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Opportunities in the Booming Real Estate Industry
It’s a perfect storm of economic, legal, and tax conditions that’s giving the real estate market a reputation of a place to score ultimate, once in a lifetime riches. And many are clamoring in to capitalize. Investors, home sellers, and agents alike are jumping on their chance to make more money.
And shadow flipping is the hottest tactic going in Vancouver and Toronto. Whether the practice is good or bad really depends on your attitude toward capitalism and ethics.
Shadow-Flipping is a legal tactic to sell properties fast and make a quick profit. It’s officially known as a contract assignment.
It happens this way: A home owner has made an offer of sale to buyer, and before the deal closes there’s a time period where the owner can sell it to someone else. This time period is called contract assignment. What could be wrong with that? Well, some might say it’s not ethical behavior. Yet it’s legal and nothing new really.
In the mid-2000s, during a condo boom, such assignments were so common that some developers put in clauses to forbid them. “The market was in a similar state to what it is now,” Darcy McLeod, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said in an interview. “It was escalating quickly, and at that time, there were a lot of condos available and a lot of speculative investors were jumping in and buying condos that were expected to be completed one or two years in the future, and speculating that they could probably … sell the contract prior to completion for a profit.” from the Globe and Mail
Quick Flips involving your Real Estate Agent
The agent of the home seller can actually do a shadow flip. They can work with another buyer to purchase the property and then sell it to someone else for a much higher price. They can flip it multiple times in this way, thus increasing the home’s price.
Under real estate association rules of ethics, the realtor is supposed to be acting only in the home seller’s interest. In fact, they could be doing it all for their profit motive. In the case of a quick flip, the owner selling the property doesn’t get a cut of the ensuing profits from the flipping activity which some pundits believe they have a right too.
It comes out appearing as though the agent may be scamming their client by recommending they sell at a lower price, all the while knowing someone else they know is going to buy it for a lot more. Should the original owner get a cut of any ensuing profit? Should the terms of the contract assignment be nullified so that owners can’t sell the property while they’re waiting for another offer to close?
What’s odd about this is the owner is already agreeing with an offer, and instead is going to cut out on them and sell it to someone else. So contract assignment may encourage unethical sales activity.
So while the contract assignment is supposed to facilitate unethical behavior by the seller, it wasn’t really intended as an opportunity for the agents to make money on the side, or other parties. The fact agents are making more money may irk the public. It seems agents don’t a lot to upgrade their professional image as a group and the public is all too happy to jump on them.
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Skipping out on the Deadly Land Transfer Tax
If an assignment sale happens before the official sale closes, then no land transfer tax is owing. In Toronto, the land transfer tax is outrageous so you wouldn’t want to pay that. It’s a neat loophole allowing real estate speculation somewhat tax-free. It seems excessive taxation may increase the use of shadow flipping.
Some are suggesting Shadow Flipping or Consignment Sales is fueling higher real estate prices, however the practice is still minimal and couldn’t possibly be doing that. It’s likely part of the hysteria around Vancouver and Toronto about high real estate prices and the desperation to control them.
Government Greed and Meddling
Shadow Flipping is an embarrassment to governments because it reveals how ridiculously over-legislated and regulated real estate is. And they’re frustrated when can’t get the taxes. Some rumours suggest they’re out to change tax laws. Eventually, eyes come back to organizations like the Ontario Municipal Board who are desperately trying to keep everyone within the GTA region. There’s thousands of square miles of scrubland just north, west and east of Toronto that could take up the excessive demand for homes. Less demand in Toronto means less pressure to gobble up the limited parkland in the GTA. Problem solved. With new land freed up for development, current resale and new home prices would fall in Vancouver and Toronto.
“Vancouver’s geography is well documented, but in Toronto, development restrictions contributed to 2015 seeing the lowest annual number of detached home completions in 37 years (and that’s not a population-adjusted number),” said BMO Nesbitt Burns senior economist Robert Kavcic.
And while governments have no problem pulling in immigrants from all over the world, it seems it just adds fuel to the fire. What the real estate industry needs is for governments to take their hands out of everyone’s pockets and stop telling us what to do.
If the owner of a property doesn’t like the offer they’ve been given, then they shouldn’t accept. Or the seller should delete the consignment clause, with the agent to specify they will not be involved in any quick flip arrangement. The realtor association could abolish the consignment phase and demand that deals be closed very quickly, let’s say within 7 days.
However, what isn’t solved is government meddling in business. The reason prices are so high in the GTA is because there are no properties available. Governments with their Places to Grow Act, and The Green Belt Act along with the OMB have stopped development and reduced supply to fill the market.
In Vancouver, land is in extremely limited supply, and on top of that land use is restricted. So again, it’s governments who are the cause of home shortage. And home shortage equates to higher prices with people desperately bidding for a place to live.