Toronto’s Tech Boom Will Keep Real Estate Frenzy Going: Forecast

Toronto’s Tech Boom Will Keep Real Estate Frenzy Going: Forecast

It’s now in a class of cities with booming tech industries and rapidly rising house prices, a new forecast says.

A tilt-shift image of central Toronto. A new forecast says the city's real estate market will return to rapid growth, thanks to a boom in tech jobs.

Katrin Ray Shumakov via Getty Images
A tilt-shift image of central Toronto.  A new forecast says the city’s real estate market will return to rapid growth, thanks to a boom in tech jobs.

Toronto’s housing market has seen a marked slowdown since a new non-resident tax successfully pushed many foreign buyers out, but a forecast from real estate agency Engel + Volkers says a new phenomenon is about to take over as the driver of Toronto’s housing boom: The tech industry.

The influx of tech companies into Toronto’s downtown core in recent years has already had “a huge effect” on the real estate market, said Anthony Hitt, president and CEO of Engel + Volkers North America.

From 2012 to 2017, the region added some 82,000 jobs in technology, more than Silicon Valley and the most of any North American city, according to a recent report from CBRE. The commercial real estate agency now ranks Toronto as the fourth most important tech hub in North America, up from 12th place just two years ago. (Ottawa and Montreal also ranked well, in 12th and 13th place, respectively.)

CBRE’s ranking of North American tech centres


And in Toronto, it’s about to intensify. Microsoft last month announced plans for a new Canadian headquarters in Toronto’s core, and Intel earlier this month announced a new graphics chip engineering plant in North York.

But that success is coming at a high price — specifically, high housing costs.

Hitt believes Toronto should be viewed as being one of an elite group of North American cities where tech talent and capital has concentrated — and where real estate prices have shot through the roof.

“Toronto is on the same uphill trajectory (and growing fast) as other North American tech markets like Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. These real estate markets have boomed and are continuing to grow,” he wrote in a forecast shared with HuffPost Canada.

The current market slowdown is a “speed bump,” Hitt says — the market will be back to rapid price growth soon enough thanks to an influx of tech workers, he predicts.

“I think a lot of cities are overbuilding, based on future demand,” he said by phone from New York. “I don’t think Toronto is one of those cities.”

He noted that many tech companies have set up shop on the lower west side of Toronto’s downtown core, which has also seen rapid condo development in the past decade. Hitt doesn’t think that’s a coincidence — tech hiring is “one of the biggest factors” in that condo boom, he said.

Hitt wouldn’t guess as to whether foreign buyers or tech have had a larger effect on Toronto real estate, but he sees those two as being “probably connected” — and more so going forward.

“A lot of the foreign buyers that are coming in now … want to work for the tech companies. The foreign buyer from yesterday is from Asia, but I think you’ll see more of those buyers coming from the United States,” he predicted.

Hitt concedes that his forecast is “good if you’re an owner, good if you’re a seller,” but not so good if you’re one of the many people struggling to break into Toronto’s housing market.

The average resale price of a home in Toronto jumped by some 80 per cent in just four years from 2013 to 2017, rising to more than $920,000 at its peak last year. It has since fallen to around $765,000, but rising mortgage rates mean home affordability in the city remains at 25-year-lows.

“I think a lot of cities are overbuilding … I don’t think Toronto is one of those cities.”Anthony Hitt, Engel + Volkers

And Hitt notes that for first-time buyers eyeing the condo market, there’s been no price relief at all: The average condo is up 5.4 per cent in the past year, to a record high around $561,000. Rent on an average one-bedroom apartment is up about 15 percent in the past year, according to recent data from Padmapper.

“There is displacement and people not being able to buy in the market, or not even rent in the market,” Hitt says. “There is no doubt that with a strong real estate market there will be those that get priced out.”

If you can afford it, buy sooner than later, Hitt says.

“I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but I think Toronto has done a lot of the right things. When the powers that be put in a tax to slow down new buyers, that’s evidence it’s a pretty hot market.”

Market Watch – August 2018 from TREB

Market WatchGTA REALTORS® Release August Stats

September 6, 2018 — Toronto Real Estate Board President Garry Bhaura announced sales and price increases on a year-over-year basis in August. Greater Toronto Area REALTORS® reported 6,839 sales through TREB’s MLS® System in August 2018 – an 8.5 percent increase compared to August 2017.

