Karin and Tom Collins just spent a month visiting one of their daughters in Georgetown. Now they are travelling to Texas in their 25-foot trailer.
“At one point we’ll go to Kentucky and we’ll spend one month with (another daughter) in her driveway in our trailer,” said Karin, 67.
“We’re just hanging out waiting,” she said. “We just keep moving so we don’t stay too long with our kids.”
The couple sold their Barrie house in the summer of 2016 and, because the market was competitive, didn’t get another house. Instead they bought a pre-construction condo in Georgetown in the Residences of the Hotel McGibbon and decided to travel while it was built.
It was originally supposed to be ready in March 2019 but has become the latest Toronto region condo to be cancelled this year, leaving buyers like the Collins wondering where they will live out their retirement.
The McGibbon was cancelled for unspecified financial reasons on Dec. 4, after a series of delays, including heritage concerns from the Town of Halton Hills about brickwork on the 1888 property and what buyers called a frustrating lack of communication from the developers, Toronto-based Greg Marchant, who heads the numbered company that owns the property, and local builder, Silvercreek Commercial.
Both Marchant and Silvercreek president Douglas Pattison refused requests to be interviewed. Marchant sent an email saying only that, “Each agreement of purchase and sale was cancelled because the vendor condition regarding construction financing was not achieved.”
Pattison also emailed saying he expects the project “will be built by someone in the foreseeable future but it will not have anyone from the current development team participating.”
The 10-storey, 125-unit condo is small compared to the Icona and Cosmos projects that were cancelled in Vaughan earlier this year by the Gupta Group and Liberty Developments, respectively. Like the purchasers in those projects, McGibbon buyers have received refunds but have lost the interest on their deposits.
The McGibbon was about 85 per cent sold, said Sara Kelcey, a sales representative for the Milborne Group, the project’s sales agent. Hunter Milborne, president of the Milborne Group, and Marchant are partners in a B.C. ski resort development.
Many McGibbon buyers are seniors, who say they have few downsizing alternatives. There are two or three apartment buildings outside the downtown, but “you’re kind of stranded and there’s no bus service here so you have to have a car to get to anything,” said Janet Duval, 70, who has lived in Georgetown for 44 years.
She and her husband were ready to sell their house but wanted to stay near their friends and church. When they saw the McGibbon, they were thrilled by the prospect of being able to walk to restaurants, the church and library.
“We really thought this is going to be great. No matter if we lose our licence or what happens in the future we can go out the door,” Duval said.
The two-bedroom-plus-den unit they purchased, “was going to be lovely, looking both south and west,” she said.
Since receiving their refund, the Duvals have purchased in the only other downtown development, a six-storey project by Amico but “that will be a wait,” said Duval, as it’s not expected to be ready until 2020.
Retired businessman Brian Herner, 72, was also concerned about the lack of larger, better appointed apartments in Georgetown. In 2015, he was among a group of residents that pushed the town and a couple of developers to build for them. That led to the McGibbon and the Amico projects.
The old hotel had issues with soil contamination and heritage concerns. The project ended up at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which delayed it for about seven months. The settlement brought the project’s height down from 11 to 10 storeys, resolved some parking issues and should have allowed it to move forward, he said.
“Georgetown, deservedly or not, has a reputation amongst developers of being very difficult to work with. The town would swear that’s not the case but it just keeps coming up,’” Herner said.
He thinks the developers also share responsibility even if they are within their legal rights to cancel. “If Marchant wasn’t going to carry it forward they never should have bought the deal … that to me is irresponsible,” he said.
Town of Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette said the McGibbon condos were “a very difficult file” because of the heritage issues and concerns around the height and parking.
But he disputes any suggestion the municipality caused the project’s cancellation. The Amico condos process started after the McGibbon and are moving ahead, Bonnette said. He said Marchant and Silvercreek failed to submit a site plan for their project even after OMB settlement.
In his email to the Star, Silvercreek’s Pattison cited the project’s “award winning design,” calling it “the first new project in downtown Georgetown and the first condo in 25 years.” It also moved the local Heritage Committee “from a rag tag group of misfits to a professional body with standards,” he wrote.
Tarion, the agency responsible for administering Ontario’s home warranty program, says it is investigating whether Silvercreek met the conditions for terminating the Georgetown project. It also expects to add information on cancelled projects to its builder directory next year to help consumers flag developers who fail to complete projects.
Some of this year’s condo cancellations are a result of rising construction costs, trade shortages and lengthy approvals, Tarion said. It warned there could be more cancellations ahead, especially on pre-construction projects that were sold two or more years ago.
The agency encourages developers to communicate more with home buyers. McGibbon project purchasers including Duval said the developers waited months to answer queries.
In an email, Tarion said the industry may not be communicating enough. “Currently, builders are required to advise purchasers of any changes in the anticipated closing or occupancy date for their home. In general, a builder must give 90 days notice if the date is going to change. Developing a more formalized communication requirement is one option that can be considered as we look to address the ongoing challenges posed by condo cancellations.”
Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski