Liberals look to ease affordability concerns with release of housing strategy

Liberals look to ease affordability concerns with release of housing strategy

The plan will put a heavy focus on housing supply building tens of thousands of affordable housing units over the next decade and repurposing other cash to maintain housing supplements.

There are expectations that the plan will also include a new portable benefit that low-income renters can carry with them through the market.

Those are just two of a number of anticipated measures aimed at making housing in Canada more affordable, particularly for the 1.7 million households that are forced to spend more of their disposable income than they should on housing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Toronto to unveil the details of the plan, while Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos travels to Vancouver to make a simultaneous announcement on the West Coast to mark National Housing Day.

Recently released census data found that 1.7 million households were in “core housing need” in 2016, meaning they spent more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn’t meet their needs.

Outside of Vancouver, the cities with the highest rates of core housing need were in Ontario. In Toronto, close to one in five households were financially stretched the highest rate of any city in the country.

The government hopes that building 80,000 new affordable rental units, along with billions more in spending over the next decade, will lift 500,000 of those families out of core housing need and help a further 500,000 avoid or get out of homelessness.

The details of how the spending will roll out are of keen interest to housing providers and cities. Municipal leaders have been meeting with federal officials this week to talk about the national housing strategy.

The Liberals laid the financial backbone for the plan in this year’s federal budget, promising $11.2 billion over a decade in new spending. About $5 billion of that money the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is expected to turn into $15 billion by leveraging $10 billion in private investment.

Still, most of the money won’t be spent until after the next election in 2019, which concerns anti-poverty groups.

Those groups are planning demonstrations in multiple cities today, demanding the Liberals spend the full $11.2 billion before the next election.

Source: The Canadian Press

Liberals look to ease affordability concerns with release of housing strategy

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The ultimate home maintenance guide

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A complete schedule of when to do what … and how much it costs

When I bought my dream home two years ago, I wasn’t imagining myself standing in my basement, holding an umbrella, watching my husband chase streams of water with a flashlight. But that’s where I ended up. It was the first spring thaw and he was trying to figure out where the leaks were coming from.

Clad in his work boots and a rain jacket he would alternate between stepping outside our basement door, where the rain came down in big sheets of cold wetness, and ducking into our basement to inspect various parts of our foundation. It would take three more rainstorms, the installation of a sump pump and a complete overhaul of our plumbing before we were able to correct the problem.

That was a rough introduction to the world of home ownership, but I don’t regret buying the place. It’s a great century-old row house in downtown Toronto in an eclectic and vibrant west-end neighbourhood. Still, as I watched the balance on our line of credit creep up to the $40,000 mark, I started to wonder: How much does it cost to maintain a home anyway?

After a bit of research, I found out that the general rule of thumb is that you should expect to spend 3% to 5% of the value of your home every year, on average. For a 40- year-old home worth $500,000 that means you’ll need to set aside up to $25,000 every year. I ran that figure by my husband, who is—as it happens—a commercial and residential general contractor, and he said that sounded high. But is it? We were savvier home buyers than many, but we still underestimated the cost of fixing our drainage issues and the expense of tearing down the garage (“Give it a year and you won’t have to,” one broker told us when were out shopping for insurance).

So, to get a handle on the real cost of maintaining a home, I decided to price out all of the major maintenance and repairs you can expect to perform on a typical 2,000-square-foot detached house in Canada myself.

To do this I looked at two different kinds of upkeep. The first is the regular annual maintenance that every homeowner should do to keep his or her home running smoothly. Things like changing the furnace filters and patching the driveway. The second kind of upkeep includes those once-a-decade expenses that tend to result in migraines. Here I’m talking about things like replacing your hot water heater because it rusted through, or replacing all of your outdated electrical wiring.

To get an accurate figure, I divided up the typical home into its seven major components and tallied up the costs for both large and small jobs over 25 years. I then annualized that amount, so you can make sure that you’re contributing enough to your household maintenance budget every year. I also include tips on regular maintenance you can do to keep those little problems from turning into expensive headaches. But I didn’t include jobs such as interior painting, or upgrading your kitchen cabinets. I focussed on the bare bones maintenance you need to do to protect your home and keep it from deteriorating. In short, if you’re wondering why your car came with a maintenance guide, but your home didn’t—problem solved. Because here it is: A complete maintenance guide for your home.

The plumbing 
When Steve Bedernjak bought his detached fixer-upper bungalow in one of Toronto’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods four years ago, he didn’t bother getting it inspected. Why bother? He already knew the place needed a lot of work, and he had a plan. He’d renovate one of the bathrooms and update the very outdated kitchen. He had $15,000 saved up for the job and a great deal of handyman know-how. But his first winter brought with it a slew of plumbing problems that threw a soggy blanket on his renovation strategy.

After a particularly cold spell, the pipes in the main floor bathroom froze. Swamped with work, Steve plugged a heater into the bathroom, turned on the bathtub faucet and left. Hours later he returned to the sound of running water—but the bathtub was dry. To his dismay, while the heater had helped thaw the frozen plumbing, the extreme temperature change had caused a rupture in the copper joints in the basement. “There was water everywhere.” Worse yet: Steve had to take a sledgehammer to the bathroom’s shower, since the previous homeowner had tiled over the main shut-off valve.

A few simple steps can go a long way towards making sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you. Consider insulating all of your exposed pipes for starters—especially if they run through an unheated garage or unfinished basement. Uninsulated pipes are susceptible to temperature changes and start to sweat. This condensation starts to corrode the pipes, decreasing the life of your plumbing.

Another good habit to develop is to test all the faucets regularly and swap out old washers when taps begin to drip. Once a year top up floor drains with water to prevent sewer gases from entering your home. (A properly installed drain should have a trap—a U-shaped pipe that holds water and prevents sewer gas, such as methane, from seeping into your home.) A trick is to pour a quarter cup of mineral oil down the drain. The mineral oil sits on the water barrier and slows down the rate of evaporation.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to make sure you know where the main shut off valve for your home is located. Test it every year to make sure it’s working—and that you can get at it if you need to.

The outside structure 
While curb appeal is important, remember that the primary job of your home’s exterior is to protect your home. Not easy given fluctuating temperatures, changing seasons, and the various protrusions, sharp angles and different materials used in home construction. Your job is to keep that exterior as seamless as possible—a task even Canada’s worst handyman can accomplish.

Every year start by power washing your property. (Don’t do this if you have a brick home as the force of the spray can damage the brick. Instead, consider getting the brick professionally cleaned every few decades.) By cleaning off the dirt and grime—and taking the time to just stare at your home—you’ll get a pretty good idea of necessary repairs and replacements.