Both the average selling price, at $765,270, and the MLS® Home Price Index Composite Benchmark for August 2018 were up compared to the same month in 2017, by 4.7 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. The average selling price increased by more than the MLS® HPI Composite due, at least in part, to a change in the mix of sales compared to last year. Detached home sales were up by double digits on a year-over-year percentage basis – substantially more than many other less-expensive home types.

“It is encouraging to see a continued resurgence in the demand for ownership housing. Many home buyers who had initially moved to the sidelines due to the Ontario Fair Housing Plan and new mortgage lending guidelines have renewed their search for a home and are getting deals done much more so than last year. In a region where the economy remains strong and the population continues to grow, ownership housing remains a solid long-term investment,” said Mr. Bhaura.

Month-over-month sales and price growth also continued in August. On a preliminary seasonally adjusted basis, August 2018 sales were up by two percent compared to July 2018. The seasonally adjusted August 2018 average selling price was down slightly by 0.2 percent compared to July 2018, following strong monthly increases in May, June and July.

“Market conditions in the summer of 2018, including this past August, were tighter than what was experienced in the summer of 2017. In August, the annual rate of sales growth outpaced the annual rate of new listings growth. We only have slightly more than two-and-a-half months of inventory in the TREB market area as a whole and less than two months of inventory in the City of Toronto. This means that despite the fact the sales remain off the record highs from 2016 and 2017, many GTA neighbourhoods continue to suffer from a lack of inventory. This could present a problem if demand continues to accelerate over the next year, which is expected,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis.

Click here to download full report –Market Watch – August 2018

Market Watch-July 2018 from TREB

GTA REALTORS® Release July Stats

August 3, 2018 — Toronto Real Estate Board President Garry Bhaura announced strong growth in the number of home sales and the average selling price reported by Greater Toronto Area REALTORS® in July 2018.

“Home sales result in substantial spin-off benefits to the economy, so the positive results over the last two months are encouraging. However, no one will argue that housing supply remains an issue. The new provincial government and candidates for the upcoming municipal elections need to concentrate on policies focused on enhancing the supply of housing and reducing the upfront tax burden represented by land transfer taxes, province-wide and additionally in the City of Toronto,” said Mr. Bhaura.

Residential sales reported through TREB’s MLS® System for July 2018 amounted to 6,961 – up 18.6 per cent compared to July 2017. Over the same period, the average selling price was up by 4.8 per cent to $782,129, including a moderate increase for detached home types. New listings in July 2018 were down by 1.8 percent year-over-year.

Preliminary seasonal adjustment pointed to strong month-over-month increases of 6.6 percent and 3.1 percent respectively for sales and average price. Seasonally adjusted sales were at the highest level for 2018 and the seasonally adjusted average price reached the highest level since May 2017.

The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) Composite Benchmark for July 2018 was down slightly compared to July 2017. However, the annual growth rate looks to be trending toward positive territory in the near future.

“We have certainly experienced an increase in demand for ownership housing so far this summer. It appears that some people who initially moved to the sidelines due to the psychological impact of the Fair Housing Plan and changes to mortgage lending guidelines have re-entered the market. Home buyers in the GTA recognize that ownership housing is a quality long-term investment,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis.

Click here to download full report –Market Watch – July 2018

Market Watch-June 2018 from TREB

GTA REALTORS® Release June Stats

July 5, 2018 — Toronto Real Estate Board President Garry Bhaura, in his first market release as TREB President, is pleased to announce some positive signs with respect to the housing market.

Greater Toronto Area REALTORS® reported 8,082 home sales through TREB’s MLS® System in June 2018 – up 2.4 percent compared to the low June 2017 result. After preliminary seasonal adjustment, sales were also up 17.6 percent on a monthly basis between May 2018 and June 2018, continuing the trend of somewhat volatile month-over-month changes over the past year as homebuyers reacted to various policy changes impacting the market.

“Homeownership has proven to be a positive long-term investment. After some adjustment to the Fair Housing Plan, the new Office of The Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) stress test requirement and generally higher borrowing costs, home buyers are starting to move back into the market, with sales trending up from last year’s lows. Market conditions appear to be tightening,  with sales accounting for a greater share of listings, as new listings have dropped compared to last year,” said Mr. Bhaura.

The average selling price edged up by two per cent on a year-over-year basis to $807,871 in June 2018. After preliminary seasonal adjustment, the average selling price was also up by 3.3 percent month-over-month between May 2018 and June 2018. The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) was down by 4.8 percent on a year-over-year basis but remained basically flat month-over-month. The difference in the year-over-year rates of change between the average price and the MLS® HPI was likely due, at least in part, to a change in the mix of properties sold in June 2018 compared to June 2017, with low-rise home types accounting for a greater share of sales in June 2018.

“The expectation is to see improvement in sales over the next year. Over the same period, however, it is likely that issues surrounding the supply of listings will persist. This suggests that competition between buyers could increase, exerting increased upward pressure on home prices. With a new provincial government in place and municipal elections on the horizon, housing supply should be top-of-mind for policymakers,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis and Service Channels.

Click here to download full report –Market Watch – June 2018

Toronto’s Condo Market

Cranes in the sky, giant pits in the ground. Condos are popping up everywhere, and no parking lot is safe. With most houses in the GTA out of reach, condos have become the new starter home, the downsizer’s destination and a great investment for overseas buyers. But how do you pick? New, old or not yet built? And when’s the right time to invest? We invited an economist, a developer and an agent for lunch and asked them about interest rate hikes (are they coming and what havoc will they wreak), family-sized units (and why we don’t have them), the OMB (a force for good or evil), the Bank of Mom and Dad, Trump, NAFTA, where the smart money is, and lots more.

The Panel

A developer, an economist and an agent on everything you wanted to know about condos but were afraid to ask



  • Shamez Virani, president of CentreCourt, lives in a condo in the Financial District
  • Dawn Desjardins, deputy chief economist at RBC, lives in a detached home in Leslieville
  • David Fleming, a broker at Bosley Real Estate, lives in a condo in the St. Lawrence Market area

Our focus today is on condos, because for buyers they represent the most opportunity but also the most risk. Right now, pre-construction condos downtown are going for roughly $1,000 per square foot, a historic high. In a word, how would you characterize this current moment?

Desjardins: I’d say “robust.”

Virani: You literally took my word!

Robust is gone!

“This market is out of reach for most people. And there isn’t a lot of supply kicking around, which is fuelling interest and activity”
Dawn Desjardins

Virani: Okay. I’ll go with “strong”—in terms of price appreciation and sales volume. In my opinion, both are fuelled by a limited supply.

Desjardins: By “robust,” I’m referring to affordability. This market is out of reach for most people. And I agree with Shamez—there isn’t a lot of supply just kicking around, and that’s fuelling interest and activity.

Fleming: The word I’ll choose is “crazy.” Not crazy bad, necessarily. For some people it’s crazy good. But sometimes it defies logic.

What’s stoking the madness?

Virani: I don’t think it’s madness; I think it’s about Toronto catching up to the rest of the world. In terms of cost per square foot for a downtown apartment, Hong Kong is almost five times the price of Toronto, according to a National Bank of Canada report from December 2017, which puts Toronto 16th among so-called global cities. People are recognizing that value and moving here.

Desjardins: From RBC’s perspective, much of the growth in the condo market is attributable to Ontario’s economy—and Toronto’s economy—which has been outperforming many other provincial economies. Job creation continues to be very high, and our unemployment rate is the lowest since the 1990s, so people have more money. They want to live somewhere, they want to invest, they see the price appreciation. And I agree with Shamez, population growth is a factor, too. In the past few years we’ve noticed that it’s not just immigrants from abroad who are coming to Toronto, but also Canadians migrating from other provinces.

We hear all the time about the so-called Bank of Mom and Dad—parents buying condos for their millennial kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to break into the market. David, as a broker, are you seeing that happening more and more?

Fleming: Of course. There’s a huge redistribution of wealth from the boomers, who have all the money. You know, my dad was old school. He would say, “I want you to learn what it’s like to live in a basement apartment, eating Kraft Dinner off a hot plate.” But what I’ve heard most parents say is, “Yeah, in theory that would be a great lesson to teach—but I don’t actually want my daughter living in a basement apartment. So I’m going to buy her a condo for $700,000.”

