Vacancy tax is pointless, say Vancouver sales agents

Empty abodes in Vancouver will be slapped with a vacancy tax, that one sales agent says amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.

While the hope is that the tax could free up as many as 25,000 empty units for rent in a city suffering from a rental supply shortage, the 1% vacancy tax likely won’t dissuade owners willing to forgo rental revenue, says Marilou J. Appleby of Dexter Associates Realty.

Homeowners must declare their property’s status annually, however, properties for which no declaration is filed by February 2 will be considered vacant and, in addition to being subjected to the tax, will be fined $250.
An amount Appleby believes is palty.

Moreover, she says it’s affecting Vancouverites who spend part of the year away and don’t want to rent their homes out to strangers.

“Owners are not thrilled about it,” said Appleby. “A lot of people in Vancouver spend winters down south and they have to have their places rented. In my opinion, it’s not going to solve any problems. Really, who it will hurt again are Vancouverites who are living a very normal life, who want to have the opportunity to spend winter in a warmer climate.

“I live in downtown Vancouver and people talk about dark buildings, but I don’t see that. There’s a very vibrant downtown community.”

She also said that if a homeowner can afford to leave the place vacant, taxing them 1% practically amounts to asking them for their pocket change.

“One percent could be substantial to some people, but if you’re allowing your place to stay vacant then you’re losing revenue anyway, so what’s 1%?” she said. “That’s why it’s a useless tax.”

Mahmoud Ahmed, managing broker of Nu Stream Realty, agrees with Appleby.

“The vacancy tax won’t do anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in the city, so 1% won’t make a lot of difference. If they don’t need the rent, that’s why it’s sitting empty anyway. It’s not going to be the solution for affordable housing.

“Most homes that are vacant are not entry-level homes, they’re mansions. It won’t make an impact on the rental market because most people don’t have $10,000 a month to spend on rent.”

As for how the tax will affect the market, Ahmed says it’s far too early to tell. But he says the 15% foreign buyer tax only managed to cool down the market temporarily, therefore, a 1% tax probably won’t even make a dent.

“Fifteen percent is a big hit, but 1% won’t do damage,” he said.

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Report highlights next year’s real estate trends

Housing affordability continues to dominate the conversation in the Greater Toronto Area’s housing market. A new report released by the Urban Land Institute in conjunction with PwC, called Emerging Trends in Real Estate described governmental regulation as likely to exacerbate the affordability problem.

The laws of supply and demand lie at the heart of surging housing prices. Not only are single-family detached homes in high demand and low supply, but the condo market, too, is beginning to see signs of strain, as priced-out buyers realize they have no other choice to settle for skyward balconies over backyards.

The foreign buyer tax cooled the Vancouver and Toronto markets, where prices grew astronomically, but the report makes mention of suspicious players within the real estate industry, one of whom believes growth will continue with or without the tax because of natural growth. The report also noted that prices cooled temporally before rebounding and pushing condo prices upwards.

Those interviewed by the report parroted the need for government to stay out of the market, except to address the need for increased supply. It’s unanimously believed that the approvals process is one reason supply isn’t keeping up with demand.

Affordability will catalyze a growing trend: co-living. As the number of single people among the millennial cohort in expensive markets like, Toronto and Vancouver, continue rising, they’ll live with roommates out of necessity. While some may live alone, affordability will compel them forego ownership and rent. One in three young adults in Canada lives with at least one parent, and as others marry and look to start families during an inventory shortage, they’ll settle for living in condominiums. According to the most recent Census data, 6.3% of Canadians live in multigenerational households – a number that’s likely to rise.

The ’18-hour city’ is a burgeoning secondary market. Where NYC, London, Tokyo, and now Toronto, are 24-hour cities, the high cost has resulted in an exodus to smaller cities, like Austin, TX, Raleigh, N.C., Nashville, TN, which have grown in vibrancy. Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary are considered 18-hour cities and will continue staking their claim as emergent centres. Previous versions of Emerging Trends in Real Estate anointed Hamilton an emerging 18-hour city, and that’s likely to continue as affordability drives people further from the Toronto core.

Transit infrastructure is integral to attained 18-hour city status, and Hamilton is planning a downtown LRT.

The only condo growth associated with condos in recent years has been their popularity, but they have, in fact, been shrinking in square footage. The need for larger, family-sized condos will likely buck that trend.

Montreal’s rental market is as strong as ever, however, Ontario – already suffering from a shortage of rental units – has reintroduced rent control, much to the dismay of the report’s interviewees, who noted some planned purpose-built rentals rebranded as condos. Ontario’s rental vacancy rate is dangerously low, and it’s expected it could worsen.

