Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Cultural Wasteland We Are Not

  Many of the buyers that we deal with on a daily basis in real estate, have been coming to or are drawn to the Georgian Triangle due to the many recreational sports the area offers. Long known as the ski capital of Ontario, the area now is home to many other outdoor activities that is making it a popular choice for both part-time recreational users as well as for retirees. Golf, hiking, biking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are but some of the many activities available to those seeking an active outdoor lifestyle.

  The area however also offers much more than just outdoor sports to keep one busy and physically healthy. There is also a plethora of other interests in this area which are not typically found in smaller communities. I grew up and lived in Toronto for 30+ years before moving to Collingwood in 1985. Following seven years of living here, I spent four years in Chicago before returning in 1998. When I am not working, I spend what leisure time I can afford during the summer at my cottage on Manitoulin Island. Make no mistake about it, I like small towns and will never move back to the city but let's face it, most small places are what can only be described as a cultural wasteland. Not so here. We have a myriad of social activities to satisfy most tastes, enough so as to prolong the need to head south to Toronto or elsewhere for a cultural "fix" now and then. This includes an active arts community, live theatre, a film club, live concerts and more. Last weekend I attended a concert at the Gayety Theatre in Collingwood which was essentially a tribute concert of the 70's rock group "The Band." The band that played is known as King Harvest, named after one the original group's many songs. Members of King Harvest are all local musicians, further testimony to the multitude of talented individuals that call this area home. The show drew a standing ovation, the quality of the performance was excellent and the Gayety was literally rockin.
  As I have stated many times, one of my favourite quotes comes from the author David Foot that wrote the book Boom, Bust, Echo. In that book Mr. Foot states that: "...real estate is affected far more by demographics than it is by economics..." Nowhere is this more evident than in the Georgian Triangle. The demographics driving our real estate market are those individuals with a variety of interests and a multitude of talent that once thrived only in the large urban areas to the south of us. Whether you are in to music, theatre, painting, film or a host of other non-active recreational activities, we truly do offer something for everyone.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Collingwood Needs An Economic Action Plan!

  With the exception of four years in the mid 1990’s during which time I lived in the U.S., followed by a couple of years in Kitchener, I have been in the Collingwood area since 1985. Like many I have witnessed the evaporation of Collingwood’s manufacturing sector which essentially commenced with the closing of the shipyards in 1986. I remember stopping on the way out of town on route to my grandfather’s funeral, to watch the last ship built at “Collship” slide down the greased rails into the harbour and along with it the remaining 200 or so jobs that still existed there at closing.
  My own employer the one that moved me to Collingwood in the first place, Goodyear Canada, is gone and as we all know there have been many others. Not only is the Goodyear Collingwood hose plant closed, but Goodyear corporately is out of the industrial rubber products business as well as many other product lines it had diverted into, choosing to focus on its core business, tires. Indeed the manufacturing sector not only in our area but across North America has and continues to be redefined and this will continue as the result of emerging economies such as China and India.
  You can ask virtually anyone around town and most will readily agree that Collingwood has done an abysmal job of re-inventing itself economically. Better paying manufacturing jobs have been replaced by low wage service industry positions in retail and tourism. Once thriving plants have either been torn down ie: Harding Carpets and Kaufman Furniture or they remain for the most part shuttered and “For Sale” such as the Goodyear facility or used for purposes such as off season car and boat storage. There is 15,000 square feet of office space in a beautiful new building on the east side of town that remains vacant with no tenant(s) over two years after it's completion and likewise for a 15,000 square foot warehouse on the same property.
  The Thursday February 10th edition of The Connection ran a small article announcing that Collingwood had won an award from the Economic Developers Council of Ontario for its “Collingwood Has It All Campaign.” The adjoining story on the same page titled “Barber Glass to be auctioned” stood in stark contrast to the celebratory mood reflected on the face of the Mayor and Town staff accepting the aforementioned award at a ceremony in Toronto. At the very least, one might feel that placing these two news items on the same page was poor editorial judgment on the part of The Connection. If you choose to offer up some harsher criticism you might question is it even appropriate for Town staff to be “grandstanding” at an award ceremony when so many are either out of work or have had to leave the area to find it elsewhere? I am sure the 65 or 70 former employees of the short-lived Barber Glass plant find little solace in the Town’s award winning status and the same can no doubt be said of those that preceded the Barber Glass employees with permanent layoff notices at the Shipyards, Harding Carpets, Bendix, Goodyear, Kaufman, Nacan and others.
  The only way to gauge the effectiveness of an economic development initiative such as the “Collingwood Has It All” campaign is in the creation of jobs and via other tangible economic measurements. Anything else is smoke and mirrors. Awards don’t put food on the table, buy clothes or pay rent.  Residential property taxes have spiralled out of control partly due to the tax imbalance that exists due to reduced commercial activity in the area.
  Collingwood is years overdue in developing a comprehensive, focused and above all realistic economic development strategy. We need a definitive plan to rebuild our fractured economy developed and championed by experienced business people not bureaucrats.  Enough of the rhetoric about the lack of serviced industrial land or the absence skilled labour. That merely illustrates a “build it and they will come” mentality and in this day and age with continued uncertainty in an economy that is become increasingly global in nature, that attitude and approach simply won’t work.  Yes, Collingwood has a lot of outstanding characteristics natural and otherwise, but a well defined path to economic growth isn't one of them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Canadian Real Estate Association Increases 2011/2012 Sales Forecast

