Welcome to this month’s edition of Dear Urbaneer, where I answer real estate questions from my ever-inquisitive readers and clients. This time, I am helping a Buyer who is curious about the technical details and the process behind a fixture in the Toronto real estate market for over two decades – the bidding war.
In our current real estate market, I’m wondering if Sellers listing their properties with the objective of inciting a bidding war are getting the results they want. In the Spring, many Buyers overpaid to win in a competition, but now, with prices declining, people seem to be intentionally submitting low-ball offers to see how much of a discount they can receive.
I found your recent post Dear Urbaneer: What Are Your ‘Tried & True’ Tips For Competing In A Bidding War? very interesting, particularly the section about how Buyers should approach a bidding war situation. It made me wonder: beyond strategy, how does a bidding war actually work? What is your process when you are representing an owner who is selling a property?
Bidding War Curious
Here’s my answer:
Thank you for your email. I want to start by sharing a brief synopsis of the dynamics of the Toronto real estate market since I became a realtor 32 years ago.
In 1990, I began my career path representing both individual Buyers and Sellers, as well as developers of adaptive reuse conversions, shortly after the Toronto real estate market bubble burst and Canada began to spiral into a deep recession. Property prices were beginning their precipitous decline, falling by as much as 35% from peak values over a duration of five years: When Dreams Of Domesticity Became Nightmares: A Recollection Of The 1989 Toronto Housing Market Crash. Then, from 1996 to 2000, the Toronto real estate market began to shift from tenuous to tempered, with the volume of real estate transactions increasing, and the number of days spent on the market dropping. Although there was finally stability in the market, it wasn’t unusual to see properties reselling for sums similar to what they had garnered a decade earlier. (Stay tuned for a post I’m incubating called ‘the lost decade’).
In the early 2000s, interest rates started to drop while demand for real estate kept rising. The City of Toronto was in the early stages of transforming from a gritty industrial and manufacturing port into a glittering post-industrial global centre (read Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate) and Canada shifted its monetary policy towards An Asset-Based Economy. This was when Toronto realtors started bringing downtown properties to market with a set ‘Offer Date’ – often a week after going onto MLS – and the bidding war as we know it was born. Since then, demand skyrocketed due to expanding global interest in the supply of new and near-obsolete shelter in the nation’s preeminent engine economy – and the bidding war become a regular occurrence. It has remained a fixture of the Toronto real estate market for over two decades.
Although how each realtor crafts, executes, and engages all parties in the bidding war process is unique to them, the program generally follows what I call the List Low Holdback Approach. The approach has the Seller listing their property for sale on MLS at an attention-getting price, providing Buyers sufficient consideration visits for a set period of time prior to an Offer Date, when the Seller is available to consider any and all Offers. Although the Offer Date can be any date, it’s usually 7 to 10 days after the property has been listed on MLS. Furthermore, at the discretion of the Seller and following a prescribed protocol recommended by the Real Estate Council of Ontario, Buyers may be invited to consider submitting a preemptive or ‘bully’ offer anytime in advance of the Offer Date, but this is not always the case. How the listing realtor processes the bidding war (can a Buyer improve their initial offer and, if yes, how many times, for example?), and communicates with Buyers or their representatives (promptly and politely, or less forthcoming and considerate, by phone, text and/or email), are at the discretion of the individual, meaning that each Buyer or their representative should always inquire with the listing realtor what their process is in advance of submitting an Offer.
The List Low Holdback Approach has long been popular because:
1. By coming to market for sale on MLS and receiving offers on a specific date rather than ‘offers anytime’, the listing realtor can promote the property to a larger pool of potential purchasers, collect and analyze their data collection efforts, and develop a comprehensive understanding of the market conditions specific to the property at that moment in time in advance of the Seller considering any Offers. With this knowledge the listing realtor can guide the parties who have submitted bids, and counsel their Seller in making an informed decision regarding the sale. We believe this approach ultimately serves a Seller. Why? Because, if you list your property welcoming ‘offers anytime’ and one comes in quickly, how do you know the price, terms and conditions of the Buyer’s bid reflect the true market conditions for that particular property type and/or location?
