Thursday, October 21, 2010


Six suggestions for avoiding mortgage fraud

Globe and Mail Update
Published Monday, Oct. 18, 2010

Whenever the housing market starts to heat up, so does mortgage and real estate fraud. Buyers rush through deals to avoid losing out, but can end up being scammed if they’re not careful.

While there are no statistics on these types of fraud in Canada, in the United States, it is estimated to cost victims between $4-billion and $6-billion (U.S.) a year.

“Mortgage scams are carried out in all different forms and involve a multitude of people, some who don't even know they're being taken advantage of,” says Diane Scott, president of the Calgary Real Estate Board.

Ms. Scott says at least two types of mortgage fraud have occurred in Calgary this year. One is property flipping, in which a dishonest seller artificially inflates the value of a property using a phony appraisal and then sells it for a large profit. The phony appraisal often remains with the property through multiple transactions, making it difficult to determine the property's true worth, and the end buyer is left paying for a mortgage that is much higher than the home's value.

The other involves “straw buyers,” who are offered money to lend their identity and good credit record for use on fraudulent mortgage applications. The fraudster uses the information to apply for a loan, then disappears with the money, leaving the straw buyer on the hook for the mortgage payments.

Other types of real estate scams include title fraud, where your identity is stolen and used to assume the title of your property, which can then be used to sell your home or get a new mortgage. The criminal takes the mortgage money and runs. You may not even find out about the fraud until the lender contacts you or someone pulls up in a moving van, claiming to be the new owner of the house.

And there’s also foreclosure fraud, in which a homeowner having trouble paying a mortgage is offered a loan in exchange for up-front fees and an agreement to transfer the property title to the scammer, who is then able to take the victim’s loan payments, sell the house or remortgage it and leave with the money.

While a lawyer, realtor or licensed mortgage broker can help ensure all legal precautions are taken, it’s still important to do your homework before you buy, Ms. Scott says. Here’s her advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:

1. Beware of unusual offers. Never lend your identity to anyone or sign documents you do not fully understand. “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” Ms. Scott says.

2. Do the math. Look at the listing history on the property and do a comparative market analysis. Check the number of sales and price ranges for the community. If the home’s listing price is much higher than the average value of neighbouring homes, it could mean someone is flipping the property or has had it fraudulently appraised.

3. Don’t assume the seller is honest. Get your own realtor or independent representation for your purchase. If the seller objects, something is wrong.

4. Do a land title search. This will show the name of the property owner, any mortgages or liens registered on the title, as well as previous sales and transfers. You can also buy title insurance to protect against title fraud.

5. Get your own appraisal. You may want to include, as part of your offer to purchase, the option to have the property appraised by a member of the Appraisal Institute of Canada.

6. Secure your deposit. Make sure your money is being held in a real estate trust account by a realtor or lawyer. This will ensure your money is safe until the deal closes.

Photo by: Barnesnet


Money is on sale!

Ted Rechtshaffen
Special to Globe and Mail Update
Published Friday, Oct. 15, 2010

This month, a client locked in a five-year mortgage at 3.49 per cent.

They could have done the same in 2001, but it would have been about 7 per cent.

In 1982 it would have been 18 per cent.

Even in the low-rate days of 1952, it would have been about 5.5 per cent.

Borrowing costs are lower than any time in modern history. This represents an incredible opportunity for those with the foresight (or fortitude) to take advantage.

Here are five strategies to consider:

1) When borrowing, lock in today’s rates. I know that at most times a variable rate is a better solution than fixed. Today is not "most times." If you are getting a new mortgage, lock it in. Even if it is only for three years, you can get a three-year mortgage today for under 3 per cent. The best three and five-year variable rates today are 2.25 per cent, but the Bank of Canada is almost certain to begin hiking rates again within six months. With such a narrow gap between a variable rate and a fixed rate, it simply isn’t worth the risk.

