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B.C.'s new package of tough measures takes aim at tax evaders who stash money in real estate, hide their ownership and speculate in the increasingly pricey market.

The foreign buyers tax is coming to Greater Victoria and Nanaimo and is being increased to 20 per cent on the purchase price from 15 per cent in markets where it is applied. New taxes are coming in for speculators and buyers of luxury properties will pay more.

These moves are underway as capital region citizens watched home prices become unaffordable to many amid a tight rental market with a vacancy rate of just 0.7 per cent.

Finance Minister Carole James said in her Tuesday budget speech that B.C. is facing a housing crisis. She predicted the new measures “will return a sense of fairness.”

“What we are looking to do is to moderate the market,” she said.

B.C. will monitor impacts and make adjustments if needed as measures are rolled out, she said.

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of B.C., said: “It’s quite unprecedented in the housing market to have several measures like that brought forward so we will see how it filters through and affects the market. We don’t know at this point.

“It could be disruptive. It may be nothing more than a hiccup.”

Government initiatives will impact the upper end of the market, Finlayson said.

About half a billion dollars of additional revenue generated from the various housing-related announcements will go to support government afforable housing efforts and other government programs, he said.

New reporting rules for buyers, a public registry to reveal who actually owns a property, and sharing new information with the federal government to fight tax evaders will all be required by the province.

“Countering tax fraud starts with better information sharing,” James said.

B.C. is aiming to end murky home ownership.

“Numbered companies, offshore and domestic trusts, and stand-in owners hide the true source of the capital that is flowing into our real estate market,” James said.

“We are going to change that.”

Lack of information is a “real gap” and the first step in auditing and enforcement, she said.

James referred to condo-flipping, which sees units being sold multiple times before they are even lived in.

“We wonder if those people have paid their fair share of taxes,” she said.

Developers will be required to collect and provide comprehensive information about pre-sales. Condominium are frequently marketed through pre-sales agreements before construction is finished.

Foreign buyers are expected to deliver $35 million in taxes in the 2018-2019 year, and $40 million the next year.

The majority of buyers in the Victoria area are domestic.

Between April and the end of December last year, foreign buyers bought 343 properties in the capital region, representing 4.1 per cent of all sales.

They spent $261 million, of 4.8 per cent of value, out of $5.4 billion.

B.C. will be requiring more disclosure by foreign buyers including: information on worldwide income, household information, and social insurance numbers. Relevant information will be shared with Canada Revenue Agency.

The new speculation tax applies to international and domestic buyers who do not pay income tax in B.C and might leave their homes vacant.

“B.C.’s real estate market should not be used as a stock market,” James said.

The measure "will penalize people parking their capital in our housing market simply to speculate, driving up prices and removing rental stock," she said.

The speculation tax is expected to bring in $87 million in the 2018-2019 tax year and $200 million in the next year.

Luxury home buyers will pay more.

A new property transfer tax on homes worth more than $3 million will bring in $81 million more in each of the coming three years. The tax is rising to five per cent of a property’s value from three per cent.

The capital region is home to many luxury properties valued at $3 million and more. These homes are often along the waterfront in municipalities such as Oak Bay and North Saanich. Some are occupied only part time.

It remains unclear how the speculation tax will affect people who have more than one home or hold a vacation property in B.C.

Source: Carla Wilson, Victoria Times Colonist, Feb 20, 2018

New figures that show lower real estate sales could be a sign of things to come.

That is the message from local industry leaders after the release of figures that show real estate sales dropped nearly 10 per cent.

Kyle Kerr, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board (VREB), said the figures met expectations.

“We expected January to be a bit slower after the increase in activity we saw in November and December, which was likely due in part to buyers entering the market early to avoid the new mortgage stress test,” he said.

The full effect of the new rules designed to curb real estate speculation will not fully appear later, he added. “We won’t know how much that stress test will affect the spring market until we see the numbers, and spring is also the time when sales traditionally pick up.

Looking closer, statistics show rising prices against the backdrop of low inventory. Figures show 1,491 active listings in the Greater Victoria region — up 7.7 per cent from December 2017, but close to two recent historic low points in December 2016 and January 2017.

This “lack of inventory” as described by VREB has in turned maintained pressure on prices. The benchmark value for a single family home in the Victoria Core (which includes Saanich) was $831,900 in January 2018 — up 9.3 per cent from $761,100 in January 2017.

“We can also see the effects of headwinds influencing our market in 2018, including attempts to curb demand at all levels of government,” said Kerr. “The mortgage stress test is the latest to be introduced, and we may learn of further measures later this month when the provincial budget is released.”

January’s numbers have received a good deal of scrutiny and commentary, as a would-be seismograph of the new mortgage rules and other potential political developments that might impact the real estate industry, an important sector of not just Victoria’s economy, but also the provincial economy-at-large. Ottawa, for example, has expressed concerns about Canadians’ debt-load, while the provincial government has been considering various measures to improve housing affordability, as well as curb illegal activities involving real estate.

Sales through the first two weeks of 2018 were down significantly compared to the same period the year before with commentators such as Leo Spalteholtz of househuntvictoria.ca pointing to the new mortgage rules. Then sales took off through the third week of January in leading towards the final figures, which Spalteholtz says actually reflect a market of “contradictions.”

“There are just as many single family homes selling now as last year, but they are taking nearly twice as long to sell (31 days). Meanwhile condo sales are down by a quarter, inventory is up, but they are selling twice as fast as last year (8 days),” he said.

Speaking with the Saanich News just days before the end of the month, Kimberly Legeard of New Port Realty, meanwhile, thinks that the stress test has had a negative effect.

“What we are seeing is a lot of challenge around the mortgage test,” she said. With prices high already, it has impacted people’s purchasing power, she said. Meanwhile, would-be sellers in Victoria might be hesitating to put their properties on the market because they might not find another place to live, she said. 

Source: Wold Depner, Oak Bay News, Feb 5, 2018

About 5,700 sales were recorded in December, up 21.5 per cent over same period last year 

The B.C. Real Estate Association says fewer homes were sold across the province in 2017 compared with the year earlier, but it says prices were up and sales remained above 100,000 for the third straight year.

The association’s snapshot of 2017 residential sales shows 103,763 properties changed hands, down 7.5 per cent from the 2016 record of 112,211.

The total dollar value of all sales also slipped 5.1 per cent to $73.63 billion but the association says the average price of a home nudged up 2.7 per cent to $709,579.

READ MORE: Greater Vancouver condo prices jumped 20 per cent in 2017

READ MORE: New mortgage rules to take effect in 2018

December was also a strong month for sales, as seasonally adjusted purchases jumped four per cent from November, although the association says year-end results may reflect buyers hurrying to avoid tougher mortgage qualification rules in January.

A total of 5,738 sales were recorded across B.C. in December, an increase of 21.5 per cent over the same period last year, with the average residential price province-wide set at $734,108, a leap of 12.1 per cent from December 2016.

Association chief economist Cameron Muir says B.C.’s strong economy, employment growth and rising wages supported the healthy demand for housing in 2017.

“Above trend migration, both international and interprovincial, also bolstered housing demand,” he says.

Condominium sales in urban centres and sales of all types of properties in retirement-oriented communities were also fuelled by B.C.’s changing and aging population, the association says.

Source: The Canadian Press, January 12, 2018


City ranks No. 2 for generation of Canadians seeking work-life balance 

Long thought to be the home of the newlywed and nearly dead, Victoria is now an up and coming hot spot for millennials, according to a new study.

Our hip, happening city took the number 2 slot, second only to Quebec City, ranking higher than both Toronto and Vancouver in the study from Point 2 Homes.

When it comes to climate and life satisfaction, Victoria scored the highest in the country – tied with Saanich – and when compared to Vancouver, a lower crime rate and higher median income is making Victoria a desirable place. In fact, the second-highest percentage of millennials reside here.

