The Takeaway with Amanda Lang: Wealth Expo evidence real estate has hit peak frenzy
A video of rapper Pitbull jumping and dancing on stage, surrounded by six dancers, isn’t an image one would typically associate with the property market.
But that’s the first item showcased on the website of the Real Estate Wealth Expo, which will have thousands flocking to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre - one of the city’s biggest event venues - in early April.
This year’s real estate spectacular has a celebrity speaker roster that includes actor Sylvester Stallone, former baseball star Alex Rodriguez and Dragons’ Den’s Manjit Minhas, while last year’s lineup featured well-known life coach Tony Robbins. A ticket for this year’s event costs anywhere between $149 to $5,995.
“It’s your time to become a millionaire!,” the expo’s website says, with flashy promises that attendees can learn how to flip properties, become top earners, hone a “millionaire mindset” and even find out how to “use other people’s money to fund YOUR deals... regardless of your credit score.”
Yet while the massive event promotes real estate - and this year, even bitcoin and cannabis investments - as ways to get rich, it comes at an inflection point in Canada’s largest housing market. Greater Toronto Area home sales plummeted 34.9 per cent year-over-year in February in the wake of several regulatory changes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.
“I think the purpose of those seminars is more for entertainment than for anything else,” said Hilliard MacBeth, an Edmonton-based financial advisor and author of the book When the Bubble Bursts: Surviving the Canadian Real Estate Crash.
“This is to keep people’s spirits up, and given how sales of single-family homes in Toronto are down, cheerleading might be a difficult task this year and so people are choosing to concentrate on bitcoin.”
The Wealth Expo has been held in various North American cities since 2002, with the tour’s popularity peaking around 2006. At the time, the expo rode the wave of a new reality TV star: Donald Trump, the real estate mogul who had risen to renewed fame on The Apprentice (and still had years to go before joining the race for U.S. presidency).
Trump claimed his speaking fee for the expo was $1.5 million, a number which was later revealed to also include payment for promotion rights like newspaper ads and billboards.
The expo with Trump as its headline speaker came “during the peak of the [U.S.] housing market, which devastated households, many of which haven’t recovered today,” MacBeth said. “People lost massive amounts of wealth. I’m not blaming that on the expo … but they are the gurus promoting speculating in real estate just before the crash comes.”
John Pasalis, president of Toronto-based brokerage Realosophy Realty, warns that the hoopla surrounding the expo and the mindset it promotes risks creating negative consequences for the overall housing market.
“This type of thinking is not great for the market as a whole and is actually bad advice,” Pasalis said in an email interview. “It leads people to believe it’s easy to make money, house prices only go up and encourages people to buy strictly for capital appreciation - all factors that lead to the type of psychology we expect to see during a housing bubble.”
Part of the problem, MacBeth adds, is that the expo has celebrities preaching advice to people who clearly don’t earn similar salaries. The danger is that attendees are encouraged to speculate in housing, and then take on debt that they can’t handle, he said.
“Celebrities are on a completely different level than the people they’re preaching to,” MacBeth said. “Most people in that audience don’t have a huge income. It’s almost like people have to try to bootstrap their way up.”
Still, the expo may offer some important lessons to its audience, according to one of the event’s key presenters this year.
Jin Jiang, a Toronto realtor and co-host of reality TV show Top Million Dollar Agent, says she believes an event like this can help Canadians learn how to spot passive income opportunities.
“Creating wealth is very easy. Most people are trained in terms of understanding job security and financial security, but they’re not willing to take risks,” Jiang said. “A few percentage of people taking risks might fail, but the chance to win is also higher.”
The fact that this year’s expo coincides with a cooling Canadian housing market may not matter much, according to Jiang.
“There’s always opportunity,” she said.
“It’s the people who avoid trends and think outside the box who are the winners. It has nothing to do with the current state of real estate and the future market. It’s about understanding the whole structure and economics to create wealth.”