Five signs you are ready to take the home-buying plunge

It may seem obvious, with today’s low interest rates, high rents and a strong housing market: If you’ve got the money, buy now.

But how to know when you are truly ready to make the leap? Not everyone who would like to buy is actually prepared, financially and emotionally. Real estate experts have recognized signs that indicate when someone is, and meeting those criteria can make the difference between frustration and success.

You’re taking financial steps

The first sign, of course, is the financial foundation upon which a potential buyer can build.

“If they have already started saving toward a down payment, that is a great sign,” said Jeffrey Baker, a real estate agent with Sutton Group in Montreal. “They have either been saving aggressively over a certain length of time and given themselves a target for the amount that will be their down payment. Or they will have had a meeting with a financial adviser or bank, who has shown them the amount they can realistically spend.”

They also should meet with a mortgage broker and gain pre-approval. Although, as Austin Keitner of Keller Williams Realty in Toronto pointed out, “pre-approval doesn’t mean they’re actually looking at your credit rating but asking questions about your income, expenses and getting to know your ratios a little bit.”

A buyer may not get the final approval if his or her credit rating is not up to snuff. But, nonetheless, “if they don’t have that done by the time they are talking to me, I encourage them to do that. Especially in this market, you want to be ready. You want to be able to act fast,” Mr. Keitner said.

You are plotting your spending

Ability to budget is key. “A well-educated first-time buyer needs to know their budgets to know where they stand,” said Russell Westcott, vice-president of Vancouver-based Real Estate Investment Network.

The move itself as well as the fees and taxes and the costs of properly maintaining a house can add considerable amounts to the down-payment and mortgage. Apartment dwellers might not think about these expenses. Whether it’s a lawn mower or a new roof, Mr. Westcott said, “they have to figure out how much their housing expenses are going to be.”

Does the new house need renovations? “As a general rule, renovation projects will take three times longer than you thought they would,” Mr. Baker said, “and cost at least twice as much as you had budgeted.”

You know what you want

Is it a condo, a townhouse or a big, fully detached home? You should decide that before you start browsing the listings.

“Until you have looked at your budget, and talked to your mortgage broker, you can’t really even determine what type of property you should be looking at,” Mr. Westcott said. “And, does it fit with your lifestyle?”

Knowing the neighbourhood where you want to be is another part of that process. It may be trendy or offer great views, but does it mean a longer commute to work, for example, or have the services – schools, supermarkets and transport links – you need?

“The buyer should ideally know what community they want to be in,” said Mr. Keitner, who has on occasion been asked by clients whether they can lease a property for a year, instead of buying it outright, to see whether it’s the right fit for them.

Otherwise, your location choice might come back to bite. “If you end up leaving the house after a couple of years, you’re going to lose money on it,” he said. “Because after your moving costs, legal costs and so on, its sale is not going to compensate you through market growth.”

You know what you actually need

For Mr. Westcott, the fourth sign that new home buyers are ready to make a serious commitment is when they have “put the focus on what they need, not what they want. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an attached garage – those are needs,” he said. “A want would be high-end fixtures, granite countertops or a wine cellar.”

Would-be buyers are sometimes seduced by the “bling,” he added, “and all of a sudden the budget gets thrown out the window.”

Conversely, ignoring properties that meet all your needs but not your whims will only make the already complicated process of buying a new home more challenging.

You have tempered your expectations

The final sign you are ready to take the big step is when you realize that, as Mr. Keitner put it, “there is no such thing as a perfect house. I’ve never really seen a eureka moment where it’s, ‘Oh my God, this is the place where I need to live.’” Rather, he said, the home you buy and make your own becomes the home you love.

“You have to be prepared, as a first-time homebuyer, to temper your expectations,” Mr. Westcott agreed. “You are not going to get what you want and, if you are young, you’re not going to get the style and the quality of living that your parents have.”

What’s more, Mr. Keitner said, “there’s a risk that if people don’t act on properties that they can make work, prices continue to go up. So a decision based on emotion, rather than practicalities, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.”

However, losing a home that, in retrospect, would have been the right buy is also part of the education of home buying.

“My experience with first-time buyers,” Mr. Baker said, “is that they have to live the experience of a place getting away from them to realize that sometimes the market won’t wait for them.”

Buying your first house is probably one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make. But understanding the signs of the well-prepared homebuyer will go a long way in ensuring that it’s the right one.

This article was re-posted from Augusta Dwyer of The Globe and Mail.


City of Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program Kicks Off

The City of Toronto has launched a new pilot program that provides low interest loans to homeowners who are interested in making their homes more energy efficient. The program is called HELP – Home Energy Loan Program.

For many people, the high upfront costs of doing energy improvements, such as installing new windows or a new energy efficient furnace, can make it difficult for them to take action. Through HELP, homeowners can access low interest loans from the City that they pay back over time on their property tax bill.

If your home postal code starts with  any of these three digits, you are eligible  to apply for a HELP loan: M1C; M1E; M1K; M1L; M1M; M1N; M3N; M4B; M4C; M4E; M4J; M4K; M4L; M4M; M5A; M6P; M6S.