Point 2 Homes, a real estate website that analyzes trends based on data, government sources and public records, ranked 85 Canadian cities based on nine criteria: housing prices, income, unemployment rate, life satisfaction, crime, health care, climate, level of education and the percentage millennials make up of the total population.

The site also gave a shout-out to Biketoria, the infamous cycling network, after a UBC study ranked Victoria as Canada’s most bikeable city.

None of Canada’s big cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Calgary – even broke the top five, and seven of the top 10 have a population of under 500,000.

According to Point 2 Homes, quality employment and affordable housing are two key factors millennials consider when looking for a place to call home. But for this generation, a work-life balance is also at the top of the list, as well as leisure activities, a like-minded community and a city that is both safe and exciting.

Langley Township took the top honour as the least appealing Canadian city for millennials.

Source: Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS/ Jan 17, 2018


 

The Greater Victoria region might not sound as illustrious as Sydney or Hong Kong, but if you travel around the vast Pacific Rim, as Mark Roozendaal of Preferred Homes recently did, a clear message emerges: Victoria has a strong international reputation. “We are like a mini world city,” he said.

This international reputation is one of the reasons why Victoria has seen a 10 per cent spike in the sale of properties over $1 million during the first seven months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, according to a report from Re/Max Canada. This development places Victoria in the same category as Calgary, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Oakville, Ont. where sales of luxury homes rose by various rates.

First things first. Roozendaal acknowledges a level of price inflation. While homes selling for $1 million and above qualify as luxury, there is luxury and then there is luxury. But even if we raise the luxury threshold, Victoria has seen a spike, said Roozendaal. Between January and July of 2016, 12 homes above $3 million sold in the region, he said. Between January and July of 2017, 20 sold.

Compare these figures to developments in Vancouver, where sales of $1 million-plus single-family detached homes declined 32 per cent during the same period.

The report cited among reasons the foreign buyer tax that the previous provincial government passed in August 2016, as the tax discouraged offshore buyers entering this segment of the market. At the same time, a strong mix of demand from downsizing baby boomers, foreign buyers and affluent younger couples led to an 11 per cent year-over-year increase in luxury condo sales in Vancouver, it read.

Luxury condo sales in Victoria also rose to 38 units from 27 units, said Roozendaal.

Buyers fall into three groups, he said. The first are what Roozendaal calls downsizers, who might have sold their larger homes in more expensive real estate markets like Vancouver. The second are citizens of the United States, who are moving to Canada because of the current political situation in that country following the presidential election of Donald Trump. The third are families who are moving to Victoria from all over the world, as well as Canada, to take advantage of the region’s education system, safety and quality of living.

While buyers from Asia constitute a group of foreign buyers, Roozendaal says the numbers are not as high as people might think.

“We definitely see it in Victoria, but it’s actually a small demographic,” he said.

Overall, Roozendaal expects that Victoria’s luxury segment will continue to grow. Christie’s International Real Estate earlier this year ranked Victoria just behind Toronto in terms of being the fastest growing luxury real estate market in the world.

According to the report, Victoria “witnessed its best year ever for luxury home sales” in 2016.

Victoria, he said, has massive upside potential when it comes to the condo market, he said. Victoria’s large waterfront will also continue to draw interest, he said.

Source: , Saanich News, Wed Oct 11th, 2017 11:30am


Fewer sales and a slight increase in new listings have the Greater Victoria Real Estate Board apparently hoping the market is becoming more balanced.

“The numbers we saw in April are a further indication that the market is gradually moving toward a more balanced state compared to the record-setting pace of 2016,” VREB president Ara Balabanian said Monday.

There were 885 properties sold in the region last month, well below the 1,286 sold in the same month in 2016 — and even below the 929 that sold in March of this year. The 10-year average for sales in April is 772 sales.

“We are starting to see hints of a more traditional spring market. Local agricultural production has been delayed due to the late spring, and so has the local real estate market,” Balabanian said. “More sellers listed their homes for sale over the month of April compared to the month previous.”

