Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 – The Year in Review

December is a wonderful month, the snow is falling and the ski hill is open. It provides a great time to look back and reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011. Some of the highlights for me this year have been:

1) Great Referrals from Great Realtors – in the past year I am proud to say that we have doubled our market share for real estate conveyancing. However, we did not do this alone. We only do this with the support of the first class professional realtors in OMREB who use and recommend our services everyday. Thank you all very much for you support in 2010.

2) HST – You’re probably thinking, seriously Peter?
This is a highlight? From a lawyer’s point of view, Yes it is. The HST gave me a great opportunity to help out many realtors and clients through a difficult transition in the law. As lawyers, we don’t make the law but our job is to assist clients in working with it. So HST is something that 2010 will be remembered for. It will be interesting to see if the transition out of HST (and back to PST?) is something 2011 will be remembered for.

3) JUNE 30- We closed a record number of deals that day. The combination of pent up demand and the tax changes made for a very busy day. The economy looks to be aligning again for a similar June 2011 as buyers are putting off purchases as the prognosticators forecast the eventual demise of HST.

4) The Hard Deals – 2010 was the year of the hard deal. IRD penalties were rampant, Vendor’s were having trouble closing, and the economic uncertainty has lead to many properties being “underwater”. I am very proud to say that our firm did a great job of keeping these deals together. Having the litigation strength we do, we have been able to go to court and get the job done for a number of clients who have been on the innocent end of a deal gone wrong.

2011 is shaping up to be a very exciting time for us at Pihl Law Corporation. Some of the things “coming down the pipe” for us include:

1) Expanding our office space – we have taken over the first floor of our building and we are completing a state of the art “client centre”. I really look forward to inviting all of you to our “office warming” reception early in the New Year.

2) Expanding our staff
– we are pleased to welcome Jody Serviss to our staff. She brings with her 6 years of conveyancing experience at a top tier law firm. New time you are in the office, please feel free to say hi to Jody.

3) Expanding our support of Realtors – we are constantly looking for a new and novel ways to assist Realtors to be “dealmakers”. Coinciding with the launch of our new office space, we are planning to launch a new toolbox to further assist local Realtors with their legal matters.

So, thank you all for a GREAT 2010, and I am looking forward to what is shaping up to be a Busier and Brighter 2011.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Power of Attorney

In Kelowna, it is common place that real estate closings occur with another party signing on behalf of the Seller and executing documents by a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a document whereby one person (the DONOR) confers authority on another person (the ATTORNEY) to take certain actions on their behalf.

A power of attorney can be LIMITED in scope. For example it can only allow a person to deal with banking affairs and it may specifically exclude the right to deal with real estate. There are specific limitations on powers of attorney with respect to real estate, for example, s.27 of the Property Law Act prohibits an ATTORNEY from selling land to himself and s.56 of the Land Title states that a filed Power of Attorney will (unless expressly excluded) expire 3 years after the date it was signed.

To be valid to transfer land, a lawyer is looking for a number of items including:
a)ascertaining the true identity of the parties involved;
b)make inquiries to ensure the POA has not been revoked;
c)ensuring that the ORIGINAL must be filed with the Land Title Office with a DF#;
d)ensuring that the POA was properly witnessed by an OFFICER under s.42(3) of the Land Title Act;
e) ensuring the POA has sufficient powers to transfer land; and,
f)ensuring that the attorney must be at least 19 yrs old.

Realtors should:
a)ensure they obtain a copy of the Power of Attorney for their file;
b)ensure they know the identity of their clients (both DONOR and ATTORNEY); and
c)ensure their client’s lawyer is aware that the Closing will be occurring by Power of Attorney.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Non-Resident Vendors: The Need for Changes to s.116 of the ITA

Recently I was asked to write an article for the Lawyers Weekly (a national newspaper in Canada directed to lawyers), this is a re-post of that article originally published by the Lawyer's Weekly October 8, 2010:

When we speak to law reform, real estate is generally a tortoise among hares and for good reason. Given that, for a majority of the population their home is their single biggest investment, there is a strong demand for a system that is efficient, fair and predictable.

