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There’s been a lot of bluster about rescinding the capital gains tax exemption on primary residences in Canada, but there’s nary a chance of that actually occurring, says a prominent real estate lawyer.
“The chances of that happening in our country are slim to none because it would be political suicide for any government to introduce that,” Bob Aaron of Toronto-based Aaron & Aaron told CREW. “Canadians view the right to tax-free capital gains on their houses as a birthright and any government that tries to change it would be voted out of office within minutes. Even if they tried it, they would have to make mortgage interest tax deductible like they have in the States. So the chances of it happening are slim to none.”
Chartered banks have sounded the alarm on runaway housing prices in Canada and lobbied policymakers to intervene, even suggesting that the capital gains tax exemption on primary residences—a sacred cow in Canada if there ever was one—should be rescinded.
Although Aaron believes rescission is unlikely to manifest, the mere proposition has sparked enough consternation that the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s (TRREB) leadership published an op-ed denouncing such a move.
“Currently, the sale of a principal residence is exempt from capital gains tax. This makes sense for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that homeownership is the cornerstone of retirement planning for many people. Unfortunately, while the federal government has denied any plans to change this policy, the idea continues to be discussed in various corners. This should stop,” wrote Lisa Patel, TRREB’s president and John DiMichele, the board’s CEO.
“Imagine a first-time buyer who has been working hard to save a down payment for years and finally becomes a homeowner,” continued the board’s missive. “This tax would change the rules on them midway. Many younger homeowners and buyers already feel like they have greater challenges than previous generations to become a homeowner, and now this would penalize them on the back end when they sell, something that previous generations were not subject to. For these homeowners, it’s a situation that seems unfair, to say the least.”
Both the federal and Ontario governments have histories of intervention in the housing market, with near disastrous results. In 1971, the Ontario government introduced a speculation tax that caused a 50% decline in real estate valuations. In the 1970s, when the federal government introduced the capital gains tax, purpose-built rental housing became a casualty. Hitherto, there’s been a dearth of purpose-built units constructed and, consequently, vacancy rates have been dangerously low.
“In 2017, [then Ontario Premier] Kathleen Wynne introduced the Fair Housing Plan, which included the foreign buyer tax, and the market had a crash and people backed out of deals, and the litigation is still going on today,” said Aaron. “I have clients who have forfeited hundreds of thousands of dollars because they got caught in the squeeze between buying and selling when they couldn’t get financing as a result of the house they were buying dropping in value and the house they were selling also dropping in value. People got hit, including clients of mine with hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Any time a government sticks its nose in the housing business, the repercussions to the people on the streets are horrendous.”
Should the government revoke the capital gains tax exemption on principal residences, Aaron anticipates the bottom falling out of the market. In his view, the ramifications would be unlike anything seen before, ergo, the mere suggestion is myopic.
“What do they have to gain?” asks Aaron. “It’s coming from the banks, not Ottawa; maybe they want people to start buying shares. But banks have serious mortgage portfolios, and if the government introduces a capital gains tax on principal residences and the market crashed, a lot of the properties in which banks have mortgages would be under water. If they’re giving 80% loan-to-value mortgages and the value drops by 20-25%, the banks are going to suffer huge, huge losses. Right across the board, CMHC will have to pay millions and millions, or billions, in losses. People will get sued; people will be thrown out of their houses. The market will freeze and people won’t be buying or selling.”
Montreal was hit with the strictest COVID-19 lockdown measures of any major Canadian city, but that didn’t soften its luxury and ultra-luxury real estate markets, according to a Sotheby’s International Realty Canada report, which demonstrated they have outperformed even the city’s conventional housing market.
Sotheby’s, therefore, anticipates a torrid spring season in Montreal’s high-end housing market, which would build upon 4% gains seen through the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period last year. In fact, demand pulling ahead of supply caused fierce bidding wars and pushed the median price of single-family homes, condos and multi-family abodes up by 25%, 21%, and 11%, respectively.
“Overall, residential real estate sales over $1 million (condominiums, attached and single-family homes) increased 27% year-over-year to 237 properties sold in the first two months of the year. Although $1–2 million sales increased a healthy 23% to 190 properties sold, these gains were eclipsed by sales activity in the segment between $2–4 million, which surged 55% to 45 properties sold in the first two months of the year,” said the Sotheby’s report.
“Two properties sold over $4 million compared to three properties sold in this price range within the first two months of 2020. Of these, one ultra-luxury property sold over $10 million on MLS where there had been no transactions in this price range at the same time last year. The sale of the penthouse condominium listed at $12.9 million at The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Montreal by Sotheby’s International Realty Quebec set a new benchmark as the highest recorded condominium sale through the MLS in Quebec’s history.”
Like in Toronto and Vancouver, the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for Montrealers’ decisions to upgrade their living spaces, and abetted by the Bank of Canada’s decision to drop interest rates, sales in the $1 million-plus category rose by 30% year-over-year through the first two months of the year, while transactions in the $1-2 million and $2-4 million categories respectively rose by 25% and 59% to 76 and 27 home sold.
Before the pandemic, the $1 million-plus condo market in Montreal was steady and strong before sales suddenly surged by 92% through the first two months of 2021 compared to the same two-month period in 2020, reaching 50 sales. Although demand cooled upon the onset of the pandemic last year, the market roared back to close 2020, and its scorching pace has continued into 2021.
“Condominium sales over $1 million remained steady from 2020’s record highs in the first two months of 2021, with 48 units sold, down a nominal 4% from 50 units sold during the same period last year,” said Sotheby’s report. “Sales between $1–2 million comprised the bulk of activity and were consistent with the previous year’s levels, with 41 units sold in January and February 2021 compared to 42 sales during the same months of 2020. $2–4 million condo sales also remained steady with six units sold in the first two months of 2021 compared to seven in 2020; likewise, $4 million-plus sales remained consistent from the previous year’s levels at one unit sold.”