For instance if you notice the outside tap (known as a bib) froze during the winter, replace it with an antifreeze model—this $30 do-it-yourself fix could save you thousands in the long run. Consider replacing the weather stripping around windows and doors, as well as the door sweep, that rubber thingie at the bottom of the door that creates an airtight seal. Simple and cheap, these maintenance steps will help increase the energy efficiency in your home and will also prolong the life of the exterior shell.

Many of these jobs can be completed in a few hours or in a weekend, and they don’t require the skills of a professional.

When all the routine maintenance is complete, turn your attention to strategic updates. Replacing old wooden windows with vinyl models will cost between $3,000 and $12,000, but it will eliminate the annual sanding, priming and painting required of old wooden frame windows while increasing the energy efficiency of your home. You’ll enjoy lower electricity bills in the summer, and lower gas bills in the winter. Also, consider replacing old doors, just make sure the door fits the frame snugly or air will seep out.

The roof 
The roof is an integral part of your home’s defence system. It’s also one of the most expensive components to replace, as my husband Mark and I found out. Swamped with his own contracts, my husband had originally planned to hire a company to re-shingle a small section of our roof. But the quotes he got were shocking: up to $7,000 to replace the plywood and re-shingle just 200 square feet. No joke.

The good news is you can prolong the life of your roof, and reduce the number of cheques you write to Johnny-No-Thumbs Roofing Co., by implementing a few ongoing maintenance routines.

First, pull out a ladder and climb on up there to visually inspect your roof. The best indication of a deteriorating roof is curled and separating shingles. Also examine the amount of grit and gravel that collects in your eaves and gutters. That grit is actually bits of asphalt rolling off the roof during high winds and rainstorms. If you find more than a quarter-inch of sediment, then it’s time to look at a new roof. Finally, look for waves or dips, which are early indicators of rot. If caught early enough, rot can be eliminated with the addition of more roof vents.

Every year you should secure or replace any loose shingles, inspect the chimney and verify the chimney cap is securely fastened. You should also inspect your flashing seals. Flashing is the thin, continuous piece of metal (or other impervious material) that’s installed at every angle or roof joint to prevent water from seeping under the asphalt tiles. Sealant is used to strengthen this barrier and must be re-touched on a regular basis.

Of course, if the thought of standing on a sloped surface 40-feet above the ground terrifies you, then you can always hire a handyman or roofer to do the annual inspection for you.

The foundation 
Have you ever seen a house that leans to one side? Typically this is caused by a damaged foundation. And more often than not, problematic foundations are caused by homeowner neglect.

Maintaining your foundation is an easy way to avoid very costly repairs. For example, you could spend $500 to repair the crack that develops where your driveway meets your home, or you could wait and pay $9,000 to excavate and waterproof a damaged foundation.

The best way to stay on top of foundation issues is to visually inspect your home at the start of each season, explains Bryan Baeumler, a contractor and the host of HGTV’s House of Bryan. Look for signs of settling, such as small hairline cracks. Keep a special lookout for cracks that widen over time, cracks that follow your concrete block foundation in a step pattern, or cracks above windows. These may be an indication of a larger foundation problem.

Also be diligent about snow and debris removal. Snow can melt and cause water damming, while debris can invite pests.

Finally, inspect the base of your home and your basement for mold and mildew. Use your nose and a flashlight to look inside closets, behind stored contents and around fixtures, such as the hot water tank. If you find mold, remove it using one part rubbing alcohol (90% or more) and two parts water. Don’t use bleach. (According to the U.S.-based Environmental Protection Agency, bleach isn’t able to penetrate porous material so it can’t kill mold spores at the root.)

Then look for the cause of the mold: where is the moisture coming from? Ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away is not a great idea, as a friend of mind discovered when she neglected to address occasional sewer back-ups in her basement. To rectify the cause, she would have had to re-grade the soil outside her basement window and install a sump pump, at a cost of approximately $2,300. Instead, she left it.

A year later those spots of mold grew into a disgusting carpet of spores over a foot high. She ending up paying for pre- and post-air quality tests, professional mold remediation, debris removal, re-grading and a sump pump, at a total cost of $22,000.

Electrical 
Homeowners and unlicensed contractors are legally allowed to do their own electrical work, but you run a big risk if you don’t know what you’re doing, says HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler. “The worst I ever saw was a basement that was built for children and framed with steel studs.” The unlicensed contractors used an electrical wire without grommets, which enabled uninsulated wires to touch the studs. “The walls were actually live,” recalls Baeumler—if someone had touched the walls, they would have been electrocuted.

As with heating and air conditioning, consider hiring professionals when it comes to electrical work. But even if professionals do the bulk of the electrical repairs around your home, there are still steps you can take to ensure things are in proper working order.

For instance, you can make sure each light fixture is fitted with the proper bulb wattage. If you use a 150 watt bulb in a fixture that’s only designed for 100 watts, it can shorten the life of the bulb and the light fixture. You can also check your ground fault outlets by pushing the test/reset buttons. While you’re at it, check outdoor outlets and cords to make sure they aren’t damaged, and replace or repair frayed wires and plug heads.

Finally, schedule annual alarm tests and routine battery replacements in every detector and replace every fire, carbon monoxide and radon detector every 10 years, when the alarms begin to degrade.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning 
Some do-it-yourselfers are comfortable tackling furnace or central air conditioning repairs, but most of us will want to call in the professionals.

That means scheduling an annual inspection and cleaning of your furnace for the early fall. That way, you’re making sure that any potential problems with your furnace are caught well before the bitter cold season. The same diligence doesn’t have to apply to central A/C though, as long as you clean out leaves and debris before turning on the unit in the spring.

There are a few other practical maintenance steps you can do yourself to help your home’s heating and cooling system. Vacuum air grates or electrical baseboard heaters to remove dirt, and cover your A/C unit with a breathable, flexible cover to keep out debris and leaves. (Don’t tightly wrap the unit, as you could create a cozy den for critters or damage the unit’s coils.)

Also, try to change your furnace filter regularly. Not doing so is like forcing your furnace to breathe through a straw. By replacing the filter every three months, you improve both your air quality and the efficiency of your furnace.

You likely don’t have to bother having your ducts professionally cleaned though. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation studied the impact of duct cleaning and found no difference pre- and post-cleaning. They did, however, recommend duct cleaning if you’ve just moved into a brand new home or just underwent major renovations.

Drainage and landscaping
A well-appointed garden can add as much as 20% to the value of your house, but landscaping also has a hidden purpose that’s much more important: to drain water away from your foundation.