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Condo developers hike fees on luxury building

A Vancouver luxury condominium is stiffing pre-sale condo purchasers with a 25% levy if they flip their units before occupancy.

Purchasers of units at One Burrard Place, being built by Jim Pattison Developments and Reliance Properties Ltd., once only had to pay the developers a 1.5% fee to re-assign their units, however, in recent weeks they’ve been forced to sign an amended agreement contractually obligating them to pay a quarter of their resale price.

It is speculated that Vancouver’s surging price points have whetted the appetites of developers, who want a bigger piece of the pie. However, it’s also believed the reason is to curtail speculation. Units at One Burrard Place went on sale in late 2015, but the 53-storey luxury condominium won’t be complete until 2019, and two years in prices have already climbed astronomically.

When sales opened, the price per square foot was in the neighbourhood of $890, however, they’ve risen to about $1,250 today, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Jim Stovell of Reliance Properties told the Sun that the inflated fee is designed to discourage speculators from flipping units at One Burrard. He added that buyers are welcome to wait until the units are completed, by which time the sale will be legally binding and the 25% levy won’t apply.

Stovell also told the Sun that unauthorized advertising of assignments are floating about online, especially on social media, private realtor websites, and through emails – which the developer is also trying to check. He added that some purchasers have legitimate reasons for needing to re-assign their units, such death, divorce or job change, and their needs will be balanced.

The industry standard for re-assignment is between the 1.5% One Burrard was charging, and 2%, while other developers proscribe it altogether.

One Burrard Place is a luxury tower in Vancouver’s West End, close to the Burrard Bridge at Drake St.

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Real estate industry prepares for a battle

Seven years ago, an advertising executive wanted to experience the bright lights and excitement of competing in a boxing match. So he launched Agency Wars – an event specifically for ad execs who wanted to show off their pugilistic skills.

This year, that same man is bringing the sweet science to the real estate industry.

“Over the period of those years, we’ve perfected the methodology. We have two teams, red and blue; we train the boxers as a team. For a lot of these people it’s the first time they’ve ever been in a boxing ring or gym,” Michael Clancy, founder of Agency Wars and now Toronto Real Estate Rumble, told CREW. “It’s reality show stuff; it’s amazing the transformation and drama they go through. You get in a ring, people throw punches at you, and it’s a transformative experience. We want it to be a really rewarding experience.”

A total of 24 amateur boxers – all from the real estate industry – have been chosen, following a rigorous tryout period, to take part at the event, which takes place Wednesday, November 22 in Toronto.

Clancy, who got into boxing at the age of 50, founded the events as a way for industry professionals to experience the allure of a big ticket boxing event.

“We want you to have that feeling. It’s like the ultimate fantasy. It’s a fantasy camp for boxing – you are going to work and train like a boxer for 12 weeks. We’re going to give the whole experience of the fight as well; the entourage, the robes, 600 spectators, ring card girls, cameras,” he said. “When I first put the show on I wanted to feel how Floyd Mayweather feels. We carefully put together something that gives the full experience that you’ll want to tell your grandkids about.”

The chosen boxers are currently embarking on a 10-week training program, which includes numerous weekly training sessions, nutritional counselling, and world-class coaching from elite-level boxers and trainers.

The real estate combatants will become legitimate amateur boxers, and the event is properly sanctioned by the Boxing Canada to ensure the utmost safety.

Boxers wear headgear and oversized gloves and, according to Clancy, the worst injuries that have occurred over seven years of running Agency Wars were bloody noses.

As for the real estate industry’s own iteration of the event, Clancy says those particular professionals will make perfect boxers.

“It’s very metaphorical for real estate guys: It’s a hard, competitive business and you don’t win every day,” he said.

The event is also raising money for two good causes: The We Foundation and imagine1day. It’s supported by a number of industry partners, incuding Garrison Hill Developments, Foundry Mortgage Capital, Concrete Mortgage Capital.

To find out more about the event, to purchase tickets, or to become a sponsor, check out the website here.

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Analyzing years of mortgage rule impact

The most recent mortgage rule changes have had a much smaller impact on the market than previous policy changes and there’s a simple explanation for that, according to a new report.

The most recent mortgage rule changes have had a much smaller impact on the market than previous policy changes and there’s a simple explanation for that, according to a new report.

There has been an unprecedented number of housing policy changes over the past year-and-a-half, according to TD Bank, and each has been aimed at tempering housing demand.

