Homeownership can be a challenge in the GTA. Home prices coupled with the desire to grow your business with a commercial space can add to that financial stress. While some people can find solutions with co-working and shared space opportunities, others want to offer their customers a dedicated space. Purchasing a live-work property gives entrepreneurs and small business owners the flexibility of having both a residential and commercial space in one. While this option can be appealing, there are some things to keep in mind prior to starting your search:
1) Availability: there are limited options in the GTA for live-work units. Working with a Realtor who can source different options can make your search easier. However, you may have to sacrifice your ideal location in order to get into the right space. Pre-construction condo projects are a good place to start as some developers offer live-work units on the ground level of their buildings. Tip for Realtors: when looking for these types of spaces for your clients, a keyword search for “live work” in the Client Remarks or Brokerage Remarks of MLS will help find a list of opportunities.
not all lenders will finance mix-use properties. “Major banks won’t fund these properties under their residential financing policies.” says John Sinnott
, mortgage broker with Dominion Lending Centres. “For a property to be financed residentially, it cannot have more than 20% space allocated commercially. If it does, they consider it a commercial deal with different rates and policies.” continues Mr. Sinnott. CMHC and comparable insurers will only insure spaces with less than 25% commercial space. Lucy Gagliardi
, a mortgage broker with OZ Capital suggests: “have your income, down payment and current mortgage statement and property tax bill ready to give to your mortgage broker so that they can determine accurate figures for you before you go out looking.” We agree – there’s no sense starting a search if you don’t have a sufficient down payment or you are unable to comfortably afford a property like this.
3) Property Taxes: the property taxes on live-work properties are higher, however they are assessed depending on the ratio of the space. Therefore, you would only pay the commercial tax rate for your commercial square footage. Also, all of the utilities are charged at a commercial rate and are not flexible depending on residential space.
4) Rules and Regulations: many live-work properties are condominium units. Each condominium corporation has a set of rules regarding the use of all of the units within the building – including the live-work units. Restrictions regarding the type of business, hours of operation, ability to make aesthetic changes to the unit (inside or out) or add signage could all impact your ability to run your business. Hiring a real estate lawyer to review these rules along with the entire status certificate for the condominium, will ensure the property you are considering makes sense for you and your business.
5) Zoning: all commercial units are zoned for certain uses. Together with your Realtor, ensuring that the permitted use of the commercial space will work for your business is essential.
6) Legal: Samuel Kazen
, real estate lawyer with Hamburg Olson Kazen Law Professional Corporation, offers the following advice: “You don’t want to be subsidizing any purely residential units in the same building. If the property is in a building that has purely residential units, it would be wise to compare the common expenses you would be paying for a live-work unit to one of the residential units of comparable size. If you would be paying a lot more (as is often the case), then you might want to look elsewhere.” Further, he suggests to “make sure whatever entity you are using to purchase the property is an HST registrant. Otherwise, the vendor would be required to remit HST and would seek to collect HST from you.” Finally, “if the vendor wishes to structure the sale as a sale of shares to his/her corporation, make sure you obtain a full indemnity against any liability that may be associated with that corporation.”
7) Investment Opportunity: since these types of properties are few and far between, purchasing one as an investment could be a good way to get into the real estate investment world. Your Realtor can guide you in terms of the rental opportunity available and can better direct you towards the properties that will yield you a good return. Location (as with any property) is key and ensuring you are aware of the rules associated with leasing these units is important as well.
To get you started, here is a list of live-work opportunities throughout the GTA: