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Part V – Real Estate: Use Caution When Purchasing First Home

As of September 30, 2016, the price for a single family house has risen 22 percent, from September 30, 2015.  This could be discouraging for anyone not in the real estate market or for younger people looking to save for a down payment to buy a house.  With prices at historic highs, the temptation may be to rush into real estate before it goes higher.  Similar to the stock market, when you buy is extremely important.  Buying your principal residence is different which we will explain below.

The housing market is typically one area where using leverage (borrowed money) to purchase an asset has been good. Let’s walk through an example of leverage to purchase a single family home in Victoria.  According the Victoria Real Estate Board (VREB) the benchmark median value (September 2016) for a single family home in Victoria is $745,700.  Unfortunately, the exemption rules with respect to first time home buyers and property transfer tax are archaic and unrealistic in larger centres – property transfer tax of $12,914 would apply.   We think it would be beneficial if the province would adjust the qualifying value for exemption or at least allow some form of proration for affordable housing.  In Ontario, the Finance Minister  has announced that they will refund up to $4,000 from the land-transfer tax for first-time home buyers.

In addition to the purchase price, I estimate the following additional costs at a minimum: legal fees $750, house inspection $500, and house insurance $800. At a minimum, the immediate cash out-lay to purchase the home is $760,664.  To avoid CMHC insurance, a purchaser must put a down payment of 20 per cent, or in this case $152,132.80.  The remaining $608,531.20 must be financed or in other words, “leveraged”.

As noted at the very beginning, prices for Real Estate jumped 22 per cent in one year. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to stress test what would happen if real estate declined 10 per cent in one year.  If a 10 percent correction in real estate prices occurred, then this single family home example would decline $74,570.  Based on the down payment of $152,132.80, this would represent a loss on capital saved of 49 per cent.  Illustrating leverage to a younger person is essential in order to understand the associated risks.

In our first column we talked about the tax benefits of owning a principal residence – essentially no tax on capital gains. Canada Revenue Agency has a term called “personal-use property” which applies to a principal residence.  Any loss on the disposition/sell of a property which is used as a primary residence is deemed to be nil by virtue of sub-paragraph 40(2)(g)(iii) of the Income Tax Act.

If an investor entered the stock market with a non-registered account at a market high point before it pulled back, then, at least with the stock market, people are able to claim a capital loss and use it indefinitely.

Assuming a 25 year amortization and monthly payments, let’s do another form of stress test to see how a change in interest rates would impact payments on the $608,531.20 mortgage.   Assuming a mortgage at 3.2 per cent, the monthly payments would be $2,949.43.  If rates rise slightly to 3.7 per cent, the monthly payments would rise to $3,112.12.  In the near term it looks like rates will stay low, but a realistic view of the 25 year amortization should reflect rates rising off historic lows.  The best scenario would have the first time home buyer paying down as much of the principal before rates potentially rise to reduce the impact.

When interest rates go up, home prices tend to go down simultaneously. This would only compound the effect of the loss on capital saved in the short-term.

Taking a long-term vision and being sure that you can weather the stress tests above in the short-term are key factors prior to rushing in to buy a home. Similar to the stock market, we feel confident in the long-term that valuations will be higher than today.

Kevin Greenard, CPA CA FMA CFP CIM, is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the TC.  Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com 

This is for information purposes only. It is recommended that individuals consult with their financial advisor before acting on any information contained in this article. The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of Scotia Capital Inc. or The Bank of Nova Scotia. ScotiaMcLeod is a division of Scotia Capital Inc., Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

Part III – Real Esate: Benefits of Selling Real Estate Early in Retirement

In our last column we talked about CRA cracking down more on individuals who are non-compliant with respect to the principal residence deduction. Certainly individuals who have frequently bought and sold homes under the principal residence deduction will have to think twice and be prepared to be audited.

This article is really about the individuals who are contemplating a change in their life. Health and life events are often the two trigger points that have people thinking about whether to sell or not.   It can certainly be an emotional decision when it comes to that time.  Selling your home when you have control on timing when it is sold is always better than the alternative.

