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How Real Estate Agents Keep Cities Segregated – Jacobin magazine

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How Real Estate Agents Keep Cities Segregated

Max Besbris

Under capitalism, housing is a commodity, which means it principally exists to make rich people richer rather than meet human needs. That gap between making money and making profit distorts a whole range of life outcomes for average people — and real estate agents play a critical role in that process.

Real estate agents often convince the wealthy that certain neighborhoods with high housing prices are worth the cost, and tend to steer white homebuyers to white neighborhoods and homebuyers of color to nonwhite neighborhoods, further entrenching neighborhood race and class divides. (Unsplash)

Interview by
Karen Narefsky

Although the 2008 recession was triggered by the collapse of a speculative housing bubble, the housing market in New York City was back to business in record time. During the 2010s, luxury construction and condo sales soared and rents reached an all-time high. At the same time, predatory equity companies scooped up rent-stabilized buildings and pushed out working-class tenants, sparking a pushback that led to the historic rent law reforms of 2019. Now, as we enter an even more devastating recession prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, the consequences of neighborhood inequality are on stark display.

From 2012 to 2015, at the start of the real estate market’s resurgence, sociologist Max Besbris shadowed real estate agents in New York State. His recent book Upsold: Real Estate Agents, Prices, and Neighborhood Inequality examines the ways agents use identity and emotion to ensure buyers pay top dollar for their homes — and how this accelerates the segregation of New York’s neighborhoods by class and race.


KN

What motivated you to write Upsold?

MB

When I began my research, I was really influenced by two things. One is the consistent finding in sociology and economics that where you live determines a great deal about your life. It affects your health, the quality of your children’s education, your access to consumer and labor markets, your exposure to violence, your family’s wealth, and your overall chances for economic mobility.

The second issue that really shaped my thinking goes back to Engels and The Housing Question. He argued almost 150 years ago that as long as housing was a commodity, society would never be able to adequately provide it for everyone and that the housing market would remain a key site of exploitation.

With these things in mind, I decided to study real estate agents. Real estate agents are central actors in helping people find a place to live. They handle over 90 percent of residential real estate transactions in the United States. So they seemed like the right lens through which to understand residential mobility and neighborhood inequality, as well as the inherent tensions that are present when something so central to living a good life — housing — is commodified.

I had the added benefit of examining real estate agents at a time when housing prices in New York and many other cities across the United States were spiking. I was curious about what role agents played in driving prices back up so quickly after the Great Recession had exposed the housing market as a site of extreme speculation, financialization, and economic exploitation.

KN

Housing plays a big role in shaping people’s identities. How do real estate agents both use homebuyers’ identities to guide their choices and further shape those identities throughout the process of buying a home?

MB

One obvious way is through race. Real estate agents steer white homebuyers to white neighborhoods and homebuyers of color to nonwhite neighborhoods, and I think it’s imperative to stress that this is a contemporary practice. Just last year, Newsday documented rampant racial discrimination by real estate agents on Long Island.

What’s also important, especially in highly unequal cities like New York, is class. Agents are really adept at convincing the wealthy that certain neighborhoods with high housing prices are worth the cost. They do this in some unsurprising ways, like highlighting the amenities you get when you buy a fancy apartment in a fancy neighborhood. But agents also used cues like buyers’ professions, gender, or relationship status to persuade them that a particular neighborhood was a good match.

For example, I witnessed an agent tell a buyer, who worked in tech and initially said he wanted to buy in Greenpoint, that he should instead look in Williamsburg because that’s where people like him lived. The buyer eventually spent more than he initially said he wanted to on an apartment in Williamsburg. He was upsold on Williamsburg. This reified both his identity as the type of person who lives in Williamsburg and Williamsburg’s identity as an expensive neighborhood that could command higher prices than neighboring Greenpoint.

KN

Upselling happens in many contexts — people often joke about being upsold at Starbucks — but the typical homebuyer has much less information about housing prices than they do about other goods. How does this lead to upselling and general inflation in housing prices?