These parents are presumably borrowing against their own homes to finance the purchase. Dawn, as an economist, does that stress you out?

Desjardins: In terms of debt, it’s of concern on the aggregate level. But we do see that mortgage debt service costs are manageable, even though we know the stock of debt is rising and the amount of debt has increased—because, of course, interest rates are very low. We think that employment gains will continue and that wages will grow, too. But income growth, most likely, is not going to keep up with the increase in the cost to service all that debt.

In other words, the risks aren’t so severe right now that you’re backing off condos.

Desjardins: Right. Our macro view remains that Canada is going to have another year of solid growth.

As RBC’s deputy chief economist, you monitor a wide array of market indicators, watching for signs of instability. What keeps you up at night?

Desjardins: Anything that impinges on trade. We’re a small, open economy. Trade is very important. I also worry about things that could be upsetting from a global perspective, that would roil financial markets. Once you get into a situation where stock markets tumble—even if we just get into a trade war—I think that would have negative implications for the global economy.

The median household income in Toronto is $78,000, and the average price of a condo is upwards of half a million. Should average Torontonians be buying into the condo market right now?

Desjardins: Well, if they have a job. I wouldn’t say that we’re not concerned about unemployment. If you saw a significant jolt to the labour market, whether it’s another Trump tantrum or something else, that could certainly cause disruptions in the economy. Or, if we saw interest rates move aggressively and sharply higher. But we don’t see these risks as likely to materialize for the local economy.

How prepared are downtown condo owners for even a moderate interest rate hike?

Desjardins: We think that rates are going to move up, and we think that income is going to move up. I mean, the reason rates are going up is because the economy is doing well. As those rates tick up even more, I think you will see discretionary spending curtailed.

David, did the new, tighter mortgage rules that came into effect in January 2018 have anything to do with the surge in condo prices in February 2018—by pushing some buyers away from houses and toward condos?

Fleming: I’m not sure that change had anything to do with it, but I am seeing more people in general who are looking at how expensive houses are and saying, “Okay, I get it. This is the reality,” and they’re opting for a condo instead. At some point, people adjust their expectations, and that’s happening right now. There are couples who are having kids in condos, and some will stay there forever. It’s a sad realization, but it’s an intelligent one.


“I believe this is the last generation that will be able to afford downtown real estate. The rich will own, and everyone else will rent”
David Fleming


So what’s your message to the thousands of young people desperate to own four unshared walls? Tough luck?

Fleming: Look, I believe that this is the last generation that will be able to afford real estate. I believe that 30 years from now, in the downtown core, the vast majority of people will rent, and that’s just going to be the reality. I think that rich people will own homes; I think that investors and institutions will own property. It will be extremely difficult for a 27-year-old couple to afford a detached house. I find that a lot of the younger people today are unwilling to accept that reality.

Shamez, do you agree? Will there ever be a chance for young people to enter the market again?

Virani: I think there is a window, and it’s still open right now. There are opportunities to buy units that are “practically” affordable. I believe, like David is saying, that the young people who will get into those units today will, 10 years from now, say it was the best decision they ever made.

Fleming: I’m 37 years old and I’m still in a condo downtown, and I love it for the lifestyle. We had a baby in the condo; we’re happy as hell. It’s walkable, we can push a stroller around in the area, and everything’s at our fingertips. You don’t need to have a house to have a child anymore.

Okay, but what sort of square footage is your condo?

Fleming: I’d rather not say.

Let’s attach some numbers here for perspective. A three-bedroom condo, downtown, right now, costs $1.3 million. Who’s buying that?

Fleming: Yes, but a three-bedroom condo is an idea. It’s not a real thing. The city forces developers to include three-bedroom units, but doesn’t stipulate the size or price. So developers reply, “Okay, no problem. I’ll give you three-bedroom condos”—and they build these tiny 800-square-foot so-called “three-bedroom” condos. A family’s not going to live in that! An investor will buy it and stuff three young people in there, who will pay $1,200 per bedroom, and it’s going to be a great yield.