2) If you own a house, consolidate all your debts against your home. While credit card debt remains as high as 19 per cent in many cases, and other unsecured debts might be in the 5-per-cent to 7-per-cent range, you may have an opportunity to move those debts to your mortgage and gain significant savings. Even having a line of credit at prime + 1 per cent (4 per cent) can be consolidated into a mortgage for real savings. As an example, if your home is worth $500,000, and you have a mortgage balance of less than $400,000 (80 per cent), you will likely be able to consolidate other debts in your mortgage, up to 80 per cent of your home’s appraised value.

3) Start a business. As a business owner, I know that getting capital is not easy. The most common response I heard when I was looking many years ago was “use a line of credit secured by your house.” This might not be right for everyone, but I can assure you that you will not find a lower-cost source of capital (except those interest-free loans from family). In fact, I would look at using a fixed-rate mortgage as opposed to a line of credit if you require a larger amount of funds up front or want to secure the rate.

4) Borrow to invest. While some believe this is gambling, I can assure you that, unlike at the Las Vegas tables, the odds are tilted toward you. If you borrow to invest, the interest cost becomes tax deductible. In today’s market, you could do a five-year mortgage at 3.5 per cent, and if you are in the top tax bracket, this will effectively cost you less than 2 per cent a year. Over the past 60 years, the Toronto Stock Index has averaged annual returns of over 10 per cent. I am not saying you can count on these returns every year, but if your borrowing cost is under 2 per cent, and a dividend portfolio can pay 4 per cent a year just on the dividends, it can be a very powerful wealth-building strategy.

5) Borrow to buy more real estate. Imagine having an $800,000 house in Vancouver or Toronto and having no debt. You decide to buy a beautiful ocean-front property in Florida or California. The new property costs $300,000 – and they want cash. You can take out a mortgage on your Canadian property to possibly make the real estate purchase of a lifetime. If you are considering this, be sure to use a foreign-exchange dealer to save on exchange costs, and look into the tax issues of owning real estate in the United States.

Just for fun, you might want to file away this article and open it up in about five years. You may just wish you took the plunge when money was on sale.

Photo by: Dreamer7112

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Resale home pace expected to climb
By Marty Hope, Calgary Herald
October 16, 2010

With a struggling economy and housing sector, anything the least bit positive is a good thing.

So it has been for the past couple of weeks -- a scrap of good news here and there.

Statistics Canada was first out of the chute with news that the Calgary area's unemployment rate for September declined to 6.6 per cent -- down from 6.7 per cent in August and declining even further from the 6.9 per cent in September 2009.

That being said, there were 1,400 fewer jobs created last month compared with August 2010.

But since the first of the year, job creation is still ahead of 2009, says Statistics Canada.

Job creation is good news for the new and resale housing sectors for obvious reasons.

The Calgary Real Estate Board has also chipped in with its good news.

In its latest activity report, the board reported sales of both detached single-family homes and multi-family condos climbed in September compared to August.

In terms of detached homes, 958 changed hands, up from 867 in August.

As for condos, the September sales total was 366, two more than were sold in August.

But compared to the same month last year, sales numbers for September were off.

CREB president Diane Scott took the positive road in her September summary, saying fall sales "should improve slightly" to reflect the latest Statistics Canada report.

"There are signs that September may mark a gradual, if not slight, uptick for Calgary's housing market," she says. "We are seeing a modest improvement since the market's decline that started in April of this year."

In the earlier part of the year, home-buyers -- first-timers for the most part -- decided to move up their purchase dates to beat expected hikes in interest rates and changes to mortgage rules.

When both these factors came into play, people who hadn't bought stepped back from the market, taking a wait-and-see attitude.

There were also those who continued to be concerned about the strength -- or lack of strength -- in the economy.

Here again was a bit of good news. Mortgage rates have not moved dramatically and the average price of used homes is holding fairly steady.

"The Bank of Canada is in no hurry to raise interest rates to any significant level and affordability continues to improve in key segments of the Calgary housing market," says Scott. "These factors, along with great selection, have clearly tipped this market in favour of the buyer."

