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How sustainable is montreal`s construction bonanza?

How sustainable is Montreal's construction bonanza?




There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the bonanza of construction taking place in Montreal and certainly on these pages an inquisitive analysis of the quantity of condominium construction. We also hear about “the hot land market” and there are lots of questions as to its sustainability. I recently attended the Land and Development Conference in Toronto to determine the optimism in North America’s largest condominium market and compare that with what we have been witnessing here in Montreal as land values have rapidly increased over the past five years.

In a hot market, land is not an asset but is priced more like a commodity: a raw material that is just one part of a final constructed product, including concrete, steel and labour. In a weak market, land values are more likely tied to its short-term income-producing potential, such as parking revenues less off-setting taxes. The rapidly diminishing land supply and a cultural shift toward urban living have lead to changes in the commercial land market. First, commercial land sales are principally divided between high- and low-density sites. High-density sites intended for office, hotel, mixed-use and multi-unit residential projects, while low-density sites incorporate retail, industrial and single-family home developments. The value of land is based on the total amount of density permitted on its property – a site permitting an office tower is considerably greater than a walkup row-house or an industrial facility – and the total volume of potential sales in a given year, which allow for larger projects. Restrictive zoning can adversely affect the site’s value, as can social-housing inclusions and lengthy, complicated and sometimes “out-of-control” zoning application processes that jeopardize a project’s economic vitality.

On Montreal Island, the prevailing trend is that high-density sites are taking a larger market share of total land transaction sales volumes because of the increasing prominence of sales of larger development sites permitting significantly greater density, and higher pricing for each unit of density, also referred to as the price per square foot Buildable. Over the past five years, the value for each unit of density has doubled to an average price of approximately $30 per square foot buildable. This is primarily based upon the rapid increase (up to 50%) in values for condominiums during the same time period, and as such, sales of sites for residential projects have outpaced all other sectors. Developers will be happy to note that Montreal was the third-largest condominium market in North America in 2010, albeit in an aberration year for the U.S. housing market, and only trailing Toronto and Houston in overall condo starts.

This buoyancy has been growing for some time as major developers have acquired land holdings to fuel future projects. Since October of 2008, there have been a 11 high-density development land transactions in the greater Montreal area that have traded above $5 million, with a total value of $148 million in high-density land sales. Major sales included the land for the Project Griffintown project, Angus Development in the Quartier des Spectacles, the Marianopolis site, the site for the Altoria project and most recently Prevel and Conceptions Rachel-Juilien acquiring the rights from Canada Lands to develop Les Bassins du Nouveau Havre for $20 million. These major land transactions were purchased by well-known, well-respected and well-capitalized condo developers, with the exception of the Angus Assembly and Altoria, both of which will feature a mix of office and condominium use. Mixed-use projects are becoming the new normal, as developers put forth projects that feature greater overall site density to decrease the effects of higher land prices or kick start existing larger projects with an exclusively residential component.

For land values to continue their ascent, Montreal developers and buyers need to develop an attitude shift with regard to larger projects. The traditional condo developer logic is that it is nearly impossible to sell more than 150 units for a project in one sales year. The rationale for this is, typically, that Montrealers will not pay a deposit for a condo unit until substantial pre-sales have been achieved or it is under construction, as they are not willing to wait two to three years for delivery. Recent project launches, though, are challenging this traditional thinking, with buyers (or their agents) waiting in line overnight and first-day sell-outs occurring with regularity, or buyers are asked to place a “deposit” to reserve a unit without seeing final plans. Buyers can no longer sit back and cherry-pick the best unit, as it will probably be reserved before they arrive on the scene. In addition, unless condominiums continue to experience strong price increases, Montreal condo developers will be facing increasing pressure for prime sites from alternative uses, such as office towers, hotels, or institutional (Healthcare, Educational, Student Residence) projects, where demand is steadily growing. Finally, our municipal government needs to develop a more flexible zoning application process with regard to major urban projects and the need for public consultations. Politicians should rely on the counsel of independent experts, but are elected to make decisions, and voters should judge them on these decisions, good or bad, at the ballot-box.

Montreal home and condo owners have benefited from the rapidly rising values of their residential real estate over the past five years. Although rising interest rates are on the horizon and will clearly dampen demand for condos for home ownership and as an investment vehicle, demand is increasing for alternate site uses. Land values have also seen a rapid ascent, particularly for high density sites, and the economic fundamentals support continued growth and greater liquidity in this particular market

SOURCE:The Montreal Gazette

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/sustainable+Montreal+construction+bonanza/4889700/story.html#ixzz1OIJFTvCo