To prevent water from seeping into your basement you should pay particular attention to the underside of the eaves (known as the soffits), the material that caps your gutters (known as the fascia), as well as downspouts and drains. Keep these clear of debris, such as leaves and twigs, and check for blockages. Expect to re-attach or fix these components on an annual basis. Remember: the easier it is for water to flow away from your home, the less likelihood of damage.

Now, visually inspect the grade of your foundation and driveway. Examine the ground abutting your home, or, if you’re like me and dimensionally impaired, pour a glass of water on the ground close to your foundation walls. Watch what the water does: Does it roll away from the home? Does it pool in one area? Worse yet, does it roll towards the home and then sit, waiting to be absorbed? The minimum standard for grading is an inch for every foot, with at least eight feet of grade starting at your foundation wall. Any grade that doesn’t move water away from your home should be corrected. If not, you could end up paying for expensive waterproofing remediation—one of the most avoidable, yet costliest repairs to any home.

Also consider removing boxed planters built against your foundation. While these landscaping features can add a splash of colour and enhance curb appeal they can also cause problems, since water has nowhere else to go but into your foundation.

Finally, pay attention to paths and driveways on your property. If they split they can allow water to seep into the earth, which can oversaturate your lawn, promote soil erosion and prevent the garden from keeping water away from your home. Small repairs to such hardscaping features can mean big savings later on.

The final tally 
So what’s the total cost of transforming your home into an efficient, water-repelling system that never causes you any sleepless nights? When I tallied up the annual cost of all of the regular maintenance, I found that you could expect to spend somewhere between $900 and $1,000 a year. If you hire professionals, you may spend upwards of $3,000 a year.

But that doesn’t take into consideration the expense of major repairs, replacements and remediation. Those expenses tend to arise much less frequently, but they hit your wallet hard. To make sure you’re prepared, you should set up a “big stuff” home maintenance account, to which you should contribute an extra $3,500 to $7,500 a year, depending on the size and age of your home.

Total annual maintenance cost: $930 – $2,600
Total annual replacement cost: $3,500 – $7,300
The total amount you should budget for home maintenance: $4,500 – $10,000 per year

To double-check my figures, my husband Mark and I went back through our own reno and repair expenses, and we found that the numbers above are accurate. Of course, they don’t reflect the hours and hours of work that you do yourself (not the mention the help from friends and family).

Looking after your home properly is a lot of work—and, yes, it can be expensive. But it’s worth it to have a place you love that’s truly yours. Despite four years of ongoing repairs and renovations, Steve Bedernjak agrees. “At one point I seriously considered only dating people with construction knowledge—because I spent all my time at my house.” But now that Steve can actually see an end to all the construction turmoil, he says it was all worthwhile. “Despite the problems that are inherent of a 100-year-old home I’m glad I became a homeowner. Every night I sit on my back porch and listen to muted bustle of the city, and I’m comforted with the knowledge that it was in my hands that my house became my home.”

Source: MoneySense.ca – by  

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What’s his, what’s hers

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When divorcing partners divide their assets, the split isn’t always as fair as it first appears. Here’s what you need to know.

Two weeks after his divorce, Phil Doughty received a blunt letter from his ex-wife’s lawyer. It informed him he’d contravened his settlement by not giving his ex her $100,000 share of his pension within 10 days of the divorce.

“It was a knockdown punch,” says the retired teacher from Montreal. “I had no idea I had to pay her right away, or that the money would come directly out of my pension fund.” Doughty thought his ex would simply get a share of his benefit after he stopped working. “I’d never heard of a company taking money out of a pension eight years before retirement.”

With his pension fund depleted, Doughty’s monthly cheques were reduced by over a third when he eventually retired, yet he was still required to pay spousal support from what remained, leaving him strapped. “I had to find another lawyer to help me get out of those support payments I couldn’t afford anymore.”

Doughty (we’ve changed his name, and those of all the featured subjects in this article) believes his pension arrangement should have been handled differently—at the very least it should have been explained to him properly. “I guess it was just something the lawyers worked out between them,” he says. “My lawyer and I never really talked about the pension.”

It seems hard to believe a lawyer would not talk to a client about how such an important asset would be divided, but Doughty insists he would have remembered such a conversation. His situation is just one example of how partners frequently get divorced without understanding all the financial implications.

“Divorce changes a person’s financial situation dramatically and often there is no planning for it,” says Debbie Hartzman, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Kingston, Ont., and co-author of Divorce Isn’t Easy, But It Can Be Fair. (CDFAs are planners with additional training in the financial impact of separation and divorce. See “Where to get help,” at the bottom of this page.) “I’ve had clients say things like, ‘I just spent four years fighting with my ex, I have this cheque for $400,000, and I have no idea what that means in terms of my financial future.’”

Surely part of a lawyer’s job entails discussing financial matters surrounding divorce. Apart from custody of children, aren’t money and property the big issues in divorce? “A family lawyer’s job includes giving advice about a number of financial issues, but we are not financial analysts,” says Bruce Clark, who observed many divorce-related financial problems during his 35-year career as a family lawyer in Toronto.

Lawyers may not anticipate the long-term implications of divorce-related financial matters. For example, Hartzman explains it’s possible to have different divisions of assets that all meet the 50/50 requirements of the law but have profoundly different financial consequences for the divorcing partners. Her book includes a case study that presents different ways to legally divide the assets of a middle-class couple. Both are 58 years old, and the largest assets are the house and pensions (his is four times more valuable than hers). In one scenario, the assets are split more or less equally, so the initial net worth of the two partners is about the same. However, her share of the man’s pension is paid out as a lump sum, and the support payments are not structured to reflect the fact his post-retirement income will be higher than hers. As a result, after age 65 the woman’s net worth and monthly cash flow flatline, while the man’s relative financial situation steadily improves. “The person with the pension can end up in a much better financial position than the person with the house, particularly if the pension is indexed to inflation,” says Jim Doyle, a CDFA with Investors Group in Vancouver.

Here’s a different scenario: she keeps the house and gets only a quarter of his pension. To the untrained eye that seems to be simply an alternative way of dividing the pie equally. Yet this arrangement ensures the woman’s net worth stays similar to the man’s for the rest of their lives, without diminishing his financial situation.

Of course, case studies do not translate into rules that ensure ideal financial arrangements for every divorcing couple. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult a financial professional as well as a lawyer if you’re going through divorce or separation.

Don’t assume every asset must be split down the middle. “People often want to split up each individual asset, but not all assets are created equal. It’s usually better to look at assets in terms of how to divide the whole cake,” says Hartzman.

