Thursday, December 12, 2019

BC speculation tax set to rise



British Columbia's Speculation and Vacancy Tax will increase from 0.5% to 2% starting 31 December, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The new tax rate will be applied to all foreign owners and satellite families and will be due by July next year.

"Based on the data from the first year, we see the tax is working as it was designed to: capturing speculators, foreign owners and people who own vacant homes, while exempting more than 99.8% of British Columbians," said Finance Minister Carole James.

The tax was introduced last year, with the aim to target homes in the most populated areas in BC that were not declared as a primary residence or were not rented out for at least three months annually.

Since the implementation of the tax, the government has collected $115m, which was used to fund affordable housing projects.

Aside from the tax rate, the changes will provide an exemption for property owners who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces while in active service. Canadians who own properties accessible only through water will also be waived from paying the tax.

Meanwhile, the exemption for rental-restricted strata will now end by 31 December 2021.

On the other hand, the exemption for foreign owners of vacant land will be lifted starting next year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Refunds coming as B.C. government backs off on controversial aspects of speculation tax


VICTORIA -- Once again, the B.C. government has tweaked the Speculation and Vacancy Tax after homeowners and advocates insisted it was unfairly targeting family cabins.
Changes introduced Tuesday provide an exemption for homeowners whose properties are accessible only by water. Those who paid the tax for 2018 and are now exempt will get a refund.
Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie described the shift as "bittersweet." He estimated 57 properties would no longer be hit by the tax.
"Those 57 will be positively impacted by this exemption, but there are another five or ten that have owned their cottages, built them by hand 50- or 60-plus years ago, who are obviously not speculators and they still haven't been exempted by the tax," said Belenkie.
The mayor vowed to continue to advocate for changes.
Finance Minister Carole James said she listened to feedback before announcing the latest changes.
Asked whether that was an admission the government initially got it wrong, James said "not at all." 
"When you bring in a new tax there are going to be recommendations and ideas and my commitment from the start was to make sure I was listening to the people of British Columbia," she added.
Yet for months appeals from Belcarra cabin owners, the same ones now exempt, seemed to go nowhere.
The tax – introduced by the NDP government for the 2018 tax year – is supposed to target those driving up real estate costs or leaving homes empty in low vacancy areas. The goal is to open up more homes to rentals and create more affordable housing.
After an initial outcry, the NDP made its first set of changes, adjusting where the tax applied. The government also lowered the rate paid by British Columbians, and introduced a tax credit.
Belenkie said he was at a meeting of mayors impacted by the new tax policy in September. He said most wanted nothing to do with it.
"That’s not indicative of a well applied tax – 20-plus municipalities asking to opt out of the tax," said Belenkie.
Belenkie said he knows of two families, he called them “international residents” who had been in the community for about 20 years each, who sold their homes.
There's another retroactive exemption for military families in active service. And in 2019, the tax rate for foreign owners and satellite families will rise to two per cent. British Columbians and other Canadian citizens will continue to pay 0.5 per cent.
The tax applies to secondary homes that aren’t occupied for the majority of the year, in the following regions:
  • Municipalities within the Capital Regional District, excluding Salt Spring Island, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area and the Southern Gulf Islands
  • The Metro Vancouver Regional District, excluding Bowen Island, the Village of Lions Bay and Electoral area A, but including UBC and the University Endowment Lands
  • The City of Abbotsford
  • The District of Mission
  • The City of Chilliwack
  • The City of Kelowna
  • The City of West Kelowna
  • The City of Nanaimo
  • The District of Lantzville
More information is available on the government's website.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Steady housing starts recorded in November


Canada's residential property market recorded slight increases in housing starts in November, according to the latest report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

There were 219,047 units that commenced construction in the month, up from 218,253 units in October. CMHC said this trend measure is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of housing starts.

"The national trend in housing starts was essentially unchanged in November, reflecting slight increases in the national trends of both multi-family and single-detached starts," said CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan.

The standalone monthly SAAR of housing starts for all areas in Canada was 201,318 units in November, a slight increase of 0.3% from 200,674 units in October.

The SAAR of urban starts also increased, up 0.4% in November to 188,559 units.

Multiple urban starts improved by 2.3% to 141,753 units in November, while single-detached urban starts decreased by 5.1% to 46,806 units.

Vancouver saw a significant decline in the trend of multi-unit starts for a second consecutive month. This is after a surge in construction activity earlier this year.

"This decline was offset by modest gains in the multi-unit trend in most other major markets, including Toronto," said Dugan.



