My Agent Mike

Hi! I'm Mike Rapkoski.

Sales Representative, Keller Williams Referred Urban Realty Inc., Brokerage

I have spent the past 18 years assisting clients build their wealth through making wise choices with their real estate buying and selling. I am passionate, dedicated and committed to providing world class service to my real estate clients.

24 March 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Should I List My Property Now, Or Wait Until It’s Perfect To Show?

Sellers often wonder whether they should list their property as is, or wait until it’s ideal to show. In my opinion, this depends various factors: is the demand very high currently for your type of house, condo or loft? Is there limited supply in the market of comparable properties that will be competing with you for coveted buyers? Where are we in the yearly sales cycle? Considering these factors that can help us decide what is the best strategy for you when it comes to putting your home up for sale.

There are numerous components that come into play when it comes to deciding when the right time is, and the way to present your property for sale. Not every house, condo or loft has to have that HGTV glitter and glam.

There are circumstances where it might be in your best interest to hit the market 85% to 90% done!

As a real estate agent who mainly works exclusively by referral or with repeat (past) clients, I’m often consulting with my clients on maximizing their bottom line when it comes to the amount of money they are going to net from the sale of their home.

Each and every consultation is different as no two selling situations are the same. The problem today is that most agents and sellers are brainwashed to take the same approach when it comes to selling – from home prep, staging, open houses (both weekend and evening meet-and-greets), right down to furniture types and placement… So cookie-cutter! But our homes are anything but cookie cutter! Our homes are meant to be individual expression of our personalities. Admittedly, some personalities are in need of tweaking, and this is discussed on an individual basis.

Having a thorough understanding of who your target market (buyer types) are will certainly help you net the most amount of money, with the least amount of inconvenience to you (the seller), and a reasonable time frame that best suits your needs.

Are you ready for an individualized home selling experience? Contact me to set up a personal consultation.

21 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

First-time Buyer Home Is a Condo… And This Can Be Smart Financially!

Over the past 6-7 years, I have been sharing with clients that the first-time buyer “home” is now a condo (and no longer a house). The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) in its first ever year-in-review which recently came out, confirms this.

Why is this important? For starters, it helps set realistic expectations when discussing affordability, and it helps promote a positive home ownership experience for the first-time buyer.

Yes, there are exceptions as to where a home will be purchased in the Toronto proper area for buyers with either high incomes or large down payments (or both). But for now, the norm is that first-time buyers in the six should be directed towards condos.

In 2015, TREB set a record in sales with 101,299 condo sales reported. Note that these numbers can be slightly confusing because TREB tracks sales from as far as Halton and Peel Regions, Simcoe County, as well as York and Durham Regions, in addition to Toronto.

What I personally find surprising is that in Toronto proper, 60% of condo sales were with first-time buyers! I would have expected the percentage to lie in between 50% – 53%, which is a longer-term norm. When you include the GTA area, the percentage is still a healthy 47%.

Anyone who has been shopping for a home in Toronto is well aware that the average price for a house is above $800,000. Because of this, many buyers are choosing condos as the starting point in their home ownership journey.

Condo values in Toronto have risen at double the pace of inflation last year, which is better than many think at first glance. Most people add very little in appreciative upgrades when entering the condo market. It’s safe to assume with the for majority of first-time buyers (being first-timers), condos are more suitable than houses.

Much more often than not, many first-time buyers who purchase houses find that home improvement costs are not only necessary, but incredibly high — we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars needed upfront to improve the house to current insurable standards (don’t get me started on this…), which can skew the appreciative gains on a semi or detached house. This is not a debate on which is a better investment; but rather, more of an eye-opener.

Predictable upfront and carrying costs on a property for a first-time buyer can help ensure a positive home-ownership experience. Many buyers have shunned condo ownership because of the price appreciation versus a house. When making this decision, what we should be looking at is an apple-to-apple comparison.