However, for real estate lawyers in the current economic climate we are now dealing with the inability of Vendors to clear title in increasingly greater numbers. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy involved with Section 116 of the federal Income Tax Act adding to the uncertainty by delaying and jeopardizing sales of residential real estate. The eight month delays caused by procedural meandering, which has been readily acknowledged by the civil servants of the International Audit Division, gives purchasers in this buyers real estate market the opportunity to simply “walk” away from contracts with non-resident Vendors who are unable to clear title due to the requirement of a Section 116 holdback.

Section 116 requires a purchaser of residential real estate to withhold between 25% and 50% of the purchase price subject to a vendor obtaining a certificate of compliance from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In the normal course of residential real estate transactions, this is accomplished by way of solicitor’s undertakings between the parties. In the past, these undertakings did not present a hurdle to non-resident vendors as the growth in the value of the property allowed the vendor to close, payout their lender, and simply wait to receive the holdback funds upon issuance of the certificate of compliance by CRA.

The current economic climate has dramatically changed this reality for non-resident vendors. Many non-resident vendors are required to payout high loan to value ratio mortgages and other sources of funds are no longer readily available. In the Okanagan Valley, where a large number of non-residents own secondary residences in our resort communities, this pressure has been compounded by the recent changes to the financing rules, which now require a minimum 80% loan to value ratio for secondary residences, and in turn this has decreased the pool of eligible buyers for any given property.

Often, with desperate sellers and fickle buyers, the real estate agents must cobble these deals together down to the last penny and leaving little if any additional funds for the holdback on the closing date. The nature of residential real estate practice (at least in British Columbia) is that the contract is often firm and binding on the non-resident vendor when the vendor is informed by their lawyer of the holdback amount thereby putting the vendors in a position where they are unable to close. In Epp v. Yung (1993), 35 R.P.R. (2d) 1 (B.C.S.C.) the court held that, even if the vendor disagrees with the amount of the holdback, the vendor must still close without access to the holdback funds and provide title free and clear of all financial encumbrance.

In 2008, CRA introduced changes to the s.116 certificate of compliance requirements; however these changes have not adequately addressed the issue. CRA personnel have acknowledged the delays and have recently provided advice to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, as published by their member advisory in September 2009, on the steps a vendor can take to minimize the time it takes to obtain a certificate of compliance. These steps include: a) ensuring forms are submitted early (ideally well in advance of closing); b) ensuring the vendor is registered for a tax number; c) ensuring that all the supporting documentation is available (eg; form T2062) to allow CRA to determine the adjusted cost base as well as the proceeds of disposition; and d) ensuring the cover letter requests a “Certificate of Compliance” (as opposed to a clearance certificate which causes confusion with another CRA program). CRA has been reported to be piloting a regional intake centre to quickly deal with “low risk files”, however there have been no reports on this program’s success or if it will be expanding.

The fundamental problem with the process for obtaining Certificate of Compliance is not a lack of manpower, however it is the associated purchaser’s requirement to withhold and investigate the nature of the vendor’s tax liability that, in the context of residential real estate needs to be statutorily changed. The objectives of the Income Tax Act would be much better served if, subject to receipt of a vendor’s statutory declaration of no gain, the liability for the vendor’s taxes remained with vendor and the CRA would cease to rely on purchasers as indemnitors.

This call for reform is not new and the need for change to the section 116 procedure has been noted by the Advisory Panel on Canada’s System for International Taxation in December 2008, wherein they recommended that the government “eliminate withholding tax requirements related to the disposition of taxable Canadian property where the non-resident certifies that the gain is exempt from Canadian tax because of a tax treaty”.

