Lessons for investors in downtown Toronto

We Charity has sold three downtown Toronto properties, a piece of real estate in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, for $36 million, and not all went for a profit. The largest property, an approximately 14,500 sq ft building at 551 Victoria Street, was listed at $78.7 million, and sold for $27.5 million, or a loss of $21.5 million. This cost is noteworthy because the average price of a residential condo in that neighbourhood in September is around $1,600. We also sold our building at 650 Church Street, where a condo priced north of $3,000 per sq ft is not uncommon, for $27.5 million, or a loss of $8.4 million.

Not every sale in downtown Toronto was successful. In June, We sold our building at 475 King Street West, for a loss of approximately $14.6 million. We did this to “right size” We’ve done this in many other cases, as we did in Hamilton and London. We build primarily office buildings, in a financial centre, for a high-rise market, but it is very, very hard to turn a profit.

In fact, on average, we have lost approximately $17 million each year on our sales. This is not surprising. In our retail properties, we have made some money in the past few years, with our recent sale of a grocery store at 3229 Yonge Street to the Loblaws chain. We sold 545 Queen Street West, one of our most successful properties, last year, for approximately $60 million, a return of more than $10 million. Even during our worst years, we have beaten the market, as in 2005, when we sold 121 King Street West at a loss of about $60 million, and with the redevelopment we will be doing.

Our property at 1501 Bloor Street West was sold to Carl and Francesca Paskalia for $11.5 million. We have a high regard for Mr. Paskalia and hope he will partner with us as we move to move our family business into retail and make strong gains. Our project for 3033 Yonge Street, to transform the former Woolworth store into a gourmet grocer is well underway.

The Paskalias are new to us, but we are optimistic about their outlook for the business, and this sale will benefit from their very positive energy. We are enthusiastic that such a good developer and businessman will soon be a part of our family.

• This article was written by Edmonton-based We Charity.

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