The average price of detached single-family homes in September within Calgary was $460,278, up three per cent from August but almost unchanged from $459,085 in the same month last year.

The average selling price for condos inside Calgary was $284,028 last month -- down one per cent from August and two per cent from September 2009.

While the market, itself, appears to be undergoing a slight change, the makeup of the buyer is also getting a facelift.

"Clearly, there is a shift in the types of buyers entering the market," says Scott.

"It was first-time buyers who drove the late market recovery last fall and this spring.

"While lower-priced home sales have declined, sales over $1 million have actually increased by two per cent this year compared with the same period last year."
- - -

For the first nine months of this year, million-dollar-plus sales of used homes totalled 286, up from 229 during the same period last year, says the Calgary Real Estate Board.

But the highest volume of sales of detached single-family resale homes are occurring in Calgary in homes priced between $300,000 and $399,999.

They amount to nearly 38 per cent, a slight improvement over 2009. Meanwhile, the vast majority of condo sales -- more than 47 per cent -- were priced from $200,000 to $299,999.

A year ago, this category accounted for nearly 51 per cent of all condominium sales. "While consumer confidence has strengthened and the unemployment picture has improved, economic jitters will continue to impact Calgary's housing market," says president Diane Scott of CREB. "More and more home buyers will eventually return to the marketplace, but for the moment, they remain moderately cautious."

Photo By: Dave van Hulsteyn

Friday, October 15, 2010


Home sales, prices up in September
Garry Marr, Financial Post · Friday, Oct. 15, 2010

TORONTO — Housing sales rose in September for a second straight month while average prices reversed the falling trend with a 1.9% increase from August, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Friday.

The Ottawa-based group said sales in September climbed 3% from August on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was the highest number of sales since last May.

At the same time prices also showed some growth. The average sale price across the Multiple Listing Service last month was $331,089, on par with where it stood a year ago, and an increase from $324,928 in August.

"Supply and demand are rebalancing, and that's keeping prices steady in many markets," said Georges Pahud, president of CREA.

With demand improving slightly and the supply of homes falling, the number of months of inventory in the market dropped for a second straight month, the group said. New listings remain 15% below the peak reached in April.

CREA said two-thirds of local markets posted sales increases with Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal standing out. However, compared with last year sales still lag across the country, down 19.8% in September from a year ago.

"Record level sales activity late last year and earlier this year is expected to further stretch year-over-year comparisons in the months ahead," the group said.

CREA said on a seasonally adjusted basis there was 6.6 months of inventory in the market nationally. That's down from 6.9 months in August and 7.2 months in July. The number of months of inventory represents the number of months it would take to sell inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

The interest-rate environment continues to help the housing market. While the prime lending rate has jumped with recent interest rate hikes from the Bank of Canada, effecting variable-rate mortgages, long-term rates continue to fall. Some lenders are now loaning money as low as 3.5% for a five-year, fixed-rate term.

"Mortgage lending rates eased in the third quarter, which helped support sales activity over the past couple of months," said Gregory Klump, chief economist with CREA. "Interest rates are going nowhere fast, so home ownership will remain within reach for many homebuyers."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


SQ Art Projects Presents:

Leslie Bell
October 14 - November 14, 2010

                                          Entropic 2, 2010. By Leslie Bell

Opening Reception:
Thursday, October 14, 2010 | 5-7pm
Artist in Attendance

SQ Art Projects is pleased to announce the solo exhibition of Leslie Bell's work; Radiant Array.

Bell approaches abstract painting with a concentration and infatuation with potentiality. The abundance of possibilities and variations within complex organic systems and entropy fascinate and perplex. Bell's exuberant brushwork and clashing colour palettes are reflective of this maelstrom of complexity. Bell's frenzied forms are continually in stasis; neither collapsing nor expanding, infinitesimally without reference to beginning or end as opposing forces balance each other through composition.