Absent a fundamental change in the legislation, the current requirements set out in section procedure are inefficient and have created instability in the residential real estate market, at a time when greater stability is needed. Since most residential contracts of purchase and sale are entered into without legal advice and lawyer s are often only engaged a short time prior to closing, it is often too late for legal counsel to complete the step necessary to get the transaction back on track for a timely closing. The end result is that this statutory requirement is doing more harm than good in our current real estate market.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Story of a Collapsing Deal

(based on real life events)

At the end of August 2010, Dave and Jane were buying their first home. Nervous about finding the “right” home for themselves and their two kids they look at property after property. Finally, at the beginning of August 2010, the house at 3245 McLeod Road came up for $375,000. It was the right price, close the schools, and close to Dave’s work at the Gorman Mill. The Seller, John, had been anxious to sell for a long time, and needed to simply walk away from the home, his credit union mortgage was $355,000 and he needed a fresh start in a new town. Both parties were anxious to see the deal get done.

They came into see Peter, their real estate lawyer on August 22, 2010 and at that meeting they signed all the documents. He explained the process to them, including if the “what ifs” happen, and how the court process worked. Although there was only a very small chance these bad things would happen he wanted them to be armed with knowledge.

Dave and Jane were very excited and they booked their moving truck for September 1, 2010 (their Possession Date) and they have picked out paint colors for their daughter’s new bedroom and began to plan their lives in their new home.

On August 31, a series of unfortunate events occurred. First, the Land Title Office (which is electronic) went “offline” and no land title transfers were permitted to be registered at the end of the month. Closing was delayed, but not to worry the contract had been drafted to allow for this hiccup.

Then, on September 1, with the moving truck in the driveway, the Vendor’s lawyer “discovered” that they had an “IRD” penalty (of $21,000) on their mortgage and now the Vendor (John) did not have enough money to “payout” the mortgage on title. The Vendor (John) could not complete and could not fulfill the promise he made to give the “title free and clear of all encumbrances”. Dave and Jane had already moved out of their rental house and they were now homeless, forced to live in a motel. The moving company (for a small ransom) placed all their belongings in storage.

Crestfallen, Dave and Jane came to see Peter and Eric (a real estate litigator in the same firm) to ask what to do, they had remembered that part of their prior meeting dealing with the “what ifs” in real estate. The two lawyers explained that Dave and Jane could sue for damages or specific performance to get their dream home and they immediately started to put pressure on the Vendor to complete by “tendering” a “ready, willing and able to complete” letter, placing a caveat on the property title, and commencing legal proceedings.

Within 3 weeks there was a very happy ending, the Vendor was able to negotiate with the bank, and to avoid a lawsuit paid the additional costs (including legal fees) for Dave and Jane.

The moral of this story: For buyers, hope for the best, be prepared for the worst. For Realtors, ensure your sellers can clear title prior to signing the deal, or, at least, place a “subject to the seller ensuring they can clear title” so that you have pointed out the issue to them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting Ready to Sell – Cleaning Up Your Land Title

As we move into another Buyer’s market cycle, it is important to remember the lessons Seller learnt the “last time around”. Realtors often recommend to Sellers to “declutter” and “stage” the interior of their homes, however, it is important to remember that, at its foundation Buyers are purchasing “PROPERTY RIGHTS” and therefore its important to ensure, as a Seller, that your Land Title is also “squeaky clean”.

A couple of things to do:

1. Remove any “extra” encumbrances on title – usually Buyers are expecting to see typical first mortgages on title, however where Uncle Buck lent you some money and registered a non-institutional second mortgage, or, where you have a small claims judgment registered against you, these “extra” encumbrances on title, including 2nd mortgages, judgments, builders liens, or certificates of pending litigation, can raise big RED FLAGS for Buyers, if they can be removed prior to closing (or even listing), it can make for a much smoother process.

2. Ensure you (as Seller) and only you are on title as the registered owner – did you inherit the property in a Will? Or, did your parents go on title as this was your first home? Or, have you gone through a legal separation? If you have the full legal rights to sell the home, ensure that you (and only you) are on title. In most cases the transfer to a surviving joint tenant, or to from parent to child, or a transfer in the course of a legal separation is easy (and most of the time a Property Transfer Tax exemption is available and no tax is payable!) Best to take care of these items prior to listing so there is no question when you sign the Contract that you are the person with the ability to sell the property.

