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Archive for July, 2012

Landlords wake up and smell the green

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

The rush is on to leave a smaller footprint – and they’re not talking about a building’s lot size.

July 17, 2007

Canada’s commercial real estate industry, like many other business sectors, is embracing change to make sure its environmental footprint is more eco-friendly.

The industry is now in the thick of efforts to broaden its “green” efforts beyond merely decreasing energy consumption in the vast stock of office buildings across the country.

It’s a key issue because buildings are one of the biggest contributor to the greenhouses gases that are considered responsible for climate change on the planet.

“When people think of global warming, many of them probably think of factory smokestacks and cars,” said Nancy Searchfield, a green buildings expert at Colliers International in Toronto and a board member on the

Canada Green Building Council. “People don’t realize that buildings contribute 30 per cent of greenhouse gases.”

Making sure newly constructed building are “green” is a important objective, she said, but there can be much more of an impact through improving the performance of the billions of square feet of existing commercial space across the country. The greening of buildings has become such a hot issue that large real estate firms are bending over backwards to make sure people know they are concerned about the planet. CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., the huge real estate service firm based in Los Angeles, said recently it will attempt to become “carbon neutral” by 2010. To do that it will cut energy use in it offices, make better use of space, and buy offset credits if necessary.

Perhaps more important than the internal goals, CBRE has set up a task force to help its clients become more energy efficient in the 1.7 billion square feet of office space they occupy around the world.  Stefan Ciotlos, executive vice-president of CBRE (Canada) and the Canadian representative on the task force, said the move is “a recognition that the company has a global responsibility, and can be a global influence.”

The idea is to share best practices around the world, he said, and Canada should be able to make a significant contribution because we have a different climate and geography than most other countries.

Many Canadian building owners and managers have made changes, or are considering changes, to ensure their buildings’ operations are more environmentally friendly.

Cheryl Gray, senior vice-president for national real estate services at property manager Bentall Capital LP, says managing energy costs has been a key focus for decades, but with concerns over environmental issues now top of mind, “it has taken on a much more sophisticated context.” Some building owners and tenant are taking a more “holistic” approach to environmental issues, and are not just looking at immediate financial payback, she added.

Environmentally positive changes can include massive retrofits, such as shifting a building’s cooling from an inefficient system to Enwave deep lake water cooling that’s now available in downtown Toronto, Ms. Gray said. But they can also involve much smaller moves, such as improving recycling in tenants’ offices by keeping cellphones and batteries out of the garbage stream, or installing motion sensors so that rooms aren’t lit when not in use.

Some building owners are installing green roofs, planting drought resistant plants for landscaping, or capturing rain water for irrigation. Building managers and owners can also set standards for tenants, encouraging them to use more recycled materials in constructing offices.

“There are lots of opportunities. The list is endless if you really start looking at the different components of a an existing property,” Ms. Gray said.

Colliers’ Ms. Searchfield said many environmentally positive changes are really “low-hanging fruit” that don’t require much of an investment to put in place. Any building manager can shift to “green housekeeping,” for example, using biodegradable cleaning products instead of more toxic materials. And lowering lighting levels is not usually a major retrofit.

One of the side benefits of retrofitting space so it’s more green: Owners may have an easier time attracting tenants, and those tenants will be better able to attract staff, who now sometimes take environmental issues into account when deciding who they want to work for.

Buildings that have made significant environmental progress can now get recognition from Canada’s Building Owners and Managers Association, which has created the “Go Green” program to certify properties that meet 10 environmental best practices.

BOMA’s Go Green Plus is more rigorous, and sets measured benchmarks for energy consumption, water usage, emissions, waste reduction etc. About 66 buildings in Canada have reached that level.


The poster child for environmentally retrofitted older buildings is a cluster of three mid-sized office towers in San Jose, Calif., owned by software maker Adobe Systems Inc.

The connected towers house about one million square feet of space, and were built between 1996 and 2003. The retrofit was completed last year.

Adobe has achieved enormous energy savings through a wide range of programs, some almost unbelievably simple, said Pierre Bergevin, president of Cushman & Wakefield Facilities Management in Toronto. His firm’s U.S. arm worked with Adobe and the U.S. Green Building Council to make the changes.

Adobe spent $1.4-million (U.S.) on the project. But it got $389,000 in rebates from governments and its electrical supplier, and saved almost $1.2-million in operating costs in the first year – meaning full payback came in less than 12 months.

Among the changes: 45 energy management projects, including systems that shut power off automatically when not needed, and lower-energy lighting, saved almost $900,000 a year.

Parking garage fans were reprogrammed so they didn’t run all the time, but only when needed. The cost was less than $200; the annual savings about $67,000.