For our entire lives we have been focused on making prudent financial decisions and doing things that increase our net worth. There comes a point where you shouldn’t always do something that is the best financially.  If we only made decisions based on financial reasons you would never retire, you would work seven days a week, work longer days, and never take a vacation.  Throughout our working lives most people try to create a reasonable work-life balance.  In retirement I try to get clients to focus on the life part and fulfilling the things that are important to them.

Selling a principal residence could translate to a foolish move for someone looking at it only through net worth spectacles. I encourage clients to take off those spectacles and focus on what they truly want out of retirement and life.  At the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization where people come to find a meaning to life that is important to them.   I think at this peak of self-actualization, many find that financial items and having to own a house, are not as important as they once were.

About ten years ago I remember having meetings with two different couples. Let us talk about the first couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brown who had just retired.  One of the first things they did after retiring was focus on uncluttering their lives.  They got rid of the stuff they didn’t need, and then they listed their house and sold it.  They then proceeded to sell both cars.  Shortly thereafter they came into my office and gave me a cheque for their total life savings.  Mrs. Brown had prepared a budget and we mapped out a plan to transfer a monthly amount from their investment account to their bank account.  They walk everywhere and are extremely healthy.  They like to travel and enjoy keeping their life as stress free as possible.  If any appliances break in their apartment it is not their problem, they just call the landlord.  Our meetings are focused on their hobbies and where they are going on their next trip.

I met another couple ten years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. They had also just retired.  They had accumulated a significant net worth through a combination of financial investments and they owned eight rental properties (including some buildings with four and six units).    At that time I thought they would have had the best of retirements based on their net worth.   The rental properties seem to always have things that need to get repaired or tenants moving out.  When I hear all the stories it almost sounds like they are stressed and not really retired.  Every year their net worth goes up.  Every year they get older, Mr. Wilson is now 75 years old and Mrs. Wilson is 72.  In the past I have talked to them about starting to sell the properties, to simplify their life and get the most out of retirement.   They are still wearing net worth spectacles and have not slowed their life down enough to get to the self-actualization stage.

My recommendation to clients has normally been to stay in their home as long as they can, even if this involves modifying their house and hiring help. This is assuming they have their health and the financial resources to fund this while still achieving their other goals.   Even in cases when financial resources do not force an individual to sell a house, the most likely outcome is that the house will be sold at a later stage in life and the proceeds used to fund assisted living arrangements.

Many people are house rich and cash poor. From my experience clients have two choices.  Option one is they can have a relatively stressful retirement trying to stretch a few dollars of savings over many years.  With this option you will likely leave a large estate.   Option two is selling the house and using the lifelong accumulation of wealth to make the most out of your retirement.    Although this option results in a smaller estate, you’re more likely to reach the self-actualization stage.

Kevin Greenard, CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the TC.  Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com 

This is for information purposes only. It is recommended that individuals consult with their financial advisor before acting on any information contained in this article. The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of Scotia Capital Inc. or The Bank of Nova Scotia. ScotiaMcLeod is a division of Scotia Capital Inc., Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

 

Tax tips for Americans in Canada

Recommendation No. 1: Seek advice on reporting requirements

Most countries, including Canada, do not tax on the basis of citizenship. For example, Canadian citizens who live in Canada pay tax in Canada on the taxable income they earn. If a Canadian citizen moved abroad a few years ago, with no continued ties to Canada, it is most likely this individual would be considered “non-resident” and would have no tax reporting obligation to Canada. In other words, Canadians are taxed based on residency.

The U.S. tax system is different as it treats all U.S. citizens as U.S. residents for tax purposes, no matter where they live in the world, including Canada. Many U.S. citizens live in Canada and are resident here. A U.S. citizen has to pay tax in Canada on taxable income if they are resident for Canadian tax purposes.   Canada and the U.S. have entered into various agreements (i.e. tax treaties) to address taxation differences and to largely avoid double taxation.  

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the U.S. has been trying to crack down on American taxpayers using financial accounts held outside of the U.S. to evade taxes. For example, the U.S. introduced the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), signed into law on March 2010, with the objective of identifying taxpayers evading taxes. To do that required co-operation from other countries to provide information.  