3. Return the Duplicate Certificate of Title – A Duplicate Certificate of Title may be removed from the Land Title Office by some banks as security for loans (with or without registration of the mortgage). In the event that the Duplicate Certificate of Title is outstanding, no further transfer or mortgage may be registered on title. Therefore if this has been removed from the Land Title Office, it will bar any sale or mortgage of the property until it is returned and refiled with the Land Title Office.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The roller coaster real estate market has brought with it many "non-traditional" deals for Realtors. Foreclosures have become more common (about 6% of LISTED properties in the OMREB, and much less common than in the United States) many Realtors have asked questions on how to sell these distressed properties.

The first sign that a property may be in foreclosure (aside from the lawn sign!) is that a Certificate of Pending Litigation may appear on title.

The Steps in a Foreclosure action in British Columbia are as follows:
1. Default
2. Demand for Payment
3. Filing of Petition
4. Order Nisi (final order, usually with time for Redemption (~ 6 m)
5. After Redemption Period, either:
5a. Order for Conduct of Sale (special circumstances), OR
5b. Order Absolute of Foreclosure

A Buyer can make an Offer at any stage of this process and therefore it is important for parties to ensure they are dealing with the party (either the Seller or the Lender) with "Conduct of Sale".

In the event that a party wishes to submit a competing bid, the original contract of purchase and sale will be attached to the Lender's affidavit and this is a public document that can be found by searching the Court Registry in BC.

Where a Lender has obtained an "Order for Conduct of Sale" the Lender's Realtor will be required to attached a Schedule "A" to any proposed Contract of Purchase and Sale which generally states the following terms and conditions:
1. Court Approval of the Offer is required After Subject Removal
2. Court will have full discretion, the lender will not advocate for the buyer
3. Other Offers May be Entertained
4. Title Transfer by Vesting Order of Court
5. Lender makes no Warranties as to: Title, Condition of Premises, Environmental Condition

Buying a foreclosure in B.C. can be an unpredictable ride. For those investors familiar with the process, some "deals" may be had but generally, as the Court often has fair market value property appraisals, foreclosures in B.C. are not a panacea of "good bargains".

First Time Home Buyers should not view the foreclosure market as a good way to buy their first home. The inherent uncertainty in the process, the "as-is" nature of the home, and the higher acquisition costs mean that most First Time Home Buyers are better off buying non-distressed property on their first foray into home ownership.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Home Buyer FAQs

Common Home Buyer Questions
By: Peter Borszcz

1. Will this contract force me to buy this home?
A contract is a legally enforceable promise. Therefore, you are obliged to carry out its terms if the contract is firm and binding. However, a contract can be “subject to” the performance of other terms (for example, obtaining a mortgage). Most Realtors draft “subject to” conditions to allow Buyers time to find out more about the home they are buying and to ensure they are able to obtain financing to purchase it.

2. What happens if I can’t get financing or I am not happy with my home inspection?
Usually a Realtor has written in these items as “subject conditions”, if so, you will instruct your Realtor that you are “unable to waive or fulfill” you contract. If you are unable to waive or fulfill a subject condition, your obligation to purchase the home will cease.

3. Why do I have to give a deposit to the Realtor? Will I get it back if I back out of the deal?
A deposit is “earnest money” meaning that it signifies to the Seller how serious you are to proceed with the transaction. Your Deposit is not a “down payment”, as your cash in the deal (in addition to your mortgage) will be paid on the Closing Date. Whether a Deposit is returned depends on the factual situation which caused a deal to collapse (see below), however your Realtor cannot simply return your deposit without first complying with the provisions of the Real Estate Act.

4. If I can’t complete on the Completion Date will that be a problem?
The contract provides that “time is of the essence” this means that the strict timelines in the contract are enforceable by the Court. In the event that you fail to complete “on time” you may be liable for damages (money damages) or specific performance (where the court orders you the complete the deal). If you find out that the original dates will simply not work for you, please let your Realtor and Lawyer know so that they can attempt to obtain an extension for you.