Shamez, you’re the developer. Is what David is saying true?

Virani: Look, if there were a market for real family-sized units, we would put them out there. The challenge we have as developers is that the banks require us, in order to finance construction, to pre-sell to a certain level. I don’t know many young people who are going to put down a deposit on a three-bedroom they won’t be able to live in for five years. Because they just don’t have the means to do it, plus it’s difficult to plan that far ahead—they often don’t know how many kids they’re going to have.

So the demand for three-bedroom family condos does exist, just not early enough in the process for developers?

Virani: Absolutely. Frankly, that demand should be met by the rental market. And until recently, it was.

Right. Last April, the province expanded rent control to limit annual increases on all rental buildings, regardless of their age. Were those measures a mistake?

Fleming: Yes, and I think most economists would have said it would have an adverse effect on affordability. Look at an individual condo landlord: his property taxes go up maybe six per cent a year, his condo fees go up 12 per cent, and his hydro fees go up 10 per cent—all of this is hypothetical. Suddenly his expenses have gone up five times what his allowable rent increase is. In the past, he might say, “Okay, I’ll take it on the chin because I know once that tenant leaves, I can set the rent at whatever I want.” He can’t do that anymore.

Virani: And as a result, you’re seeing some rental developers switch their projects to condos because they can’t find a financial model that makes sense. Others have chopped large units into smaller units because they want to encourage turnover: bachelors and one-bedrooms tend to turn over at a greater rate than two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms.

You all seem to agree that affordability is first and foremost a problem of limited supply. So what’s the solution?

Virani: It would help if there were fewer impediments to development. It has never been more challenging to develop in the city than right now. You can look around and you can see that the number of surface spots has ­dwindled to nothing. The low-hanging fruit is gone. On top of that, we have had massive regulatory change with the abolishment of the OMB. The talk is that the level of approved density is going to go way down, meaning fewer residential units.

Under the old system, developers would submit their variance applications at the city level. If they didn’t get the result they wanted, they’d appeal to the OMB.

Virani: Right. And that system resulted in a lot of development. Whether you liked the specific development is subjective, but the result was a lot more supply.

The Greenbelt, which is a band of protected land surrounding the GTA, was designed to limit urban sprawl, promote density and help the environment. Should it be opened up for development to help increase supply?

Fleming: I don’t want to tear down the rainforest, so to speak, but at the same time, when we run out of space down here, something’s got to give. Opening up 10 per cent seems reasonable.

Virani: I disagree. I think the Greenbelt is the best piece of legislation in the province. I’m a big believer in density, and the way you create density is you have to create that artificial island, and that is the best policy for making our city competitive. I look at the quality of life in Toronto and I love that. And that doesn’t happen unless you have the Greenbelt. If we didn’t have the Greenbelt, we’d be like Calgary, where there is no downtown. For the first time ever here, we’re seeing a huge amount of high-rise development in the 905. If we didn’t have the Greenbelt, that would all be low-rise houses. So the Greenbelt is also helping to ensure that we’re building up, not out.

Fleming: The cynical side of me says people want what they want. There are people out there with the American dream of the house with the white picket fence and the walk-in closet. Will we ever see a member of government stand up and openly admit that people need to find a new dream? The new Canadian dream is what—a great view and really, really thick granite countertops?

Shamez, how hard is it to get a development project greenlit at city hall?

Virani: It is the most complicated and difficult thing that I’ve ever done in my life. Granted, I don’t have kids.

Fleming: You just wait!

Virani: When I started seven years ago in the Toronto market, we would typically say if we’re buying an unzoned site, it would take us about 12 to 18 months to get zoning. Today we’re underwriting for 36 months. Also, we’re developing in more complex locations. Surface parking lots are easy, but try doing it in a mid-block site stuck between two existing heritage buildings. There is a huge backlog of approvals sitting in the municipalities across the GTA that could be developed if the approvals were granted. But the approvals take so long.

Why does it take so long?

Virani: I think there is a staffing issue. There’s also a general disdain for development at city hall. In fairness to those councillors, it is really tough to maintain services and infrastructure to support the level of development we’re having in the city—but that’s a cost of being the most attractive place in the world to be.