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Owner of notorious illegal North Vancouver hostel ordered to sell


The owner of an illegal hostel operated out of a North Vancouver townhouse has been ordered to sell the property unless she can come up with more than $140,000 in cash.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge made the ruling Monday, finding that Emily Yu must pay her strata $52,000 and another $90,000 to the provincial government, or her assets will be sold for her.

Yu was found in contempt of court in October, 2018 after ignoring a judgment ordering her to stop using her North Vancouver townhome for short-term rentals.

She paid a fine for the contempt ruling, but still owes legal costs to her strata, and has repeatedly missed deadlines to pay it. Lawyer Steve Hamilton, who represents the strata, said the money owed to the provincial government relates to two judgment over unpaid PST.

“Today is a reckoning day for Ms. Yu,” said Hamilton.

“The court, I think after listening to her today, has decided that time was up for her and we needed to move on with the process, so the court has ordered the sale of her strata lot so that my client can recover the judgment that’s owing to it.”

Yu went unsuccessfully to the the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal this summer to try and have court orders against her 14-bed Oasis Hostel overturned, arguing she had a mental disability as a result of a concussion and that the hostel was essential to her income.

She also lost a case at the Civil Resolution Tribunal, which was initiated by the strata corporation.

Strata lawyer Paul Mendes told Global News it’s unusual — but not unheard of — for strata's to go to court and force a sale.

“It does cost a bit to do, which is probably why you don’t see too many cases in the Strata field going to court for enforcement if the fines are small,” he said.

“But when the claims are larger, then it is common for stratas to do it, and there have been a few cases where stratas have obtained large judgments and fines and applied successfully to sell the owner’s unit.

Yu declined to comment on the order on Monday.

However, she has previously been defiant when questioned about the hostel and court battle.

In November, she accused Global News of working with her neighbours to attack her.

“Some angry neighbours [are] not happy about me. They [are] together to raise the fraudulent case and defamation statement towards me,” Yu said. “I just want to talk about [how] Global TV [helped] my neighbour and [helped the] strata corporation,” she said.

Monday’s judgment doesn’t guarantee Yu will be forced out of the home. If she is able to raise the funds owing, she’ll be able to retain the property.


© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Greater Victoria home assessments to fall up to 10%


Single-family homeowners in Greater Victoria could see their assessed property values drop by as much as 10 per cent this year according to B.C. Assessment.

The Crown corporation, which will be sending out this year’s assessment notices in the first week of January, says Victoria homeowners will see anywhere from a 10 per cent drop in the assessed value of their homes to a five per cent increase.
Condo and townhouse owners in the region will likely see a five per cent drop to a five per cent increase.

Assessor Tina Ireland said lower values are not unexpected, given that signs of moderation were starting to show in property values last year. “We have had a pretty healthy and active real estate market for quite a number of years, so there’s no surprise to think there’s a bit of moderation happening now.”
Ireland said this year is one of the few in the past decade that B.C. Assessment has sent out pre-Christmas notices suggesting homeowners should prepare to see valuations drop.

“In the last 10 years, we haven’t sent out many,” she said.
Property-assessment notices will be available online Jan. 2 and will be in mailboxes starting that week.
The assessment roll tends to lag behind the market, as it reflects a property’s market value as of July 1, and physical condition as of Oct. 1.
B.C. Assessment says changes in property assessments reflect movement in the market and take into account current sales in the area, as well as the size, age, quality, condition, view and location of a property.
Last year, the average residential property assessment in the region increased by as much as 20 per cent, but this year, only the Island’s commercial and industrial properties are likely to hit that mark.
Commercial property owners on the Island should see an increase of between five and 15 per cent and industrial landowners an increase of 10 to 25 per cent.
“There is still strong demand for commercial and industrial property, probably due to limited supply,” said Ireland.
Meanwhile, the rate of assessment appeals has remained steady at below two per cent over the past 10 to 15 years, she said. “That’s been consistent regardless of market activity. It’s actually quite surprising.”
This month, B.C. Assessment will provide notification letters to property owners whose assessments will change significantly more than the average.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Development aims to bring new heart to Esquimalt’s core


Esquimalt streets are lined with historic character homes set amid mature landscaping. Its waterfront has some of the most scenic views in the region. It’s home to Canada’s Pacific naval base and it’s minutes from downtown Victoria.

But until now, it has lacked a central gathering place and venue for special events.

Across the street from Esquimalt’s Memorial Park, a massive construction project is rising out of the former public works yard to fill that gap, with the creation of a multi-purpose town square for the community of more than 17,000. The square will be surrounded by offices, condominiums, rental housing, a new library, a coffee shop and a bistro-pub.