But real estate veteran Tony Joe of Remax Camosun said the market “is a long way from balanced.” “We literally would need to see 1,500 new listings come on in a month for things to start balancing out,” he said, noting the market has slowed down in terms of sales because there’s so little available to buy. “There is no inventory. It’s like going to the store looking for a loaf of bread and finding empty shelves,” he said.

There were 1,690 active listings at the end of April 2017. That’s a slight improvement over the 1,556 in March, but well off the 2,594 active listings at the end of April 2016. “But the interest level is still out there. There are people still jumping on properties right away,” Joe said, noting that has led to multiple offers, over-the-asking-price sales and many deals being done with no conditions.

“The reason there’s [no inventory] is people want to move, but while they know it’s relatively easy to sell, they know there’s nothing for them to move to,” he said. That, combined with a rental market with few available units, means there is no option for people who want to list their properties. “It’s deadlocked right now,” Joe said. “It’s a question of when the shift will happen. And it has to at some point — it can’t stay like this forever.

The problem is everyone wants to be here. I don’t think they get the same problem in Winnipeg.” Joe said the fact there were fewer sales in April than in March is an anomaly and symptom of the problem the market faces. “Again, that’s down to inventory level. Traditionally, that comes up by now. So [lower April sales] is a first, but only by virtue of that fact,” he said.

Source: Victoria Times Colonist, May 2, 2017
aduffy@timescolonist.com


First-time homebuyers can soon get a loan from the B.C. government to help with the down payment on a house, Premier Christy Clark announced Thursday.

But critics warn that the program will drive up prices and increase risk for young homeowners already carrying crippling debt.

The province will match the money saved by first-time buyers up to $37,500 or five per cent of purchase price.

No interest or principal payments are required in the first five years of the 25-year loans, as long as the home remains the buyer’s main residence. Purchase price must be $750,000 or less, excluding taxes and fees.

After five years, buyers will make monthly payments at prevailing interest rates. The loan will be registered as a second mortgage.

“What we know is for many first-time homebuyers, qualifying for a mortgage is hard, but getting past that down payment and scraping together the 25 grand or 50 grand that you might need to be able to get into your first home is just impossible,” Clark said.

“So we want to be there to help first-time homebuyers get over that hump. And we are going to be partners in their home.”

The province offered the example of a $475,000 home where the first-time buyer has saved $11,875 or 2.5 per cent of the selling price. In that case, the province will match the buyer’s saved amount, allowing them to make the required down payment of $23,750.

In the case of a $750,000 house where the buyer has saved seven per cent or $52,500, the province will match the buyer’s contribution up to five per cent of the price. The government’s maximum loan of $37,500 would allow the first-time buyer to put down $90,000 and reduce interest costs.

Tom Davidoff of University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business panned the program for primarily benefiting sellers and developers. “I really don’t like it. I just think it’s lousy economics.”

He said that subsidizing buyers in markets with limited ability to increase housing supply will drive up prices. “So taking taxpayers’ money to give to people who own property — that’s a step in the wrong direction.”

B.C. NDP housing critic David Eby said the program will encourage young people to take on more debt. “This is a group that’s struggling with credit-card debt, student debt, record levels of debt that, according to the federal government, is so high it’s concerning for the federal economy.”

The province should use swaths of publicly owned land to develop co-ops and other affordable housing rather than selling the land for one-time gains, Eby said.

Bryan Yu, an economist with Central 1 Credit Union, struck a more positive note. He said helping first-time home buyers with their down payment is “critical” in higher-priced markets. “It does provide definitely a demand uplift on the townhome and condo side for areas like Victoria as well as Vancouver, and allows people who have been waiting to get into the market that ability.”

He doubted the program would increase prices significantly, because buyers still have to qualify under tighter federal rules that make it more difficult to get a mortgage. “A lot of these buyers who it’s targeted at are still constrained by other factors.”

