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And that’s saying a lot!

Oxford County has been experiencing steeply escalating home prices for the last year, and that trend appears to be set to continue. The market has a shortage of listings and a huge pool of buyers. 

As of the end of March there were only 53 homes for sale in the city of Woodstock. That is way down from March 2016 at which point there were 118 homes for sale. 

Average sale price showed a huge gain of 23.1% over March 2016, as demand increased to meet a historically low supply. The average sale price for a single family home in Woodstock hit an impressive $350,091 in March of 2017. 

And prices continue to rise...

Call us today to see how you can take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime market. We would be happy to explain how this market has been good for both buyers and sellers!


Principle Residence Exemption - What’s Changed, What Hasn't

The Principal Residence Exemption (PRE) has long been a boon to Canadians. In essence, it allows a person to be exempt from tax on capital gains as long as they’re selling a primary home. The federal government has tightened these regulations with the intention of making the benefit available only to Canadian residents.

The changes are meant to “better ensure that the principal residence exemption is available only in appropriate cases, and in a manner consistent with the Canadian resident and one-property-per-family limits,” the Department of Finance said in its release. Will the adjustments deter foreign ownership? Depends on how you look at it, say tax experts. Regardless, the changes have implications for all Canadian taxpayers, particularly those who put their residences in trusts.

WHAT’S THE PRE?

A family unit (the taxpayer, her spouse, and any unmarried minor children) is entitled to one PRE per year. Families who have two or more properties must choose which property to designate as the principal residence in a given year. While the family member must “ordinarily inhabit” the principal residence, CRA has said living in a property for “short periods” will qualify it for the PRE. (Read thesearticles for more on the PRE’s details and exceptions.)

Families with one home have only one principal residence, so they get the full exemption from tax on any capital gains. But people with more than one home can choose which residence to designate as principal, provided the residence qualifies. CRA has a formula to calculate what exemption to claimwhen selling one of those homes. This is it:

(1 + number of years designated x gain)/number of years owned = exemption amount

Prior to October 3, 2016, the exemption would be calculated this way for all taxpayers. Further, while there is a form for designating a principal residence, CRA hasn’t required taxpayers to file it if the property was eligible for the full PRE.

What’s different now?

THE FORMULA: CHANGED FOR NON-RESIDENTS

The formula for calculating the exemption uses the number of years designated plus one. That’s to help people who move from one principal residence to another in the same year. For instance, if a person buys a condo in June 2006, buys a house in August 2012, sells the condo in September 2012 and then sells the house in September 2016, they get to claim the full PRE on the condo from 2006 to 2012, and the full PRE on the house from 2012 to 2016.

“It’s meant to provide a full exemption on two properties in one year,” says Frank Di Pietro, assistant vice-president of tax and estate planning at Mackenzie Investments. But it’s not meant to help property flippers or speculators who buy and sell in the same year. Thanks to the announcement, the plus-one formula is no longer available for people who were non-residents in the year they acquired the property.

For actual or deemed property sales after October 2, 2016, the PRE formula for non-residents is now:

(number of years designated x gain)/number of years owned = exemption amount

Net effect 

“The one-plus is a bonus for Canadian [residents],” says Di Pietro. That’s helpful, says Keith Masterman, vice-president, Tax, Retirement and Estate Planning at CI Investments, as “not everyone who buys and sells property in the same year is a speculator.” Sometimes, people buy a house, get a new job in a different city, and have to sell. Besides, CRA can go after Canadian-resident speculators through different mechanisms, Masterman says: by characterizing flipping proceeds as income, not capital gains, or by determining that the house was not someone’s principal residence after all. Removing the one-plus for non-residents could deter foreign speculators, Masterman says. But if the non-resident ordinarily inhabits the home after purchase, the change only affects one year’s worth of PRE – which is relatively minor.

FAMILY UNIT: UNCHANGED

“In the proposed tax changes, there’s nothing related to how they’re defining the family unit. As far as I’m concerned, that hasn’t changed,” says Di Pietro. So a family is still considered a taxpayer, the spouse or partner, and any minor unmarried children.

Net effect 

A non-resident with a Canadian-resident spouse or child could still access the plus-one PRE calculation if the Canadian resident claims the PRE.

REPORTING OBLIGATIONS: CHANGED

For tax years that end after October 2, 2016, CRA will now require taxpayers to fill out additional reporting when they claim the PRE. “The taxpayer will be required to provide basic information in the taxpayer’s income tax return for that year in order to claim the exemption,” says the Department of Finance. “In addition, the CRA will be explicitly authorized to accept late-filed principal residence designations.” It’s unclear if CRA will use existing forms or create a new one for the disclosure. Currently, the PRE form is Form T2091, and taxpayers must disclose disposal of capital property on Schedule 3 of the T1 tax return. Regardless, Di Pietro suspects CRA will ask “when you bought, when you sold and what years you’re claiming the PRE.” Audits will likely increase, he adds.

Net effect 

The reporting change is “far overdue,” says Di Pietro. Since CRA hadn’t required you to file Form T2091 when claiming the PRE for the entire time you owned the home, it was difficult for the agency to track PRE abuses. Theoretically, tax evaders – Canadian resident or otherwise — could have sold multiple properties with overlapping ownership periods and reported nothing to CRA, thereby over-claiming the PRE and paying no capital gains taxes. Now, CRA “will be able to identify which taxpayers have claimed PREs for what years,” says Di Pietro. For someone who tries to double dip on the exemption, “they’ll have a record of you already claiming the PRE on another property,” he says, and CRA could more easily reassess the taxpayer.

TRUST OWNERSHIP: CHANGED

Prior to Monday, many personal trusts were entitled to claim the PRE, as long as the beneficiaries “ordinarily inhabited” the home. “Under the new rules, the only trusts that will be eligible [for the PRE] are alter ego, spousal or common-law partner, joint spousal/partner, and qualified disability trusts [QDT], and trusts for minor children of a deceased parent,” says Di Pietro. “The intent appears to be to ensure the PRE is available to family members defined within the family unit.” The trust’s beneficiary who occupies the residence must be a resident of Canada for the trust to be eligible for the PRE. And, “in the case of a QDT, the beneficiary must also be spouse, partner (or former spouse/partner) or child of the trust’s settlor, and must occupy the home as a principal residence,” adds Di Pietro.

Net effect

Masterman says these new rules could curtail reasonable planning. For instance, discretionary trusts meant to protect overspending children won’t be entitled to the PRE. So, if a parent wants to put a primary residence in trust for a spendthrift adult child, the trust will be taxed on any capital gains when the residence is sold. While QDTs are entitled to the PRE, a QDT can only be created for a person who receives the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). Yet it’s not uncommon for people with disabilities to be ineligible for the DTC. Under the new rules, trusts for adult disabled children who do not qualify for the DTC, as well as Henson trusts, will not be eligible for the PRE.

“The spirit [of the rules] is we want to make sure you’re looking after your family and not using [the trust] for speculative purposes,” Masterman says. “But it seems strange that they’re going to distinguish between a beneficiary who qualifies for the federal Disability Tax Credit and one who does not. And if I have a family member with a need that is not a disabled need, not a minor [child] need, or not a spousal need, why do those needs mean something less?” For clients who were going to put their residences in a trust, Masterman suggests thinking about where the supposed beneficiary is going to live. “Maybe there’s an opportunity to say, ‘From now on my trust will have to rent a property for them.’ ” Another option is to consider selling the house prior to death or bequeathing it, as opposed to putting it in a trust.

As for the effects on non-residents, Di Pietro says the new rules “[will] make it more difficult for non-residents to access the PRE through the use of a trust structure.” That’s because while it’s possible for a non-resident to settle a Canadian-resident trust, “the cases where this would work are now extremely limited. For example, in the case of an alter ego trust, the settlor, trustee and beneficiary are the same person, so it would be impossible for a non-resident to access the PRE.”

In short, while the political motivation of Monday’s announcements was to stymie foreign real estate buyers, the changes affect all Canadians, says Di Pietro. “[They’re] designed to be further reaching than [to] just non-residents. Canadians need to be aware of these rules.”


Home Staging Ideas to Get You Top Dollar

When we talk about staging your home, we're referring to a method of decorating that is designed to showcase the home's best assets, impress buyers and sell it quickly for the highest possible price.

Why Home Staging Is Important

Although staging is optional, it really shouldn't be. When you're dealing with such a significant financial transaction, you don't want to be lazy and settle for a lower selling price or a longer marketing period than you have to.

Relative to the amount of time and money involved, staging may be one of the most lucrative projects you ever undertake. Potential buyers aren't just looking for a structure to inhabit – they're looking to fulfill their dreams and improve their lifestyles. Staging helps sell those dreams and creates a more emotional purchase that can generate more money for the seller.

Home staging is also beneficial because potential buyers don't want to see work that needs to be done upon moving into the home. For every problem they see, they'll deduct its cost from their offering price. If they see too many problems, they'll pass altogether.

Staging How To

While there are plenty of room-specific staging tips, if you're on a limited budget, it's best to focus on big-picture improvements and on the areas that will make the biggest difference in your home's selling price.

These include the exterior and entryway (both heavily impact a buyers' first impressions), the living room, kitchens and bathrooms, the master bedroom and outdoor living space, such as a back patio. The following techniques can and should be employed in as many rooms of the house as you can afford and have time for.

1. Clean
In the kitchen, potential buyers love to see new appliances that come with the home, but if you can't do that, make the ones you have spotless. No one wants to see splattered spaghetti sauce, films of grease or piles of crumbs in their potential new home. Likewise, make sure your bathroom sparkles, from the corners of the tub to the sink drain to that spot behind the toilet you don't think anyone can see. Your goal should be to make everything look new.

2. Declutter
There are two major problems with clutter. One is that it distracts buyers from your home's features. The other is that it makes it seem like the home doesn't have enough storage space. Put away knickknacks. Keep in mind that buyers will be interested in your closet space, so tossing everything into the closet to hide it away may not be the best strategy.

3. Depersonalize
Buyers need to be able to envision themselves in your home, so remove all the family photos, items with family members' names on them and refrigerator art. Also make sure to put away all the toys and anything else that is highly indicative of the home's current inhabitants.

4. Remove Odors
Pets, kids, what you ate for dinner last night, a mildew-covered bathroom and many other conditions can make your home smell. You are probably immune to your home's smell, so you'll need to have a friend or neighbor help you out with this one. Inexpensive tricks for ridding a home of odors and giving it an inviting aroma include baking cinnamon-coated apples or slice-and-bake cookies in the oven – or burning vanilla-scented candles. It's also a good idea to grind half a lemon in the garbage disposal to remove sink odors. While you could use a spray to deodorize your home, it might give it a cheap, institutional bathroom smell, which is hardly the image you're going for. If you're a smoker and you normally smoke indoors, start limiting your smoking to outside the home and take extra steps to deodorize indoors. Finally, don't forget to take out the trash.

5. Define Rooms
Make sure each room has a single, defined purpose. Also make sure that every space within every room has a purpose so that buyers will see how to maximize the home's square footage. If you have a finished attic, make it an office. A finished basement can become an entertainment room, and a junk room can be transformed into a guest bedroom. Even if the buyer won't want to use the room for the same purpose, the important thing is for them to see that every inch of the home is usable space. This includes alcoves, window seats, corners, breakfast nooks and so on.

6. Wallpaper/Paint
It is unlikely that a potential buyer will like your wallpaper. Your best bet is to tear it down and paint the walls instead. Don't even think about painting over the wallpaper – it will look shabby and send red flags for the buyer about all the work he or she will have to do later.

Custom paint colors are the same way. You may love your orange bathroom, but people's tastes in colors are very specific and highly personal. While you might think that white walls would be ideal because they create a blank slate that allows buyers to envision their own décor and gives them an easy starting point, it's actually better to paint your home with warm, neutral colors that appeal to the masses and project the homey image you're trying to sell.

7. Flooring
No one wants to live with dirty, stained carpet, especially when someone else made it that way. Linoleum is passé and looks cheap. Though pricey, hardwood floors add value and elegance to a home. They are also low-maintenance, provide great long-term value and are perfect for buyers with allergies. In other words, they appeal to almost everyone, and if not, they're easily carpeted over by the buyer and preserved for the next owner.

In kitchens and bathrooms, go with ceramic tile or stone if you can afford it. If not, use high-quality vinyl tiles that mimic their more expensive counterparts. If you can't afford to do that, stick to common areas like the living room, dining room and kitchen. Bathrooms should make the cut too because they have relatively little floor area and therefore won't be too expensive to upgrade.

8. Lighting
Take advantage of your home's natural light. Open all curtains and blinds when showing your home. Add supplemental lighting where necessary. Outdated or broken light fixtures can be cheaply and easily replaced. If you think your existing fixtures are fine, make sure to dust them, clean off any grime and empty out the dead bugs.

9. Furniture
Make sure furniture is the right size for the room, and don't clutter a room with too much furniture. Furniture that's too big will make a room look small, while too little or too small furniture can make a space feel cold. Don't use cheap college furniture, either. You don't have to pay a lot of money to switch out your existing furniture and you may even be able to rent it, but the furniture should look nice, new, expensive and inviting. You'll also want to arrange the furniture in a way that makes each room feel spacious yet homey. In the living room, for example, seating should be set up in a way that creates a gathering area around the fireplace.

10. Walls and Ceilings
Cracks in the walls or ceiling are a red flag to buyers as they may indicate foundation problems. If your home does have foundation problems, you will need to either fix them or alert potential buyers to the problem. That said, a fix would be better in terms of getting the home sold. If the foundation only looks bad, but has been deemed sound by an inspector, repair the cracks so you don't scare off buyers for no good reason.

11. Exterior
Your home's exterior will be the first impression buyers get and may even determine their interest in viewing the inside. Make sure your lawn, hedges, trees and other plants are well-maintained and neatly pruned and eliminate any weeds. To brighten windows, wash them well, and consider adding flower boxes to brighten them up further. If you can, power wash your home's exterior – it can make it look almost freshly painted but with less effort and expense. Make sure the sidewalk leading up to the house is clear and clean, and purchase new doormats for the front and back doors. If you have a pool, showcase it by making sure it's crystal clear. Creating some sort of outdoor living space in the backyard, such as a deck or patio with outdoor furniture, is another way to use the exterior of your home to its greatest advantage.

12. Last Touches
Just before any open house or showing, make sure that your staging efforts go the full mile with a few last-minute touches that will make the home seem warm and inviting. These include fresh flowers, letting fresh air into the house for at least ten minutes beforehand so it isn't stuffy, adding a pleasant scent as discussed earlier, and putting new, plush, nicely folded towels in the bathrooms.

The Bottom Line

Even if you have plenty of cash, don't put too much money into the staging process. You want to emphasize the home's best features, but keep in mind that what sells the home and what will make the home usable for the buyer are not necessarily the same thing. Overall, to get the most bang for your buck, your home staging efforts should be designed to appeal to the widest possible range of buyers. The more people willing to submit purchase offers for your home, the higher the selling price will be.


Real Estate Speculators Targets of Upcoming Reforms?

The Ontario government is widely expected to announce reforms to cool the Ontario housing market in the April 27 budget. We don’t have a crystal ball, but if you have been waiting to take advantage of this hot market, time may be running out!

Real estate speculators — not ordinary buyers and sellers — will be a target of the province’s efforts to calm the housing market, says Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Signalling that the Liberal government would not take steps to stop bidding wars now taking place, he acknowledged they are leaving buyers frustrated. “People are pissed that they can’t win bidding wars,” Sousa told reporters Wednesday at Queen’s Park hours before Premier Kathleen Wynne huddled with Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area mayors and regional chairs to discuss housing affordability.

While Wynne was more temperate in her remarks to municipal leaders — including Toronto Mayor John Tory — she emphasized the province would be taking action with a suite of real estate and rental measures. “Whether you’re renting or whether you’re looking to buy, the cost of housing is putting people in very precarious situations and it’s stressful. There’s a frenzy that’s going on right now,” the premier said, indicating the government would also help builders clear the hurdles needed to expedite construction of new homes. “I understand that there are supply and demand pressures — this is not just one or the other,” Wynne told the mayors and chairs. “We’re looking at a number of different kinds of policy instruments from land-use planning to regulation to financial tools. There are many options that are being put forward,” she said. “In order to deal with this overheated market in the most rational way, we need to protect the value in people’s homes, we need to work to increase the supply of new units, and we need to work in partnership with all of you.”

Wynne noted only 20 per cent of the land set aside for new development in the province’s 2006 growth plan for the region has been built on. “What’s going on there? What is it that’s keeping that land from being developed? We have land — now we need to make it easier and quicker to build on if we’re going to deal with the supply issue.” Tory stressed the need for a balanced approach that tackles supply. “I’ve also indicated a very strong and abiding commitment to addressing the supply problem — especially the supply of affordable rental housing — but once again, we will need the partnership of the province of Ontario,” the mayor said.

Sousa cautioned that going after average families buying and selling homes or the system of real estate agents taking bids is not the answer. “We don’t want to interfere terribly in these matters . . . this is a free market after all,” said the treasurer, whose measures will come in a budget expected as early as April 27. “The seller of a home has a right to maximize their value in the sale of their home . . . how they achieve it, that’s something that’s in the market. I do not want to put anyone in harm’s way.”

He said the root of the problem is a shortage of housing and high demand driven by a strong economy and an influx of new residents, made worse by “scalpers” who snatch up multiple homes in proposed new developments reselling them later for big profits as prices continue rising sharply. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz in a speech Wednesday also blamed the rapid increase in house prices — as much as 33 per cent over the last 12 months — on speculators, warning that is not sustainable and that prices could fall from current levels. Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak urged the province to enable more housing to be built by allowing municipalities to speed up the permit approval process for builders, putting more supply on the market faster. “It can take over 18 months to get municipal approvals for standard, single-family and multiple-dwelling projects that may require rezoning,” he said. Rents have also been soaring — with some condo tenants reporting steep increases. To help, Housing Minister Chris Ballard is suggesting rent controls could be expanded to include buildings constructed after 1991. 

As well, Queen’s Park is considering a British Columbia-style foreign buyers’ levy of around 15 per cent, and tax changes to discourage investors and speculators from sitting on vacant properties. Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said “there’s no one silver bullet here, but increasing supply, cutting back red tape are all positive steps that the province can take.” New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth), meanwhile, is pushing a private member’s bill to make all buildings, not just those built before 1991, subject to rent control immediately.