A plaza and outdoor art walk will enliven the open space. There will be 215 parking stalls, below ground and in a smaller surface lot on the east side of the site, bordered by Esquimalt Road, Park Place and Carlisle Avenue.

Construction began in the spring of 2017.

Vancouver’s Aragon Properties bought the city-owned land for $4.613 million to develop the Esquimalt Town Square next to the town hall at 1229 Esquimalt Rd.

Aragon is contributing $300,000 worth of public art, including local art mounted on six plinths along an art walk through the site. Artist Bill Porteous has created a design for the fa├žade of the building facing Esquimalt Road.

Aragon, which earlier purchased the English Inn on Lampson Road, and other developers are paying attention to Esquimalt.

Other projects in the township include Avenir Senior Living’s 11-storey building at 622 Admirals Rd. Construction began this year on the $80-million Vista, which will have 181 units in a seniors residence, plus 5,000 square feet for the Esquimalt Dockyard branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The municipality recently approved third reading for a 10-storey mixed-use project at 899 Esquimalt Rd. by Lexi Group of Vancouver. As well, Lampson Corner Nominee Ltd. has submitted a rezoning proposal to develop 102 condominiums and townhouses in a six-storey proposal for the corner of Esquimalt Road and Lampson Street.

At the same time, Esquimalt is in the midst of allocating $17 million it received from the Capital Regional District in return for allowing a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. This includes $5 million dedicated to downtown recreational facilities.

At Esquimalt Town Square, the first condo residents are expected to move in by the spring.

“It has been a long time coming, but it is a project that we are extremely proud of and can’t wait for,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “The interest in it and the excitement in town is pretty amazing.”

Desjardins announced in the spring of 2016 that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with Aragon, calling the project a catalyst for development in Esquimalt for years to come.


She pointed out that the square is close to other services, such as the Esquimalt Recreation Centre and shopping. Nearby businesses, including restaurants, are looking forward to more walk-in patrons. “The economic benefit to the businesses in the area is going to be really significant.”

Desjardins anticipates the 68 condominiums and 34 rental units will attract both current residents and newcomers to the municipality. Rental units will help assist with the shortage of rental housing, she said.

The township will be a strata owner for the library, paying $3.5 million for the shell of the library’s portion of the building. Another $2.4 million is anticipated to cover interior and furnishing costs, municipal staff said.

Doug Fraser, whose father founded Len Fraser Barber Stylist on Esquimalt Road in 1976, predicts the new town square will “make a big difference for everyone” and bring more business to Esquimalt.

“That’s great news. We need some new infrastructure,” he said, adding Esquimalt’s existing stock of higher-density buildings is old and new ones are needed. “We’ve watched a lot of other communities around us develop and we’ve missed the boat — and it’s finally here.”

He compared Esquimalt with Vancouver’s Kitsilano many years ago. “We’ve got such great history, parks, all our infrastructure is in, we’ve got sidewalks, streetlights, great people, recreation. We’ve got all these things and people are starting to discover it.”

Luke Ramsay, Aragon development manager, said construction costs total about $40 million. Three buildings are six storeys tall, with the office and library building at five storeys. The four buildings will total about 162,000 square feet.

Aragon will retain ownership of the office space and of the rental-commercial building.

The goal is to appeal to a range of residents, from young families to downsizers. “We just see this as a place for community and that community, in a lot of ways, starts with young families, and it is sort of rounded out by multi-generational [residents].”

Ramsay expects that between 180 and 200 residents will live on site.

Condo prices are expected to range from $529,900 for one bedrooms to $675,000 for two bedrooms and $808,900 for three bedrooms. Rental rates have not been set yet.

Environmentally friendly features include a shared geothermal system for heating and cooling. Commercial space will produce heat through the winter to go back into the central system so that it can be used in residential buildings. The library building is using sustainable mass-timber construction.

Stormwater will be managed under plans drawn up by landscape architect Murdoch de Greeff Inc. Rain gardens will recycle water and reduce the amount of water going into the stormwater system.

Each condo unit has a parking stall with an electric car-charging plug already installed. “We were one of the first developers to do it in Vancouver and we had a lot of success in launching it in our first project,” Ramsay said.

Additional electric-car-charging outlets are planned, but details are still being worked out.

The Esquimalt Roasting Company is taking one of the commercial spots. Talks are underway with potential operators of a bistro-restaurant and occupants of the office space.

A shortage of available trades workers has affected the project, as it has others in the region — Ramsay said development is a few months behind.

Aragon does its own construction management and this is its first project on Vancouver Island. Forming relationships with sub-trades has been a key part of the project, Ramsay said.


