of which have hit the market in the last two years.
Also part of that great unknown are pricey penthouses still sitting empty in dozens of newer condo projects, especially in the downtown core: Developers don’t like to dump too many of their unsold units on the publicly accessible MLS system all at once, for fear it can make the project look bad and undercut prices.
In the first six months of this year, there were 145 condos listed on MLS for $1 million or more, says la Fleur, who was shocked by the numbers when he started delving into the high-end market recently on behalf of an investor who wanted to know if they stood to make more money buying one pricey property or two or three cheaper condos.
Only 42 of those $1-million plus units actually sold, an average of seven per month, says la Fleur. That equates, in key real estate market terms, into a 20-month supply. It was even higher, 25 months, in tony Yorkville, much to la Fleur’s surprise.
That’s more than four times the three to five-month supply of more conventional condos that were for sale in the first six months of 2013.
“It’s very crowded out there,” says la Fleur, who found prices have remained flat, or even slumped, for folks who bought into many of the five-star hotel projects before they were built.
He believes it could be at least three years, and perhaps as much as a decade, before investors in that sector really start to see gains.
While prices have indeed been flat, there hasn’t been the slump many had expected now that all those five-star offerings are up and open, says Shaun Hildebrand, senior vice president of condo research firm Urbanation.
“When you look at the numbers and relate them to the rest of the market, it would suggest that there is a glut, a drastic oversupply,” of $1 million-plus condos, says Hildebrand. “But this is a very niche segment of the market. It really needs to be looked at in isolation.”
In fact, months of supply in Yorkville has always run about twice that of the conventional condo market and it’s just going to take time for all these new units to find buyers, he added.
“This is a new market to Toronto, it’s still in its infancy.”
Wealthy buyers are still looking at Toronto, says Ross McCredie, chief executive officer of luxury realtor Sotheby’s International who sold his $2 million condo in the Four Seasons last spring to a Hong Kong buyer.
“There are a lot of people actually purchasing higher-end condos with cash as investment vehicles that they can rent out because the vacancy rate is so low in Toronto,” says McCredie. “That’s a key indicator. It shows that on a long-term basis, those condos are going to prove out.”
In fact, dozens of condos in the Ritz, Shangri-La and Four Seasons are already being rented out, either by choice or because investors couldn’t find buyers. Rents are running more than $3 to more than $5 per square foot.
That translates into a mere $6,000 a month for a 1,600 square foot unit at the Ritz.