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Is it the early days of a real estate revolution? Online realtor Redfin launches in Canada

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U.S. real estate brokerage firm Redfin launched in Canada this week — a firm that positions itself as a tech-powered company ready to shake up the way consumers buy and sell homes.

Founded in 2004, the Seattle-based Redfin is looking to challenge to conventional brokerages through its primarily online operation and one per cent listing fee. The company offers a suite of online tools, including 3D video tours, but also hires agents on salary, who offer the same services as conventional brokers.

Turning to technology is what allows the company to keep its buying and selling process efficient, Redfin says. In Canada, a listing fee with a conventional brokerage is typically around 2.5 per cent.

“Our track record in the United States is that we sell homes for more money, and we sell them faster and with more certainty,” said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. “We hope to do the same thing here in Canada.”

The high tech-low commission combination has helped Redfin grow into 85 markets in the U.S., as well as raise a lot of money through an initial public offering (IPO) in 2017. Now worth about $1.7 billion US, the company has the money to expand — even if it’s not yet profitable.

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman believes technology’s impact on the real estate sector will continue to grow. (Andy Hincensberg/CBC)

The brokerage launched in Toronto on Tuesday, with plans to open in Vancouver by spring, before expanding to other Canadian cities.

Redfin’s entry into the Canadian market also comes on the heels of two other web-based operators: Purplebricks, a commission-free, U.K-based brokerage, and Zillow, a popular U.S. listing service and mobile app.

It also comes just months after the end of a years-long court battle that saw the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) ordered to allow its brokers to publish more sales data online, such as sold prices and delistings — a move touted as a way to start opening up the market to data innovation.

Tech transforming home-buying for Americans

The arrival of these potentially disruptive new players might be the early days of a real estate revolution long-awaited by industry watchers, according to Will Strange, a professor of economic analysis with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“It’s the kind of industry that is really ready to be revolutionized,” said Strange, who has been predicting change in the real-estate sector for more than two decades.

While Strange initially believed that revolution would come to real estate as quickly as it came to the travel industry — starting in the late 90s. Now there are signs it may have finally arrived.

An Offerpad home is shown for sale in Gilbert, Ariz. The company is what’s known as an iBuyer. (Offerpad)

Over the past two years, investors have poured billions into real estate firms that are using technology to do more than just list and promote homes. 

And while online realtors like Redfin may challenge convention in Canada, much more radical changes are being rolled in the U.S. market.

The ‘iBuyers’

One of the biggest disruptions south of the border has come in the form of real estate companies known as “iBuyers,” or institutional buyers.

These investor firms uses algorithms, or automated valuation models (AVMs), to determine the market value of a home, before making an initial offer on the property, often sight unseen. They’ll then send in staff to inspect the home, finalize the price and close the deal within a week.

The process is aimed at speeding up and streamlining the selling process for homeowners, providing certainty about the sale, the price and giving them control over the timeline. The seller picks the closing date and can change it as needed — an ideal scenario for people might unexpectedly be relocating for a job or moving into house still under construction. There’s also the bonus of not having to spruce up your home for showings.

But the convenience also comes at a cost: iBuyers charge a fee of anywhere from six per cent, up to as much as 13 per cent — the top end being significantly higher than a traditional commission.

Consumers can make offers online on homes listed for sale with Offerpad. The company can also give sellers an initial offer on their a home within hours of them answering some questions about the home. (Offerpad)

Still, the iBuying space is taking off in the U.S. Opendoor got it started in 2014; Offerpad quickly followed. Both have raised hundreds of millions in investment and are expanding rapidly. Zillow and Redfin have, too, recently moved into iBuying, and growth in the sector convinced traditional brokerages, like Keller Williams and Coldwell Banker, to test the concept.

Offerpad, which operates in nearly a dozen U.S. markets, says the fee model — not profit on resale — is the key to the business. 

“Our intention is to get people as close as possible to what they think their home is worth,” said Cortney Read, Offerpad’s communications director.

Offerpad’s sweet spot is in cities with diversified economies, buying houses built after 1960 that are generally priced under $600,000. The company believes its model could work in Canada, even accounting for seasonal buying trends.

​Trading in your house like a car

Another radical iBuyer approach comes from Knock, which essentially arranges a home swap for its consumers.

The company buys their clients’ new home for them in cash and moves them in. Then it does the needed repairs on the homeowner’s old home, before putting it up on the market as a Knock listing.

Knock co-founder Sean Black says the trade in model solves a chicken-and-egg problem because “70-plus per cent of people in the U.S. that are buying homes every year are also selling one.”

Knock advances up to $10,000 US to the homeowner to pay for repairs on the old house, which is paid back when it sells. The client also continues to pay the mortgage on their old home until it is sold, when the title and mortgage for the new property is finally transferred over.