Mike Nugent, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, welcomed the program. “It’s certainly positive. A lot better than the federal government [saying]: ‘Let’s make borrowing and lending more restrictive.’ ”

The province is spending $703 million over three years for the B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership program, and estimates it will help about 42,000 B.C. households get into the market. Clark said there is no cap. “It’s not as though once we get to 42,000, no one else will be eligible.”

The program will begin accepting applications on Jan 16.

To qualify, buyers must have:

• been pre-approved for a high-ratio insured mortgage for at least 80 per cent of the purchase price.

• been a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for at least five years.

• lived in B.C. for at least one year before applying.

• never owned interest in a residence anywhere in the world.

• combined, gross household income under $150,000.

Source: Victoria Times Colonist, Dec 15th, 2016
 lkines@timescolonist.com


The Liberal government has announced sweeping changes aimed at ensuring Canadians aren’t taking on bigger mortgages than they can afford in an era of historically low interest rates.

The changes are also meant to address concerns related to foreign buyers who buy and flip Canadian homes.

Below is a breakdown of the four major changes Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Monday.

The current rules

Buyers with a down payment of at least 5 per cent of the purchase price but less than 20 per cent must be backed by mortgage insurance. This protects the lender in the event that the home buyer defaults. These loans are known as “high loan-to-value” or “high ratio” mortgages.

In situations in which the buyer has 20 per cent or more for a down payment, the lender or borrower could obtain “low-ratio” insurance that covers 100 per cent of the loan in the event of a default.

Mortgage insurance in Canada is backed by the federal government through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Insurance is sold by the CMHC and two private insurers, Genworth Financial Mortgage Insurance Company Canada and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Company. The federal government backs the insurance offered by the two private-sector firms, subject to a 10-per-cent deductible.

1. The change

Expanding a mortgage rate stress test to all insured mortgages.

What it is

As of Oct. 17, a stress test used for approving high-ratio mortgages will be applied to all new insured mortgages – including those where the buyer has more than 20 per cent for a down payment. The stress test is aimed at assuring the lender that the home buyer could still afford the mortgage if interest rates were to rise. The home buyer would need to qualify for a loan at the negotiated rate in the mortgage contract, but also at the Bank of Canada’s five-year fixed posted mortgage rate, which is an average of the posted rates of the big six banks in Canada. This rate is usually higher than what buyers can negotiate. As of Sept. 28, the posted rate was 4.64 per cent.

Other aspects of the stress test require that the home buyer will be spending no more than 39 per cent of income on home-carrying costs like mortgage payments, heat and taxes. Another measure called total debt service includes all other debt payments and the TDS ratio must not exceed 44 per cent.

Who it affects

This measure affects home buyers who have at least 20 per cent for a down payment but are seeking a mortgage that may stretch them too thin if interest rates were to rise. It also affects lenders seeking to buy government-backed insurance for low-ratio mortgages.

Why

The government is responding to concerns that sharp rises in house prices in cities like Toronto and Vancouver could increase the risk of defaults in the future should mortgage rates rise.

2. The change

As of Nov. 30, the government will impose new restrictions on when it will provide insurance for low-ratio mortgages.

What it is

The new rules restrict insurance for these types of mortgages based on new criteria, including that the amortization period must be 25 years or less, the purchase price is less than $1-million, the buyer has a credit score of 600 and the property will be owner-occupied.

Who it affects

This measure appears to be aimed at lowering the government’s exposure to residential mortgages for properties worth $1-million or more, a category of the market that has increased sharply in recent years in Vancouver and Toronto.

Why

Vancouver and Toronto are the two real estate markets that are of most concern for policy makers at all levels of government. These measures appear to be targeted at those markets.

3. The change

New reporting rules for the primary residence capital gains exemption.

What it is

Currently, any financial gain from selling your primary residence is tax-free and does not have to be reported as income. As of this tax year, the capital gains tax is still waived, but the sale of the primary residence must be reported at tax time to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Who it affects

Everyone who sells their primary residence will have a new obligation to report the sale to the CRA, however the change is aimed at preventing foreign buyers who buy and sell homes from claiming a primary residence tax exemption for which they are not entitled.