As this is a pilot program, only certain areas of the City are eligible at this time, but the Program is expected to open up to more areas in the near future.

As this is a pilot program, only certain areas of the City are eligible at this time, but the Program is expected to open up to more areas in the near future.

Click here to download a Home-owner Guide for the City of Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) and learn how to:

* Make your home more energy efficient

* Increase your home’s comfort for your family

* Reduce your energy usage

* Reduce your energy bills and save money

* Improve the value of your home

* Reduce pollution.

This article was featured in the March 2014 issue of Across the Board, a publication by the Toronto Real Estate Board.

Tax Tips for Investors: Clearing up Real Estate Confusion

April-2014Real estate has been a hot investment area in Canada for quite some time now due to favourable economic conditions, immigration, and historically low interest rates. Canadians who have taken advantage of these conditions are sometimes confused about the measures they can take to reduce their tax burden.

Here are some tax tips addressing several typical areas of confusion:

To depreciate or not to depreciate

Depreciation, or for income tax purposes Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) can be an effective way to shelter your real-estate income from current taxes by transferring your obligation to future tax years. CCA works by amortizing a portion of the cost of your rental property against your rental income, generally 4% of your building’s cost on a declining basis year over year.

CCA is an election, meaning that it is the taxpayer’s choice whether or not to use it. The drawback to CCA is that it is recaptured in the year you sell your property, meaning that the historical CCA you’ve taken will be added back on income account to your tax return if you sell the property for anything more than your current un-depreciated capital cost (i.e. the cost of your property less the CCA claimed on prior tax returns).

This recapture can have a negative impact on your taxes in the year of sale so some planning around this election is required. Generally, if you plan on holding the income property for a very long period of time then taking CCA to reduce your rental profits to zero will almost always be advisable.

However, if you plan on selling your property in the near future you should attempt to estimate if your potential recapture will push you into a higher tax bracket, thereby reducing the current effectiveness of the CCA claim. You may also want to consider forfeiting CCA in years where your overall taxable income is low thereby allowing you to claim higher CCA in subsequent years when your marginal tax rate is higher.

Documents, documents, documents

As far as the Canada Revenue Agency is concerned, if your expense transactions are not documented then they may as well not exist. When you own an income generating property it is your responsibility to keep adequate records and supporting documents in an organized fashion. Records would be the accounting information supporting the final reporting on your tax returns. Supporting documents would provide evidence of the transactions that make up your final accounting records.

Contrary to popular belief, simply maintaining banking and credit card statements is not always considered adequate supporting documentation. Original contracts, purchase receipts, and other documents should be maintained. In addition, if you are claiming auto related expenses a detailed log of your driving should be maintained outlining the dates of travel, the kilometres travelled, and the reason for travel (it must be to support the production of your rental income). My suggestion is always: If in doubt, save it. The more detailed your back-up, the more likely it will pass the scrutiny of a CRA review or audit.

Flipping a Property for Capital Gains?

Thinking of flipping a property and reporting the profit as a capital gain? You may want to think again. Capital gains are generally favorable to business or property income for tax purposes because of the fact that only half of your capital gains are subject to income tax. While the sale of a property held for the purpose of generating rental income would normally be considered a capital gain, this is not always a black and white scenario.

Use the analogy of an apple tree: An apple farmer purchases an apple tree in order to grow and sell apples. The apples are her inventory, while the tree is her capital property. When the farmer sells the apples she is generating business income, but if at some point down the road she decides to sell the tree, she is selling a capital property. If she makes a gain on the sale of the tree that would be a capital gain and taxed at only half her marginal tax rate. The same can be said for an income producing property. If you were to buy an income producing property, rent it out for a decade, profit during that rental period, then eventually sell the property at a gain, the rental profits would be taxed at the full rate and the gain on sale would most likely qualify as a capital gain (taxed at half your marginal rate).

The same cannot be said for short term property flips. When buying or selling a property on a short term basis for a profit (say buying, renovating, and then flipping) the CRA may consider the gains to be a type of business income rather than capital, thereby taxing the full gain at your marginal tax rate. Why is this? The law distinguishes between properties explicitly bought to generate rental income and those bought to profit on a sale. The former would normally be considered capital property to the taxpayer while the latter would be considered a type of business related inventory or more specifically an “adventure in the nature of trade.” While there are no concrete rules on whether a transaction is on capital account or an adventure in the nature of trade there are several indicators that the CRA and courts would take into consideration. Among these considerations are:

  • Whether the property was bought and sold in a manner similar to a dealer in that property
  • Whether the taxpayer has developed a pattern of buying and selling properties with short holding periods
  • Whether or not the taxpayer’s intentions were consistent with a business transaction or adventure in the nature of trade.

The determination of whether or not the sale of a property is a capital gain or business income is complex and has been played out in the courts on numerous occasions.

Blog post reprinted from National Post Financial Post article by Fabio Campanella, partner at Campanella McDonald LLP – Chartered Accountants.