Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The impact of BC’s foreign tax

There are a lot of unknowns regarding BC’s decision to tax foreign home buyers, a requirement that took effect this week.  The impact on the market was immediate. Real estate agencies, mortgage brokers, lawyers and notaries scrambled, during the week leading up to and including the holiday weekend, to close the sale of hundreds of homes leaving many home buyers frazzled before the August 2 deadline. In fact, it was so busy, the land registry system crash, forcing registration to be done manually.

Provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled the 15% tax levy on Monday, July 25, leaving less than a week for the housing market to react. The tax is part of legislation aimed at foreign ownership, which has been blamed, at least in part for low vacancy rates and high real estate prices in southern B.C.

Dan Pultr, Vice-President of TMG The Mortgage Group Vancouver said that the government may have rushed its decision to implement the tax so quickly. “Following significant public outcry, the government clearly felt it needed to do something about the housing market, however they may not have thought through the unintended consequences and strain on the systems and of a retro-active tax.”

The biggest issue for Pultr and others in the mortgage and real estate industry is that the new tax is based on the closing date and not the contract date.

Pultr agreed that something had to be done but it may not be the solution for the long-term. “Vancouver has always been an expensive area and has attracted healthy investment activity and frankly, if you have substantial income or assets, as many foreign investors have, it’s hard to say if the tax will deter them from investing.”

Moody’s, the bond credit rating agency believes the tax will likely slow down the steep house price appreciation in Vancouver that has grown over the past decade.  For example, a foreign buyer will pay $168,000 in land transfer taxes on a $1 million home in Vancouver after Aug. 2, compared to the $18,000 cost for a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

Other countries, including Hong Kong and Australia have imposed similar taxes designed to stem foreign investment in real estate.

The new tax also applies to foreign-controlled corporations that are not incorporated in Canada or in which at least one beneficiary is a foreign entity. Interestingly, the tax does not apply to commercial real estate, an area that has seen increased interest from foreign individuals and entities. The leading commercial indicator has been at an all-time high, and because a lot of commercial buildings are done as share sales, property transfer tax is avoided all together. So the tax would only be levied on a foreign-controlled company that purchases residential real estate.

However, the tax does negatively impact some home buyers.  Chris Adkins, a 12-year veteran mortgage broker for TMG The Mortgage Group in Vancouver believes the short term effect will be a psychological one.  In the long term, he doesn’t think much will change.

 “The wealthy don’t really care about the costs -- if they want to buy, they will. The real issue is supply and demand.”

Others will be unfairly penalized, he said.  “For example, those who have work permits in Canada and who pay taxes will be affected.”

He also mentions the New to Canada program available will have to change their status requirements for immigrants. “It’s a big grey area and there are a lot of unknowns. It’s almost akin to taxation without representation.”

Adkins suggested that BC might have looked at the Australia model more closely, which levies a foreign tax on homes in the higher price range.

He also does not believe this tax will have the long term effect that was intended.  “In Vancouver, demand is outweighing supply and government red tape is holding back a large number of units from the market, which increases the prices in an already high-priced market.”

Can this happen in Toronto?

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has said he is “looking very closely” at BC’s new tax, but is Toronto in the same situation as Vancouver?

According to Murtaza Haider, associate professor of real estate management at Ryerson University, the two cities are vastly different, despite both having high prices. Again, the supply and demand argument comes into play.

 “What you see in Toronto is a supply constraint. New homes are not coming in at the same pace and at the same time the demand is slightly higher… and that is also contributing to higher prices here,” he said in an interview with Macleans Magazine.

 A new Angus Reid online poll conducted last week in BC  found that most respondents support a tax on foreign buyers of Metro Vancouver homes but  doubt it will be effective  to cool  the region’s red-hot real estate market.  And despite the new tax seven out of 10 respondents believe affected buyers will manage to find loopholes allowing them to get around the new tax.

A lot of unknowns.






Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Brexit will impact you

By Dan Pultr, Vice-President, British Columbia
(With files from Gina Monaco)

All news channels, and most of the world, have become obsessed with Brexit, for good reason. In what is a now a historic moment, the majority of voters in the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union (EU) – a partnership that came into existence after the Second World War. It morphed into an economic and political union of 28 countries working as a single market, which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states.