MB

A lot of factors contributed to the astronomical rise in real estate prices we saw in New York City and other cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Miami, and Boston in the aftermath of the Great Recession: local factors like rezonings and tax breaks for developers, and national ones like the Fed lowering interest rates dramatically. What I found on the ground, is that real estate agents put these economic conditions to work in their interactions with buyers.

As you mentioned, buyers, even in New York City, don’t have a lot of experience in the housing market. Most people, if they ever buy a house, do it only once or twice in their lifetimes. So agents ended up being incredibly influential in many aspects of buyers’ decisions, including the prices they paid. Agents constantly reminded buyers how hot the market was and how great the current economic conditions were for buying. They would describe the Great Recession as a blip, and they’d talk about New York real estate as the perfect investment commodity that would never depreciate.

Soho, New York City.

Agents would tell buyers that the only way to secure the kind of apartment the buyer wanted was to offer more than what the buyer had said they wanted to spend. With less wealthy buyers, this upselling was sometimes overt. Agents would say to less wealthy buyers, “You need to spend a little more than you thought you would to get your dream apartment — do it now!”

With very wealthy buyers, it tended to be a little subtler. When I say “wealthy buyers,” I mean buyers who said they wanted to spend millions of dollars on housing. Agents would show wealthy buyers apartments listed at or around their stated price ceilings, but the agents would trash talk these apartments. They would disparage architectural or design elements of the building, or say the view wasn’t that great, or that the apartment was too far away from the subway. And these wealthy buyers would say, “Maybe you’re right. What else is there?” Then the agents would take these wealthy buyers to apartments listed at amounts far above the buyers’ initially stated price ceilings.

For example, one buyer had an initially stated price ceiling of $2.9 million, and his agent showed him a handful of apartments at that price. They talked mostly about the things they didn’t like about these units, and so the agent started showing him apartments listed at over $3.5 million. And at open houses for these pricier places, the agent would say, “This place is more your style, isn’t it?” and he would talk about how much better the more expensive listings were than the ones they had previously seen. And this buyer ends up making an offer on one of these more expensive apartments for $3.9 million, spending almost 35 percent more than his initially stated price ceiling.

This upselling is related to what the economist Robert Shiller calls “irrational exuberance” or extreme confidence in markets. Agents fervently believed that prices would continue to rise, and they convinced buyers of this as well. What happens in the aggregate is that real estate becomes more and more valorized and commands higher and higher prices, particularly in already high-priced neighborhoods.

To put it another way, agents are helping to sustain demand for astronomically priced housing in the fanciest parts of New York and other cities. I actually see some good evidence of this when I look at neighborhoods with more real estate agents and find that they have higher price increases over time.

KN

In the book, wealthy buyers are upsold more dramatically than less wealthy buyers — they pay up to 23 percent over their initial stated price ceiling compared to 5 percent for less wealthy buyers. How does this phenomenon compound to increase neighborhood inequality?

MB

I wasn’t interested in whether or not these wealthy buyers could actually afford to spend huge amounts of money on housing. Could the buyer I mentioned before who says he wants to spend $2.9 million and ends up offering $3.9 million afford to do it? Probably. What’s more important for understanding inequality, as you point out, is the broader effects of the upselling trend that I uncovered.

US cities are increasingly segregated by income in addition to being segregated by race, meaning that your neighbors are more likely to have similar incomes to you. This is especially true for higher-income households. Rich people like to live around other rich people.

The unequal impact of upselling that I describe in my book is key. Upselling creates positive feedback loops within local housing markets. The process pushes up prices at the higher end of the market, as those most capable of spending more do. As agents concentrate in already high-priced neighborhoods and then upsell wealthier buyers at higher rates compared to the rates of upselling in lower-priced markets, they contribute to rising prices and concentrate wealthy people who can afford more expensive housing in areas with high pricing.