5. If I back out the deal after removing my subject conditions, will I just lose my deposit?
Assuming that the Seller has not misrepresented and is able to complete, generally a Buyer cannot simply “walk away” from their deposit. Should a Buyer fail to complete a firm and binding contract, the Buyer may be liable to the Seller for all of the Seller’s damages including: a) loss of profit, b) interest costs, c) marketing costs, and d) legal fees. In many cases, the amount of the Seller’s damages may exceed the deposit. If you are considering this, please call your lawyer immediately.

6. I really like the bedroom light, how do I know this is included with the house?
Generally, all fixtures are included with the sale of the house. Fixtures are those items that are affixed (ie; attached to) the structure and foundation (eg; chandeliers). Sometime, exactly what “is” and “is not” a fixture has to do with the “degree of attachment” and this can be confusing for both buyers and sellers. Given this confusion, sometimes Sellers remove items (ie; wall shelving) when they move out, so if there is something of importance which you want included with the purchase of you home please let your Realtor know.

7. The property has an “in-law suite”, can I rent it out to other people?
A secondary suite can only be rented in the City of Kelowna or the District of West Kelowna where the property has been zoned “S”. If you require that the suite to be rented to afford to live in the property, we strongly recommend that you inquire with the applicable municipality.

8. If I own the property can I do whatever I want with it?
Although an owner can do many things with a property that a tenant cannot do, your ownership may be subject to restrictions that are found in local statutory building schemes, homeowner’s associations, strata councils, and municipal bylaws. If your purchase of the property is dependant on a change in structure (ie; major renovation) or use (ie; home based business) please discuss this with your Realtor.

9. If my spouse goes on title alone and we separate, will I have no claim to my house?
The Family Relations Act creates an interest in land upon the breakup of a marriage, even if there is no interest noted on the land title (subject to a prenuptial agreement or the Act). The Act allows for filing of an interest in land, upon marriage breakup, in the land title office.

10. A clause on my contract (i.e.; title search or tax advice) is “subject to review by the Buyer’s lawyer [or accountant]” what should I do?
Prior to subject removal, you should take the contract to your lawyer or accountant and discuss your proposed purchase with them. Your Realtor has placed this clause into your contract to ensure that you obtain personalized professional advice in a specialized area (such as tax or a title search).

11. What are my closing costs?
Closing cost vary with each transaction. These include Property Transfer Tax, Municipal Property Tax, Strata Documentation and Adjustment Fees (if applicable), Land Title Office Filing Fees, and Legal Fees. We provide all clients with a quote on Legal Fees and an estimate of the other costs you can expect after we receive your contract, to ensure there are no surprises on closing.

Have another question? We’re happy to help:

Monday, March 22, 2010

After subject removal - what now?

You have toured lots of homes and gone through all the negotiations and home inspections, you've signed a contract and gotten your financing approved... now what do I do? 

For home buyers and sellers, this can be a big question, hopefully this blog helps with some answers....

Ask your Realtor to Submit Contract
Once all subjects and conditions are removed from the Contract, only then does the Contract become firm and binding. Once this takes place, it is important that the Buyer requests his or her Realtor to send the Contract over to their lawyer as soon as possible. If available, the Survey Certificate should be attached, if there is no Survey Certificate attached to the Contract, title insurance is often required by the Lender (at an additional cost).

Some clients want a land title review, or they have another legal issue which they want cleared up prior to purchase, if so, please contact your lawyer before subject removal.

Upon receipt of your Contract of Purchase and Sale your file is opened and our law firm contacts you immediately to have our representation of you confirmed and we provide you with a quote for the legal fees to expect in your transaction.

Ask your Mortgage Broker or your Banker to Submit Mortgage Instructions
Whether a conveyancer has 3 days to complete or 3 months, they tend to always be waiting for mortgage instructions. To ensure mortgage instructions are received in a timely fashion the lender should be advised well in advance of closing details such as, Purchase Price, Completion Date (date funds will be advanced), Name of Firm, Lawyer’s Name, address, phone/fax number and email address.