Knock CEO Sean Black believes his company is part of a long-awaited real estate revolution in an on-demand world. (Knock)

Knock makes its money by taking a three per cent commission from the homeowner on the sale of their old house, and another three per cent from the seller of the new house. Tech is at the core of the company, which uses algorithms to determine how much a home is likely to sell for, and to help choose which markets to enter.

Black believes his company, and the other innovators in the space, like Ribbon and Bungalow, are the long-awaited real estate revolution in an on-demand world, where consumers expect consistency and transparency.

“The big picture here is what you’re witnessing is the transformation of this industry,” he says, moving from a world where going individual agents have control to one where institutional buyers can “give you a really professional, certain and hopefully cost-effective solution.”

Black admits the change could a take a generation — a sentiment echoed by industry-watcher Strange.

Still, there’s also the potential for the snowball effect to take hold, Strange says.

“I would expect change to happen overnight, I just don’t know which night.”

WATCH: Tech-brokerage Redfin hopes to shake up Canada’s real estate market

As the price of a home in Canada has shot up over the years, the corresponding fees have skyrocketed as well. Now Redfin, a tech-focused U.S. brokerage, is hoping to change that by promising lower fees in a push to shake up Canada’s real estate market. But will it work? And if so, at what cost? 2:53

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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey

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A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.

According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.

In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).

Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”

And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.

McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.

While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”

In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.

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What Canadians need to know about moving to the U.S. for more affordable real estate

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Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1395756831100882947&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1397895446048169985&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

“We as a country can do better,” said Makos.

But not so fast if you’re like any of these people and thinking of moving across the border. There are a number of things to consider.

Immigration rules for moving from Canada to the U.S.

The first thing to consider is immigration laws. If you work from home, you can’t just grab your laptop and start working from the U.S.

Sara Herbek, managing partner at Global Immigration Associates, says you need a U.S. employer to sponsor you and be qualified for a TN or L-1 visa.

“If a Canadian employer has a U.S. entity, this could potentially be another option, however, it depends on the visa category,” Herbek told Yahoo Finance Canada.

It’s the same deal if you plan to work for a U.S. employer.

“Canadians are able to present TN and L-1 visa petitions at the border (now by air is recommended versus by land),” said Herbek.

“In other visa categories, the employer would need to file the visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and obtain approval first.”

Herbek says it’s important to have all of the correct paperwork when entering the U.S. to avoid being turned away.

“They should ensure they have original documents when appearing at the border: approval notice, as applicable, educational documents, birth or marriage certificates,” said Herbek.

Mortgage rules for buying a home in the U.S.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a home outright, you’ll need a mortgage and things are mostly similar to obtaining a mortgage in Canada if you’re moving to the U.S. permanently, but with some key differences.

Rob Mclister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA says one of them is proof of income.

“It may be harder to prove income to the U.S. lender’s satisfaction if you have already moved to the U.S. before applying for a mortgage,” Mclister told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“That’s because most mainstream U.S. lenders generally want to see at least two years of U.S. tax returns. If this is the case, find a good broker in the U.S. to advise you.”

If you plan to buy before your immigration and job situation are sorted out, Mclister says most lenders will want 20-25 per cent down instead of the 5 per cent minimum in Canada.

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Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, Fastest Rate of Growth Since 2010

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Canada is experiencing a real estate boom, and it’s fueled by a flood of cheap mortgage debt. Bank of Canada (BoC) data shows mortgage credit reached a record high in April. That’s no longer a surprise since it’s a regular occurrence, but the rate of growth is noteworthy. Canadians added the equivalent of 6% of GDP to mortgage debt over the past year. It’s now growing at the fastest rate in a decade, as people scramble to buy as much house as possible. 

Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, After Growing 6% of GDP

Canadian mortgage debt reached a record high, adding a massive amount in just a short period. The balance reached $1.69 trillion in April, up 1.06% ($17.74 billion) from the month before. The annual increase works out to 7.80% ($122.25 billion), which is just a mind-blowing number. For context, $122.25 billion is the size of ~6% of the country’s GDP. With this kind of scale, it shouldn’t be a surprise how dependent the economy is on real estate. 

Canadian Residential Mortgage Debt

The outstanding dollar amount of residential mortgage credit held by Canada’s instituional lenders.

Canadian Mortgage Debt Is Growing At The Fastest Rate Since 2010

The rate of mortgage growth isn’t just high for this period — it’s high by historical standards. The annual rate of growth is the largest seen since 2010. For the month of April, you need to go a little further back — to 2009. Usually, during a recession, it’s difficult to get households to borrow. In Canada, households ramped up the borrowing and purchases of expensive goods.

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