In the aggregate, interactions between agents and buyers affect demand for houses, which in turn affects housing costs, asset inequality, and residential segregation.

When we think about neighborhood inequality, we should absolutely pay attention to housing prices. Not only do these prices matter for the intergenerational transmission of wealth, housing prices are highly correlated with the quality and robustness of local institutions and amenities. Property taxes — assessed through home value — are an important source of funding for municipal services. Neighborhoods with higher real estate prices tend to have better schools, more community organizations, and get relatively more attention and investment from local and state governments. Housing prices are also clearly linked to racial and ethnic residential segregation, which seems to be increasing in cities with rapidly rising housing prices.

This is all to say that upselling, by sustaining demand in already advantaged neighborhoods, hardens socio-spatial inequality and keeps resources in high-priced neighborhoods.

KN

You sat in on real estate agents’ training on fair housing law. In these trainings, agents treated racism in the housing market as a problem of individual bad actors, rather than a systemic problem. What’s wrong with this understanding?

MB

When we continue to locate racism in the minds of bad actors as opposed to describing it as a feature of the market itself, our solutions will almost certainly be ineffective. This isn’t a new point, but I think the housing market is a place where we can readily see that the policies attempting to eliminate discrimination and encourage integration are woefully inadequate.

What struck me when I sat in on fair housing classes at real estate licensing schools was the abdication of responsibility. Instructors told would-be real estate agents not to discriminate, meaning, don’t let the client’s race dictate where you show them homes. Obviously, this kind of training doesn’t work — racial steering is alive and well — but I think it’s reflective of a broader faith in the market as an equalizer. If you just give people as much choice as possible in the market, then things will work out, segregation will dissipate, and neighborhood inequality will be reduced.

Nob Hill, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Francisco. (Unsplash)

This way of thinking is myopic and dumb. A market where racial inequality is so entrenched offers huge incentives to market actors to further that inequality.

Two things that came through in my interviews with real estate agents really highlight this. First, agents were extremely reticent to show homebuyers of color apartments or houses in white buildings or neighborhoods. This is because they wanted to maintain their reputations in these communities in order to generate referrals, and they feared that showing houses to buyers who didn’t “fit in” with the buildings’ or neighborhoods’ current demographics might upset current residents. The current residents would then not want to do business with the agent who disrupted the “feel” or “vibe” of the building or neighborhood. I’m putting these words in quotes, because agents mostly talked about race in these coded ways (though I would highly recommend the sociologist Elizabeth Korver-Glenn’s research on agents’ overtly racist attitudes).

Second, agents sought to do business in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods because that’s where commissions were higher. And what I think both of these facts demonstrate is that agents have clear economic incentives to discriminate or at least not work to change any of the existing racial dynamics of the market. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s book Race for Profit shows so well, segregation is profitable for the real estate industry, including real estate agents.

This was also made very clear by the training agents received. There was never any instruction on how to affirmatively further fair housing, and there was no instruction on what segregation is or why it is harmful. The classes on fair housing that I sat in on were a farce. Fair housing constitutes less than 5 percent of the curriculum of the New York state-mandated courses needed to become a licensed real estate salesperson, and there is little oversight in how these courses are taught. In the classes I attended, time was taken by instructors making flippant jokes about discrimination, debating with students about whether or not different ethnic and religious groups constituted a racial category, and what kinds of people were more or less racist. Instructors told students that all they needed to know for the licensing exam was the date of the passage of the Fair Housing Act and that they should remember what categories of individuals are protected by current law.

KN

What policies or programs do you think could best address the systemic nature of racism in the housing market?

MB

This is a big question, and part of me wants to answer by simply saying we should decommodify housing. But there are some regulatory fixes and some more radical market interventions that I think could have an impact.