Based on higher than expected market activity in the latter half of 2010, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has revised its 2011 sales forecast for residential sales through the Association's MLS® system. 
The revised forecast stems from several factors.  For one, buyers realize that the current mortgage rates still remain at historically low levels and have no place to go but up.  The overall economic outlook for Canada remains positive and is continuing to improve and with it, consumer confidence is also on the move upward.  National home sale in 2010 topped 447,010 units.  CREA have forecasted a slight decrease (-1.6%) in unit sales for 2011 with sales expected to reach 439,900 homes.  Conversely, CREA has improved their forecast for 2012 and are now anticipating sales nationwide to reach 453,000 homes, an increase of 3.0%.   
  How does Ontario fair in all of this?  In 2010 home sales in Ontario reached 195,591 units, a decrease of 0.1% from 2009.  Sales in the province for 2011 are forecasted to decline a further 5.2% with a total of 185,500 homes being sold.  Slight improvement in Ontario sales activity is expected for 2012 with unit sales increasing to 187,900 an increase of 1.3%  over forecasted sales for this year.  All of this spells good news for consumers in that we are decidedly moving in the direction of more balanced market conditions which favours neither buyers nor sellers.
  For further information relative to the local market please see my Georgian Triangle Real Estate News and my Condo Communique´ newsletters both of which can be subscribed to at

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Upper End Home Sales Continue to Drive Area Real Estate Sales Upward

Although we continue to have a cold snowy winter, certain aspects of the real estate market have really started to heat up early in 2011 most notably the upper end of the market.
  To date we have had 3 sales (that I am aware of) ranging in price from $1.8 to $3.25 million.  One of those was a property not listed on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS® which I sold myself for over $2.7 million.  Further, two adjoining waterfront properties one of which was a vacant lot sold to the same buyer for $900,000 each so that too was essentially a $1.8 million dollar sale.  Three of these upper end sales were waterfront properties in the Blue Mountains.  In 2009 and 2010, higher end waterfront properties languished on the market.  Now barely six weeks into the new year with the beach areas buried under ice and snow not visible for the buyers to inspect and they are selling quite briskly.
  January sales reported through the MLS® system of the Georgian Triangle Real Estate Board (GTREB) were $22.7 million up 11% from $20.5 million in January 2010.  Not included in the January 2011 results was the aforementioned sale of over $2.7 million which did not go through GTREB's MLS®.  Unit sales in Janaury 2011 actually dropped from the prior year 77 versus 81 sold in January 2010 so the revenue increase was driven purely by the sale of more expensive properties.  The Municipality of Meaford and the Blue Mountains are the only two municipalities showing an increase in unit sales for January.
  People keep talking about it being a buyer's market but I for one am not buying into the notion.  Sure, the number of new MLS® listings this year through the end of January are up 5% but in any given price range, property type or area the selection is quite slim.  I have buyers ready and willing to make a purchase right now, we just can't find the right property. All of the aforementioned million dollar sales were at prices that exceeded 90% of their respective asking prices so there were hardly "given away."
  One month certainly does not make a year but improving economic conditions, renewed consumer confidence and the threat of higher interest rates down the road are bringing people back into the real estate buying mode, some in a very big way.  As the saying goes "an ill wind always blows someone some good."  The abundance of snow this winter resulting in fabulous ski, snowboard and snowmobiling conditions is bringing people to the area in droves. This in turn stimulates the local economy including real estate activity so in addition improved economic conditions, Mother Nature deserves some credit as well.

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