And while the industry viewed the last round of changes as particularly invasive, they have proven less impactful than previous iterations.

“Each successive regulation change at the federal level has left a smaller mark on home buying activity. Our estimates suggest that the most recent federal rule changes may have only shaved 2% off demand nationwide,” TD Economists Beata Caranci and Diana Petramala, wrote in their latest report, Canadian Regional Housing Outlook Navigating a Soft Landing. “In contrast, the first regulatory changes implemented in 2008 dampened home sales by roughly 10%. That policy increased the required down payment from 0% to 5% for insured borrowers and lowered the allowable amortization period from 40 years to 35 years.”

The reason for dwindling influence, according to the economists, is that each round of mortgage rule changes has specifically targeted borrowers who require mortgage insurance.

“This incented a shift away from high loan-to-value mortgages into conventional mortgages,” the economists wrote. “New loans that require homebuyer’s insurance now account for less than 20% of all new chartered bank mortgage originations, compared to 40% prior to 2008. So, each round of policy changes has targeted a shrinking share of the overall market.”

The Bank of Canada claims insured mortgage originations fell 43% in 2016 and early 2017 from the peak in late 2015.

However, that shrinking share was up by a growing number of Canadians relying on conventional mortgages.

Looking forward, it seems federal policymakers aren’t quite finished with their market tinkering.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Services (OSFI) has proposed additional rules in the form of income tests for all borrowers at a rate of 2% higher than the contracted rate.

And that policy is expected to temper housing demand even further.

“ … if the new measures are put into place, which will cause buyers in the former group to adjust their behaviour by coming up with a bigger down payment, opting for a lower priced purchase, scaling back other debt, or delaying a home purchase altogether,” the economists wrote. “In the year of implementation, we estimate that this new rule could depress demand by 5% to 10%, and shave 2% to 4% off of our current forecast for the average price level in 2018. This will be yet another force limiting price growth in the future.”

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New home market unfazed by housing policies

The new home market continues to boom, despite efforts to slow down real estate in this one hot city.

New homes in Toronto continue to see strong demand from buyers – especially in the condo sector.

“We continue to see that the province’s fair housing plan in effect since April has had little impact on the new home market,” BILD President and CEO Bryan Tuckey said in the association’s latest report. “Unlike the resale market which experienced a slow down last month, the numbers reflected in the new homes market are quite different. Prices continue to rise and supply continues to be low.

“Three out of four of the new homes purchased in the GTA so far this year have been condo apartments. With condo prices continuing to escalate, this segment of the market is becoming out of reach for many consumers.”

Multi-family condo sales increased 59% in May, according to the Building Industry and Land Development Association.

New home sales jumped 23% year-over-year in June with a total of 28,889 sales sold this year so far.

According to BILD, over 90% of June home sales were for condo apartments in high-rise, low-rise, mid-rise, and stacked townhomes.

June also saw a record number of new condo sales with 5,495 total units sold – an increase of 89% year-over-year.

“The record number of condominium apartment sales in June was the result of a ‘perfect storm’ of factors”, Patricia Arsenault, Altus Group’s Executive Vice-President of Research Consulting Services, said in the report. “These factors include: the sizeable number of units in new condo projects opened in May and June (over 8,500); demand from end-user buyers who might have preferred a single-family home but have adjusted their expectations due to lack of affordable supply; and heightened investor interest due to the rapid price increases for condo apartments in recent months.”

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RBC raises fixed-term mortgage rates

Royal Bank of Canada has increased the interest rates on its fixed-term mortgage products.

RBC’s mortgage rates were all boosted by 20 basis points, up to 2.54 per cent (two-year rate), while 2.64 per cent (three-year rate), and 2.84 per cent (five-year rate). Said rates are for products with amortization periods not exceeding 25 years.

The rise came amid rising bond yields and enduring expectations that Canada’s central bank will hike its benchmark interest rate, which currently stands at 0.5 per cent. Should the Bank of Canada push through with the increase on Wednesday (July 12), it will be the first such movement in 7 years.

Manulife Asset Management senior economist Frances Donald told CBC News that the move by RBC is “another signal that economic and market agents are preparing for a rate hike next Wednesday… It also opens the door to a Bank of Canada rate hike because it implies that the economy is already going to absorb higher interest rates via the banks themselves.”

“We import higher rates via our bond curve from the United States, and the more we see higher rates around the rest of the world, the more the costs are going to rise for Canadian banks as well,” she explained, alluding to the recent boost in the U.S. Federal Reserve’s rates. More hikes are anticipated to come this year.