Contact your Lawyer or your Conveyancer
Conveyancers tend to be working on the current month closings and very rarely any further than that in advance. Nevertheless, if a Buyer has questions or concerns they should feel free to call their lawyer or thier conveyancer to ask these questions.  We are here to answer your client's questions and concerns so your client can remain at ease throughout the buying process.

It is important for clients to be available prior to the closing date, as depending on the delivery of information from other parties (ie; getting mortgage instructions), sometimes we are not able to call in our clients to sign documents until just prior to closing.

When you talk to your lawyer or your conveyancer, it is important to have the following information available:
1.    Who will be appearing on title and on mortgage, if applicable (Full legal names and occupations)
2.    Is there anyone who is a First Time Home Buyer (if so, date of birth, SIN number and address for the past two years would be required)
3.    Is GST/HST applicable? Is the Seller a non-resident?
4.    If there is a mortgage, are there any Covenantors/Guarantors (contact information would be required)
5.    Who is the insurance agent? (Contact info required)
6.    Book an Appointment with the Lawyer for signing (or if out-of –town clients process of signing via email/fax will be explained at that time)

Arrange for Home Insurance/ Movers/ Utility Companies etc.
If financing for the subject property is involved, the lender requires your fire insurance coverage to be confirmed by your lawyer prior to registration of Mortgage and disbursement of funds. It is important that insurance is effective at 12:01am on the Completion date, not possession date. The Buyer should arrange thier insurance well in advance of the completion date.

Signing Documents and the Balance of Funds to Complete
Depending on the receipt of information from third parties and the complexity, documents may be signed with the  lawyer anywhere from the day of Closing to 2 weeks prior to completion date depending on the complexity of the file. Prior to signing, your conveyancer will contact you to advise you of the amount of funds necessary to complete your transaction. These funds are usually brought to the appointment by way of bank draft and deposited into the lawyers trust account until the completion date.

Closing Date
Generally, first time clients often think they have to meet with the lawyer on this date to do “something” but in fact, this is the day where the clients, getting ready to move, need to ensure there is a phone nearby and wait for the call from their lawyers office (and their Realtor) advising them that the transfer documents have been registered at the land title office and funds are being transferred. Then, they will need to get in touch with their Realtor to arrange the pick-up of keys so they can start moving in to their new home.

This post was drafted by my real estate paralegal (also called a conveyancer), Terri Lavertu, who assists me as we guide our clients through the process of buying a new home. If your clients have questions, they are welcome to call myself or Terri at 250-762-5434.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

HST - Key Points for Realtors

HST will be chargeable on every supply of real property (including mobile homes and floating homes) in Canada. However, Used Residential Housing is an Exempt Supply and therefore resale homes will not be subject to HST (they are not subject to GST either).

Generally the Vendor is liable to the government to collect and remit the HST; However in certain cases the Buyer must remit where either a) the Seller is a Non-Resident or b) the Buyer is a GST/HST registrant.

HST is due and payable on all NEW residential homes with a COMPLETION DATE on or after July 1, 2010 unless the transaction is grandfathered.  A "grandfathered" transaction is one where the contract of purchase and sale was signed prior to November 18, 2009. However, in the event the "grandfathered" contract is assigned to a third party, special rules will determine whether HST is payable. The rules are in place to prevent fraudulent "grandfathering" transactions.

The HST rebate threshold has been increased to include home valued up to $525,000. The government is states that additional rebate makes the purchase of homes (with a value of less than 525k) before of after July 1, 2010, tax neutral. Buyers considering the purchase of homes below the 525k threshold should not purchase prior to July 1, 2010 simply to get a tax break.

The HST rebate threshold also applies to Rental Housing. Therefore investors looking at the condo market to place in the rental pool should be encouraged that the new HST will not effect their purchasing power.

The important take home message is that HST will not be the hyped "big bust" for the BC real estate industry. HST will have very little effect on the majority of BC residential home sales.