In the next couple of months, a public call for expressions of interest for artwork will be issued for four of the six plinths planned. Those selected will receive a stipend to submit proposals. Two plinths will hold art dedicated to reconciliation.

Architect Franc D’Ambrosio, of D’Ambrosio architecture + urbanism, which is part of the town square project team, said the Esquimalt Town Square project is “really creating a centre of town, giving the town hall a pride of place, creating a public square and then defining that square with major uses and mixed use.”

Tenants will bring animation and life to that part of Esquimalt, he said. “I think it is really creating a kind of nucleus, a downtown. It is kind of scattered now.”

The square will be available for local markets and performances. It will have electricity and custom-designed lighting, a performance space and casual sitting areas, D’Ambrosio said, noting the trees have been preserved. “It will create an identifiable civic place while it accommodates a lot of residents, both condominiums and rental,” as well as the library, offices and commercial space, he said.

Ty Whittaker, executive vice-president at Colliers International’s Victoria office, said Esquimalt has done a good job of creating a master plan for its downtown core and providing density to attract developers to the community.

Noting that it’s just five minutes from Victoria’s downtown core, Whittaker anticipates more density in the area in future. “Esquimalt is becoming more and more central as the West Shore continues to expand.”

Graham Smith, a vice-president at Colliers who is handling office and commercial leasing at the town square, said the development is a “huge benefit” to Esquimalt because it solidifies the municipality’s downtown core. The library will be a “wonderful anchor that will pull residents from the community to that location,” he said.

Office leasing in Esquimalt is more attractive because parking is available and the space is less expensive than in downtown Victoria, he said.

“It’s close to downtown, but not in downtown. It’s easy to get to for people, either on their bikes or in their cars or on transit. So there’s a lot of benefits to the location.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

Saturday, December 7, 2019

How Social Media is Shaping the Real Estate Industry

Like every other industry, the phenomenal growth of social media has changed the way the real estate industry functions. Agents have started using these channels at every stage of marketing, be it for lead generation, sales or brand building. It allows realtors to develop their enterprise as they are able to instantly connect with existing clients, potential customers and their competitors. Further, majority homebuyers today have taken to the Internet whilst looking for their dream house.
There are numerous benefits a business owner can reap from social media, however they need to mindfully select their medium and the nature of their content. Following factors determine the value of social media in the real estate sector:

Improves Brand Visibility

The primary reason behind using digital media platforms for promotion is that it assists in building the name of the brand. It helps position oneself in the market, subsequently catching the attention of new clients.
A strategy that is a good blend of insightful posts coupled with crisp content is deemed to be an effective way of establishing the image as an industry expert. Business owners need to be certain of the taste of their target group and roll out material that will fit their likings. Such tailored posts keep the audience engaged, and they keep coming back for more information.

Helps in Networking

Successful organisations have a very strong network base, and are very well connected with everyone present in their internal as well as external business environment. Social media does not only help in retaining current clients, but also allows one to reconnect with consumers from the past, attract potential buyers and keep a tab on the activities of their peers and competitors.
One can reach out to their existing and old customers via Facebook, and use the platform to ask for referrals for one’s business. Business owners can even utilise their posts to prompt their followers to share articles or links with individuals interested in purchasing a property.
Further, digital media sites are great for gaining competitor insights. They help with understanding the strategy employed by other agents and how they are marketing their product. An individual can also communicate with their business peers for exchanging ideas, sharing experiences and getting into collaborations.

Diversifies Marketing Efforts

Marketing offers business ventures with a large number of methods for promoting their product. Employing multiple marketing modes can prove to be beneficial as the returns will come from varied segments. Apart from merely using traditional ways, realtors can use a mix of online advertising and social media marketing to expand their outreach. Updating accounts on pages like Twitter and Facebook can help one in generating awareness amongst current and potential clients. Using YouTube ‘pre-rolls’ that speak of new listings is yet another way of keeping consumers informed.
Additionally, a video format can help one project a true visual of the property and in turn, pique the interest of potential buyers.
Offers Platform for Flow of Verified Information and Content
Information is the key in today’s time. Reaching the right audience and sharing information in the shortest possible timeframe with accuracy and cost effectiveness is important for any organisation.
Social media enables companies to share and broadcast news, information, updates, and progress to its customers and all stakeholders seamlessly. Also, it enables likes and shares by social media followers, which increases the reach amongst friends and peers.

