Kyle Burton thought he had found a Toronto unicorn – a retail space with relatively affordable rent.
Mr. Burton, the owner of vintage shop Second Voyage, has been looking to move to a location with better foot traffic for some time. But after recently touring a property in the popular Leslieville neighbourhood, he discovered that the property taxes would be as high as the rent. It’s a common problem.
“The rent will often be reasonable, and then it’s the property tax that will discourage me,” he said.
In cities across the country, small businesses are urging relief on their property-tax bills, which are growing substantially in red-hot real estate markets. While cities such as Toronto and Ottawa are lowering bills for small businesses and raising them for bigger enterprises, other municipalities say they are unwilling to engage in tradeoffs or are being stymied by provincial rules.
Entrepreneurs who own their own buildings pay property taxes directly. But commercial landlords often pass on costs such as property taxes to tenants, depending on the terms of the lease.
Business owners and advocates stress that high property taxes make launching and running a small business in Canada more costly than in other jurisdictions. That’s especially true for street-front retailers, for whom location is key to gaining customers. Even before the pandemic, Canadian municipalities had one of the highest commercial property tax rates in the developed world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Municipal and provincial leaders have tried to provide some relief but are challenged by the complicated, cross-jurisdictional nature of property-assessment rules.
Take British Columbia, for example, where the pandemic threw fuel on an already blazing real estate market.
Chris Brayshaw, the owner of Pulpfiction Books, which has three locations in Vancouver, said the year-to-year changes in his property-tax bills have been a source of continuing uncertainty.
“Sometimes it’s, ‘You owe us another $1,000.’ Okay, not a problem,” Mr. Brayshaw said. “One year it was, like, ‘You owe us almost $10,000.’”
One property-tax increase he received five or six years ago was so large he was unable to sleep through the night for months, he said. While the business ultimately did well enough to absorb the cost, the stress was so great it affected his health – a story he said is common among entrepreneurs.
And like many other business owners, he takes issue with the “highest and best use” approach that provincial agencies, such as the one in B.C., use to assess property values. It assesses commercial properties based on what development of maximum value could be put there – a condo tower, for example – instead of what is actually there. Small-business advocates have instead argued for a “split tax” system, which assesses values based on the buildings currently on the property.
B.C. is one jurisdiction that has been trying to address those concerns. In March, 2020, the provincial government introduced the Interim Business Property Tax Relief program to lower the assessed values of commercial properties. But taking part was optional for municipalities, and so far none have.
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councillor, says the main reason for the lack of uptake is that the program is too administratively complex for municipalities. She said B.C.’s provincial assessment agency should instead include the “split tax” approach as part of its regular assessments.
She added that political will among B.C. municipalities is gathering steam now that Vancouver’s high real estate prices have spread across the province.
“I think with the recent assessments coming out, you’re seeing huge increases across the province in some of those other municipalities,” Ms. Kirby-Yung said. “That perhaps might provide an opportunity for the government to look at this as something that’s starting to have a more sustained impact provincewide.”
The B.C. government and municipalities are now working on a long-term property-tax review to address the high costs of commercial tenants, but a provincial spokesman could not say when it will be completed.
Similar municipal-provincial tension has played out in Ontario over the past 18 months. In November, 2020, the Ontario government announced it would lower how much businesses had to contribute to education funding. And the province introduced legislation to allow cities to create preferential tax rates for small businesses.
Over the course of 2021, city councils debated the tax measure – and most rejected it. Only Toronto and Ottawa signed on.
As in B.C., many Ontario municipalities were concerned about the administrative work involved. But a larger concern was that, in order to keep overall revenue stable, a city that reduced tax rates for small businesses would have to make up the revenue by hiking rates for someone else.
“Frankly, there is no secret pot of money to support small businesses with, and all we would end up doing is shifting the tax burden from one group of taxpayers to another,” London, Ont., deputy mayor Josh Morgan said at a committee meeting last summer.
For Toronto and Ottawa, that wasn’t a problem: They lowered taxes for small commercial properties and raised them for larger ones.