The negative effects of this decision was immediate – markets dropped, currency values fell and trade relations have become shaky. The reason  -- uncertainty. No one knows the long term implications -- not the economists, not the leaders of the remaining countries, not even those who voted to leave.  And it may take years to find out.

What we do know, however, is with uncertainty comes changes and it could and most likely will impact Canada, specifically our housing market. Here are a few ways that Brexit may affect you:

Interest rates will remain low
The immediate impact of the post-Brexit vote on Canada's economy will be pressure to keep interest rates at historically low levels, according to BMO chief economist Douglas Porter. That's good news for consumers. The U.S. Fed, which seemed ready to hike rates in September, will likely delay that decision, for now. In Canada, economic conditions continue to support low interest rates and a delay by the US will almost certainly leave things unchanged. The Bank of Canada's latest rate announcement held the overnight rate at .05%, which is good news for variable rate mortgage and loan clients.

The Loonie
The Loonie fell fast after the vote, relative to the US dollar. In the end, it lost more than a full cent, closing at 76.93 cents US. However, on a positive note, relative to the Pound and Euro, the Canadian dollar has strengthened, as Europe grapples with the economic fall out, so if you're headed to the U.K. or Europe, chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised with the exchange rate.

Your savings
If some of your savings are in equities or mutual funds, the Brexit vote may have had a surprise negative impact on your portfolio. However, most economists don't believe another financial crisis is at hand. Historically, markets tend to overreact at first then start to reclaim some of their losses. Although Brexit is cause for concern and has created uncertainty, the long term impacts are still not known and many are saying the reaction is overstated and to hold on until the dust settles.

Foreign investment in our real estate
Canada is at a crossroads right now. On the one side, many real estate investors will be looking for alternative stable regions to invest in than the UK at the moment, and Canada may be the most attractive. That said, foreign investment in Canadian real estate has already been cause for concern in some key markets. In the short term, there will definitely be an increased demand for Canadian Real Estate from St. John’s to Victoria, to Vancouver and Toronto. The key development will be how foreign investment in real estate is handled by policy makers.

While Brexit has created uncertainty in a dramatic way, there is an upside. If you're searching for a new home, you’ll continue to enjoy record low interest rates and your home may be worth more than ever before. If you’re looking to refinance to pay off debt or lower your borrowing costs, increased property values and low interest rates help home owners unlock some of that equity they’ve built up as property values continue to rise and the most advantageous terms.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Diving deep into the housing market

Recently, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he would "deep dive" into Canada's housing market to find out what’s really affecting record-high prices, arguing that if the government is going to make any changes, then it should be evidence-based. So let’s look at some of the “evidence”.

Interestingly, Morneau divides the housing market into four parts. The stable market, which is a significant portion and includes Montreal and Ottawa; the strong part, which includes the Toronto region where housing factors are moving quickly; the "very strong part", which is Vancouver and nearby areas; and the areas that are not doing so well because of the downturn in the oil industry. Then there is, of course, the foreign investment factor.

Overview of current housing market

The state of the Canadian economy has changed, and so too has the housing market. A look at the Statistics Canada website shows some interesting numbers: As of May, the unemployment rate is down; retail sales are up slightly; manufacturing sales are up slightly; and average weekly earnings are up, slightly. These are all good indicators that the economy is growing – but not as robust as it grew prior to the 2008 recession, but growing nonetheless.

In Mortgage Professionals Canada (MPC) Spring Report, Looking for Balance in the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Markets, it found that the number of adults with jobs is lower now that before the recession. So what accounts for the hot housing markets in parts of Canada? The real difference is now we have low interest rates, which have fuelled the housing market, and indeed, has kept the Canadian economy humming along for quite some time. We also have some indication that foreign investment is adding fuel, as well as a lack of supply.

If we take all the factors above and match them to the four parts of the housing market that Morneau mentioned we find the following:


  • In Toronto and Vancouver there is higher population growth. The labour markets are better there and there is much lower unemployment but there are housing supply issues.
  •  In the stable areas of the country there is balance in the labour market and adequate housing supply and demand.
  •  In the areas impacted by the oil industry, lower rates are not effective because there are issues with unemployment. 

Because the housing market has been under-supplied for a long time (this is a major factor that has fueled prices in both Vancouver and Toronto – lack of supply for single family homes) the result has been a long period of rapid price growth, according to the MPC report. "The recent surge in sales has, once again, sparked a very high sales-to-new-listings ratio, and the rate of price growth has accelerated."