Often, what also adds to the confusion for some buyers are maintenance fees. Many buyers mistakenly think that the entire fee is a “lifestyle” fee; but when properly understood, a predictable monthly expense that typically rises with the inflation rate can be the best thing for the first-time buyer.

So, keep an open mind and don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to enter the home ownership market, and consider choosing a condo as your first home.

15 January 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Are We to Expect Another Active Year in Toronto Real Estate Sales and Prices?

With winter now in full force across our city and the start of a new year behind us, those of you thinking about making a move or adding an investment property in 2016 might be wondering: what will be in store for the real estate market in Toronto?

Let’s start with a brief recap of what happened in 2015: sales activity was up a whopping 9.2% over 2014 and for the first time, we surpassed the 100,000 mark. Total sales for the year came in at 101,299. This is a phenomenal amount of activity which blew past the previous record year in 2007, which saw 93,193 sales.

Average sales prices were up almost 10% over 2014’s averages, and today we have an average sales price of $622,217 in the GTA. However, if you are looking to purchase a home in the old city of Toronto boundaries, the average price is $1,039,638 for a detached, $743,738 for a semi-detached, and $400,088 for a condo apartment.

It’s safe to say that Toronto house prices are beyond reach for many, but the demand remains strong for those hoping to live in the 416, and supply of high-quality housing continues to be in short supply. Like many other major cities throughout the world, a good amount of Toronto real estate is being held in the hands of foreigners.

About 5 years ago, I read an article which stated that only 4% of Manhattan real estate was owned by native New Yorker’s. Is Toronto starting to follow that path? Personally, I don’t think so.

In my opinion, what is happening is that consumers are truly buying into living within a reasonable commute of Toronto’s downtown core, and businesses and other amenities are following suit. Lifestyles are improving, and respective of our high real estate prices, people are happy with where they are living. From what I’ve seen so far this year, this won’t change anytime soon.

Just over 10% of all sales last year in the GTA were above $1 million. It is becoming more the norm, rather than the exception, to see million dollar sales in the 416. Currently, one of the most ‘in-demand’ markets are Toronto homes in the $4 million range and up! Buyers have bought into the stability and overall safety of Toronto real estate, and money continues to be invested in housing, which many see as having better long term security than the financial markets.

Last year, semi-detached homes increased in value by 20.8%, followed by 12.7% for townhouses, 11.8% for detached homes, and finally, up by 3.2% in the condo market. Pretty amazing increases in value across all platforms! I truly believe that you should not look at your principal residence as an ‘investment vehicle’ only, as there are many other factors that come into play when measuring the complete value of owning a home. That being said, if you are taking a hit in the financial markets and are financially comfortable, we may want to discuss the wealth building benefits of investment real estate. In my personal experience, this area has been my greatest wealth builder.

Bear in mind that not all real estate is created equally, and the averages noted above are just that – averages. Knowing what to buy, where to buy, and how much to pay, demands serious attention and knowledge of the real estate market. Be careful and don’t over leverage. Be prudent in your purchasing decisions and remember that real estate is always safer when bought with a long term perspective in mind.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to discuss your neighbourhood more specifically, contact me and I would be happy to set aside the time to talk about your specific needs.

21 December 2015 ~ 0 Comments

A Very Big Threat to the Real Estate Industry

One of things I thoroughly enjoy in my role as a Realtor is the quality of people I get to assist; whether they are interested in buying, selling, or investing in real estate, I’m happy to help with all of their real estate needs.

I often get asked to share my thoughts on the foreseeable future of the real estate industry in this ever-changing, Uber-like world that we live in. Here’s what I think: in the next five-or-so years, the way we have known real estate to be bought and sold will evolve in a way that will meet consumers’ demands and be more favourable to their individual needs. No more ‘one size fits all’ motto.

The role of the Realtor will be affected, but not eliminated, and those who can clearly define their value proposition and position themselves positively in the marketplace will not only survive, but thrive in this environment where highly competent, professional, tech-friendly agents will be sought out.

