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On not going pens down

Back in May, I wrote a post about time to market and managing costs in condominium projects. What I wrote then remains true and equally, if not more, important today. But given all the uncertainty that we are continuing to see in the market, I thought I would elaborate on a few points.

It used to be the case, when I first started working on condominium projects back in 2007 or so, that you would go pens down on your design drawings while you launched pre-sales and worked toward meeting your construction financing requirements.

Once you hit 50% sales, or maybe once you completely reached your financing hurdle, you would then call your architect back up and kindly ask them to get started on working drawings.

And the reason you did it this way was because working drawings are kind of expensive and so you wanted to make sure that your sales were going to be there. You were also trying to push as many of your costs out to after you had your construction loan in place so that you had a lower peak equity requirement.

You can’t do this today.

Since the beginning of this year, we have seen average high-rise construction costs increase by about 12% in the Greater Toronto Area and, for the balance of this year, some are predicting as much as 4% per month. What this means is that if you wait like the old days, you will likely see costs run away from you and you won’t be able to finance your project based on the sales you do have in place.

So what you want to do is not go pens down. Keep going on drawings. Start buying construction (i.e. tendering). And work toward locking in as many of your costs as possible.

How much is ultimately up to you and the exact market conditions at the time. But I know a number of condominium developers now targeting at least 50% tendered, which means securing most of your key contracts: formwork, concrete & rebar supply, windows, M&E, and so on.

A lot of us are hoping that costs will eventually come down and follow certain commodities in the near term. But as our cost consultant effectively said to me this week, “just because the price of cold-formed steel has come down, do you really think you’ll be able to walk into a BMW dealership and ask for a deep discount?”

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