On the less transformative side is more regulation of real estate agents and more stringent training requirements. In New York State, it only takes seventy-five hours of required classroom time and passing an exam to get a license. Agents are incredibly important in determining housing outcomes, and it’s more than reasonable to expect them to have more training on existing inequalities in the market, not only in terms of hours but also better content in licensing classes. These classes could be spent more thoroughly educating potential licensees not just about the history of institutional housing discrimination by real estate agents and government entities, but also the consequences of those racist practices that we still live with today. Specifically, the curriculum should include information on segregation — what it is and how it perpetuates inequality.

An additional regulatory fix that would go hand in hand with better training is more field testing of discrimination. Fair housing groups, researchers, and occasionally government agencies conduct fair housing audits like the one performed by Newsday. These audits send out testers with the same financial profiles but different race/ethnicities to the same real estate agents over time to see if agents treat people differently depending on their race. More funding for regular audits conducted by fair housing groups or state agencies would better identify areas where discrimination is more or less prevalent. We would then know where more training and other educational initiatives are warranted.

Ultimately, however, we need to remove the profit motive from the act of brokering housing transactions. One step toward that goal could be to eliminate the current commission structure. It’s standard practice for agents to charge 6 percent of the price of a house, which gets split between the listing agent and the buyer’s agent, as their fee. Mandating flat-fee brokerage would change agents’ interests, though they’d still be incentivized to close as many deals as possible. More effective would be for municipalities to fund alternative ways of finding a house. Housing counselors and publicly operated housing service organizations would better foster integration. Past research has shown that movers who use housing counselors during their search find better quality housing in less segregated neighborhoods and tend to stay in their new homes for longer. And other work has shown that communities can remain racially integrated when local housing organizations provide information on available housing for searchers.

What is clear now is that the market, as is, will continue to incentivize agents to produce racially unequal outcomes.

KN

You talk about the need to decouple people’s financial interests from the location of their home as a way to address inequality. What do you think this would look like?

MB

Recent tangible victories around housing justice in New York State are encouraging, as is the trend of local politicians in various cities refusing contributions from the real estate industry. (I live in NY State Assembly District 57, where Phara Souffrant Forrest, a nurse and tenant organizer, was elected on November 3, along with Zohran Mamdani, a housing counselor running in Assembly District 36.) More and more people are organizing around housing as a right and such organizing will spur further policy proposals about how to best remove exploitation from the housing market.

On the Left, I’ve seen a lot of interest in reproducing Red Vienna’s public housing policies as well as council housing policies from the mid-twentieth century in the UK. Additionally, the community land trust movement — which seeks to socialize ownership over land — seems to be growing. I’m all for building more public housing, particularly in the framework of the Green New Deal, as well as establishing more community land trusts as a means to insulate individuals and communities from the ravages of the private housing market. To strengthen moves toward more socialized housing, however, we will also need to link housing more directly to issues of taxation and social insurance.

Most Americans have their wealth (if they have any wealth) tied up in their homes. This is because the overall retrenchment of the state from providing traditional forms of welfare has increased reliance on homeownership for financial stability, particularly after retirement. So to decouple financial interests from housing requires more robust forms of social insurance like universal, high-quality retirement benefits.

It also means eliminating the ways current housing tax law upwardly redistributes wealth. The home mortgage interest deduction, which allows homeowners to deduct the yearly interest on their mortgage from their tax bill, incentivizes homebuyers to take on more mortgage debt and pay more for houses. Though some adjustments were made in the Republican tax bill of 2017, the deduction still largely rewards people who have higher incomes and can therefore take on bigger mortgages. It’s extremely regressive and likely inflates housing prices, making homeownership harder for those with lower incomes. Thankfully, there’s some growing consensus that the mortgage interest deduction needs to be abolished entirely.

Overall, we need to keep defining housing as a right and think strategically about how to better integrate housing with other redistributive policies that enjoy high popularity.

KN

Your research was conducted as the housing market in New York City was climbing out of the recession. Now we’re in a crisis that is further intensifying inequality in the housing market. What effect do you think COVID-19 and the current economic depression will have? Will it be different than that of the 2008 recession?