The U.S. effectively told Canada that if it did not comply, then all income from U.S. investments would be subject to a 30 per cent withholding tax. This threat of withholding was for both registered and non-registered investment accounts.

Previously, Canada was not required to withhold any tax on U.S. investments held in registered accounts. For non-registered accounts, the negotiated tax treaty had withholding rates on U.S. dividends at 15 per cent and nil for US interest income.

Earlier this year, Canada and the U.S. signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) regarding FATCA, in which Canada agreed to pass laws requiring that, primarily through financial institutions, that annual reports be made to the Canada Revenue Agency on specified accounts held in Canada by U.S. persons. The agreement brings Canada, via the CRA, into a reporting agreement to satisfy FACTA.

Under the agreement, the U.S. has agreed not to apply the 30 per cent withholding tax on registered accounts, such as RRSPs, TFSAs and RESPs, and to maintain the existing withholding rates for non-registered accounts.

Effective July 1, 2014, an amendment to the Canada Income Tax Act adopting Canadian tax regulations related to FATCA.   Also beginning in July 2014, financial institutions have new requirements to report to the CRA, not the IRS. Clients of financial institutions will be required to complete additional mandatory questions for all non-registered accounts. New account-opening forms will require you to state if they are a citizens of Canada, and if they are a citizen of the U.S. Another question is, “Are you a U.S. Person (Entity) for tax purposes?” Certain legal entities must answer a new classification question relating to active or passive entity.

For the purposes of FATCA, here are some examples of who is deemed a U.S. Person (Entity):

  • U.S. citizens, include persons with dual citizenship, U.S. residency,
  • Any person who meets the IRS “Substantial Presence Test of U.S. Residency,”
  • U.S. resident aliens (Green Card holders who do not have U.S. citizenship),
  • Persons born in the U.S. or who hold a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or U.S. Tax Identification Number (TIN) or a U.S. Place of incorporation or registration

Financial firms have a mandatory obligation to provide this information to CRA. CRA will begin sharing relevant information pertaining to the agreement with the IRS starting in 2015.

For the majority of Canadians, this is a non-issue. For the approximately one to two million people in Canada that would be deemed a U.S. Person (Entity), it reinforces the need to have all of your tax filings up to date with both the IRS and CRA.

Sharing information electronically between CRA and the IRS will enable the IRS to obtain information on U.S. Persons (Entities) that have not fulfilled their reporting obligations.

Other indicators must also be reviewed, including U.S. address (residence, mailing, in-care-of, or interested party), U.S. telephone number, standing instructions to transfer funds to an account held by the client in the U.S., a power of attorney or signatory authority granted to a person with a U.S. address.

Many snowbirds have asked me what their requirements are under FATCA. Reviewing the “Substantial Presence Test of US Residency” on the IRS website is a good starting point. A wealth advisor should have enough knowledge about FATCA to make sure your accounts are documented correctly and that they are asking you the right questions.

I recommend every client who is not sure if they have a reporting obligation to consult with an independent tax advisor to determine if they are a U.S. person for tax purposes. It is important that the accountant you approach has knowledge in these areas to be able to provide you appropriate advice.

Effective July 1, 2014, financial institutions are required by law to report annually to CRA on accounts where a client is unwilling or unable to provide documentation for FATCA, one of more U.S. owners are specified ”U.S. Persons,” undocumented account holders for FATCA purposes, and passive entity with one or more controlling persons that are specified “U.S. Persons.” The information that must be sent to CRA includes name, address, TIN/SIN and total account value.

If you are not sure if you have a reporting obligation, we encourage you to speak with your wealth advisor who should be able to communicate with your independent tax professional, and together ensure your financial accounts are documented correctly and you are fulfilling your reporting requirement, if any.  

This article is intended as a general source of information and should not be considered as personal investment, tax or pension advice. We are not tax advisors and we recommend that individuals consult with their professional tax advisor before taking any action based upon the information found in this publication.