Pinched pensions

Doughty is not the first divorced person to be subject to pension shock. Many people don’t even realize pensions have to be shared after divorce, says Clark. “In my experience, most people consider their pensions to be their personal property, as opposed to an asset that must be shared equally after a divorce. In a longer-term marriage the pension is often the single biggest asset.”

This was the case for Doughty and his ex-wife, who had sold their matrimonial home shortly before separating. By law his ex-wife was entitled to half the teacher’s pension that accumulated during their marriage.

“Pensions are very, very complicated assets,” says Sharon Numerow, a CDFA and divorce mediator with Alberta Divorce Finances in Calgary. “Defined benefit pensions must be independently valued by an actuary, and the rules about paying out a spouse vary from province to province.” For example, in Alberta there are no longer any provincial pension plans that allow monthly payouts to an ex-spouse when the member spouse retires. Therefore, the only option is to give the ex-spouse a designated value that is transferred into a Locked-In Retirement Account or LIRA (called a locked-in RRSP in some provinces). “This almost always has to be done after the separation agreement is signed, and not usually at retirement,” says Numerow.

On the other hand, Ontario recently adjusted its Family Statute Law in the opposite direction. Now a portion of a person’s pension payments can be made directly to an ex-spouse after retirement. Another possibility is for the spouse without the pension to get another asset equal to the value.

Bottom line, don’t underestimate the potential for misunderstanding pension division. It’s important to work with your lawyer to understand the legal issues, then talk to a financial planner who can help you appreciate the short-, medium- and long-term implications of the division of this and your other assets.

Close to home

Another key, says Hartzman, is determining whether it’s viable for one partner to stay in the family home. There are two main questions: Can one partner actually afford to keep the home? And how will keeping the home affect that person’s financial future?

“Most people I’ve worked with live in houses that require two incomes, so after divorce one person would be trying to maintain the home on half as much income, and often it just isn’t affordable,” Hartzman says. “Can you imagine how hard it is to tell someone already going through the emotional turmoil of divorce that they can’t afford to stay in the family home they and their children are so attached to?”

Sandra Baron, an Ottawa mother of two, did manage to stay in the matrimonial home after her divorce. A financial planner helped her figure out how to pull this off. “My first lawyer really didn’t seem to understand my financial situation,” Baron explains. “I went to see a financial planner and asked if I could afford to buy out the matrimonial home from my husband. He helped me work it out.”

Baron and her spouse had always lived within their means. They had no debt other than a mortgage with much lower principal than they qualified for. That, combined with support payments and Baron’s earning potential (she had been an at-home parent most of her marriage but began doing contract work after the divorce), meant she was able to keep the family home.

The financial planner also gave Baron some tax-saving advice on how to invest some money she had brought into the marriage. Since she had that money before the marriage and kept it in a separate account, it was not an asset that had to be shared equally. However, had she used that money to help pay down the mortgage, it would have become part of the value of the matrimonial home and therefore a joint asset.

This is also the case if one spouse receives an inheritance or gift during the marriage. In most provinces, as long as the money is kept in a separate account it does not have to be divided equally after a divorce. But if it is used to purchase a joint asset, such as a house, it becomes the property of both spouses. (In some jurisdictions growth in the value of the inheritance or gift may count as an asset to be shared.)

Perhaps the biggest factor in Baron’s situation was that she and her husband actually saved money for their separation. “It was almost five years from the time we realized the marriage was likely not able to be repaired that we saved for the eventual separation. Unless the relationship was harmful, I felt it was in the best interest of everyone—particularly the children, who are all that really mattered in the end—to plan and wait so things would be better for them financially.”

It’s a safe bet the path Baron and her ex-husband took is not typical of divorcing couples. Obviously they got along well, even after deciding to separate; they had no debts other than the mortgage and were both well acquainted with their family financial situation. The opposite is much more likely, says Numerow. “It’s common for one partner to know very little about the family finances, and they often don’t know the extent of their debts.”

Lady in red

When Anna Masters, of Taber, Alta., separated from her husband she moved in with her sister and started a new job at a bank. She also applied for a new credit card through that bank, so the person doing the credit check was one of her colleagues. When the Equifax credit report came through, the coworker quietly asked Masters to step into her office. “You are behind in all your bills and credit cards. Most of them are in collections,” the embarrassed colleague said.

“I was horrified,” says Masters. “Even the cell phone bills weren’t paid. I didn’t even know my ex had his own cell phone.”

That’s not the worst of it. Masters’ ex-husband had a line of credit she didn’t know about it, which listed her as a co-signer. Masters says he must have forged her signature on the application.

It’s not hard to find similar tales of woe. Alan Leclair of Winnipeg tried to remortgage his house not long before he and his wife split up. “When the credit check came in the banker said to me, ‘You’ve got debts you didn’t tell me about. You’d better go home and talk to your wife about it,’” says Leclair. These debts were considerable—between $30,000 and $40,000 in unpaid credit card balances. Fortunately, Leclair’s ex-wife eventually agreed to take responsibility for them.

Masters was less fortunate. She got stuck with a big chunk of debt—loans and credit cards her husband was supposed to pay off, but didn’t—as well as the line of credit he’d fraudulently put her name on. “I could only get part-time work at the bank, but I worked every other junk job I could find. It took me three years, but I paid off my share, and in a way I’m glad I went through the experience. I’m in control of my finances now,” Masters says.

The one smart thing Masters feels she did in the lead-up to her separation was to start setting aside money (“Omigod money,” she called it) so she’d have something to fall back on in an emergency. “Even before I realized the full extent of the financial mess we were in, I knew my ex was spending irresponsibly, so I started squirreling money away.” That money—about $3,500, which she kept in a sock hidden under a pile of towels in the linen closet—ended up being used to cover her living expenses during a spell of unemployment after moving to a new town after she was separated.

Leclair did something similar. “I had a friend who was going through a divorce and I asked him for advice. He said, ‘Put a few bucks away.’ So I did.” He hid cash in his house and even left about $500 at a friend’s house. “When the separation happened I was in scramble mode, dealing with all kinds of things. It was comforting to at least know that money was there,” he says.

Clark, the family lawyer, explains any money you stash prior to separation “will still be subject to division, but you will have the use of it while property issues are being sorted out. There is nothing illegal about this as long as you declare the amounts you have put aside.”

Other eye-openers

It’s hardly surprising that people have trouble working through issues like asset division and debt. But the path to divorce is laden with other potential financial mistakes.