In Toronto, small businesses saw their property taxes drop 15 per cent, while all other commercial properties had their rate increased 0.85 per cent. City staff estimated small businesses would collectively save $26.9-million.
One challenge in Ontario is how to define a small business. In most settings, it is defined by the number of employees or the amount of annual revenue. But when defining a small business through the property-tax system – as Ottawa and Toronto do – you can only use categories such as lot size, property value or geographical area, which means some small enterprises could slip through the cracks.
“Most of the beneficiaries will be small businesses, indirectly,” said Brian Kelcey, a municipal consultant who has worked in Winnipeg and Toronto. “But there will be some large businesses that benefit, too. And then, indirectly, there will be some small businesses that, because of the tax shift, are penalized and pay more just to try to make the model work.”
Mr. Kelcey said the amount of work required by cities to deliver relatively small tax breaks for some properties – and hikes for others – speaks to the need for larger reforms in property tax systems, which vary from province to province. Changes could include larger transfers of funds from other levels of government or more revenue from sales taxes, so municipalities are less reliant on property-tax revenue.
“As long as the solution to a property tax problem is about shifting the burden around, you’re going to lose politically, you’re going to lose economically and you’re going to lose administratively,” he said.
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Real estate: 27 per cent of homeowners accessed credit, survey finds – CTV News
A new survey exposes balance sheet vulnerabilities for some Canadian homeowners amidst rising interest rates.
Released by BNN Bloomberg and RATESDOTCA, the survey found that 27 per cent of homeowners who participated have accessed a home equity line of credit (HELOC). Almost 80 per cent of those participants have used it, and half of them said they have done so in the last two years.
Aside from the pressure of increased interest rates, HELOCs are complicated by new real estate loan guidelines announced by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions on Tuesday. In late 2023, borrowers will be required to pay principal and interest on combined loans above 65 per cent of the property value.
Prior to these guidelines, HELOCs were an ideal way for homeowners to tap into their home equity during the prior decade’s low interest rates and high home prices, but the survey findings suggest that the Bank of Canada’s recent interest rate increases might have changed the way older Canadians leverage their home value. With HELOCs being based on variable-rate interest, borrowers will be hooked to higher payments.
Since HELOC lenders are able to demand full payment at any time, this can raise concerns for consumers who have not set aside extra money to pay down their HELOC amidst the pressure of rising interest rates.
According to the survey, 58 per cent of respondents said they have an outstanding balance on their HELOC.
Although the majority said they borrowed less than $50,000, 10 per cent said they borrowed more than $100,000. Balances of at least $50,000 were more common for Canadians aged 55 and older.
Of the 1,507 Canadians surveyed, 65 per cent said they were homeowners.
With files from BNN Bloomberg and RATESDOTCA
In Ontario, real estate buyers are holding out for a price cut – The Globe and Mail
The stalemate that is taking hold in the Ontario real estate market right now arises from a belief that is becoming more entrenched each month: buyers reckon prices have farther to fall.
House hunters see properties in some areas selling at 15 per cent or so below the high-water mark set in the first quarter and decide to hold off for an even steeper discount. Sellers either refuse to budge or feel the landscape shifting under them and rush to complete a transaction before more ground crumbles away.
The war in Ukraine, stubborn inflation and the rise in interest rates have precipitated a much more tumultuous real estate market than industry watchers were predicting even a few months ago, according to John Lusink, president of Right at Home Realty.
Mr. Lusink says sales for June are set to come in about 26-per-cent below even his conservative projections at the start of the year, continuing a trend that has been on a downward slope since February.
“We can throw that forecast out the window,” he says of his projections for 2022.
The landscape is the same across the Right at Home network, which spans 12 regions of Ontario.
The number of listings, meanwhile, is gradually increasing after a slow spring, he adds.
Mr. Lusink expects the final tally for Right at Home’s sales in June to show a 37-per-cent drop from the same month last year.
“It’s, needless to say, concerning.”
Rishi Sondhi, economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, points out that sales and prices have fallen disproportionately in Ontario and British Columbia, where prices climbed the most during the pandemic. The retrenchment in activity is especially hard in the Greater Toronto Area, where investors have played a particularly large role in the past year.