I strongly believe that a high number of today’s Realtors whom I encounter in my real estate dealings do not fit this mold. These minions will be relegated to a fragmented role which will be suitable to consumers looking for a ‘piecemeal’ level of service, and chances are that consumers will approach these agents via an online aggregator, which will command a high portion of the real estate fee earned.

Personally, I think that the biggest threat to our industry are the incompetent agents who fill the ranks of almost every brokerage in the city, and our industry has not taken any steps to discourage this; rather, they have encouraged it at almost all levels!

The Canadian Real Estate Association, Ontario Real Estate Association, Toronto Real Estate Board, and Brokerage firms, have all encouraged mass agent enrollment by any means necessary, and to a large degree, they have all benefited from it. However, for the most part, once you obtain a real estate license, it’s the wild West! Accountability is low for the new and inexperienced, and often, it is other agents in the brokerage who end up being the trainers and support systems for the newbies. This is not always a good thing.

The bigger problem lies with most part-time agents, or those who are just ‘trying out real estate’ between stints in their ‘real’ careers. I remember reading an article about one-and-a-half years ago where the CREA president actually endorsed the part-time agent and stated that real estate sales is a viable part-time option! Yeah….

Every brokerage I have worked at over the past 19 years have part-time agents working in it, or hire part time agents. Few brokers will actually admit to this, but trust me, it’s there. All it takes is about $2,000 invested in a third party statistical company to find out how many actual sales individual agents partake in.

Personally, I am fed up! This year, I’ve had three clients affected in a hugely negative way because of the incompetence of other agents. Sadly, this low level of professionalism reflects badly on us all!

Don’t for a minute think that consumers aren’t paying attention, because they are. In the past, the percentage of incompetent agents may have been small, but I am certain that the percentage is much higher today. In my experience, roughly half of the agents I converse with daily have limited experience and understanding of the current real estate market.

You know what else sucks? As a competent, professional, full-time agent who invests heavily in myself on a yearly basis by staying up-to-date with relevant facts, data, rules, and countless training sessions on ‘keeping my skills pencil sharp’, there is only so much I can do to protect my clients’ interests.

A day of reckoning is coming, and I will welcome it with open arms. I’m not certain that many of today’s agents will survive this new age, and as a result, many brokerages will falter as well. CREA, OREA and TREB, will also be affected. Big, wealthy tech companies have had their eyes on the real estate industry, and it’s starting to look ripe for the picking! The consumers of the future will demand it as well.

I issue this warning to the real estate industry: welcome to the world of Uber! I hope you’re ready.

21 November 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Understanding the Status Certificate When Buying a Condo

In Toronto when you make a purchase on a condominium, there should (almost) always be a condition in your offer on the ‘review of an up to date status certificate and accompanying documents’.

Why is this so important? There are way too many reasons to cover in this blog post, so I will highlight the most common concerns and what you need to be aware of when reviewing. (NOTE: you should always have a third party, like an experienced Realtor familiar with condo documents or your real estate Lawyer, review these documents).

The most often talked about concern is the financial status of the condominium corporation you just bought into. That’s right, you are now a legal shareholder in the liabilities and assets of said condo corporation! What is the amount in the reserve fund? Are fees projected to rise in the next budgeted year? Are any special assessments being considered? What does the budget look like? There are so many things to understand and to the untrained eye, it can be a daunting review.

How about the rules and regulations or by-laws of the condo? Consider this scenario as an example: while visiting the property before you purchased, you noticed that the neighbour’s balcony had a barbeque on it. You love to barbeque, so you are excited about doing so yourself! Don’t assume that this is permitted. It needs to be spelled out if it is.

How about pets and the associated obligations with owning them? Certainly no one can tell me what I can or cannot do inside my own unit? Wrong! Not only can a condo spell out what types of pets are permitted, but you also must adhere to sound and noise requirements. If your parakeet likes to squawk all day, you could be in for a rude surprise. One of you, maybe even both of you, could be asked to leave.