One is trying to settle too fast. “People want it settled tomorrow,” says Jim Doyle, the financial planner. “Emotions often determine the choices rather than making the numbers make sense. I say to people, ‘Let’s slow down and do the math.’” He says it’s common for partners to make hasty, ill-advised decisions about asset splitting just to avoid conflict. “Sometimes in relationships where there is an imbalance of power, one person might simply capitulate, resulting in a financial decision that may have negative consequences down the road.”

Don’t ignore the tax implications. “One of the biggest items that is often overlooked in separation and divorce agreements is tax deductions, such as child-care expenses, and credits that may apply to separated and divorced parents,” says Numerow. For example, a divorced parent can claim one child as a dependent, but both parents cannot claim the same child.

Another dangerous road is trading property for time with children. “Big mistake—just don’t do it,” says Numerow. In addition, remember that spousal or child support and asset division are, for the most part, completely separate issues.

Finally, if you’re a common-law spouse, don’t assume the process is the same as it is for married couples. Generally, legal requirements regarding spousal and child support are the same, provided a couple has been living common-law for at least two years (three in some provinces). However, the division of assets is not automatic, as it is in a marriage, which comes as a surprise to many people, Numerow says. “Go to a lawyer and find out what you do and don’t have to share. Laws concerning common-law separations vary by province.”

One message Clark, Numerow and Hartzman all want to get across is this: both partners should always be aware of the family’s financial situation. If one partner is more hands-on with the money, the other at least needs to understand the big picture. “I’ve met a lot of spouses who weren’t involved in the finances and they’re ashamed,” says Numerow. “I tell them, ‘Don’t beat yourself up over it. Now is the time to begin your learning.’ However, if both partners were on top of the family finances it would make divorce a lot easier.”—written by John Hoffman

Where to get help

Certified Divorce Financial Analysts usually charge between $175 and $250 per hour. “If people do their homework and bring in all the relevant financial information, we can usually get a fairly good handle on the situation in two hours,” says CDFA and author Debbie Hartzman. “For an individual, it usually takes no more than three hours overall. With couples it usually takes three sessions of an hour or an hour-and-a-half each.” She notes that a better understanding of your financial situation can save your lawyer’s time, which is much more expensive.

To find a CDFA, do a web search for your town and CDFA, or visit the website of the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (www.institutedfa.com) and search by city, town or area code.

Source: MoneySense.ca – by  

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The best way to help your child buy a home – The complications and benefits of gifting funds to your son/daughter to buy a condo

Q: I am in the process of helping my daughter buy a condo, here is what we have done so far:

We signed the mortgage with her as primary and me as co-signer,  I will be giving her the down payment and she is going to be living there and she will be the one paying the mortgage and all expenses.

My question is what would be the best way to do this transaction looking it at both a legal and tax perspective. From the tax perspective: How should I arrange/declare that I am gifting her the down payment on this condo? And when do we claim the tax breaks for her as a first time buyer? Would that be at time of paying the lawyer for land transfer etc.? Also, I would like to still be able to have some room on my credit as to buy another property so we were thinking if her owning 90% of the condo and me keeping just 10% would work for this purpose. According to the lawyer, we both have to have some percentage assigned because we are both on the mortgage.

From a legal perspective, we are thinking about joint tenancy as the best way to protect the asset if one of us passes away unexpectedly.

My intention is really just to help her “fly on her own,” but with all the legal and tax implications, we’d really like to do it in the best way possible.

—Claudia

A: Hi Claudia. First, let me congratulate you and your daughter! It’s wonderful that you are in a financial position to help her with the purchase of her first property.

It appears you’ve given the current and future implications of this decision a great deal of thought.

I can only assume that your lawyer has asked for a percentage split on the property because you are co-signing the mortgage and because you are opting to have both you and your daughter on title as owners’ of the property.

This legal structure helps limit the amount of taxes you owe, as you can specify that your share in the property is nominal, say 10%. Just keep in mind that each joint tenant can gift or sell their portion of the property. That means, your daughter has the legal right to sell her 90% stake in the condo even if you don’t want or agree to the sale. It also means that you are exposing yourself to creditors, should your daughter file for bankruptcy or become a defendant in a lawsuit. Finally, the 10% that you own will not be sheltered under the principal residence exemption as this property is not your primary residence.

But there is a silver lining. The Canada Revenue Agency does not tax gifted money. That means if you opt to gift your daughter the entire down payment to purchase the condo neither you nor your daughter are required to pay tax on that gifted money. If, however, lenders find out that this gift is, in fact, a loan, this can seriously impact whether or not your daughter can qualify for a mortgage as all debts (even loans to family members) are included in debt ratios used to qualify borrowers for mortgages.

Finally, your lawyer or legal representative handling this real estate transaction will take care of the paperwork when it comes to the first-time home buyers’ tax credits and rebate. That said, ask your lawyer to confirm that your daughter won’t be exempt from these credits because you are on title. According to the CRA, a buyer is disqualified from claiming these credits if they’ve already owned a home or they lived in a home owned by their spouse or common-law partner now or in the last five years. While it seems remote that your daughter would lose eligibility to these credits, it’s still better to check now than find out the hard way.

Source: MoneySense.ca – Romona King, November 13th 2017

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Calling in the pros – Implementing a successful property management

Implementing a successful property management system is vital to the longevity, health and overall profitability of your growing portfolio of investment properties. Property management systems come in all different shapes and sizes, and can be completely tailored to your specific portfolio needs and wants. Rather than examining these different systems, which could take up an entire magazine, I want to explore three ways to increase your ROI by taking advantage of professional property management.

1. Set realistic expectations from day one
In my view, hiring a professional property manager is very similar to hiring an employee. You wouldn’t give a new hire a vague description of their tasks and responsibilities and then let them manage their job any way they want. You would give your employee a clear definition of their role and show them the kind of results you expect.

The same is true when engaging a property manager for the first time. The following are five simple questions to ask your PM – and yourself – as you’re working out the relationship. If everyone can answer every question definitively, you know you’re on the right track:

  • What is needed?
  • Who is doing what?
  • When will it be done?
  • How will it be done?
  • How much will it cost?

This may seem like a lot of work when you’re just getting started, but completing the above exercise will eliminate the roadblocks, misunderstandings and accidents associated with starting a new professional relationship, and will ultimately improve your ROI.

A professional PM will usually have all these roles pre-defined in their contract, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be challenged or negotiated to better suit your needs. Communicate above and beyond to maximize your results.

2. Hire a superintendent
This can be a hot topic depending on who you talk to – some investors dismiss the idea of hiring a super outright, and some absolutely can’t operate without theirs. I believe that if handled correctly, using a superintendent can be an effective management strategy for a medium to large building, especially if done in tandem with professional property management.