 Housing Bubble Revisited

It's inevitable that, along with reports of a hot housing market, a discussion of housing bubbles follows. But what, exactly, is a housing bubble? Well, it's characterized by property quickly becoming overvalued until it reaches a level that is unsustainable relative to income and other factors including employment. That rapid rise is quickly followed by property value decreasing to where homeowners owe more than the property is worth. What tends to follow is that homeowners, depending on their financial situation, will try to sell the property or will simply stop paying the mortgage, resulting in an influx of foreclosures in the market.

By that definition we could be in a bubble except for the other factors, namely, job numbers and earnings, both of which have risen in recent months. It's when unemployment rises, interest rates increase and house prices continue to rise that trouble follows. Certainly low mortgage interest rates have fuelled some of the increase in activity; however, the increased prices in the high-end markets are still skewing the average. Eventually, those high-end prices are expected to moderate and there are signs that it’s starting to happen.

Government Intervention

 As the Finance minister dives deep into the industry, Mortgage Professionals Canada (MPC) is cautioning the government against regulations that might "cool" the market. MPC said that another clampdown on mortgage lending rules in Canada could unnecessarily cause housing prices and demand to plummet – and even "bring consequent economic damage" to the country.

 "Now that the energy sector is no longer a major economic driver, a healthy housing sector is even more essential," Will Dunning, chief economist with Mortgage Professionals Canada, said in a statement.

 Morneau announced that Ottawa was forming a working group with provincial representatives from Ontario and B.C., as well as municipal officials from Vancouver and Toronto, to study Canada's booming housing market and would evaluate whether further steps are needed to protect borrowers and lenders to help maintain a stable housing market.

Since 2008, Canada has tightened mortgage regulations five times, shortening the length of loans and hiking minimum down payment rules.

Mortgage Professionals Canada sees no substantial evidence of a widespread increase in risk taking by borrowers or lenders for these reasons:


  • Data from the Canadian Bankers Association shows a very low rate of mortgage arrears, just 0.28% or one per 354 mortgages
  • Survey data continues to show that Canadians are highly motivated to pay off their mortgages as quickly as possible 
  • At current very low interest rates, regular mortgage payments result in accelerated pay down of mortgage principal. At a current typical interest rate of 2.5%, 2.9% of the principal is repaid in the first year. 


 Bottom Line 

A home is a long term investment and its value will fluctuate up and down over the course of your tenure in it. The housing market right now is at a precipice – when high prices and lack of supply deter home buyers and potential home sellers wait out the market, then we’ll start to see moderating prices, as economists have been predicting for the last few years. One thing we know for sure is that low interest rates are here to stay for at least another year, which will be a boon when the market becomes more robust and affordable.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Brexit Vote

Written by Mark Kerzner, President, TMG The Mortgage Group

For the last few weeks we have been seeing flashes of news stories on the upcoming BREXIT vote, and this morning we have seen the results. Britain has voted by a narrow margin to withdraw its participation in the European Union (EU).

I have to admit I am a little bit of a political junkie. I often have CNN.com in my background at work and spend my time in the car listening to satellite news radio. And while we (O.K, I) were led to believe that the STAY vote would ultimately prevail, it was the LEAVE momentum that succeeded in the end.

Democracy in action is really a beautiful sight to see. Regardless of what position you had started on, everyone is now bound by the realities and the wishes of the majority. We see this storyline play out time and again. We see it happening in the US presidential election and we bear witness to it at home on a regular basis. Even if you were a staunch Harper supporter in the Fall election, Trudeau is our Prime Minister.

While there are certain elements of nationalism in recent social movements in western democracies there are also elements of xenophobia and demagoguery and those are the things that concern me.

Regardless of how close the polls had this vote, the markets were not anticipating this outcome. I actually was listening to a radio show yesterday afternoon that was quoting the U.K ‘bookies’ estimating this outcome at 20%. Since the markets were expecting a different result, the volatility that we have seen so far today was not to be unexpected.

The British Pound has fallen to a level not seen in 31 years, markets around the world are selling off and commodity prices (with the exception of gold) are falling.

I guess it is a little ironic in some ways that this movement to opt-out of an economic union has reminded us just how much we are all intertwined globally.

The UK amounts to a very small trading partner for Canada. That said, perhaps (just perhaps) this new global economic volatility will lead to a ‘natural’ slowing down of some of our heated housing markets. Perhaps the US Fed will remain on the sidelines a little longer before it starts increasing rates. Perhaps this will in some way help our housing concerns here at home.

