Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region


Is Rapid Transit in the future for the K-W region?

The need for a Central Transit Corridor that would link the three cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge was first identified in 1976 and it seems that an active plan is finally underway to start to really connect them. The region is currently connected by a bus system or by hopping on one of the many roads, highways or walkways. The growing population makes congestion a real issue as nearly three quarters of a million people are expected to be living within the K-W  in the next 25 years.

The region has proposed a light rail transit (LRT) route starting at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo (and possibly extended along King Street to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market) all the way through the city in a southerly direction to the Ainslie Street Terminal in downtown Cambridge. The system will possibly also feature a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Think of the LRT system like the streetcars in downtown Toronto. The LRT vehicles use rail technology that travel in dedicated lanes, using overhead electric or on-board diesel/hybrid propulsion to make their way through the city. It would be quicker than a bus, but services a smaller, and more direct line. The BRT system uses buses that travel in a dedicated laneway. It would mean there would be an extra lane on the streets with the BRT system dedicated solely to the bus route, allowing it to move much more rapidly through heavy traffic.

The benefits these systems are to be weighed and evaluated and on June 24th, the Preferred Rapid Transit System will be presented to the Regional Council for consideration. If passed and incorporated it would mean another alternative to get around and within the three cities (Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge) without having to use a car.

There are many advantages to these types of systems from an environmental standpoint. A single LRT train could reduce the traffic of nearly 200 vehicles, severely curtailing traffic, congestion and idling within the city. This would mean less smog, and less pollution. If made affordable, an expanded tranist system could also be a cheap option for many people to get to and from work.

I currently ride the #8 bus on almost a daily basis to get to where I need to go during the day. Unfortunately, I still need a car for my business, but I try to use the bus for social events, or many other things I need to do during the day. It comes almost just outside my door at most every 15 minutes and at worst every 45. Depending on the time of day and where I am on the line, the bus can be completely overcrowded or almost completely empty.It’s easy. It ‘s fairly cheap. It gets you where you need to go.

My biggest complaint with this type of system is that they do not run completely responsibly. A service that is carrying people across locations should be accessible when people need it. There is currently almost no service earlier than 5:30 in the morning or 12:30 at night. For someone starting work very early in the morning, tranit is not a good option. It also leaves little option for late night party-goers  to choose a responsible way home. I have been saying this for years:  If you want people not to drink and drive– give them a cheap and reliable way to get themselves home! Keep the buses running an extra 2 or 3 hours or add a few late night options to get people across the cities.

If we are beefing up the transit between the tri-cities, we should also seriously consider beefing up the transit options between cities like Toronto, and London with the K-W. The current round-a-bout system of buses, or trains from Kitchener to Toronto makes inter-city travel between these two cities a tedious and rather costly affair. If the government wants to encourage people to use transit instead of cars, they should subdidize transit to be more affordable. If a ticket from Kitchener to Toronto costs more than the gas to get there and takes at least 2 times as long to get there– who wants to take it?

Do you think the proposed LRT is a good idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.



May was definitely blooming! K-W monthly update.

May was a strong month for real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo region, as the number of residential sales saw a nearly 10% increase over May 2008.

Home ownership incentives introduced in the new budget such as the changes to the RRSP savings program, the First-Time Home Buyer’s Tax Credit, the temporary Home Renovation Tax Credit, and the ecoENERGY Retrofit program, seem to be encouraging more home ownership.

The average residential sale price for properties sold in May has seen a 24% increase in value over the past five years, now resting at $295,968 for single detached homes, $207,682 for semi-detached, $229,724 for freehold townhomes, and $166,814 for condo units. It appears overall values are remaining relatively steady. Single family detached homes are moving the fastest with 358 unit sales in May, up 15.1% from this time last year. There were 28 semi-detached homes, 41 freehold townhouse , and 98 condo units sold in May.

Homes in the $225,000 to $249,999 price range sold in the highest volume, with nearly 18% of all sales in this range. 71% of all sales occurred in homes priced between $200,000 to $400,000. 8% of sales were priced higher than $400,000.

Kitchener west of King Street had the most sales for the Kitchener-Waterloo region with 216 units sold in May in this area. West Waterloo had the next highest sales volume with 122 sales in May, followed by Kitchener East with 104 unit sales, and Waterloo East with 85 unit sales. Hespeler had the most sales for Cambridge with 18 units sold, followed by Preston and North Galt with 4 unit sales each, and Galt East and West with 3 unit sales each.

There are plenty of stock available for those looking to buy with 677 new residential property listings processed in May and nearly 1,500 active residential listings to choose from.

Historically low interest rates won’t last much longer.Now’s the time to buy!



Is it a good time to buy/sell?

Despite the current economic conditions, the Kitchener-Waterloo market is still fairly healthy. Last month’s sales volume was the fifth highest ever recorded for an  April in the region, with overall property values still remaining high. The Average sales price for a residential properties has dropped by about 1.8% since last year’s record breaking year, but when put into perspective, this year’s average sale price is still up 4.2% since 2007, and has increased more than 42% since 1999. Values remain relatively high overall. The average sale price for single family detached home is currently sitting at about $289,838 and the average sale price for a semi-detached property is $196,429. Freehold townhouse units are sitting at $241,298 and condominium unit’s average sale price is about $161,138.

