'Green condos' helping investors beat the odds

by Heather Hadden14 Jan 2013

There are many articles and advertisements about old condominiums being renovated and equipped with the newest green technologies and brand new condos being built with environmental conservation in mind.

But considering all the greenwashing, says experts, it’s hard to winnow out interesting and reliable information regarding green living and green condominiums specifically.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, greenwashing is usually used when an organization or company spends more time and money advertising being "green” than actually spending resources or implementing practices that lower its impact on the environment.

That kind of impersonation leaves condo investors with no real point of differentiation from competitors holding the thousands of other units crowding the rental market.

It also makes it all the more important investors distinguish between the real deal and the imposters.

Ninety per cent of all new residential construction in Toronto is condominiums. On February 1, 2010, the City of Toronto passed the Green Building Standard, stipulating that every new development has to have at least 25 per cent lower energy consumption than the Canadian average. But that wasn’t all: the City created motivation for developers to accomplish even greater energy savings.

Developers who voluntarily build new condo units 35 per cent more efficient than the Canadian average will have part of their fees paid to the City rebated. Looking back, accomplishing a 25 per cent gain in energy efficiency wasn’t difficult. Upgrades included airtight units, energy-efficient windows, low volatile organic compound paints (for better quality of air), shower heads, dual flush toilets, and low-flow faucets.

Nowadays, new condominiums are 35 to 40 per cent more energy efficient in comparison with the national building code, but is energy efficiency the only factor behind labelling a development or building "green“? There are many elements that need to be taken into consideration throughout all stages of the construction process, including the selection of material and use of local resources, diversion of demolition waste from a landfill and sustainable site development.

Several studies suggest that green buildings cost 2 to 3 per cent more upon construction, but are able to produce ten times that sum over the lifetime of the building in lower energy and operating costs. Beyond the market muscle it lends investors looking for tenants or a buyer, what does this all mean?

Usually green condominiums are built with the help of the Green Condo Loan Program, covering the developer’s costs for green upgrades incorporated into each condo unit. This enables the purchase price to be kept competitive while the loans are taken up by the condo corporation once buyers assume ownership.

The most obvious benefit lies in energy efficiency: monthly savings are greater than loan payments, resulting in a positive cash flow from the first month on. After the loans are paid off, all the savings are accumulated by the owners. Owners are also insulated from energy price rises, simultaneously increasing their savings. With higher occupancy rates and premium rents, green buildings have higher resale prices. And last but not least, it’s also a win for the environment, adapting and accelerating more eco-friendly solutions in Toronto.

Research shows that more than 80% of Canadian consumers prefer companies that offer green services and products. This is no surprise. Given two similar condos, would you prefer the conventional one with its ever-rising energy and heating costs or a green condo, with almost the exact opposite in its favour?

Heather Hadden is an experienced Realtor and popular blogger about real estate, events and lifestyle in Toronto, which explains the name of her site, http://ilovetoronto.com.

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