Tax alert

BC’s Speculation Tax – Developers and property owners looking for certainty

The proposed introduction of a new tax on certain properties in BC is intended to drive down soaring prices and push more housing stock onto the rental market. However, uncertainty surrounding the details of a plan that could significantly impact a substantial segment of the provincial economy is causing concern among developers and property owners.

The BC Speculation Tax, announced in the province’s 2018 budget, targets the owners of unoccupied residential properties, with a particular emphasis on foreign and out-of-province residents currently paying little or no income tax in the province. According to the information provided to date by the BC government, the tax is intended to curb inflation in the residential real estate market in the province’s largest urban centres by levying additional costs on so-called speculators to “push them out of the market.”

Overview

The proposed tax will apply to properties that fail to meet occupancy requirements in select urban areas,including: the Metro Vancouver Regional District, the Capital Regional District, Kelowna and West Kelowna, Nanaimo-Lantzville, Abbotsford, Chilliwackand Mission. The province intends to apply the tax as a single 0.5% flat rate on the property’s value for all owners of such properties in 2018, but starting in 2019, rates may be scaled depending on whether an owner is a B.C. resident (0.5%), domestic owner (1%) or foreign owner (2%). Exemptions are expected to be applied where the property is being used as a qualifying long-term rental, the owner is undergoing long-term care or temporarily away for work, or the property is being administered following the death of the registered owner. Full offsets of the tax by way of a tax credit may also be available in certain cases where a resident of BC, who is not a member of a satellite family, owns a second residence with an assessed value of $400,000 or less.

Although intended to be retroactive to the beginning of 2018, the legislation for the tax is not expected to be tabled until the fall, and this lack of detail is creating uncertainty for taxpayers around the potential implications and hindering their ability to organize their affairs in an effective manner. We do know that it is expected to raise $200 million per year starting in 2019, and that information provided to date indicates it will function more like an asset tax, impacting property owners and real estate developers in the designated areas.

Uncertainty clouding real estate markets

Those that own property in the affected areas or that may be interested in buying into these locations will be watching closely. The real estate industry is expressing concern that uncertainty about the tax may be eroding confidence in real estate markets throughout the province, contributing to a downward trend in property in the region. Since the measure was announced there has been a drop off in single family home sales and decreased prices as the markets experience the compound effect of the tax coupled with rising interest rates and more restrictive mortgage requirements. Supply hit a three year high in June, but sales were down 37.7% versus June 2017 – suggesting the effects of the tax are already being felt, even ahead of its implementation.

In the recreational home market, where the province would ordinarily have a number of competitive advantages, BC is one of only three regions in Canada expected to experience a depreciation in values, particularly if the tax pushes prospective buyers to invest elsewhere. Residents in the neighbouring province of Alberta, for example, are expected to move recreational spending back to their home province and sell properties in B.C. This is significant because Albertans represent one of the largest groups of recreational property purchasers in the province.  

With markets in doubt, developers become cautious

The speculation tax also has implications for the real estate development sector – developers facing uncertain market demand are putting projects on hold or cancelling them altogether – with potential ripple effects throughout local economies. Residential construction is an important growth driver for the province, accounting for $19.9 billion of its GDP in 2017 and providing more than 199,000 jobs, $11.9 billion in wages and $25 billion in investment value.

Developers are also seeking to clarify another area of uncertainty that that would affect them directly: whether the new levy will apply to bare land earmarked for future development. It’s common for developers to hold on to residential sites for future use, and if bare land was subjected to the new tax, it would add an extra layer of cost to whatever type of housing was eventually built. The Urban Development Institute estimates that additional taxes – which include the speculation tax and school levies – would add $20,000 to $46,000 for every housing unit. The additional regulatory burden is also a consideration that could increase new housing costs. The development sector in Metro Vancouver has asked for an exemption from the tax, but it remains unclear whether the legislation will include such an exemption.

At the same time, the tax could create headwinds for developers seeking financing for future projects, as a reduction in the addressable market – the cohort of potential secondary owners – could change the calculations for lenders and investors

Don’t let uncertainty guide your actions

Ultimately, the full impact of the tax won’t be known until legislation is introduced, debated and enacted. In the meantime, uncertainty creates risks for businesses and individuals with an interest in the BC real estate market. Your Grant Thornton advisor is following developments in this area closely and can help you understand these risks, quantify what they may mean from your individual financial perspective, and formulate effective strategies to address them.