MB

What is almost assured is that the effects will be spatially unequal and already disadvantaged places will suffer more. In the depths of the Great Recession, foreclosures not only robbed millions of homeowners of a place to live, they also led to the consolidation of rental housing stock formerly owned by mom-and-pop landlords who could not afford their mortgages to more predatory institutional landlords. I think we’ll see similar trends over the next few years.

And while the substantial drop in the number of housing sales and prices in some of the wealthiest parts of Manhattan have received a lot of media attention, it seems as if demand has sustained in other wealthy parts of Brooklyn. This is to say, I don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic will make housing more affordable — the cooling-off of the extremely high-end of the market was happening before the pandemic. If anything, like past crises, it is likely to make things worse.

I’m unsure what the pandemic does to the real estate industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people in NYC. During the Great Recession, there were huge drops in the number of active real estate salespeople and brokers. While I think there may be some reductions as unemployment remains high overall, the industry might be somewhat sustained as buyers seek out deals, and we keep seeing plenty of glamorous portrayals of real estate brokerage on TV. (I, admittedly, watched a ton of Selling Sunset during quarantine.)

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How should your clients own real estate properties? – Advisor.ca

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Principal residence

Under the Canadian tax rules, capital gains realized on the sale of a principal residence are generally exempt from tax if the taxpayer qualifies for the principal residence exemption (PRE). The PRE can only be claimed by individuals and certain trusts (such as alter-ego, joint spousal, and qualified disability trusts) under specific conditions.

Given the costs involved in setting up and maintaining a trust, your clients may prefer personal ownership. However, in some cases, the costs are warranted due to the estate planning benefits of using a trust. For example, if your client wants to leave their property to a disabled child, a trust can be beneficial to ensure that the property is transferred to specific family members when the disabled child dies. Similarly, a trust can be useful in a blended family situation to control how, when and to whom the property is distributed after the surviving spouse dies.

A corporation can’t access the PRE, so any capital gains realized on the sale of the principal residence would be taxable to the corporation at high income tax rates (e.g., 50.17% in Ontario for 2020). In addition, personal use of a corporately owned property by the shareholder would be considered a taxable benefit to the shareholder. This could result in double taxation, as the taxable benefit included on the shareholder’s personal tax return is not deductible to the corporation and there is no step-up to the cost base of the property owned by the corporation. For these reasons, owning a principal residence through a corporation is usually the least tax-efficient approach.

Rental property

Personal ownership

If your client personally owns a rental property, the net rental income would be added to your client’s net income for the year and taxed at their marginal tax rates. In addition, net rental income is also considered “earned income” for the purposes of calculating RRSP contribution room. If your clients are not currently generating the maximum RRSP contribution room through other sources of “earned income,” the added income could be a benefit of owning rental property personally.

If rental expenses are greater than the net rental income in a year due to rental vacancies, the net rental loss may also be deductible against your client’s other sources of income. The deduction would provide tax savings and reduce the cost of maintaining a rental property during a poor rental market. This is generally allowed for real estate operations that are predominantly commercial in nature as opposed to personal or recreational. If the Canada Revenue Agency determines that your client is not primarily carrying on the rental operations to make a profit, then rental expenses either may not be deductible or the deduction may be limited to the extent of rental income generated from the property.

In terms of broader non-tax considerations, personally owned rental property is subject to creditor and spousal claims against your client. If this is a concern, personal ownership of the rental property may not be ideal.

Corporate ownership

If the corporation is not carrying on an active real estate business, any rental income earned inside a corporation is considered passive income and would generally be subject to high income tax rates (e.g., 50.17% in Ontario for 2020). This flat tax rate applies to every dollar of rental income earned inside the corporation and may be much higher than the graduated tax rates your client would have paid when earning the rental income personally. As such, your client may have lower after-tax dollars to reinvest and grow their investments in the corporation.