At the end of the day though when all is said and done, we will continue to drive forward, our markets will eventually rebound and we will see the market swings subside … that is until the next geo-political item plays out.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Millennials need help with home ownership

Recent reports from two of Canada’s major banks -- CIBC and ScotiaBank -- offer a glimpse into the world of millennials and home ownership as well as the impact of the Internet on mortgage hunting. Bottom-line: Nearly two-thirds of millennials plan to own a home in the next five years, but don’t have the money for a down payment yet. Ninety-six per cent of Canadians rely on the Internet for information but 70% of those still rely on advisors for mortgage advice.

Among Canadians aged 18-24, two thirds (64%) of them plan to make the move to home ownership, with 63% looking to buy in the next five years, but nearly half (44% ) say they have not started to save. The down payment is the biggest obstacle; however, rising prices is seen as having an impact on their ability to buy.

A majority (56%) of Canadians are sympathetic and say something should be done to help the younger generation enter the housing market. Seventy-seven per cent believe that buying a home is more difficult for young Canadians today than it was for previous generations.

Here are the key findings from the CIBC poll about millennials and home ownership:

  1.  64 % of Canadians aged 18–34 say that their future plans include buying a home. Among them: 63% plan to do so within the next five years, and 44% have not started to save yet for their down payment.
  2.  54 % of millennials planning to buy a home say that saving enough for the required down payment is the biggest obstacle to home ownership. Other roadblocks include: Job security and earning enough to afford mortgage payments (53%) and rising real estate prices (46%). 
  3. 56 % of Canadians say something should be done to help young Canadians get into the housing market.
  4. 77 % of Canadians say buying a home today is more difficult for young Canadians than it was for previous generations

Although it may not be easy to get a mortgage, it is doable. Working with a mortgage broker, who can help map out a strategy, is a key step to make the dream of home ownership a reality. In fact, the result of a ScotiaBank poll found that 98% of Canadian now rely on the Internet for information, yet 70% still look to advisors for their mortgage advice. This is likely due to sheer volume of information available online.  The bank also predicts that by 2020, less than 1 in 10 financial transactions will occur in branches, which means that online transactions will increase.

So what does this mean for mortgage brokers and consumers? It’s actually good news for consumers. As competition increases, mortgage products may become more tailored with more options available. Competition is a good thing because it gives you choice. Brokers can help facilitate that choice.

 In the mortgage industry, with historically low interest rates, it’s easy to shop the market to find a low advertised rate, whether from your local bank or from your mortgage broker. However, mortgages are not as simple as some make them out to be, especially when rate is all that is considered.

It’s important that home buyers educate themselves about mortgages including the following areas:  pre-payment terms, penalties, fixed vs. variable, open vs. closed, etc.  Each situation is as unique as each borrower and each needs a unique strategy.

Again, the sheer volume of information online can be overwhelming.  While getting informed through Internet research is a good thing, once armed with that information, it’s still important to work with a licensed mortgage professional who will ask the right questions to tailor a custom-fit mortgage that works for short and long term goals.


Monday, May 02, 2016

Canada set to grow in different ways

The Canadian economy is poised to grow again, but in a very different way according to the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) recently-released Monetary Policy Report.  The BoC expects global economic growth to strengthen…. gradually… and modestly.

Once again, the U.S. market is impacting growth in Canada. While there is demand for our exports, US residential investment and investment in their oil and gas sector, which are key sources of demand for Canadian exports, has changed.  Economic activity there expanded at a modest pace at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, and while it was hoped that there would be strong momentum, it hasn’t happened.  Growth is expected to remain modest for the year.  Not surprising given it’s an election year.

The Loonie
The battered loonie has been showing signs of life. It recently hit 79.50 cents US at one point during the last week in April -- its highest mark since July 2015.

Global economies
Unfortunately, economic recovery in the euro area and Japan continue to yo-yo. Low oil prices and exchange rate depreciations have dampened growth.  In the euro area, growth is also being restrained by ongoing deleveraging, weak investor confidence and tight lending conditions. In Japan, lackluster wage growth is restraining consumption.

