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The cost floor

Generally speaking, the cost of building a new building is always going up. There are moments in time, like during a recession, where costs might temporarily correct downward. But generally speaking, there is a cost floor that is constantly rising. This includes everything from hard costs to rising development charges.

We have spoken before about how developers typically look at their costs, and then price accordingly through “cost-plus pricing.” Put differently, it is answering the question, “what do I need to rent or sell this space for in order to cover all of these projected costs?” This can be tricky when costs are all over the place, as they are right now with double percentage point swings, but that’s a different conversation.

As long as there remains some price elasticity in the market, cost-plus pricing can work just fine. Costs are up, but I’m just going to increase pricing to absorb most of it, or in some cases all of it. However, problems occur when and where you can’t increase pricing. Maybe it’s in a marginal area where rents aren’t increasing. Or maybe interest rates are rising and overall price elasticity is tightening.

Whatever the case may be, in this scenario, it likely means that development will stop and supply will slow or possibly even shut off. We are starting to see some evidence of this happening in Toronto right now.

But if the fundamentals of the overall market remain strong, this should only be a short-term problem. Eventually the market will catch up (through higher pricing and/or some reduced costs), and then projects will return to being feasible. But if there’s a structural problem in the market, maybe development never returns without some kind of subsidies.

Thankfully, it is obvious to most that markets like Toronto have incredibly strong fundamentals. We can screw up a lot of things as long as we remain open to smart immigrants from around the world. This makes it fairly easy to have conviction around what will happen over the longer term. And this is generally how I like to make decisions, whether we’re talking about real estate or crypto (see above tweet).

But all of this doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t also be managing the short run.

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