2. To efficiently mitigate the risk of Covid19 transmissi0n, the flu, or any other airborne viruses, the listing realtor can set up an efficient showing schedule in advance so no two sets of purchasers cross paths when viewing the property, and the Sellers know in advance the specific time frames they need to vacate the property each day the dwelling is on the market. Given we live in a time where a cold may be the flu which may be Covid19, this cautionary approach minimizes the risk of exposure and infection. We are all responsible in protecting the most vulnerable.
3. By coming to market with a set Offer Date, all interested Buyers have sufficient time to complete their due diligence regarding size, condition, location, and value – including consulting any third parties of their choosing – without worry the property may sell to another purchaser before they are ready and prepared. This ensures prospective purchasers can make a rational educated decision on whether the property is right for them, proactively secure a financing commitment from their lender based on the highest sum they are prepared to pay, and submit an Offer that reflects their preferred terms and conditions without being under undue pressure.
4. In a practice that is not unusual for the executors of an estate, or the officers of a company assigned to liquidate a property asset, listing a property at or below market value with a set Offer Date ensures the executors or officers can remove themselves from any personal bias or liability, increases the likelihood that any Offers retain all the preferred contractual clauses important to the Seller, and allows the free market to set the value of the property. Furthermore, for those who prefer their privacy by limiting, if not outright removing, any direct engagement with potential Buyers, this process facilitates keeping all parties at ‘arm’s length’.
5. By setting an Offer Date, the listing realtor will know exactly the level of interest there is for the property, including how many showings there have been, the different buyer profiles for that specific property (first-time buyers, investors, young families, downsizers, etc), how many showings translated into bids, and the range of values each buyer profile is willing to pay. Furthermore, the Seller is afforded the opportunity to review all the Offers and accompanying documents (which may include a bank draft, mortgage pre-approval documents, and a letter from the Buyer introducing themselves), direct any questions or concerns to the Buyers or their representatives who have submitted bids, and decide whether they would like to move towards accepting one of the bids or not, given the Seller is never obliged to accept any Offer.
6) Many Sellers today are not strictly focused on the price people are willing to pay. They may want a Buyer willing to assume their long-term tenants, someone who requires or needs particular features of their dwelling, or a household who they believe will complement the existing fabric of the community and be a good fit with their neighbours. Plain and simple, for Sellers it is not always about the money, but about passing the property on to Buyers who will genuinely enjoy and benefit from the home they themselves have cherished. The ‘List Low Holdback Approach’ allows Sellers more options in choosing to whom they sell their property.
A Real-Time Example From The Real Estate Trenches
In the Autumn, we sold a charming Edwardian home near Danforth & Woodbine that had been owned by our clients since 1991. This well-maintained, detached, 3-bed residence offers perks like a family room addition, a finished basement, and a private drive, and it sits in a coveted school district – just steps to the subway station and beloved East Lynn Park. It was a stellar dwelling that ticked a lot of boxes. If you’re interested, here’s our online promotion –> Family-Friendly Wonderful On Woodmount Near Danforth & Woodbine
To give you some context on market conditions, after Russia invaded Ukraine, and inflation was deemed out of control, the Bank of Canada began increasing interest rates in March 2022. When we brought this listing to market in early October the Bank Of Canada had already increased interest rates five of the seven times it would this year (here’s my post –> Rising Interest Rates And The Toronto Real Estate Market). Not only were the dizzying sums that properties were selling for in the Spring no longer being offered, but the volume of real estate sales being traded had plummeted over the Summer. Many Buyers had elected to retract from the market – and equally as important escape Covid19 – by exiting the city for the season while only the most highly motivated of Sellers were willing to discount their properties to entice the shrinking pool of Buyers on the hunt for a value proposition. With Buyers seeking value and Sellers holding firm, the market felt rudderless and caught in the doldrums of uncertainty. Everyone rationally understood that rising interest rates were biting into Buyers’ purchasing power, but they also questioned to what extent it would translate into price declines. Was the market adjusting or crashing? Was the Bank of Canada’s solution to inflation temporary or enduring? Essentially, confusion reigned. Just a few months earlier the demand for real estate was scorching hot and consumed by FOMO, yet, while Buyers still genuinely wanted to purchase a ‘home’, they were now nervous that the market was cratering – and looking to Sellers to absorb the potentiality of future price declines.