Why

While officials say more data are needed, Ottawa is responding to extensive anecdotal evidence and media reports showing foreign investors are flipping homes in Canada and falsely claiming the primary residence exemption.


4. The change

The government is launching consultations on lender risk sharing.

What it is

Currently, the federal government is on the hook to cover the cost of 100 per cent of an insured mortgage in the event of a default. The federal government says this is “unique” internationally and that it will be releasing a public consultation paper shortly on a proposal to have lenders, such as banks, take on some of that risk. The Department of Finance Canada acknowledges this would be “a significant structural change to Canada’s housing finance system.”

Who it affects

Mortgage lenders, such as banks, would have to take on added risk. This could potentially lead to higher mortgage rates for home buyers.

Why

The federal government wants to limit its financial obligations in the event of widespread mortgage defaults. It also wants to encourage prudent lending practices.

------

Five previous federal housing moves since 2008

Monday’s package of announcements is the sixth time since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis that Ottawa has taken policy action in response to concerns about Canada’s housing market.

July, 2008: After briefly allowing the CMHC to insure high-ratio mortgages with a 40-year amortization period, then Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty moved to tighten those rules by reducing the maximum length of an insured high-ratio mortgage to 35 years.

February, 2010: Responding to concern that some Canadians were borrowing too much against the rising value of their homes, the government lowered the maximum amount Canadians could borrow in refinancing their mortgages to 90 per cent of a home’s value, down from 95 per cent. The move also set a new 20-per-cent down payment requirement for government-backed mortgage insurance on properties purchased for speculation by an owner who does not live in the property.

January, 2011: The Conservative government under Stephen Harper tightened the rules further, dropping the maximum amortization period for a high-ratio insured mortgage to 30 years. The maximum amount Canadians could borrow via refinancing was further lowered to 85 per cent.

June, 2012: A third round of tightening brought the maximum amortization period down to 25 years for high-ratio insured mortgages. A new stress test was also introduced to ensure that debt costs are no more than 44 per cent of income for lenders seeking a high-ratio mortgage. Refinancing rules were also tightened for a third time, setting a new maximum loan of 80 per cent of a property’s value. Another new measure limited the availability of government-backed insured high-ratio mortgages to homes valued at less than $1-million.

December, 2015: The recently elected Liberal government moved to tighten lending rules for homes worth more than $500,000, saying it was focused on “pockets of risk” in the housing sector.

The package of measures included doubling the minimum down payment for insured high-ratio mortgages to 10 per cent from 5 per cent for the portion of a home’s value from $500,000 to $1-million.

Source: Globe & Mail, Bill Curry, October 3, 2016


Would-be homebuyers in the capital region have fewer choices as the number of properties for sale continues to diminish while prices stay strong.

“This is the lowest level of inventory on the market in September that we have on record since 1996,” Mike Nugent, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, said Monday.

As of the end of September, there were 2,061 properties for sale. That is down by 40.7 per cent from the 3,478 properties on the market last September.

“This continuing lack of inventory holds up sales,” Nugent said.

The benchmark price for a single-family house in Greater Victoria’s core came in at $745,700 in September, up by 22.8 per cent from $607,100 in the same month last year. However, last month’s benchmark was down slightly from $746,900 in August.

September saw 781 properties change hands, down by 11.5 per cent from 883 in August.

Even so, September sales climbed by 10 per cent from 709 in the same month a year ago.

Saanich East led the way last month in single-family sales at 80, followed by Langford at 60 and Victoria at 41. Victoria had the most condominium sales at 72, with Saanich East next at 35.

The total value of all sales through the board’s Multiple Listing Service was $460 million.

Economic drivers are strong, Nugent said. “The GDP [gross domestic product] is up, employment numbers are up, retail and population growth is up.”

As well, Victoria is not seeing any signs that the foreign buyer property transfer tax imposed in Vancouver has sent foreign buyers into the local market, he said.

Source: Victoria Times Colonist, Oct 4, 2016
cjwilson@timescolonist.com


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