Here’s an interesting one that’s often overlooked by the uninformed: playing loud music inside your unit. Condo noise by-laws are different than those of the City of Toronto. Most parts of the city spell out that your neighbour should keep the music down after 11 PM. Not so in a condo. If your neighbor complains, regardless of the time of day, you need to dial it down. After all, each unit owner is entitled to quiet and reasonable enjoyment of his or her unit. This applies to video gamers as well, with the heavy bass of gunfire blasting at 1:00 AM! Landlords should always make sure that their leases include “that the tenant agrees to abide by the condo rules and bylaws”.

So, as you can see, a thorough understanding of the status certificate and documents is crucial when making a condominium purchase. Make sure that you are aware of the rules and by-laws, and also make to bring to your Realtor’s attention anything that might conflict with your interests. Keep in mind that condo living can be great, but it’s not for everyone!

14 October 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Toronto Traffic Will Hurt Real Estate Values

Toronto’s mayor John Tory recently announced another “blitz” targeted towards illegal parking during rush hour in Toronto’s downtown core. October 5th, my birthday, is the big day of reckoning to solve our traffic woes. Thanks John for the heads-up, wink-wink!!

There are so many things wrong with Tory’s Band-Aid approach in which he thinks is the cause of road congestion downtown.

More cyclists on the roads, more people living downtown, more cars on the road, more pedestrians on the streets, non-threatening parking fines, and finally my biggest pet peeve, poor planning on development projects and special events. This is why traffic sucks everywhere you go!

Whew! What a list. Add to this ignorant drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians who all now act like anything they want goes.

Its cheaper to park illegally, get a ticket, fight said ticket and either pay nothing at all or maybe 25% of the value, then to find a parking space and pay to park. Don’t believe me? Ask FedEx.

There are so many worthy charitable causes to consider for road closures, but why do they all have to be on the streets of downtown, truly baffles me?

The city encouraged development downtown to get residents jammed into every orifice imaginable, and their answer to congestion is bike lanes. Remove the parking spaces, build condos everywhere and people will cycle all year long! Brilliant!!

Buyers are starting to pay notice. Maybe downtown is a good place to rent. But not buy?

How have the roads we all pay to travel, walk and ride on have become all but ignored? When Adam Vaughan was a city councilor it was his hair brained idea to take the two roads best set up to move traffic, Richmond and Adelaide Streets and bring them to a crawl. Did I miss Adam’s advanced degree in Urban Planning?

Drivers are feuding with cyclists; cyclists are feuding with drivers and pedestrians; police are never anywhere to be seen, and above all the nitwits at city hall are planning their next taxi rally.

Keep putting up with this crap people of Toronto and you know what will be in store for us. Rob Ford 2.0.

15 September 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Shouldn’t Toronto be Rich?

With the massive condo boom in the city of Toronto the past 10 years, it seems logical that our city’s property tax base has grown proportionately.

If you live or have lived in a condo, you have probably had that moment of thinking, ‘why am I paying $2,500 per year for 650 square feet again to the city in taxes?!’ After all, you don’t receive the same perks and services that a homeowner in the city receives.

But let’s focus for a moment on the money. We have been building at a massive pace and accumulating huge revenues in property taxes, and most of these increases are coming from land or buildings where the taxes collected have increased 500 fold!

Let’s conservatively say that 7,000 units are created per year and are actually brought to market where owners have taken occupancy. With an average tax base of $2,500 per unit (taxes are assessed on market value and not on market size; the wealthier you are, the more you pay) this would equate to $17,500,000. Yes, a paltry amount in comparison overall to the city budget, but this amount additionally would be added every year!

Over 10 years now conservatively we are looking at $175,000,000. This doesn’t include one-time fees charged to developers or a purchaser of the said units, and of course doesn’t include our lovely Toronto Land Transfer tax.