To elucidate the gusto with which luxury properties in Montreal are being bought, Patrice Groleau, licensed partner at Engel & Völkers Montreal, says his brokerage gifts bottles of Dom Perignon to clients and he’s been ordering bottles by the hundreds.
“For us, it’s our best first two months of the year ever. We have an agreement with Don Perignon and I’ve never given away so many bottles,” Groleau told CREW. “One of our clients is an investment fund from Belgium that has $3.5 million to invest in Montreal, and they’re buying real estate because they see Montreal going through the same pattern as Toronto and London.”
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The Greater Toronto Area’s luxury home market has seen remarkable gains since even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but even one year later, its ascension is nowhere near complete, according to a new Sotheby’s International Realty Canada report.
Sotheby’s noted that sales in the GTA’s luxury residential sector surged by 157% year-over-year through the first two months of this year, of which five homes sold for over $10 million. Single-family homes that sold for over $4 million increased by 203% during the same period of time, while the GTA’s luxury condo market is slated for growth. According to the Sotheby’s report, although the sale of condominiums that are over $4 million declined in the first two months of the year, they recovered to previous levels in the March 1-15 window. Transactions involving $1 million-plus condos rose by 110% in the first 15 days of March.
“Prior to the advent of COVID-19 in spring 2020, the Greater Toronto Area (Durham, Halton, Peel, Toronto and York) luxury real estate market was positioned for bold gains, with sales activity projected to surpass spring 2019 levels. The first two months of 2020 saw luxury $4 million-plus sales activity increase 75% year-over-year to 35 properties sold, reflecting rebounding demand across the GTA within and outside the city core. Sales between $2–4 million and $1–2 million rose 120% and 106%, respectively, to 398 and 2,673 properties sold in January and February 2020,” said the Sotheby’s report.
Luxury condos in the $1-2 million range in Canada’s largest real estate market are poised for a strong 2021, according to Sotheby’s. Sales grew by 6% in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, reaching 259 units sold, and during the first 15 days of March of this year, sales grew by a whopping 78% to 128 units sold.
“Overall City of Toronto condo sales over $1 million in the first two months of 2021 were largely on par with the same months of 2020 at 285 units sold compared to 284 last year, but experienced an 84% year-over-year surge in the first 15 days of March to 138 units sold,” said the report. “This upswing in high-end condo sales activity is expected to accelerate into the spring.”
Matt Smith, a broker with ENGEL & VÖLKERS Toronto Central in Yorkville, noted that the luxury market has benefited from the Bank of Canada’s commitment to a low interest rate environment, and that, moreover, Canadian households have essentially hoarded money because they’re incapable of travelling or spending on other non-essential outlays.
“Further to the above, because there has been a shift to spending more time at home, people are requiring more square footage,” Smith told CREW. “We are seeing multi-generational living, where parents who would otherwise be in retirement homes are living with their children, and the grandchildren are moving back home, creating an environment that allows families to pool together assets and increase their purchasing power. There’s also been a return of confidence back into the market with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.”
Smith added that this real estate market is reminiscent of 2017 when the Ontario Liberals introduced the Fair Housing Plan and cooled the market.
“Except this time we don’t expect the same type of government intervention and there are currently no signs of this market slowing.”
Luxury home sales in Vancouver are expected to keep rising through 2021, according to a new report from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.
Sales in the city’s high-end housing market rose year-over-year by 56% and 73% in January and February, respectively, which Sotheby’s attributes to pent up demand, low interest rates, renewed market confidence and a desire to move into lifestyle-congruent homes, the impetus of which was the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Luxury residential real estate sales over $4 million (condominiums, attached and single family homes) increased 41% year-over-year to 45 properties sold in the first two months of 2021; one property sold over $10 million during this time, where none had sold in this ultra-luxury price range during the same period in 2020,” said the report.
“Luxury property sales between $2–4 million increased 57% year-over-year to 193 properties sold. The sale of properties between $1–2 million experienced year-over-year gains of 52% to 527 properties sold. Overall residential real estate sales over $1 million were up 53% to 765 properties sold in the first two months of the year.”
Single-family homes were the most popular type of luxury home purchased in the City of Vancouver, and as a result it sparked heated bidding wars. Locals weren’t the only people enquiring about the city’s luxury homes, as international buyers reemerged in the city following a pandemic-induced lull.
“In the first two months of the year, luxury single-family home sales over $4 million increased 29% to 36 homes sold, with one home sold over $10 million compared to zero during the same period in 2020,” said the report. “Single-family home sales between $2–4 million increased 65% to 162 homes sold. Conventional home sales between $1–2 million increased 33% to 179 units sold. Overall, $1 million-plus single-family home sales were up 44% year-over-year to 377 homes sold, as the benchmark price for a single family home in Vancouver West and Vancouver East rose 8.5% and 9.5% year-over-year, respectively, to $3,203,200 and $1,565,800 in February 2021.”
Luxury condo sales in Vancouver, however, couldn’t keep up with the single-family and attached home segments, but consumer confidence ameliorated in January and February 2021, when sales for condos priced over $4 million rose by 75% to seven units sold.
“$2-4 million sales contracted a nominal 6%, or one unit, year-over-year to 16 units sold, while $1-2 million condominiums sales rose 48% year-over-year to 179 units sold,” said the report. “Overall condominium sales over $1 million increased 42% year over year to 202 units sold in January and February 2021.”
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