This uncertainty, hesitation, and ultimate inaction by Buyers suspended the real estate market; a state of limbo blanketed Toronto over the Summer months, such that calculating the ‘true value’ of property became impossible. For a period of around 90 days, every property’s value was in a state of flux, its type, size & condition, location, its proximity to the most recent similar sales (of which they were few), the sum lenders were conservatively appraising as mortgage value, and the degree of motivation (or desperation) by both the Buyer and the Seller. In other words, no one – including professionals and players in the shelter industry – could accurately peg the current market value of any property, at best having to opine a substantial ‘range in value’ of 1o to 15 percent – which is a huge variance given the cost of Toronto real estate. During that 90-day period, we counselled our Sellers to wait until the Autumn to list when the market has historically been stronger (here’s my post called The Seasons To Real Estate), and encouraged our Buyers with deep pockets to purchase if the right property came to market substantially discounted, because a golden rule of thumb in real estate is to ‘Buy when no one else is buying’.
Approach & Strategy
There are always ebbs and flows in a real estate market, but rarely is a market suspended in limbo. By the middle of September, our experience and intuition served our Sellers well when, after Labour Day, most of the 6 million people in Toronto’s metropolitan area were ‘back to work and school’ and many of them were refocusing their energy on securing a home to shelter their family. We experienced it firsthand when one of our Buyers was one of 57 Offers On A Scarborough Bungalow, Signalling Demand Was Still Strong For Toronto Real Estate.
In fact, the sale above prompted the post you referenced in your question: Dear Urbaneer: What Are Your ‘Tried & True’ Tips For Competing In A Bidding War? In this piece, I emphasize that the Buyer who secures a sale blindly bidding against others may not be the party submitting the highest price. There are numerous ways to add appeal to a bid (or conversely make it less appealing), which are applicable regardless of market conditions – including submitting an offer free of any conditions, if possible; providing the Seller with their preferred closing date; and providing a substantial bank draft deposit with your offer.
The last point about the deposit is significant – in that it not only demonstrates how serious your interest – but it also communicates the legitimacy of your bid and your commitment to close the deal. Given the hundreds of sales that never completed earlier this year because the Buyers couldn’t secure financing, or just got cold feet despite being contractually liable, Sellers are currently highly sensitive about entering into an Agreement of Purchase & Sale with a stranger. Although there is never any guarantee a sale will close until it has, the List Low Holdback Approach hinges its success on the momentum of attracting multiple buyers in the moment which – and this is important – offers Sellers more opportunity to vet the Buyer.
The Urbaneer Process
When we bring a property to market for sale, we’re ready and on the mark to launch an aggressive marketing campaign. We’ve prepared the property for viewing by executing our unique Style Enhancement service to present the residence at its best. Our digital and print program with floor plans, professional photographs, and engaging copy tailored specifically to the target audience is completed, while our social media content promoting both the dwelling and its neighbourhood amenities is scheduled to be published the moment our Sellers say “Go!”. Our due diligence package with Presale Property Inspection (for freehold dwellings) and Status Certificate (for condominiums) is available for Buyers or their representatives on request. Want to learn more? Here’s How Urbaneer’s Marketing Program Sold This Sun-Soaked Semi In Swansea.
Our track record of success using the List Low Holdback Approach serves our clients for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that we provide a framework for the Buyer or their representative to communicate who they are, their capacity to complete the sale, and their level of interest. The by-product of this approach is it mitigates the risk for our Sellers. By bringing the property to market at an “Offers Over” asking price (like they do in Scotland), it brings the property to the attention of a larger pool of Buyers, from which the most serious can pursue it with the guidance of the realtor of their choice. From the bids we receive for our Seller’s consideration, we endeavour to identify the most qualified and serious of Buyers.
We’ve never shared how a bidding war has unfolded play by play, though we’ve written about this phenomenon several times before. Here are our posts on Holdbacks, Bully Offers, & Bidding Wars For Sellers & Buyers that explains the nuts and bolts of the process. And below is an example of the Offer Guidelines we send to realtors in advance of the Offer Date:
To All Cooperating Brokers,
A few details regarding the necessary documents and our offer process:
• Please include a scanned copy of your bank draft with your offer. Larger Deposits are preferred.