The greatest advantage of superintendents is that they live on site. This is extremely convenient when small issues arise that need immediate attention, like a spill in the hallway that needs cleaning or a tenant who needs to give you cash. For small, more regular tasks like mopping hallways and shovelling walkways, a super is usually the most cost-effective and efficient method. In my experience, waiting for your PM to deal with small items can take too long and not be as cost-effective.
I prefer my super to have a smaller role, meaning my PM handles all maintenance calls from tenants, major renovations, rent collection, tenant placement and regular reporting to me. It’s important to ensure the super is not impeding the job of your PM and vice versa. Each have their roles and should be complementary to each other. The PM is in charge, and the super is there to assist when needed, along with tending to a short list of responsibilities.

This PM-plus-super system frees up more time for me to focus on strategy, grow my portfolio and create value in my current assets. My accountant also appreciates the efficient system, as we save a fair amount of money on minor property maintenance with a super in place.

3. View property management as a service, not an expense
This is more of a way of thinking than an operational guideline. This particular piece of advice stems from years of wrestling with the same question over and over with my group of investors: “Paul, I like the property, and the numbers make sense to me, but when you factor in the cost of property management, the cash flow decreases, and the numbers are just average or below par. What do you think?”

There is no way to avoid the cost of property management. Either you are going to engage a professional to do it for you and pay for it out of the property’s cash flow, or you will handle the property management all on your own. You may think this will save you money or make your property more profitable. If you have spare time and energy and want to learn the business, I would encourage you to take on the PM responsibilities. However, if you’re busy with your career, family and lifestyle, like many of us are, by taking on the day-to-day management of your properties, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice.

Whether you pay a professional PM or not, it’s still going to cost you the same or more. By taking on the PM role, you’re going spend your own time, energy and gasoline and take away quality time for other activities you could be pursuing, like spending time with your family, getting some exercise (mowing the lawn doesn’t count), reading a book or sleeping. This may not sound like traditional ROI, but since most investors get into real estate to improve their lives, not just their bank balances, finding a good property manager will provide these other, highly attractive returns.

You cannot avoid the cost of property management. You either pay in dollars or you pay in your own time and energy. Either way, it must be done properly.

Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth Magazine –  Contributor 14 Nov 2017

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Is it cheaper to buy a house than a condo in the GTA? This expert thinks so

While many first-time buyers look to condos as a relatively affordable option, one Toronto housing market expert says that it is actually less expensive to buy a low-rise home in the GTA.

According to Realosophy Brokerage co-founder John Pasalis, when you control for the size difference between low-rise and condos in the GTA, condos are more expensive per-square-foot.

In the Maple neighbourhood of Vaughan a 1,385 square-foot rowhouse costs $685,000, while a condo of a similar size in the area would likely cost $684 per-square-foot, or $947,000. It’s just one example of a price difference that can be seen across markets in the GTA.

Pasalis believes that this discrepancy in prices can be chalked up, in part, to investor demand.

“The majority of new condominium construction is driven by investor demand — not demand from families,” he writes in a recent blog post. “Investors are willing to pay much more (on a per-square-foot basis) than end users are.”

Pasalis says that investors prefer smaller units, which typically have a better return on investment, which means that developers are creating units that are too small for families, at prices they cannot afford.

“When developers are pricing a unit, they’re thinking to themselves, why would I charge this much when I can get this much?” Pasalis tells BuzzBuzzNews. “And those prices don’t make sense for a two- to three-bedroom unit, which is likely why we’re not seeing as many of those units being built [in the GTA.]”

In order for a condo to be good-value-for-money for a young GTA family, Pasalis says that low-rise prices would have to increase at a much faster rate than they currently are.

“The rate of appreciation for low-rise homes in the 905 region isn’t going to be very high in 2018,” says Pasalis. “So I don’t see this trend changing in the next year or so.”

While Pasalis admits that for families with a budget of $400,000 or less, a condo may be the only option for homeownership, he says that those with one of $700,000 or more should consider their options.

“They can choose to buy a two-bedroom 1,000 square-foot condo in Maple for that price, or a three bedroom 1,385 square-foot row house with a finished basement and backyard. For most, it’s a pretty simple choice,” he says.

Source: BuzzBuzzHome.com –  

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How Canadian homes became debt traps

underwater mortgage

Source: MoneySense.ca – by   November 13th, 2017

Houses have become another debt-laden income-stream for Canadians

In 1998, Ann bought a one-bedroom condo in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver. Gainfully employed at a printing company, she found the monthly mortgage payments were within her budget (Ann and others quoted in this story asked that Maclean’s not use their full names). The building was on the older side, and eventually she got the itch to update the decor. She intended to replace only her bathroom sink; she ended up renovating the entire bathroom. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, now that I’ve started…’ ” The kitchen came next, then the living room and finally the bedroom. Ann thought the renos, funded partly on credit and spaced out over a few months, would boost her condo’s value. She also wanted to keep up with her neighbours. “Everyone was doing something,” she says.

Finances became tight afterwards, and she only paid the minimum on her credit card each month. Every year, her condo fees rose while her salary at the printing company (where she still works) stagnated. She began relying on credit for everyday expenses, and later took out a second card.

Soon, one of her banks began calling with a solution to help manage her debt. She ignored the inquiries, preferring not to think about her finances, but she started to feel desperate: “I just wanted to do something, and that was the only thing coming my way.” The bank offered a loan at a low rate to pay off her high-interest credit card debt, and she ended up taking out a second mortgage for $80,000. The interest rate still wasn’t manageable. “It was a huge mistake,” she says.

Saddled with two mortgages, rising condo fees and a flat income, she continued relying on credit cards. Surprise expenses, such as dental work, added to her debt. Embarrassment kept her from seeking help. Three years ago, she decided to sell her condo. Despite Vancouver’s booming market, the sale didn’t solve Ann’s financial problems. She moved in with a friend and was able to pay off her mortgages, but she couldn’t make much of a dent in her credit card debt.

This year, Ann turned 64. She was carrying $70,000 in debt, and knew she couldn’t work another decade to pay it down. That realization prompted her to seek help, and she eventually met with an insolvency trustee. Earlier this year, Ann’s trustee filed a consumer proposal on her behalf. Less severe than personal bankruptcy, a proposal is an offer to all of an individual’s creditors to pay a portion of debt under a strict plan over a maximum of five years. The remainder is discharged. Creditors typically agree to these arrangements since they are guaranteed to recoup at least some of their money. For Ann, filing a proposal came as a relief. “I actually feel like I can breathe again,” she says.

Other Canadians are still suffocating. Earlier this year, the household debt-to-income ratio hit another record of 167.8 per cent. A long period of abnormally low interest rates has enabled Canadians to carry massive debts, since monthly payments appear manageable. Further, in cities with rising home values, particularly Toronto and Vancouver, homeowners can secure a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to pay other debts or simply fund their lifestyles. Last spring, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada warned that the increased use of HELOCs “may lead Canadians to use their homes as ATMs, making it easier for them to borrow more than they can afford.”

Insolvencies, though, are rare. As of the end of July, there were nearly 123,000 consumer proposals and personal bankruptcies filed by Canadians this year, a decline of 1.2 per cent from the same period last year. That might be a sign of fiscal prudence, but it’s also the result of record low interest rates that ease debt-carrying costs. Scott Terrio, an insolvency estate administrator and president of Debt Savvy in Toronto, calls this phenomenon “extend and pretend.” Canadians can extend their debt repayment terms and pretend to live a lifestyle they can’t otherwise obtain. He sees it all the time—couples with decent jobs carrying large mortgages, and putting daycare, cars and vacations on credit.

Some reach a trigger moment when they can no longer pretend—a job loss, say, or divorce or illness. But lately Terrio has noticed a change in his business. More clients are coming in because they’re simply tapped out. As with Ann in Vancouver, there is no trigger. “It’s a gradual realization for some people,” Terrio says. “They can’t do it anymore.” Lana Gilbertson, an insolvency trustee in Vancouver, has seen the same change. “Nowadays, they have jobs, they’re making money, they’re plugging along, but they’re just in over their heads,” she says.

The cost of borrowing is set to rise, adding strain to households. The Bank of Canada hiked rates twice this year, signalling more could be coming—depending, in part, on whether households can handle it. Economists at TD Bank Group believe two more rate hikes are likely next year. That will cause rates on everything from lines of credit to car loans to mortgages to tick up. At the same time, house prices are not rising as quickly as they once were in many Canadian cities. RBC Economics forecasts home prices in Canada will increase 11.1 per cent this year—and just 2.2 per cent in 2018. Canadians won’t be able to pull cash out of their homes so easily to get themselves out of trouble. “The insolvency business is cyclical, and we’re at least a year overdue for shedding blood in the system,” Terrio says. “If ever we were poised to hit that right on the head, it’s now.”

For some Canadians who struggle with debt, the problem can be traced back to real estate. In a survey TD released in September, 56 per cent of respondents from across Canada were willing to exceed their budget by up to $50,000 to purchase a home. At the same time, 97 per cent of homeowners said they wished they’d factored in other obligations before buying, such as property taxes, maintenance costs and “overall lifestyle expenses.”

The problem is not confined to Toronto or Vancouver, where huge price gains have enticed buyers to stretch themselves for fear of getting permanently priced out. In Regina, Joshua and his wife purchased a house in 2014 when expecting their first child. Both 24 years old at the time, they carried about $35,000 in debt between them, mostly tied to student loans. “We rushed into getting a house because we just thought it would be the right thing to do,” Joshua says. “It almost felt wrong to be renting and having a kid.” (Joshua’s mom pressured them to buy, too.) In one weekend, they viewed 16 houses. The very last one felt right. They put down five per cent and moved in.

But the couple was blindsided by maintenance costs. Their furnace needed repairs, and they later had to replace the water heater, which set them back hundreds of dollars. After expenses, the pair has virtually no cash to put toward their debt. Joshua’s card is maxed out, and his wife’s card is close to the limit. Joshua says they’re frugal (splurging means going to Subway) and live paycheque to paycheque. The situation became worse this year. His wife is on maternity leave with their second child and their variable mortgage rate ticked up. “Just the way the rate is fluctuating is killing us,” Joshua says, who works in sales at a telecommunications firm. “It can’t keep changing like this.”

Staring down tens of thousands of dollars in debt, rising mortgage costs and no foreseeable way to substantially boost their incomes, the couple decided to sell their house and rent. They’re not expecting a windfall. A while back, their basement flooded and they used the insurance money to repair the foundation. The basement had been finished, but there’s no cash to renovate it, so it will be sold in “as is” condition. The market in Regina is also soft, and the average home price is down slightly from 2014. Joshua hopes to at least get his down payment back, and their financial situation should improve when his wife returns to work as a massage therapist. “We’ll be able to really hack away at our debt,” he says, “but it’s going to take years.”

While real estate has led to financial distress for some Canadians, it’s been a saviour for others. The home equity line of credit has allowed millions of households to borrow against their properties, providing cash for everything from renovations to investing to debt consolidation. HELOCs have been around in Canada since the 1970s, but in the mid-1990s, lenders started marketing them to a wider swath of consumers. Between 2000 and 2010, HELOC balances soared from $35 billion to $186 billion, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

The pace of growth has slowed since then, but balances still hit $211 billion last year. Lenders have been all too eager to dole out HELOCs, creating the perception of instant, easy money. An animated commercial for Alpine Credits, a lender in B.C., features a room full of employees rubber-stamping loans—even for a client who wants to install a four-storey waterslide. (The employees celebrate by cheering while one pops open champagne and another tears off his shirt.)

One common use of HELOCs is to pay off higher-interest debt. Last year, according to Scotiabank, Canadians used $11.6 billion (or 28 per cent of HELOC withdrawals) for debt consolidation. Doug Hoyes, a founder of licensed insolvency trustee Hoyes, Michalos & Associates, has witnessed the shift. The firm has offices across Ontario and in 2011, roughly one-third of the firm’s clients owned a home when they filed for bankruptcy or a consumer proposal. Last August, just six per cent of insolvent consumers were homeowners. “You don’t need to file a proposal to pay off your debt,” he says. “You just go out and get a second mortgage.”

If the pace of home price appreciation slows down—or worse, prices drop—there will be consequences for households that have been piling on debt. The slowdown in the southwestern Ontario real estate market is already creating stress. Hoyes recently saw a couple who purchased a home four years ago and accumulated $70,000 in unsecured debt. They bought furniture, hired landscapers and borrowed to finance a swimming pool. Before the slowdown, the couple might have earned $100,000 by selling their home. Now they might get $70,000, which would barely cover their debts. They’re also reluctant to sell and move to a different neighbourhood. And because of the softening in the market, they haven’t been able to find a lender willing to issue them a HELOC large enough to cover their unsecured debt. Their solution? Convince one set of parents to take out a second mortgage, and borrow from them. “It’s the bank of mom and dad,” Hoyes says.

And while debt consolidation is an effective strategy if consumers don’t fall back on bad habits, Terrio says recidivism is a problem. “They go ka-ching out of their house and pay off their credit card debts, but they go and run up their cards again,” he says.