Passive rental income earned inside a corporation may affect your client’s access to the small business tax rate if their corporation is an active (non-real estate) business. In some situations, your client may decide to own real estate property used in a business through a corporation separate from the active business corporation. This can allow your client to use different ownership structures in each corporation to maximize income-splitting and tax-planning opportunities.

Unlike with personal ownership, net rental losses earned inside the corporation can’t be used to offset other sources of income by the shareholders. As a corporation is a separate entity for tax purposes, these losses are locked inside the corporation and can only be used by the corporation.

Despite the unfavourable tax consequences, a corporation provides some non-tax advantages. For example, a corporation will generally protect your client’s personal assets in the case of any lawsuits or creditor claims against the corporation. In Ontario and B.C., a corporation may allow your client to avoid probate fees or estate administration taxes on the rental property through the use of a secondary will.

However, using a corporation involves annual accounting and tax filing costs which may be greater than the one-time probate fees on the rental property.

Trust ownership

Your client may consider owning rental property through a trust. There are various types of trusts available and each has unique requirements and tax implications.

Unless certain income attribution rules apply, rental income earned inside a trust would generally be subject to the highest marginal tax rate (e.g., 53.53% in Ontario for 2020), and rental losses realized in a trust can’t be allocated to trust beneficiaries and must be used by the trust itself. In most situations, the rental income may be allocated and distributed to a trust beneficiary so that it is taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal tax rates.

A trust is commonly used as an estate planning tool to minimize probate fees because the rental property owned by the trust would not fall into your client’s estate when they die. A trust can also provide protection against creditors and spousal claims. Similar to the option of a corporate ownership, your client should consider the costs involved in setting up and maintaining a trust to determine whether the potential benefits outweigh the costs.

Conclusion

There are various options available when deciding on the ownership of real estate property. It is important for your clients to understand the options available and obtain professional advice to determine which option works best for them.

Vivek Bansal, CPA, CA, is director of tax and estate planning at Mackenzie Investments. He can be reached at vibansal@mackenzieinvestments.com.

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Etobicoke real estate broker combines new office with café amid pandemic – Toronto.com

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Etobicoke real estate broker combines new office with café amid pandemic  Toronto.com



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Winnipeg real estate agent barred after selling First Nations' property below market value to family members – CBC.ca

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A Winnipeg real estate agent who sold properties for three First Nations in Manitoba has been temporarily barred from the profession, after a disciplinary case found she sold her clients’ properties to companies controlled by members of her own family at prices below fair market value.

Sarah Pao was disciplined by the Manitoba Securities Commission over the sale of properties owned by Long Plain First Nation, Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, and Birdtail Sioux First Nation. 

Pao has been barred from the real estate profession for 10 years and has to pay $20,000 in costs, under a Nov. 17 order by the commission. 

The settlement agreement with the commission says that many of the properties bought by numbered companies owned and operated by Pao’s immediate family were later “resold for significantly higher prices.” She also acted as agent in reselling the properties and collected more commissions.

She did not disclose to the First Nations that the numbered companies purchasing the properties were owned and operated by her immediate family members, the settlement says.

Nor did she disclose that “she herself had a financial interest as a covenantor [a person who is liable for repayment of a mortgage loan and mortgage obligations] on the mortgages of the purchasing numbered companies,” it says.

She did not list the properties for sale on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) when being sold by the First Nations, “and in general did almost nothing to market the properties for her First Nations clients or to advise them of their fair market value,” the settlement says.

Long Plain First Nation’s housing authority filed a lawsuit in 2016 in connection with the real estate transactions against Pao, her employing broker — Coldwell Banker Preferred Real Estate — and other defendants.

“We are quite pleased with the decision of the Manitoba Securities Commission,” Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches told CBC News. “This decision really sheds light on … our reasoning for filing this claim some years back.”

The Securities Commission regulates real estate salespeople in Manitoba under the Real Estate Brokers Act. Pao was first registered in 2010, but her registration was suspended in 2016. 

42 properties sold

The case against Pao involved the sale of 42 properties located in Brandon, Winnipeg, Virden, and Portage la Prairie in 2013 and 2014.

