Condos have become a part of Toronto life. They’re as omnipresent as the CN Tower or signal problems on the TTC. Between 2012 and the end of 2016, 683 projects were completed, boasting 91,855 units.
For many people, buying a condo is the only way to break into the housing market. Most folks will become acquainted with the real estate process through purchasing their first condominium: the hunt, the offer, the contracts, and all the other minutiae that goes into buying a home.
But there’s one aspect of the process that may be less familiar to many people: Assignment purchases.
Essentially, an assignment purchase is when someone pays for a pre-construction condo unit and then sells the deed to the property before it's registered.
A Complicated Matter
"They're a little more complicated," explains Jim Burtnick, a member of the Torontoism team for Sotheby’s International Realty. "What you're doing is selling someone your agreement of purchase and sale. The idea is to sell it for more than your purchase price."
The person selling the agreement is referred to as the assignor and the person buying is known as the assignee.
Burtnick says he’s done a few assignment sales in his career, but because of their complicated nature, they aren’t very common. He guesses the number is somewhere around 5 to 10 per cent of total condo sales in the city.
There's basically three people involved. So you've got the assignor, who's the person selling it. You've got the assignee, the person who's buying it. And you've got the developer agreeing to allow the assignment to take place.
He says that, from the developer's point of view, it doesn’t make sense to let the original purchaser sell their contract. If the assignee backs out of the deal then the builder is on the hook.
They don't want to have to go and chase somebody new to close on it. So it's keeping everybody in limbo. The assignor selling the unit is not going to get paid until the assignee actually closes on it, and it's a bit of a domino effect.
Still, the fact that it’s complicated won’t stop people from trying to make money off assignment sales. Burtnick says there is a tendency to speculate in the new-construction market. That’s when people buy pre-construction and sell it before the move-in date in the hopes of making a profit. Because the market in Toronto has been on an upward curve for a number of years, people are trying to take advantage of that.
For example, you don’t pay the full $500,000 price of a property upfront, you pay $100,000. If you can turn around and make an assignment sale you could potentially make another $100,000, doubling your investment.
There’s the tendency to think speculation would raise condo prices, but Burtnick doesn’t see it that way. "It's a reality of the market. I wouldn't say it's a problem because in many respects what it's doing is fast forwarding the project to get completed," he says.
He explains that builders need to sell 75 per cent of their inventory before they can get financing from a bank. Speculating speeds up the process by guaranteeing those buildings are sold.
If these people weren't in the market as speculators. It could take years to sell a project and consequently delay that supply getting to the market. And right now, our biggest problem in this city and the GTA in general is a lack of supply.
Beyond an expedited build, assignment purchases offer other benefits. For the buyer – or assignee – they don’t have to wait four or five years to move in, according to Burtnick.
Usually, when an assignment happens it's very close to the registration. The building's built.
Why Do They Happen?
Speculation isn’t the only reason for assignment purchases though. Priorities change over time. Three or four years is a long time to wait between putting down an initial deposit and actually taking possession of the unit.
Burtnick points out that it’s not uncommon to be living a different life in a four-year time span. A single person who buys a condo, years down the road, could be married with a child.
And guess what? The condos not going to work for them anymore. Their lifestyle's changed. But the person who's going to get it is going to be moving in relatively quickly and it's a brand new unit.
Ultimately, assignment purchases can benefit everyone involved. For the seller, it’s an opportunity to make some money on investment or unload a property that no longer makes sense. For the buyer, they don’t have to wait to move in but get the bonus of buying a new property.
Burtnick compares it to buying a new car.
There's a peace of mind getting something brand new. It's like a car warranty. As opposed to getting a used car where you take your chances with it.