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First Glimpse at Soap Factory Building Remake in East Harbour




It has been five long months since we last reported on First Gulf‘s transformative East Harbour development, and the design team has since been busy advancing plans for Toronto’s new ‘Downtown East’, presenting their most recent proposal to Toronto’s Design Review Panel last week. The massive new employment district on the site of the former Unilever soap factory proposes to add 50,000 new jobs, complete with expansive new retail, night life, and cultural venues. The rezoning application for the master plan received City Council’s approval back in June, and work is now being done trying to define the character of the neighbourhood, with some preliminary images of what that might just look like.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Since the master plan was approved, First Gulf has added heavyweight firms KPMB Architects and Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects to their design team. KPMB is charged with taking on some of the conceptual architectural design as the master plan moves into more detailed refinement, while Henning Larsen has been brought on as an ideas-generator, bringing a fresh perspective to help define the broader character of the area. The two firms join Adamson Associates, Urban Strategies, and Janet Rosenberg Studio on the design team.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoSummary of master plan approved by City Council in June, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The efforts of the designers have been focused on Phase 1 of the project, more specifically the adaptive reuse of the existing soap factory and the surrounding public spaces. The proponent team sees the soap factory as the single most important character-defining element in the district around which the rest of the neighbourhood will develop.

Two small, but very significant adjustments to the master plan by Henning Larsen help to reinforce the industrial character of the district. First, it was decided to preserve rather than demolish the existing Glycerin Building and Boiler House – the two smaller industrial buildings located just east of the soap factory – which will form the northern border of the new Soap Factory Plaza.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing adjustments to the master plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The repurposing of these two smaller buildings, together with the soap factory, serve to create a distinct character around the plaza that preserves its history and creates unique spaces within the development, much like how the industrial nature of the Distillery District and Evergreen Brickworks have been preserved through their built form.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As a result of the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House, the tallest proposed tower to the east of the soap factory was shifted northward and pushed up against the transit station to accommodate. This creates a ‘gateway’ moment when approaching the site, with the tallest tower marking the transit hub and the soap factory highly visible along the riverfront, creating an instant snapshot of the character of the neighbourhood.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing view toward East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

With regards to the soap factory, KPMB is proposing to retain the building in situ, while adding an additional 12 storeys floating above the structure in two shifted rectangular volumes. The extra 12 storeys will be supported by either a concrete waffle slab or a two-storey steel truss hovering above the existing soap factory building, with minimal adjustments to its structure and interior layout.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The Unilever soap factory, along with its two adjacent smaller structures, is not designated as a heritage building. However, the design team recognizes the unique quality of its cavernous interior spaces and their attractiveness for new commercial units, and KPMB’s main goal is preserving this unique atmosphere.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoPhotograph of the interior of the soap factory, image courtesy of First Gulf.

In a move that can be loosely described as reverse façadism, the bulky concrete structure of the soap factory will be retained, while the exterior envelope of the building will be replaced with an identical facade in order to increase its thermal performance.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The staggering of the stacked volumes was done to mitigate the effects of wind around the building, to minimize the building’s shadow impact, and to create attractive rooftop spaces looking west toward downtown. The architecture of the soap factory addition is only conceptual, as it is still in the very early stages of the design, but it is clear that the intention is to differentiate the upper volumes from the existing building with a more contemporary look.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members were overall impressed and very pleased with the progress of the master plan, calling it a “fabulous project” and even exclaiming that it made them “so damn happy”.

The Panel was unanimously in agreement that the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House was an excellent move that added a lot of character to the proposal. They also strongly supported the approach to the repurposing of the soap factory, with unanimous approval of the preservation of the existing spatial qualities and the minimal intervention approach of hovering the new addition over top.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoView looking west toward the preserved buildings, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panelists also responded positively to the focus on public space, but offered some suggestions to better enhance the spaces between the buildings. Commenting on the master plan, Panel members emphasized the importance of Broadview Avenue as the spine of the district, and encouraged the design team not to disregard the significance of the street. Some suggested that rather than having Soap Factory Plaza as the focal point, Broadview should be the central public space, with a well-executed street design. As well, they cautioned not to eliminate all of the proposed open space around the transit hub, which has now been greatly diminished since the tallest tower has been shifted northward to accommodate the retained industrial buildings.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza looking from Broadview Avenue, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members also reiterated the importance of connections to the surroundings, a comment which they have often repeated at each review of the proposal. The Panel stressed that connecting the site to the Don River is integral to the success of the project, and that the design team needs to find a better way to integrate the greenery of the riverside park and flood protection embankments with the adjacent buildings and open plazas.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the ground floor plane of the soap factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As well, access to the site was a concern for some Panel members, who emphasized the need for an additional pedestrian and cyclist bridge across the Don, perhaps connecting to Corktown Common. Currently, the City is proposing that the existing rail bridge be beefed up with pedestrian and cyclist pathways on both the north and south sides connecting directly to the transit hub, and it has remained steadfast that this will be sufficient. Panelists have repeatedly encouraged that additional pedestrian access to the district be provided, but this has yet to materialize.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building and East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Finally, the Panel encouraged the design team to think about the future of employment in designing the district. Since this project is still many years away before being fully realized, they emphasized that the master plan and the buildings need to be adaptable to changing workplaces and suitable for jobs that may not even exist yet. They stressed the importance of being forward-thinking in the design of the district.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Overall, the Panel was pleased with what they saw and encouraged the design team to continue on their current path.

Though things are coming together for the East Harbour, it is still a long way off from being realized. It was stated that First Gulf is aiming for a 2023-2024 date for the first phase of the project, and it should also be underscored that this entire development is fully dependent on the necessary infrastructure being in place – namely the transit hub and the Broadview Avenue extension. When asked, the City said there is no official date for delivery of this infrastructure, but that they are working closely with the developer to ideally get everything in place for 2023-2024.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoArial photograph of the Unilever site looking north, image courtesy of First Gulf.

We will keep you updated as the East Harbour plan continues to evolve, but in the meantime, you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization




Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know




Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages




This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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