The three First Nations paid Pao a total of $202,594 in commissions as their agent, the settlement says.

It says the First Nations had recently acquired the properties “for nominal fees as a result of a federal government program.”

“Each of the First Nations had an immediate need for money and was looking to the sale of the properties for funds needed,” the settlement says. “Sarah Pao was aware of the First Nations’ financial distress and their immediate need for money from sale proceeds.”

Three properties in Virden, in southwestern Manitoba, were sold by Long Plain in 2013 and purchased by a company with directors who are family members of Pao. She was not acting as a sales agent for those three properties but she was involved with the mortgage, the settlement says.

It says the purchase prices were 66 per cent of the appraised values.

Pao later acted as salesperson for Long Plain on nine other properties located in Brandon and Winnipeg. Those properties were also sold to companies with directors who were family members of Pao, and at prices far below appraised values, the settlement says.

At one point, the Brandon land titles office questioned the fair market values stated in the transfers for three properties “as being too low,” the settlement says. Pao’s relative involved in the purchase signed a new document restating the market values to match the assessed values. 

Pao acted as agent for both the buyer and seller for some of the Long Plain properties, and she was paid commissions totalling $39,600.

Property assessed at $181K sold for $99K

For Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, in 2013 and 2014 Pao acted as agent for the sale of 20 properties that were all purchased by a numbered company incorporated by a relative, the settlement says.

In each case, there were no other offers to purchase presented and the properties were not listed on MLS, the document says.

It shows that, for example, one Sandy Bay property on Pritchard Avenue in Winnipeg had an assessed value of $181,000 but it was sold for $99,000 in 2013. The following year it was resold for $214,900.

The purchase prices on the Sandy Bay properties were well below the assessed values, and in several cases, the Brandon land titles office rejected the land transfer documents because “the sworn fair market values were too low,” the settlement says. Subsequently, a new document was filed at the land titles office with revised figures matching the assessed values.

Sandy Bay paid a total of $96,444 in commissions to Pao, who in some cases acted as agent for both seller and buyer, the settlement says. In some cases there were no listing agreements for the properties.

Pao acted as agent in the sale of 10 properties for Birdtail Sioux First Nation in 2013 and 2014 — all purchased by a numbered company controlled by Pao’s relative.

As with the other two First Nations, the settlement says the purchase prices were well below appraised values, and again, the land titles office questioned those prices. 

The Birdtail Sioux commissions paid to Pao totalled $66,550.

She was also a covenantor on the purchaser’s mortgage in each case, the settlement says.

Pao’s lawyer, Richard Buchwald, told CBC News his client declines to comment on the settlement.

Coldwell Banker, her employing broker at the time, also declined to comment. 

Defence denies properties sold below fair value

The settlement says Pao acknowledges she committed faults under the Real Estate Brokers Act, such as failing to complete listing agreements for some properties, failing to disclose her relationship to immediate family members indirectly buying an interest in properties, and failing to have offers to purchase completed properly.

The property sales led Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation to file a lawsuit in October 2019 against Pao and other defendants, including members of her family who were involved, as well as Coldwell Banker.

Pao’s defence to that lawsuit says she was retained by Sandy Bay for the “specific purpose of selling the properties in bulk transactions as quickly as possible.”

Her defence statement alleges the client, Sandy Bay, was aware the properties involved were in “deteriorated condition” and a “state of disrepair,” meaning potential purchase prices would be lower, and the market for them would be limited to buyers who could renovate them for resale.

Pao’s defence also alleges she and her co-defendants discussed with Sandy Bay the idea of listing the properties on MLS, but her client wanted to proceed instead with the sale of the properties in bulk transactions without the listings.

It also denies the properties were sold at lower than fair values, and says Sandy Bay received advice from independent legal counsel on the sale prices of the properties.

Both the 2016 Long Plains lawsuit and the Sandy Bay lawsuit are still before the courts.

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