There is a massive amount of money being added to the city coffers, all the while we keep hearing about deficits and cuts to essential services. Our streets should be lined in gold and our waste pipes with imported rare metal and steel! Instead we get plastic tubing made in China.

Today they say we need tolls to afford our roads. Last week they threw out $20 million in parking ticket revenue and proceeded to announce the next day parking rates were going up because there is a $1.5 million dollar shortfall? Oh yeah, then they went and eliminated a massive amount of street parking spaces along Richmond and Adelaide streets to paint in bike lanes.

#WTFT.O.

I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. We are such a rich city that has no clue where the money goes. Thankfully we didn’t send that letter and commit ourselves to $50 million to ‘apply’ to host the 2024 Olympics. $10 billion + they say it would cost and converted to Toronto and Ontario currency that is about $15 billion Canadian. Go #Liberals!

Instead they should invite every Torontonian out during the Olympics and place big screen TV’s along Bloor, Yonge, Queen, and King streets etc.; every 10 feet and have us all dine and drink to our hearts content while footing the bill. Now that’s a party!

19 August 2015 ~ 0 Comments

7 Reasons Why Toronto Average Sale Prices are $1 Million Dollars

The Canada Housing and Mortgage Company (CMHC) recently came out with high-risk warnings for detached house prices in Toronto.

With the price of a detached house hovering around the One Million Dollar threshold, this warning seems to be plausible, especially in a city where some buyers can be seen with ‘crazy eyes’ like facial features (from the loveable character in Orange is the new Black).

What’s important to note is that the CMHC specifically mentioned that both the condo market and affordability are NOT a concern at this point, specifically referring to detached homes in the Toronto area.

There are some factors that have contributed to our 7-digit home price average that are often overlooked or misunderstood. I’ve listed below a few of the factors that I feel have helped push the average up.

The first two are obvious so I’ve listed them at the top. The rest are in no particular order.

  1. Low interest rates that have been low for so long that many consumers have forgotten what a normal rate looks like. Some say low rates may very well be the NEW norm!
  2. Scarcity of good housing in high demand neighbourhoods. Another obvious ones but the next point ties into this as well.
  3. Punitive high land transfer taxes that often force buyers to jump ‘ahead’ in the move-up cycle and go from first time home buyer/seller to their trophy home.
  4. A higher percentage of home sales in the $2.5 million and up range.
  5. A huge surge in Infill housing (tearing down a smaller/older home and rebuilding a newer larger one).
  6. Home renovations. Canadians spent $68 billion on home renovations in 2014 (HGTV effect) that was $20 billion more than was spent on new housing last year! (Read more about that here.)
  7. Growing income disparity. Two income families making $200,000/year combined offer options for higher priced properties and renovations.

As you can see from my list, it only takes one or two of these factors to push house prices higher. When you add four, five, or all seven, you can easily understand why prices are where they are.

In the 20 years that I’ve been helping people buy and sell real estate in Toronto, I have come to believe that the key to successful home ownership is simple. First, figure out if it’s the right time for you to make a purchase; this is something that a good Realtor can assist with. Next, make a purchase that will meet your needs depending on where you land in the home buying process. These two things help to ensure that you sleep well and enjoy the experience of being a home/condo owner.

17 July 2015 ~ 0 Comments

4 Ways to Protect Your Documents, Photos & Media

Planning for the unexpected can save your valuables and help put your mind at ease when you need it most. Take a look at these four digital and age-old backup and storage solutions. Unexpected accidents do happen, so take the steps to protect your computer, home office files, music, or important keepsakes now.

Go Paperless

Take advantage of receiving important documents (such as your bank statements) electronically. Choosing the paperless route allows you to log in to your accounts instead of worrying about losing that folder full of important documents stashed in the back of a filing cabinet.

For added peace of mind, create digital backups of important physical documents such as your passport and birth certificate, as well. Scanners are now smaller than ever (no more taking up half of your desk!), making it easy to go paperless in a short amount of time. When in a rush, snap a photo of that important document with your smartphone.

