By Natalka Falcomer

Homeowners, prepare to feel duped. Renters, prepare to feel like Warren Buffet.

Alex Avery, author of The Wealthy Renter and Vertica, an award-winning property management group, are using cold hard math to prove that your money is much better off spent in the Canadian stock market than on a mortgage. In other words, you made a bad financial decision if you bought a house rather than rented and invested your money in market. And yes, this is true even though we’ve had a housing boom.

Some may argue that Avery’s “hard math” isn’t accurate or that Vertica’s faith in the rental market doesn’t acknowledge the full value of homeownership; they both fail to consider the intangibles of home ownership. After all, the duped homeowners pay the big sticker price because there’s immeasurable value associated with the pleasure of home security, home ownership, upgraded amenities and living in a neighbourhood that fosters a sense of community. In fact, it’s this very lack of intangibles that demoralizes renters and that perpetuates the stigma associated with renting.

That’s until Vertica decided to change the renter’s experience by creating these intangibles via technology and by upgrading its value system by committing all resources to customer service, convenience, cleanliness and community.

Sounds nice, but renters don’t have home security!

Theoretically, having your name on title as the registered owner gives you, the homeowner, a stronger legal interest in your property than that of a renter. Practically, however, this isn’t the case … just ask any landlord who’s dealt with a delinquent tenant.

The new Wynne policies in Ontario along with our old leasing laws prescribe numerous protections for tenants – from being able to register your interest on title to prolonged notification periods and rigorous hoops to jump through before eviction is possible. In fact, a homeowner who stops paying mortgage payments is likely to experience swifter eviction and longer damaging financial repercussions than a renter who stops paying rent.

With the advent of a rental renaissance in Toronto, as demonstrated by the pledge to develop spacious rental units at the old Honest Ed’s site, the rights of tenants are likely to intensify. This is because the new demographic choosing to rent – high-income earning millennials and cash-heavy baby boomers – have the financial and positional wherewithal to influence housing policies.

While the current state of renters’ rights defies the notion of security through ownership, how does Vertica deal with renter’s woes within its control? For example, does Vertica overcome “slumlordism” and cultivate a sense of homeownership pride not typically felt by renters?

The company is taking a page (or two) straight out of Apple’s innovation and customer service textbook: use technology to make the user experience a pleasure and obsess over delivering a positive experience. Unlike those who rent condos from absentee landlords, Vertica’s tenants don’t have to incur any out-of-pocket costs or manage the process of finding, screening and waiting around for the maintenance person to arrive anytime between 7 am and 7 pm.

Rather, Vertica’s tenants have the convenience of handing off the entire process to a team of professionals. In a few more years, Vertica be launching technology that allows its tenants to open a smartphone or online application to report a maintenance issue. Within minutes, the tenant will know when the issue will be solved by a designated, screened and trusted property manager.

Todd Nishimura, director, marketing at Vertica Resident Services/GWL Realty Advisors, says the use of technology is not intended to reduce human interaction. Rather, it does quite the opposite. Vertica pays close attention to measuring its team’s effectiveness and the customer satisfaction of their tenants (who Vertica refers to as residents). Doing so revealed that the Vertica property managers and administrative staff spent too much of their time on non-value and administrative tasks, ranging from collecting rent to dealing with tradespeople and following up on maintenance requests.  The solution: use technology where possible to reduce paperwork and eliminate redundancies. Then use the freed-up time to interact with tenants, foster tenant relationships, reduce disputes and create a positive home environment.

Landlords renting out their condos and neighbours of rowdy renters rightly complain that renters destroy facilities, as well as the sense of community. After all, renters aren’t invested – literally – in the maintenance of the building and they don’t intend to stick around.

How is Vertica dealing with this obvious issue? By investing in creating communal events (summer barbecues, free tickets to local events), committing to maintaining a clean space and by building communal spaces at each property. Creating a sense of community, combined with offering high-end amenities and conveniences such as ensuite washers and dryers, attract those who are choosing a lifestyle that allows for financial flexibility while setting in deep roots, something that’s not offered by homeownership or by Toronto’s flimsy condo rentals.

Despite the risk of running a fool’s errand, I predict that the rental market will change as we start to seriously consider the “hard numbers” and as rental buildings such as Vertica’s become more available. This trend will continue if housing unaffordability – whether it be a detached home or condo – continues as it has and as developers begin to move away from the “build and dump” condo developments scarring Toronto to build, rent and create communities we so desperately need.

Natalka Falcomer is a lawyer and Certified Leasing Officer who has a passion to make the law accessible and affordable. She founded, hosts and coproduced a popular legal call-in show on Rogers TV, Toronto Speaks Legal Advice. She founded Groundworks, a firm specializing in commercial real estate law, and is the EVP of corporate development at Chestnut Park.


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