Drought resistant plants replaced non-native species, reducing landscape irrigation costs by about 76 per cent.

Automatic faucets and waterless urinals were installed in bathrooms, helping to reduce overall water use by 22 per cent.

Lighting systems for exit signs were changed to LEDs

Recycling and composting diverted more than 85 per cent of waste, contributing to waste management savings of about $137,000 a year.

Richard Blackwell

Sold Listings

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Sold listings coming soon!

Thousands of Toronto homeowners upset by assessment hikes

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Phone lines jammed at city tax office

Thousands of Toronto homeowners upset by assessment hikes

Brian McAndrew


There is a calm about Ken Fagan, while all around the city thousands of people are opening their mail and crying foul.

As the chief tax assessor in Toronto, Fagan has seen his office take more than 3,000 phone calls since Tuesday and received more than 1,200 e-mails – nearly all from homeowners after they got notice of the startling jump in the assessed values of their properties.

“We let people vent and once they settle down, we’re usually able to work it out,” Fagan said yesterday.

“We’re expecting between 1,000 and 1,500 calls each day for the next few days.”

More than 510,000 residential property owners in homes and condos have received the news of mostly surging tax assessments in letters sent from the Ontario Property Assessment Corp. Some are boiling mad.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Property owners wanting an assessment review can reach the corporation at 1-866-296-6722, by fax at (416) 250-2141 or e-mail at ao09@opac.on.ca.

Only a handful have turned up at the corporation’s Toronto office at 5255 Yonge St. But once more homeowners examine the assessment notice over the weekend, Fagan anticipates the walk-in traffic at Yonge St. will rise next week to about 200 each day.

The problem is that a strong economy and hot real estate market have combined to push Toronto property values up by an average of 21 per cent since the last assessment notices went out three years ago. Using factors like location, size, amenities and records of real estate transactions from 1998 and 1999, a computer program comes up with the assessment. But it’s not always accurate and, at your request, the assessment corporation will send an inspector out to reassess any piece of property.

Here’s the procedure. First, find out what similar homes in your neighbourhood have sold for recently. Fagan recommends doing some window shopping at real estate offices where homes on the market are pictured and often include the asking price. You can get the assessment corporation to do some comparisons on your behalf. Select six addresses – homes similar to your own in your neighbourhood and possibly one better than yours and another that’s more modest – and the corporation will provide you with their assessed value for free. Each additional property request costs $10. (These are all public documents. Your neighbour can’t keep it secret.)

The comparison will also include when each house was last sold and for what price, the size of the property and other details like age, square footage, type of heating, air conditioning, finished basement, garage and fireplace.

If you still don’t like the results after seeing the comparisons, you can ask for a “request for reconsideration.” An assessor will visit your home and review the value. The work starts Saturday – by appointment and including evenings – and continues for three weeks.

Starting the appeal process could turn into a hassle, simply because it’s not easy to get through to the 55 assessment workers handling the Toronto office’s telephone lines.

Fagan has left his office at the district headquarters on Eglinton Ave. E. to test the numbers, and he found it tough to get through.

“Our lines are quite busy and that’s a good thing,” says the 30-year property assessment veteran.

“We want people to get in touch if they feel they have a problem.”

It seems many do feel that way. Homeowners are hitting the roof, especially in the high-ceilinged manors of Rosedale and Forest Hill as well as Kingsway, Leaside, Seaton Village and Cabbagetown, where the increases are higher than the average. The assessment is the base used by the city council to establish the tax rate. Taxes will increase if the city were to keep the residential tax rate the same at the current 1.213702 per cent of assessed value. Fagan has no idea what will happen. His work is assessing value, not collecting taxes.

Property owners can also make an appeal to the Assessment Review Board, a provincial tribunal that hears assessment appeals. It costs $50 to appeal.

Fagan says the tribunal upholds a majority of the assessed values. Deadline for appeal applications is March 31, 2001.

Corporation officials will hold public information meetings around the city during the next few weeks at Toronto City Hall and old city halls of former municipalities beginning at 7 p.m. at:

  • Etobicoke Civic Centre – Nov. 28 and 29. 399 The West Mall.
  • North York Civic Centre – Nov. 29 and 30. 5100 Yonge St.
  • York Civic Centre – Dec. 4 and 6. 2700 Eglinton Ave. W.
  • Scarborough Civic Centre – Dec. 6 and 7. 150 Borough Dr.
  • East York Civic Centre – Dec. 13 and 14. 850 Coxwell Ave.
  • Toronto City Hall – Dec. 11 and 18. 100 Queen St. W.
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