An Interview with Penny Torontow, President of the Ottawa Real Estate Board
BY ALYSSA SATURLEY
SPEAKING WITH PENNY TORONTOW can leave you somewhat breathless. As President of the Ottawa Real Estate Board for 2022, her unwavering commitment to OREB’s members and their clients is clearly her raison d’être. It’s an energy and focus that echoes throughout the entire organization.
AS: Tell me about OREB’s role in Ottawa’s real estate market.
PT: Truthfully, I never tire of this question. Whether buying their first home, selling their treasured property, sourcing a place for business or locating their recreational dream, a professional REALTOR® manages the process. This can be a very emotional experience. Our members help people navigate the most important milestones of their lives.
AS: What does OREB represent for REALTORS today?
PT: We are a professional association with almost 3,900 registered REALTORS® in our membership. Established over 100 years ago, OREB was one of Canada’s first real estate boards. We’ve built a foundation based on cooperation and upholding the highest ethical standards and practices.
AS: What kind of assistance do you offer to your members who are seeking support?
PT: As a REALTOR® myself, I can attest to the need for the work we’re doing. A professional REALTOR® stands for three things: Service, Competence and Adherence to a Code of Ethics. We support our REALTORS® by providing leading-edge technology, tools and resources. Our REALTORS® live and work in their communities. Whether it’s the Ottawa Region or the surrounding areas of Renfrew, Rideau St. Laurent and Cornwall, we want to enhance the quality of life for our residents.
AS: What makes Ottawa such a great place to live?
PT: How much time have you got? From our recent study conducted with Nanos Research, we learned that 78% of respondents feel Ottawa is an ideal place for raising families, and 70% confirmed that our city is a safe place to live. Ottawa is a beautiful location with fantastic amenities, public transit, excellent schools, stunning parklands/green spaces and modern athletic/sports facilities. Gems like the Canal, our rivers, and an urban farm in the city’s centre are what makes us a world class city. The vast majority of respondents said that Ottawa’s job market is good or above average. Employment is highly stable, thanks to the public service and high-tech sectors. Ottawa also has a deep cultural heritage, unmatched by many other cities of our size, with galleries, museums and the National Arts Centre. Each year, hundreds of festivals celebrating ethnicity, music, the arts, professional sports teams and our glorious seasons all make Ottawa a city worth celebrating.
AS: As we resume some of those cherished activities, after two years of lockdowns and isolation, can you reflect on how the pandemic has impacted Ottawa’s real estate market?
PT: It’s been such an unbelievable time, hasn’t it? As in almost all aspects of life, the pandemic created a sudden and drastic change for our members and our community. The Ontario Government deemed real estate an essential service after REALTORS®, along with the Ontario Real Estate Association, lobbied to ensure that people were still able to buy and sell properties in our province. This advocacy resulted in our members having some room to continue serving their clients while keeping them healthy and safe. The Great Awakening had many people evaluating their priorities and making significant life changes, including where they wanted to live. This created a high demand for new and different configurations and creative solutions for working from home. In meeting the challenges of this new workforce, REALTORS® got busy and stayed busy. Some clients required more office space, while others made their backyards a staycation destination.
AS: What was the pre-pandemic status of the Ottawa housing market, at the start of 2020?
PT: Yes, context is especially critical in this case. The demands of the pandemic came to a market where supply had long been constrained. We started seeing lower inventory in Ottawa back in 2015. The fact of the matter is that Ottawa had already been undervalued for quite some time. This was a very affordable place to purchase a home in terms of what we had to offer. As our population reached a million people, we were no longer considered a smaller city. With that growth comes even more of the amenities we already talked about. The appeal just grew at an increased rate, creating a perfect storm between high demand and low inventory.
AS: How did your members rise to the challenge?
PT: I’m so proud to share how our members stepped up, helping people navigate these unique times! They supported clients through highly competitive and sometimes stressful situations on both the buying and selling sides. In 2021 alone, the total number of residential and condo units sold was 20,302 compared to 18,953 in 2020, which represents an increase of 7 percent. Meanwhile, total sales volume in 2021 was approximately 13.1B compared to $10B in 2020. Essential service, indeed!
AS: What trends will impact Ottawa’s residential real estate market over the coming months?
PT: I’m a planner, so this question is never far from my thoughts. In the short term we’re facing rising interest rates, limited supply and high demand. This creates a resale market that is in flux. We’ll see prices rise, but their trajectories will level out. Condos will continue to perform well as an affordable housing class. REALTORS® are also helping with more rental properties of late.
AS: And in the longer term?
PT: Certainly, housing trends will be affected by the Grey Tsunami as the boomer generation ages. Our survey shows that a third of respondents will require a senior-friendly home in the next five years. Ottawans are concerned about affordability and access to housing for seniors. There’s strong, popular support for easing restrictions on building secondary suites or coach houses in order to provide space for a family member to live.
AS: What is REALTORS Care®?
PT: I’m glad you asked! It’s a guiding principle and brand that unites the great charitable work involving our members and the REALTOR® community. Our foundation raises funds to support Ottawa area shelter-based charities. The idea is to provide a helping hand for those in our community experiencing homelessness. We support more than 20 shelter-based organizations in Ottawa and the surrounding area. Our members already do so much to support the neighbourhoods and communities where they live and work in. Community fundraisers, charity golf tournaments, sports team sponsorships, and other local good causes are just a part of what they do. REALTORS Care® is the natural progression of that kind of positive momentum.