• Kindly have all attachments as found on the MLS listing included with your offer and signed & dated by your clients.
• While there is flexibility, our Seller prefers a shorter rather than a longer closing.
• Firm offers without conditions will be favoured by our client.
• You may register your offer via Broker Bay or through our front desk (416) 530-1100.
• Should you have a fee agreement with your buyer that is other than the 2.5% offered through the MLS listing please arrange that through your office administration. Do not include that in the offer or the confirmation of cooperation and representation.
• At this time no member of The Urbaneer Team will be submitting an offer. However, please be advised that an offer from any one of our Bosley Associates may arise. We will keep you apprised if this occurs and if Dual Agency exists in this respect.
• If there are multiple offers, we will review all the bids received in a timely manner and counsel you accordingly. However, please understand the Seller will decide which offer is agreeable to him in his sole and unfettered discretion.
Furthermore, in serving our Seller, we kindly request the following information, if possible, with the understanding that in our current market conditions and with all due respect we are making every effort to identify the most bonafide of purchasers. Confidentiality is assured with the following information shared only with the Seller and their representatives:
1). Although we appreciate receiving a scanned copy of all bank draft deposits accompanying an offer, delivering yours to any Bosley Real Estate Office in advance of 1pm on the Offer Date is preferred.
2). Must your Buyer sell an existing property in order to successfully close this purchase? We know climbing the property ladder typically requires an existing property be sold. Any details you can provide, including the property address and your opinion of market value, is appreciated.
3). Submitting your Buyer’s mortgage pre-approval documents with your Offer will serve your client.
4). Because the Privacy Act prohibits realtors from sharing personal information unless their client provides written consent, just as our Sales Prospectus includes a ‘Note From The Seller’ submitting a ‘Note From The Buyer’ introducing themselves is very much appreciated. Our client is not necessarily inclined, nor obliged, to solely select the Offer with the highest purchase price but will take into consideration all the other factors that are integral to the process of selling their Home.
Sincerely & With Thanks, The Urbaneer Team
Vetting All The Offers & Ranking Them
In the bidding war process, we review each bid and counsel the co-operating brokers as to the merits of their bid and our concerns – whether that be issue with the closing date, the size of the deposit, the presence of conditions or other terms, plus the strength of the price relative to others. While we cannot give exact specifics on the contents of any bid to other parties submitting offers, we typically provide a ranking relative to the competing bids while communicating whether their buyer has a shot. And given we are working for our Seller, we encourage realtors to have their Buyers submit their best bids from the get-go, yet acknowledge with our client’s consent we are prepared to go a couple of rounds of resubmissions. We do this because every realtor has their own preferred working style and approach. As a result, whether the Buyer submits one time or three is up to them, though we ask no one to drag their heels to cause undue delay because time is always of the essence.
As I mentioned earlier, there are no rules in how a bidding war transpires. Every realtor handles the process differently which is partly why Buyers can get so frustrated. And realtors do too. When we’re representing a Buyer competing against others, our strategy will vary depending on the conversation we have with the listing broker in advance of the offer deadline. Often we’re advised that it’s a ‘one shot deal’ with the caveat that “only if the top ones are very close will they be invited to resubmit”. Others advise they’ll go any number of rounds. What’s key is establishing the process with the listing broker in advance of the offer deadline.
One thing about the bidding war that drives us bonkers is when the listing realtor isn’t very forthcoming with information or contacts us encouraging our Buyers to improve their offer and resubmit even when they never had a chance of securing the purchase. I think it unfair to give a Buyer the impression they have a shot when they don’t, or making a Buyer wait all night to find out at 11pm the property went to someone else for a sum they would have never have paid. This is mostly why we set our offer deadline in the afternoon. First, we want to provide a window of time to receive all the bids when most people are available, and several hours to complete the negotiations by the early evening. We personally don’t think Buyers should be competing well into the night when they’re exhausted, stressed and easily untethered but during the day when they are more likely to be in a business frame of mind. Also, it’s more efficient, as the majority of realtors and Buyers have access to a computer with a scanner should they want to resubmit their bid. In a nutshell, the process moves much more quickly when it’s done in the afternoon than at night.
While we invite realtors who are not in the lead to let their Buyers know the situation and consider improving their offer, we always hold the bid that ranks first. This is to ensure the lead Buyer doesn’t suddenly decide in the heat of the moment to retract their offer, as they might do. It’s not until the lead bid is bumped from top position after another improved offer is resubmitted do we reach out to them. Furthermore, it’s not unusual for a cooperating broker to contact us after we’ve let them know their ranking and suggest the “offer improvements” that their Buyer is willing to make. If the terms and/or price is potentially going to secure the property we’ll encourage the realtor to proceed while acknowledging the process is still underway and there’s no guarantee. However, if the improvements still aren’t going to be significant enough to secure the property we’ll be straight up and tell them to save themselves and their Buyer the effort of resubmitting the improvements on paper. It is our mandate to let the Buyer or their representative know as early as possible that their bid is not strong enough so they can begin healing their disappointment and move forward in their property search.
Some realtors don’t like our process, and may even make efforts to control it, but the reality is that we’re always representing the interests of our client. We often have to say to the cooperating realtors “You know we’re working for our Seller, and we respect you’re working for your Buyer, but our objective is to have you resubmit until you tell us it’s your Buyer’s final bid. When you tell us there’s no more improvement and it’s your final offer, the bidding war is moving closer to its conclusion.”
It’s important to underscore the importance for Buyers in including a sizeable deposit. While an undertaking to provide the deposit within a specified time is deemed sufficient by contract law, it’s a gray area that puts a contract in limbo, meaning a Buyer may be able to weasel out of a deal by not delivering the deposit. This means, from a practical point of view, a bank draft submitted in person with an offer is the best way of demonstrating sincerity. Furthermore, do not underestimate the weight a Seller attaches to an offer when the Buyer has invested their effort to get a $7 bank draft prepared and delivered with their offer. Did you read our post where our Buyer secured a house for just $100 more than the second bid because our offer was the only one accompanied by a bank draft? Here’s the story called ‘A Winning Bidding War Strategy‘. It shows how we operate when representing a Buyer on the other side of a bidding war.
In your email, you asked “if Sellers listing their properties hoping for a bidding war are getting the results they want” – and – “with prices declining are Buyers intentionally submitting low-ball offers“. These two questions are certainly percolating out there right now, particularly by Buyers and Sellers who are in the early stages of exploring the market.
In response to your first question, one of the byproducts of owning something is that we tend to overvalue it. Called the Endowment Effect, the basic principle is that because something is yours, you attach a higher value to it than anyone else. Full stop. You could offer reasons to justify your position such as the time and energy you’ve invested in your ownership, or that your asset is increasingly rare or scarce, or that it has a tremendous sentimental value that translates into a monetary sum. However, at the end of the day the price you’re attaching to it is solely because it’s yours. And in the world of real estate, this endowment effect is omnipresent. This means that regardless of how much money a property sells for, even when the Seller is objectively pleased, deep down they secretly wish they had gotten more.
Because of this, a realtor must manage their Seller’s expectations by demonstrating how the current market conditions are being influencing each of their property’s potential target markets using a rational informed data-driven approach. We do this so that Sellers understand that regardless of how much they believe their property to be worth, different Buyer profiles (and more specifically the individuals themselves) are each assessing value based on their own wishes, wants and needs. For example, we once listed a spacious Edwardian purpose-built duplex with a lower level suite in a desirable family-friendly neighbourhood that was our clients’ first purchase some decades earlier. It had been lovingly renovated and restored, with a commitment to quality and a good design eye. With the Upper 2bed/den suite vacant, the Main 2bed/den tenanted but exiting, and the lower level tenant on a 2year lease, we knew the property would appeal to 4 Target Markets: Multi-Generational Home Seekers (5 of 12 bids received), End Users Seeking An Income Supplement (3 of 12 bids received), Investors (2 of 12 bids received), and Single-Family End Users For Deconverion (2 of 12 bids received).