China
The economy there is in transition with movement away from industry and more towards the service sector, which now accounts for just over 50% of China’s GDP.  China’s GDP growth is expected to slow from 6.9% in 2015 to 6.3% in 2018. Fiscal stimulus is expected to be focused on additional infrastructure spending and tax relief for businesses

Canadian Economy 
The inflation rate is projected to stay below 2% through 2016. Core inflation is expected to be around 2% through 2017. The economy is also in transition, moving toward non-resource sectors.  This adjustment is expected to contribute to the moderate growth cycle we are now in for the next two years.
 However, it’s not all bad news.  Economic activity through 2016 and 2017 has been revised up, thanks to measures introduced in the federal budget in March.  The gap between growth and activity is likely to close sometime in the second half of 2017. This adjustment period is expected to last until 2019.

The Housing Market
New construction and activity in the resale market is strong in British Columbia and Ontario, relative stability in Quebec and the Maritime provinces,  although there are declines in housing activity in  oil-producing provinces. The strength in British Columbia and Ontario appears, in part, to reflect local demand stimulated by employment growth. The shift in interprovincial migration in response to the oil price shock is reinforcing the regional divergence in housing market activity as workers leave the oil-producing provinces for Ontario and British Columbia.

The strength of housing demand in Ontario and British Columbia is contributing strongly to growth in residential mortgage credit.

The BoC continues to keep its overnight rate at .05%. Stephen Poloz, President of the BoC, defends his monetary policy and said, “The fact is that policy actions -- monetary and fiscal -- taken in the wake of the global financial crisis, prevented what would have been a second Great Depression. But many of the negative forces that were acting then are still acting now. That’s why ultra-low interest rates are not causing rapid growth and inflation.”

There will be lots to watch in the upcoming year as the world transitions. What that will look like is anyone’s guess.



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A sobering look at the economy

Everyone is waiting for the Liberal government’s new budget on March 22. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to run deficits in the coming years because billions will be spent on projects like infrastructure, which he predicts will create jobs and help revive the economy. There are also other economy-boosting plans such as cutting taxes for middle-income earners, which has already happened, and revamping child benefits so they help more families.

A brief overview of the current state of the economy is evidence that the country is in a slow growth period, with the exception of housing.  First, the value of the loonie is dragging and clearly the Bank of Canada (BoC) does not have the power to do anything about it.

The latest rate announcement from the BoC left the overnight rate unchanged at 0.5%.  One reason may be that a rate cut would continue to heat up consumer credit and housing activity and could potentially increase household debt. The average Canadian household carries $1.65 in debt for every dollar of disposable income – a record high. According to Statistics Canada consumer credit and mortgage and non-mortgage loans increased 1.2 per cent to $1.923 trillion at the end of last year. The total included $573.6 billion in consumer credit debt and $1.262 trillion in mortgage debt.

Another reason for the central bank’s decision is that it believes it has done all it can to boost the economy. It’s now in the hands of the federal government.

Despite a recent mini-rally, the international price of oil had dropped an additional US$20 per barrel since the Bank of Canada’s last economic outlook in October. The freefall seems to be over, but we need more time to rebalance excess supply with weak global demand.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has already predicted a deficit of 18-20 billion dollars for 2016/2017. Should we be worried about big defects? Apparently not, according to The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, The organization has urged Prime Minister Trudeau to allow the deficit to rise to $37.9 billion, but to also take steps to get money into the hands of Canadian consumers to stimulate growth. There is a "multiplier effect" of getting more money into the hands of low and middle-income Canadians, who are more likely to spend it.

Yet, once again, the government will be relying on consumers to continue to keep the economy afloat, which it has been doing for the last two years.

The Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) has another view. It doesn’t agree with the premise that increasing budget deficits could boost the economy.

“In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it is the OECD countries that reduced both their public spending and their revenues that succeeded in achieving the fastest average annual growth,” said Mathieu B├ędard, economist at the MEI. "Conversely, countries that chose to increase both their spending and their tax burdens experienced very slow growth.”

However,  the economy certainly needs a boost as we wait for non-energy sectors to kick in. By all accounts the manufacturing sectors in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are doing well. There are signs that Canada’s economy is adjusting to new areas of strength in manufacturing, service and technology industries. Those companies are getting a boost from a weaker dollar, and Canada is now a magnet for tourists.

It may still take a few more years for the economy to fully recover and stimulus budgets may help in the interim by speeding up the process.

We can only wait to see what the Federal budget looks like and only time will tell if it will work.