Backup Externally

External hard drives connect to your computer via a USB port, allowing for easy onsite backup of documents, photos, music and other media. When deciding what type of external hard drive works best for you, consider how much space you’ll need, as well as the drive’s compatibility with your computer.

To be extra safe, use two external drives and store your redundant backup in a safe or at work. Tip: Set a digital calendar reminder for yourself to regularly back up your external drives — once a week or month, for example.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage allows your data to be transferred and stored virtually, offering easy access to your information anywhere, anytime. And an added perk, you don’t need to be logged in on your computer to access your cloud. As long as you have your cloud username and password, you can recover your files on any computer, tablet or smartphone. There are more cloud service options than ever before, so compare multiple providers to decide what’s best for you. Google Drive allows a generous 15GB of free storage and acts as part online collaborative suite, and part cloud storage platform. Other options worth considering are Dropbox, iDrive and Apple iCloud for avid Apple app users.

Low-tech Standby

If the tech world intimidates you, or you just want extra protection for physical documents and treasured keepsakes, then a fireproof safe is your best bet. Safes can protect your precious keepsakes from harm for many hours in extreme temperatures — something your external hard drive couldn’t do. But before you run out for a fireproof safe of your own, consider all of the items you may want to keep in it and where you’ll store it in your home.

Ultimately, it’s best to utilize multiple backup options to keep your valuables safe. Going paperless, using external hard drives and cloud storage, and keeping items in a fireproof safe will give you the protection you need should the unexpected strike.

17 June 2015 ~ 0 Comments

R.I.P. Zoocasa

It may be considered to be old news by now, but earlier this month a Rogers-owned Real Estate Company announced they were shutting their doors.

And I say good riddance.

From the get go, Zoocasa was a flawed business model. I won’t go into details as to why, as others have flogged their demise to death, but I will say this: they weren’t the first and they won’t be the last entity to try and capitalize on the lucrative real estate industry without offering ANYTHING of value to the consumer.

What hasn’t been spoken much of is how dysfunctional they operated: the hiring and firing (‘parting of ways’ in corporate speak) of a well-known consistent flop in the real estate community, the breaking of laws and lack of adherence to privacy laws, the agitation and isolation of the very real estate community in which it publicly claimed ‘were partners’ and not competitors, and so on.

Recently, the Huffington Post wrote a ‘fluff piece’ on this development and how detrimental it will be to consumers now that they are gone. Pu-leassseeee! Sadly this is what happens in today’s business aligned world: the media (especially online media outlets) are there to stroke the bruised egos of the advertisers who pay them.

Rumour has it that Zoocasa was hemorrhaging a loss of a million dollars per month. This doesn’t surprise me. They advertised like crazy, yet at the best of times, they only had 100 agent members aligned to their services (who were not the cream of the crop in the business).

In addition, I’m certain that Rogers Communications took a huge hit in the business quality they offered to the Realtor community. When word leaked that they were competitors to agents, many fled to other non-competing carriers. Bell Media quickly encouraged realtors to switch to Bell and threw in a marketing jab by ‘promising not to compete with you, only provide great cellular service’.

With over 110,000 agents in Canada, even if a small percentage jumped over to Bell (I was one of them) it would be a ding to the bottom line. Realtors pay a small monthly fortune on cell phones, home Internet, mobile data packages and tablets, so it adds up quickly. Not including cable TV and Internet I was paying over $250 per month alone to Rogers. Add another hundred for my home services… You do the math.

In my opinion, what Zoocassa did accomplish was exposing the potential flaws of a pretty antiquated real estate industry. The good times have been very good (read profitable) for Real Estate Boards, Brokerages, affiliated industries and of course, some licensed sales representatives such as myself.

Who will be the next threat or disruptor that will cause the real estate industry to wake up and get with the times? This I don’t know. But I am certain it won’t be long before someone else comes along looking for a piece of the pie.