Borrowing against her home wasn’t enough for Charis Sweet-Speiss to pull herself out of debt. A registered nurse, she divorced and moved from Ottawa to Oliver, B.C., a town south of Kelowna, in 1998. Her then-boyfriend (now husband) wasn’t working at the time, and the couple used the divorce settlement to start building a new life; they bought a used car, a place to live and furniture. “Then that money was gone, so I just started using credit cards,” she says. “And it was so easy.” Their debt started building, and their income wasn’t sufficient to pay more than the minimum. New credit cards she’d never asked for arrived in the mail, and Sweet-Speiss started using them. She had 13 on the go at once, and eventually they were all maxed out. “I’ve always been employed. I make a good salary. But just paying the minimum every month was a lot of money,” she says. Every six months, she phoned each credit card company to wheedle them into reducing her interest rate. She caught some breaks, but never enough to make a big difference: “It was a horrible way to live.”

Sweet-Speiss says she wasn’t frivolous with her spending, but in retrospect, she made questionable decisions. When her daughter would run up a large balance on her own credit card, Sweet-Speiss sent her money—even though it meant sinking deeper into debt herself. Sweet-Speiss borrowed against her home at one point and withdrew money on two separate occasions to consolidate her debt, but was still left with $40,000 on her cards, and it built up again.

After more than a decade of amassing debt, Sweet-Speiss turned to the Credit Counselling Society for help ridding herself of nearly $67,000 spread across 13 cards. Once enrolled, her interest payments stopped and she was put on a plan to pay down principal. She completed the program this year. She still has a mortgage and a line of credit, but is finally free of high-interest credit card debt.

Sweet-Speiss says her mortgage would have been paid off a decade ago had she never borrowed against her house. Indeed, one of the problems with home-equity loans is that they cause debt persistence. HELOCs are marketed with little or no obligation to repay in a timely manner. For years, one of the main advantages of owning a home is the forced saving effect—paying the mortgage, combined with rising property values, builds equity. A HELOC undermines that dynamic, tempting consumers to access cash now rather than build wealth over the long term.

It marks a fundamental shift in the way Canadians think about homeownership. “Whatever happened to getting to the end of a mortgage and owning your home?” says Gilbertson, the trustee in Vancouver. “It’s less about truly owning our homes today and more about having another revenue stream to fund our lifestyles.”

That Canadians are carrying record amounts of debt is not in dispute. But the magnitude of the problem is contested. “I think the fears are overstated,” says Paul Taylor, CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada. “Canadians are incredibly prudent, and history will show that.” As the head of an industry association for mortgage lenders, brokers and insurers, Taylor isn’t exactly impartial on the issue. But he points to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer released earlier this year showing that, since 2009, the debt service ratio—a measure of income spent to pay debt—has remained steady at around 14 per cent, not much higher than the long-term average. That’s a sign that even though we have more debt than 20 years ago, we’re not overextending ourselves, Taylor says.

But the same PBO report projects the debt service ratio will rise to an all-time high of 16.3 per cent by the end of 2021. Taylor says the premise is a “little bit flawed” because it presumes Canadians will make no changes to their finances owing to higher interest rates. “I’m certain people will become prudent again to ensure they retain that [historical] expense ratio,” he says. Already, brokers have been fielding calls from Canadians about locking in their mortgages to guard against future increases, for example.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter also contends that too much emphasis is placed on the debt-to-income ratio. “We have long been of the view that much of the commentary on this topic has been overwrought,” he wrote in a research note this month. The savings rate is close to the 25-year average of five per cent, which doesn’t point to a consumer debt apocalypse. Rather, Porter expects spending to “gradually moderate” as borrowing costs rise.

Still, numerous surveys show Canadians are worryingly close to the edge. A report from MNP Ltd., an insolvency trustee, released in October found 42 per cent of Canadians said they don’t think they can cover basic expenses over the next year without going deeper into debt. An earlier survey this summer found 77 per cent of respondents would have trouble absorbing an additional $130 per month in interest payments. And as organizations such as the IMF and the OECD have constantly warned, high household debt renders the country far more vulnerable to economic shocks.

When a downturn does hit, even a high income won’t necessarily provide enough protection. Gene moved from the U.S. to Calgary 12 years ago to take a job with a major oil company, earning more than $300,000 annually. He purchased a home for close to $1 million and supported his wife, two kids and mother-in-law. In 2015, Gene lost his job when the price of oil crashed, and was out of work for nine months. He took out a home equity loan for $30,000 to make ends meet, and eventually found another job at a pipeline company, but for half his previous salary. A six-figure income would be more than enough for most Canadians, but Gene and his family were accustomed to their lifestyle. The kids were enrolled in extracurricular activities, and housing costs added up to $4,100 every month.

A year later, Gene was laid off again. “It was just devastating for us,” he says, adding that he began questioning his self-worth if he was unable to provide for his family. He eventually found another job, but at a still smaller salary. On top of the mortgage and the line of credit, Gene had another $20,000 loan. When he first purchased his house, he didn’t quite hit the 20 per cent down payment threshold; his bank offered him a loan to cover the difference. He had a couple thousand in credit card debt and a small, high-interest loan from EasyFinancial he’d taken to cover an unexpected medical expense for a family member. Finally, he faced a $90,000 tax bill, since he opted not to pay after he lost his job. Gene sought help from an insolvency trustee earlier this year. “I just wasn’t making enough money, and I had to protect the family,” he says. Gene submitted a consumer proposal, but one of his creditors rejected the terms. In October, Gene filed for bankruptcy—just over two years after making a salary most Canadians can only dream of.

This sort of precariousness worries some experts, who fear wider implications for the Canadian economy. “We continue to see the household sector as accident-prone, with a complacency toward debt which could prove disruptive to the economy,” wrote HSBC Canada’s chief economist recently. The result is Canada is at “some risk” of a balance sheet recession—a period of slow growth or decline caused by consumers saving and paying down debt rather than spending. David Madani, an economist with Capital Economics in Toronto, doubts the growth Canada has seen in exports recently will be enough to offset the decline in consumer spending. “Canadian policy-makers have allowed household debt to rise above the disturbingly high levels reached in the U.S. in 2007, raising the risk of a similar potentially disastrous deleveraging down the road,” Madani wrote.

Statements like that could be dismissed as fear-mongering, but the reality is Canada hasn’t been in this situation before, and the outcome is impossible to predict. Canadians ignored warnings from policymakers about piling on debt for years because low interest rates were too enticing. Now households will have no choice but to dial it back. The only question is how bad the fallout will be.

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