It makes sense that each Buyer profile would value the dwelling differently according to their own criteria and market factors. In this situation, the End Users wanting to deconvert the property into a single family dwelling offered the lowest sums because they were discounting the property by their cost estimate to reconfigure the dwelling to their specifications. The Investor Buyer Profile ranked third because their evaluation was based primarily on the cap rate as an income property, whereby their pragmatic offers were devoid of the emotional premium end users tend to attach when buying a ‘home’ rather than ‘shelter’. The End Users Seeking An Income Supplement made solid offer submissions that, collectively had a greater price spread from low to high, likely because they’re a Buyer hybrid of the owner-occupant (who tend to pay top dollar to serve their specific requirements) and the investor (who prudently focus on income stream). This purchaser profile can be more risk averse, especially if they’re reconciling both their own threshold of affordability as well as the potential problems of managing tenants. There are also more nuances in who this buyer profile is and what their motivations for purchasing are, including whether the unit being bought as an Income Offset may eventually serve the needs of the Buyer’s immediate or extended family in the future. We weren’t surprised that the Multi-Generational Home Seekers represented the largest showing of interest, because they prefer mature well-established neighbourhoods, urban locations rich with amenities that support a walking life, including shopping, education, recreation, a connection to nature and proximity to public transit. They often have more discretionary capital to pay the premium accorded this housing type, and their motivation to purchase is typically higher because the supply of spacious purpose-built duplexes with a lower level suite in downtown Toronto are limited. However, this profile is also unintentionally fickle, because each specific property has to meet the requirements of all residents co-purchasing to live under one roof – meaning the more decision-makers controlling the capital investment there are, the more likely it may be dismissed. Finding a singular property to fulfill a broader range of requirements invites more objections, so the fact more Multi-Generational Home Seekers submitted bids than the other 3 Buyer Profiles demonstrated how rare this product was.
Regarding your second question, with prices declining many Buyers are intentionally submitting low-ball offers. In fact, it’s exponentially increased because Sellers no longer hold all the power as they did when it was a hot market. In fact, when our Buyer client is the only party interested in a property listed for sale we’ll open negotiations with a low offering sum just to gauge the response from both the listing realtor and the Seller. Depending how it plays out, we’ll endeavour to create a meeting of the minds, sometimes negotiating with the listing realtor and their Seller over a period of a few months, gently reviving offers by resubmitting incremental improvements with the objective of respectfully securing a sale. Staying cool, calm and collected, we always let the other party walk away from our Offer instead of becoming exasperated ourselves, knowing that patience is a virtue and the win comes to those that wait. That said, when we’re representing a Seller, encouraging them to embrace the List Low Holdback Approach offers them the benefit of bypassing negotiating with low-ball Buyers. The blind bidding war process removes Buyers on the hunt for desperate Sellers, because other competing Buyers keen to secure fair market value will outbid them.
Success On Woodmount
Our detached 3bed listing near Woodbine and Danforth – listed for $999,000 – recieved 11 bids on the Offer Date. Here are the prices and conditions the eleven Buyers bid, from the lowest to highest amount, including notes on any further resubmissions:
11. $1,251,000 with a condition on Financing. (Note, the fact this Offer had a condition rendered it the lowest ranking, though this is debatable given it was several hundreds of thousands of dollars more than several bids. The fact it had a condition discounted it from being a contender.)
10. $1,030,000 firm, no conditions
9. $1,050,000 firm, no conditions
8. $1,070,000 firm, no conditions
7. $1,100,000 firm, no conditions
6. $1,102,202 firm, no conditions
5. $1,120,000 firm, no conditions
4. $1,150,000 firm, no conditions
3. $1,240,000 firm, no conditions
2. $1,306,000 firm no conditions. This party resubmitted their offer at $1,383,000 and then again to their best and final number of $1,386,000
1. $1,380,000 firm, no conditions. This offer was improved to $1,390,000 in final negotiations
Whether you are buying or selling, having a process in place is your key to success. And even better when that process is built on-and has been fine tuned by-experience. With decades of experience helping buyers and sellers have positive and rewarding experiences, we are here to help!
Did you enjoy this? Here are some additional Urbaneer posts you may enjoy:
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Now more than ever, it is essential to plan a well-researched, data-driven, tactical strategy if you are in the market for a new home. Especially in changing times, when the pandemic has prompted many to shift their focus and objectives. Have yours changed? Please know The Urbaneer team is here to help!
May we be of assistance to you, or someone you love?
The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
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