The downturn is part of a worsening picture across Canada, as sales and prices continued to decline in May under the weight of higher interest rates, Mr. Sondhi points out. Some sales were likely pulled forward to late 2021 and early 2022 as people braced for higher rates, he adds.
The economist says some GTA buyers also likely purchased new homes before selling existing properties, expecting the market would remain hot, he adds. Those sellers may be forced to accept lower prices now in order to complete the new deal, but he expects that dynamic to run its course before too long.
Mr. Sondhi is forecasting a continuing decline in prices throughout the rest of the year as a reflection of sharply higher interest rates.
Alongside the buyers betting that prices will slide, Mr. Lusink says, stands another cohort ready to buy – but the task has become much harder with the rise in rates. One buyer Mr. Lusink spoke with recently had obtained a fixed-rate mortgage at 4.3 per cent, which is almost double the rates buyers were able to lock in just a couple of years ago.
The mortgage “stress test” requires borrowers to show they can handle mortgage rates approaching seven per cent and above, he points out.
A recent survey commissioned by Right at Home also shows a shift in attitudes: Only 19 per cent of potential first-time homebuyers in Ontario plan to buy in the next two to three years, compared with 30 per cent who planned to buy in 2021, according to the study.
The percentage of homeowners planning to sell who are doing so to take advantage of current market conditions increased to 23 per cent this year from 11 per cent last year, the data shows.
The Maru Public Opinion Survey polled 813 Ontario adults in May and has an estimated margin of error of plus or minus three per cent 19 times out of 20.
In Burlington, Ont., real estate agent Tanya Rocca is already seeing homeowners preparing properties for sale before the fall market arrives.
“It’s very busy right now,” says the agent with Royal LePage Burloak Real Estate Services. “People are panicked.”
Ms. Rocca says prices in the area which have dropped between 12 and 15 per cent from the February peak.
The average price of a freehold property dropped to $1.431-million in May in Burlington, she says, compared with the $1.51-million buyers were paying in April and the $1.6-million in February and March.
The affluent city, which sits on Lake Ontario west of Toronto, was one of the many communities that saw a large influx of buyers during the pandemic as people sought more space. Burlington’s historic downtown core and large selection of detached houses with pool-sized lots have made it very popular with families.
Ms. Rocca says many buyers didn’t even have a chance at a house in the midst of ferocious bidding wars; now people have their choice of properties.
Some current sellers have been caught in the market transition, Ms. Rocca adds, because they bought a new property before selling an existing one.
“Buyers, in fairness, are getting the power back – which they love,” she says. “There are great opportunities out there because people need to sell.”
Ms. Rocca was shocked at some homeowners earlier this spring who were disappointed on offer night when they received bids that came in $300,000 or $400,000 above the asking price.
“People were debating whether they should take it.”
She recalls one pair of homeowners with a home backing onto a golf course who listed their property with an asking price of $2.5-million. The sellers were disappointed they didn’t receive a hefty amount above asking.
“They got their asking price literally the week things started to shift,” Ms. Rocca says. “They were so close to not taking it.”
As the summer begins, it’s not uncommon to see listings sitting with 30 to 50 days on market, she adds.
In the current environment, Ms. Rocca recommends setting a price near the realistic market value. She often “sharpens” it a little bit to make it more attractive compared with other competing properties in the area.
To help homeowners come to terms with the new reality, she stresses that first-quarter prices were the result of an overheated market – not an accurate reflection of value.
“This is not money they’ve lost – they never had it.”
Ms. Rocca says some people who purchased properties in Burlington at the beginning of the pandemic are now being called back to offices in Toronto. With more cars on the road and the price of gas skyrocketing, many are reluctant to commute.
“People were making such rash decisions during COVID,” she says, adding that some of those folks are now selling and moving back to the GTA.
With such an extended run-up in real estate prices while rates were low for years, the market in Ontario saw a few blips but no real correction, she points out. A move to restore balance is healthy, in her opinion.
“I think we’re going through a cycle right now which is very much needed.”
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OSFI makes real estate loan changes aimed at reducing lender risk – Investment Executive
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- By: IE Staff
- June 27, 2022
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