Toronto’s Commercial Property Bubble

With 137 new real estate construction projects slated for Toronto, amidst the already abundance of supply, there seems to be a new property bubble brewing, even more imminent than the residential one and that is the commercial property bubble. With the number of new office towers in the city, demand for leasing space is disturbingly slowing with some of the older office buildings, such as First Canadian Place and TD Center (to name a few), where the vacancy rate has climbed to over 20%. There has never been such high vacancy rates in downtown Toronto for such buildings yet on the flip side the number of projects that have come up in this latest commercial real estate construction boom has outsripped the previous one in the late 80’s as well as late 70’s combined. Remember what happened afterwards?

With Scotiabank rumoured to list their flagship Plaza for a hefty price tag of $1 billion to raise capital, is this a sign of trouble ahead? Tenants are moving into the newer buildings thus leaving their old office spaces at record a pace. With alot of debt on the balance sheets of the companies holding these expensive real estate properties, they are desperately spending alot of money renovating and upgrading the old buildings to attract more customers. With increases in layoffs in Canada of late, how can they attract more customers? Although it has been some years in the US since their residential real estate has collapsed, Canada’s previous patterns of real estate cycles tend to be reverse from the US. In the past few recessions, the Commerical Property Market collapses first before the residential (remember the famed SkyDome and Olympia and York bankruptcies of the early 90’s?).

With recent numbers for the Toronto Real Estate Board on the commercial property sales, the numbers look very negative. Is history repeating itself? Are real estate developers ignoring the supply numbers and is it time demand falls off the cliff to counterbalance?


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