There were 632 homes sold in the K-W in April, a 27.4% increase from March of this year. Almost 10% of these sales were new home sales, with the other 90% in resale homes. The majority of buyers were purchasing properties priced between $225,000 and $249,999. Some highlights this month were seen in the number of units sold in the $400,000 to $500,000 price range, which increased by a significant 31.6% since this time last year, and the average sale price for freehold townhouses jumping by over 16.7% since March as new homebuyers are taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Most lenders in Canada have slashed their 5 year interest rates to below 3.95% for qualified clients, meaning the costs of carrying a mortgage have dropped significantly.

West Kitchener had the most sales in April with 231 residential sales. East Kitchener had 73 sales, West Waterloo had 110 sales and East Waterloo had 78 sales. Cambridge sales are up significantly from this time last year (by more than 50%), with the majority of sales happening in Hespeler. There is a great stock for buyers to choose from, with more than 861 new listings processed last month, and over 2,000 residential properties on the market.

A properly marketed and prepared home will sell in this market and receive a competitive price. Buyers currently have lots of options on the market, and great interest rates for their mortgages that are only probably going to climb higher and higher in the upcoming months. Now is a definitely a great time to buy or sell!



What’s going on in the Kitchener-Waterloo region housing market?

Kitchener-Waterloo has been feeling the effects of the economy. There have been layoffs, or talks of layoffs in several industries, and many people are feeling very anxious. This anxiety has impacted the real estate, housing and building industries; slowing housing starts (the construction of new buildings) to slightly lower levels and decreasing housing unit sales. Buyers are finding a wide range of units to choose from and increased bargaining ability as the market remains in their favor. Sellers are finding their home is sitting slightly longer than usual on the market before being sold. Overall, conditions are still relatively comfortable, though perhaps not entirely optimistic for the next couple of years.

 

There were 269 units sold in Kitchener-Waterloo region in February. The number of single family-detached homes sold in February was 27.5% lower than February of last year. The number of all residential units sold in February was down 27.2% from February of last year. Even with this lower number of sales from last year, the total number of sales was up nearly 26.7% from January 2009 and up 28% from December 2008; with the warming weather likely to only bring increasing sales. There were 53% fewer multi-family units sold in February from last year, up from January 33% and up 60% from December. Farmland and vacant land sales increased across the board.

 

Year to date sales are down for all units by 28.6% from 779 units sold by the end of February in 2008 to only 556 units sold so far in 2009. 91% of unit sales were in resale homes, with 9% in new home sales. The majority of these sales happened in single family detached residential units.

 

30% of these residential sales were priced under $200,000, and 78% of all the residential sales were priced under $300,000. There have been no sales over $750,000 so far this year.  The average sale price for residential properties was $244,419, down slightly from last year’s average of $254,564.

 

West Kitchener had the highest volume of sales last month with 130 sales, followed by West Waterloo with 73 sales. Waterloo East had the lowest number of sales with only 41 sales. In Cambridge, properties are moving the most in Hespeler, and least in North Galt.

 

Now is a great time for buyers. Interest rates are relatively low and as homes stay longer on the market, more bargaining becomes possible. Property values are still likely to increase over the long term (ie. More than 5 years).

 

If you are a (first time) home buyer, now’s the time to talk to a mortgage broker or banker to see if you can qualify for a mortgage and to take advantage of favorable interest rates.



How sustainable is the K-W region?

How sustainable is the Kitchener-Waterloo region? Well, according to the 2007 Corporate Knights report on sustainable cities, Kitchener ranked the 4th overall most sustainable city in Canada and 1st on the water and waste index with the relatively low water consumption of 390 litres/person/day in 2007. While we topped the 2007 list, we dropped out of ranking in 2008 and 2009. So what happened? This report focuses on more than just ecological issues, and also looks to economic security, governance and empowerment, infrastructure and social well-being.

So where are we failing? Kitchener-Waterloo region is reported to have air pollution levels as high as or higher than large cities like Hamilton and Toronto who have much greater populations. Kitchener currently has the worst air quality scores for ground-level ozone. This is fueled partly by the lack of anti-idling by-laws, polluting corporations and individuals and heavily by the coal plants in the Ohio Valley which contribute over half of the pollutant load in the K-W region according to reports. We are being heavily affected by coal plants hundreds of miles away in the US. This is just one of many reasons why developing more alternative energy is so important and why we all have to work together. We are affected by, and affect more than just our immediate neighbours. Carbon dioxide from retail fuel in the region has jumped 0.2 tonnes per capita in the past year alone, only adding to the air pollution concerns.