“We are clearly in the beginnings of a tightening cycle and these are not just influences from the Bank of Canada but from global sources as well.”

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Canadians are incapable of servicing higher mortgage costs – report

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Qualifying rate to increase?

This is when one association is predicting the qualifying rate might jump.

A potential Bank of Canada benchmark rate increase has been the talk of the industry for the past few weeks, with many invested parties speculating on when the government will make the move.

For its part, the British Columbia Real Estate Association is predicting the Bank will hold off until 2018.

“While the likelihood of the Bank raising its target rate by the end of 2017 has certainly increased, we still expect the Bank to hold off until early 2018, particularly if oil prices remain low and inflation fails to pick up,” Cameron Muir, BCREA chief economist, wrote in his latest Mortgage Rate Forecast Report.

As a result, the association is also predicting the five-year qualifying rate will jump from 4.64%, as it stands today, to 4.74% in Q1 2018.

The average five-year mortgage rate, meanwhile — which sits around 2.61% — will jump to 2.79% by the end of Q3 2017, and then to 2.9% in Q4 and 3.05% in Q1 2018.

The qualifying rate is expected to hit 4.84% by Q4 2018 and the average five-year mortgage rate is predicted to reach 3.35%.

That’s the not-so-good news for those who plan to delaying buying a home until then. However, the rate increases will be the result of overall economic recovery.

“The Canadian economy has finally returned to good health following the rapid and dramatic decline of oil prices in late 2014 and the consequences of wildfires in Alberta last year. Since the third quarter of 2016, the Canadian economy has expanded at an average rate of 3.5 per cent, well above the Bank of Canada’s estimate of 1.7 per cent sustainable long-run growth,” Muir wrote. “After posting nearly 4 per cent growth in the first quarter of this year, we expect that real GDP growth will slow slightly to around 2.4 per cent in the second quarter with the economy ultimately growing 2.5 per cent this year and 2 per cent in 2018.

“If the economy continues to accelerate, and growth in real GDP is higher than currently expected by the Bank, slack in the economy could be eliminated by as early as the end of this year, which could push up the timetable for monetary tightening.”

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Home Capital announces sale

Home Capital has announced an agreement with KingSett Capital to sell a commercial mortgage portfolio valued at around $1.2 billion.

“This transaction will help the company further stabilize its liquidity position and highlights the flexibility and options created by the quality of our assets,” Bonita Then, Interim President and CEO of Home Capital, said.
“Proceeds from the transaction are expected to have an immediate impact by enabling us to enhance our liquidity and reduce the outstanding debt under the Company’s $2 billion credit facility.”

Under the agreement terms, Kingsett will purchase the portfolio for 99.61% of outstanding principal value.

Home Capital expects to incur a loss of $15 million before income taxes on the deal.

The deal is the latest bid by the embattled channel lender to stabilize itself following Ontario Securities Commission allegations it misled investors in 2015 and recent dwindling deposits.

Last week, Home announced a settlement with the OSC and class action matters.

“Under its proposed settlement with the Commission, Home Capital will make a payment of $10 million and reimburse Commission costs in the amount of $500,000,” Home Capital said. “Gerald Soloway will be reprimanded, prohibited from acting as a director or officer of any reporting issuer for a period of four years and pay an administrative penalty in the amount of $1 million.

“Each of Robert Morton and Martin Reid will be reprimanded, prohibited from acting as a director or officer of any reporting issuer for a period of 2 years and pay an administrative penalty in the amount of $500,000.”

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Interesting investment up for auction

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

That line was uttered by Frank Underwood — in the critically acclaimed political drama House of Cards – whose house (in the show) is currently up for auction for $500,000.

The town home, set in Washington D.C. on the show, actually resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Featured in the hit Netflix series House of Cards as Francis & Claire’s Home this grand all brick Victorian style home has been carefully restored and updated with original details throughout,” the listing reads. “The home features over 4,600 square feet of above grade living area, 12+ foot ceilings, 5 fireplaces, original Tennesee mable mantles, dual staircases, original pocket doors with etched glass and transoms, a 3 story light well which lets light and breeze into the whole house, a rear patio, and oversized 2 car garage with a roof top deck.”

The home, which is located at 1609 Park Ave. in Baltimore, boasts a main level living room, family room, and dining room complete with butler’s pantry.

It also features three other levels; a two car garage, rear patio, and rooftop deck.

The Victorian home was constructed in 1880.

The live auction for the home will take place on-site on July 27; online bids are not permitted.

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