Boosts Website Traffic

Sharing blog posts and articles on social networking sites helps one connect with an audience that is keen on opting for expert opinion whilst making their purchase decision.
Using SEO friendly terminology can help drive more traffic to business pages. Regularly updating content helps in lifting website rankings as search engines favour fresh content. Finally, when the pages and tabs are linked to multiple sources, both online and offline, a top-of-the-mind recall is created amongst consumers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Victoria poised to become a sellers' market in 2020






Victoria's housing market is expected to be favourable for home sellers next year, according to the latest outlook by RE/MAX.

While conditions are likely to be balanced as 2020 unfolds, RE/MAX said the conditions in the British Columbian capital are expected to lean towards a sellers' market.

In fact, the region's average sale price is projected to increase by 3% to $698,661 over the next 12 months as demand remains high and supply remains limited.

"Housing affordability continues to challenge buyers in this region when it comes to homeownership and rentals due to lack of supply. Demand for condos continues to rise as many first-time homebuyers can afford this property type," RE/MAX said.

Neighbourhoods in the south, such as Fairfield, Rockland, Gonzales, James, and Downtown, are poised to be property hotspots next year due to high demand.

In terms of growth in sales prices, the top Victorian neighbourhoods are Saanich, Langford, Oak Bay, and Sidney.

First-time and move-up buyers are expected to drive the demand for property types such as condominiums, two-storey detached homes, and townhouses, according to RE/MAX.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Bold makeover pitched for Victoria's Harris Green neighbourhood

Current site of London Drugs on the 900 block of Yates Street would be transformed with three residential towers, commercial space and courtyard.
Photograph By Starlight Investments

The profile of two blocks of the Harris Green neighbourhood will be completely changed if a Toronto-based developer’s plans get the green light next year.

Starlight Investments, which over the last few years pieced together land parcels in the 900 and 1000-blocks of Yates and View streets, intends to tear down all of the existing commercial buildings to make way for a massive mixed-use project that will include residential towers, more than 100,000 square feet of commercial buildings and green space.

“We can’t feasibly maintain the existing buildings,” said Mark Chemij, Starlight’s senior development manager, noting they intend to offer substantial underground parking along with the mixed-use project. “It’s difficult to work with what is here now and provide any substantial change.”

The company controls 4.9 acres over two sites. It owns all of the 900-block, which is bordered by Yates, View, Quadra and Vancouver streets. It also owns the land under the Harris Victoria Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership that is bordered by Cook, Yates and View.

While Chemij said they were open to all possibilities when they first started engaging with the community about the project this year, they have decided it was better to start from scratch and build new rather than try and renovate a collection of older commercial buildings.

The company unveiled early-stage plans and concepts to a community group this week, outlining there will be 1,500 rental residential units in five towers ranging in height from 15 to 25 storeys, a large community plaza and green space.

“It will be completely different than what is there right now, which is a primarily commercial plaza, a small number of residential units and some green space along Yates Street,” he said.

Chemij said the community liked the addition of a half acre of green space and a village plaza with cafes and stores facing Yates, while the overall project design seemed to “get people excited.”

But he stressed it is early days and these are concepts rather than concrete plans that they hope to submit to the city for approval in early 2020. Chemij also noted because they need the approval of the City of Victoria, they have no idea when they will be able to start demolition or where they will begin that work.

“It will be a multi-phase and multi-year project,” Chemij said. Because they will be building in stages, anchor tenants who want to remain in the complex and the neighbourhood may be able to move into a new building before their existing spaces are torn down, he said.

Some of the commercial tenants affected include London Drugs, The Market on Yates, Frontrunners, Bin 4 Burger Lounge, Pizza Hut and Cobs Bread. A London Drugs official said they are aware of the plans and are “exploring a variety of options at this time.”

Rob Reid, founder of Frontrunners, has been a tenant in the development near London Drugs for 31 years, and in 2000 moved into its existing building and 3,300 square feet of space on the site.

He said they are in wait-and-see mode as it’s too early to say whether they would consider moving to an entirely new location or be willing to move into new space near their current spot when Starlight completes an early stage of the rebuild.

“It’s great to have been in business for 31 years, it doesn’t get easier ... you have to work at it, but it really helps if you have a location for your store,” he said.

Reid said it’s now just another challenge to determine if they stay in a location that has worked well for the company or have to find a new spot that could jeopardize the business.

“We are evaluating options,” he said, adding they would be better placed to make a decision when they know how long they have until their building is torn down.

Darryl Hein, retail operations manager for Market Stores, said they are upbeat about Starlight’s plans and plan on being a long-term grocery tenant in the neighbourhood.

“Starlight has been great to work with so far,” said Hein.

“We have an agreement with them that they will build us a new store and that we will not be closed for one day between the old store closing and the new store opening,” he said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com