We are taking steps to improve public transit with over 13% of the Kitchener fleet now using alternative fuels. With housing starts primarily happening in transit-unfriendly single family or duplex units (just less than 2/3 of the housing stock), and few incentives to use the transit lines, this switch is having only minimal affect. We received a D overall in the Green Apple SMART Transportation Ranking in the past two years.

The region is taking some steps. Residential building starts were 17% more dense in 2008 than in 2007. The Region of Waterloo has also started a growth management strategy to help ensure that density is encouraged, but these steps alone are not enough. We must make a more concerted effort to be sustainable.

The Kitchener-Waterloo region is not new to sustainable technology. We are home to Arise Tech, a major solar technology company (http://www.arisetech.com/) and one of the best urban planning schools in the country (University of Waterloo). We also have energy auditing service grants available for low-income homes (http://www.reepwaterlooregion.ca/documents/assistance_brochure_waterloo.pdf), and several sustainable building housing projects to use as examples such as the KW YMCA (http://www.kwymca.org/Contribute/camping/OurFacilitiesandBuildings.asp), the little city farm (http://www.littlecityfarm.ca/sustain-5.php), the REEP homes (http://www.reepwaterlooregion.ca/prog_house.php), and several other initiatives.

Are we in position to be more efficient overall here in the K-W? Absolutely. So let’s take advantage of what’s available and make an effort to be more sustainable.

Remember though, of overarching importance to sustainability in the region (and the earth)  is the human lifestyle factor. Wasteful human lifestyle (being water usage, energy usage, waste, etc.) is something you can change. Make an effort to just use less. Conserve water and energy. Make baby steps  to be more sustainable. One thing at a time.



Should I buy a home right now?
February 17, 2009, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Buying, Market Conditions, Rebecca Sargent | Tags: , , , ,

Does the news scare you? Are you looking for solid answer on whether you should buy a home in K-W right now?

Unfortunately, there is no solid answer. No one can predict the future. That being said, we can take into account the entire situation and try to reason what the best options are. Most tend to agree we are in currently in a buyer’s market, where there are more buyers than sellers. This means that buyers have more selection and more room to negotiate. When there is more competition to buy, the prices tend to increase. Waiting until the market swings into a seller’s market to buy will mean that the prices will probably increase, resulting in you having to pay more overall for your purchase than you would pay today.

The economy is currently in chaos, but as it begins to repair itself, inflation rates will most likely go higher. This will make the interest rates increase, making it more expensive to carry a mortgage. In fact, the average 5 year interest rate offered by mortgage brokers has come down from 5.80% to 4.49%, making the actual cost of carrying a mortgage decrease considerably from past years.

Yes, certain areas did experience a noticable decrease in average sale price in Ontario in the last little while. Does this mean that prices have actually dropped? No. The decrease may very well be because higher priced homes are not selling, while lower priced ones are– bringing down the overall average. In January 2009, the number of residential properties sold actually increased 23.3% from the previous month in K-W. January is typically a slower time of year for real estate in Canada, so considering the current economic climate– this is actually quite promising.

Realtors have been lobbying to increase the amount of RRSP contributions for first-time home buyers to $25,000 per person and have finally been responded to favorably. This should reflect positively for first-time homebuyers over the next couple of months. Predictions are that there will be a decrease in sales in 2009, but from an historical view, the current number of sales is only slightly off from those 10 years ago. In fact, the current average sale price is only slightly lower than last year, but considerably higher (more than $60K higher) than 10 years ago.

With a new President in the White House and budget packages looming to help bail out the economy, the possibility of an economic upturn in the not-so-distant future is promising.

Should you be scared to buy? No. Not necessarily. If you have a steady job, you are still in good position to buy right now. So take advantage!



How is the K-W market doing?
January 13, 2009, 2:56 am
Filed under: Market Conditions, Rebecca Sargent | Tags: , , ,

Do not let the American market and media scare you! Canada’s housing market is on much firmer footing than the American housing market.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that we have seen in the past few years is an ongoing financial crisis that stems from mortgage companies offering mortgages with little or no downpayment to households with low incomes, assets and with troubled credit histories. Sub-prime mortgages account for 14% of the American housing market, but accounts for less than 5% in Canada, making the problem much more severe in the US. Canada has a strong labour market to underpin our housing market, with an unemployment rate holding at a 33 year low of 4.9%. Average wages are outpacing inflation, meaning that homeowners are still realizing real increases in monthly wages.

Kitchener has one of the strongest average sales-to-listings ratios this year. Considering the current instability of the government, confidence and job security is undermined. However, there is good news. The average sale price of a single family-detached residential property in the K-W area increased 7.6% in the past year. Many other markets are experiencing decreases in sale prices, making the value of home ownership investment in K-W relatively high. The slight dip in sales prior to November might be a reflection of the season, pre-election jitters, stock market instability or an indicator of a return to a more balanced market. The market has slowly but surely moving away from the aggressive Sellers market of the past few years and into a more balanced market.

Buyers entering the market today are in a good position, having much better choice and negotiating ability! If you are looking to be in your new home for spring, now is the time to buy! Take advantage of the current market position before it begins changing in the New Year!