Fleming: It’s not just the politicians. Citizens are often anti-development, too. Some people who have been here a long time, they think of Toronto as this cute little town and they’re averse to growth. They think that Toronto’s big enough—let’s just leave it as it is.

Waterfront Toronto has signed an agreement with the Google sister company Sidewalk Labs, which wants to build a community on Toronto’s waterfront in ways that would probably require exemptions from most standard zoning and construction regulations. Shamez, as a developer who must follow all the rules and regulations, what do you make of that?

Virani: On one hand, that Sidewalk Labs has chosen the Toronto waterfront as a place where they want to think about the city of the future? I love it. And yet, I don’t think that there should be one set of rules for one plot of land and a different set of rules for another just because there might be some knowledge derived from it. I think the city needs to be careful there.

For people buying right now, give me two areas of the city that you would recommend they buy a condo in.

Fleming: I would stay where I am. I’ve been in the St. ­Lawrence Market area for 12 years. To me it’s a vibrant area but with a different vibe than, say, King West. It’s a little quieter, and it’s a good hub for me to do what I need to do. If you’re looking for a value-driven purchase, you’ve got to push to an area like Regent Park. I’ve been putting people there for the last three or four years, and the value is unbelievable. You’ve got commerce—the base of every condo building is either a Shoppers, a Sobeys, a Subway or a bank. And how far are you from Yonge Street? The same distance you’d be if you were living on King West, but at a fraction of the price.

“Jarvis, Church and Sherbourne south of Dundas—I think those are going to be the next great neighbourhoods”
Shamez Virani


Virani: I’d pick two areas. I’d say downtown east—­basically Moss Park. That neighbourhood will be cool in our lifetime. If you look at the last 10 years, people who bought in King West early on did the best of anybody in the city, and it used to be a bit rough. Jarvis, Church, Sherbourne, those sorts of areas—I think they’re going to turn into the next great neighbourhoods of the city. I’d also recommend places where there are new subway stops, like Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. There are some affordable condos that you can buy there that will appreciate relatively faster than the rest of the market.

Desjardins: Leslieville. That’s where I’ve lived for a long time. It works for me.

We’re headed into a provincial election. What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to our next premier about the condo market?

Virani: Lack of supply is the problem. Don’t focus on demand.

Fleming: I’ve come to realize that politics, for the most part, is not about governing the populace; it’s about staying in power. So I would say, make decisions that aren’t just about getting votes. Try to look at what we’ll need in 20 years, not in three or four months.


Market Watch-May 2018 from TREB

GTA REALTORS® Release May Stats
Greater Toronto Area REALTORS® reported 7,834 sales through TREB’s MLS® System in May 2018. This result was down by 22.2 percent compared to May 2017. While the number of sales was down year-over-year, the annual rate of decline was less than reported in February, March and April, when sales were down by more than 30 percent. On a month-over-month basis, seasonally adjusted May sales were basically flat compared to April.
Supply of homes available for sale continued to be an issue. New listings were down by 26.2 percent. The fact that new listings were down by more than sales in comparison to last year means that competition increased between buyers. Recent polling conducted by Ipsos for TREB suggests that listing intentions are down markedly since the fall.
“Homeownership remains a sound long-term investment. Unfortunately, many home buyers are still finding it difficult find a home that meets their needs. In a recent Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis study undertaken for the Toronto Real Estate Board, it was found that many people are over-housed in Ontario, with over five million extra bedrooms. These people don’t list their homes for sale, because they feel there are no alternative housing types for them to move into. Policy makers need to focus more on the ‘missing middle’ – home types that bridge the gap between detached houses and condominium apartments,” said Mr. Syrianos.
The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) Composite Benchmark was down by 5.4 percent year-over-year. The average selling price for all home types combined was down by 6.6 per cent to $805,320. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the average selling price was up by 1.1 per cent compared to April 2018.
“Market conditions are becoming tighter in the Greater Toronto Area and this will provide support for home prices as we move through the second half of 2018 and into 2019. There are emerging indicators pointing toward increased competition between buyers, which generally leads to stronger price growth. In the City of Toronto, for example, average selling prices were at or above average listing prices for all major home types in May,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis.
Click here to download full report –Market Watch – May 2018

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