Bell references chaos theory, quantum physics and post-structuralism in an effort to map the human mind and interpret the unstable flux of energy. Its potential formation in the physical is never realized, but instead is represented in the fanatic movement in between states of structured, organized thought and representation. With a palette that is awash in vivid colours mixed among muddied earthen tones, the spontaneous formations act together to push and pull the viewer towards an uneven ground of pleasure and doubt, destabilizing assumptions and reconfiguring abstractions into kaleidoscopic formations of colour and movement.

Leslie Bell is a Calgary based abstract painter and experimental filmmaker. She received her BFA from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2002, and her MFA from Concordia University, Montreal in 2009 and attended the "Cosmic Ray" thematic residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts also in 2009.

suite 100, 1604- 10th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
T3C 0J5

Friday, October 1, 2010



Landmark deal to transform how Canadians buy, sell real estate
Limiting agent services may save sellers thousands
By Tim Shufelt And Theresa Tedesco,
National Post, with files from Garry Marr

In a development that could drastically change the way Canadians buy and sell their homes, the real estate industry has reached a landmark agreement with federal competition authorities.

The legally binding deal will allow for home sellers to pay for only those services they want from their real estate agents. Previously, under the rules established by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), consumers had to opt for an entire slate of services, a practice the Competition Bureau deemed anti-competitive.

One of the most significant victories for the competition watchdog in the past decade, the settlement could save millions of Canadians thousands of dollars when they sell their homes. Instead of paying a full-service real estate agent up to 5% of the total sale value, a home seller can now pay a nominal fee for an agent to list the property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). According to Derek Holt, an economist with the Bank of Nova Scotia, the difference could mean $15,000 in pocketed savings for the owner of an average-priced Canadian home.

The deal caps more than four years of feuding between the industry and the federal watchdog. In February, the Competition Bureau formally challenged CREA's practices, claiming they "limit consumer choice" and prevent real estate agents from offering lower cost services to customers.

At the heart of the complaint was the MLS, which is owned by CREA and is responsible for about 90% of home sales in the country. The real estate group fired back, accusing the commissioner of tarnishing the reputation of the profession with unfounded condemnations of its practices. But many industry observers said the public relations war was unwinnable for CREA and that its days of rejecting "a la carte" services were numbered.

"Since challenging CREA's rules, the Bureau's goal has always been to achieve a long-term solution that would strengthen competition in the residential real estate brokerage services market," Melanie Aitken, commissioner of competition, said in a release.

Ms. Aitken said the agreement, which has yet to be ratified, will allow real estate agents to "offer the variety of services and prices that meet the needs of consumers."

Meanwhile, CREA maintained that, despite the agreement, its rules did not "prevent or restrict a broad range of business models," the association said in a release. "In CREA's view, the consent agreement reflects this reality and would avoid unnecessary and expensive litigation proceedings."

Lawrence Dale, a Toronto-based real estate lawyer who sued CREA, told the Post the industry association buckled in signing the consent agreement.

"It's a complete capitulation and acknowledgment that what was being done in the past was improper and that they've now agreed in a legally binding document that they won't do it again," he said late yesterday.

Mr. Dale, who launched a discount brokerage RealtySellers, claimed he was forced out of business in 2006 as a result of new rules implemented by CREA.

"This is precisely what I've been fighting for for the last decade," he said. "That the consumer and real estate agent get to decide the framework of their relationship without having CREA and their local boards say certain arrangements are not appropriate for MLS."

The consent agreement is an important victory for the regulator because it provides the bureau with a legally binding settlement that can be used against CREA if the association fails to act on the agreed terms.

The bureau had previously rejected CREA's proposed rule changes, insisting that a consent agreement is necessary to ensure a permanent solution.

Don Lawby, chief executive of Century 21 Ltd. conceded the real estate industry "looked like we were tying to hold onto a monopoly" but argued that was not the case.

Photo By: Razvan Marescu


CALGARY - Activity in Calgary’s residential MLS market picked up in September after a number of months where demand for housing was cooling.

But year-over-year sales remain down.

According to the Calgary Real Estate Board, which released official MLS data today, MLS sales on a year-over-year basis were down in September for the fifth consecutive month.

However, the board also reported that single-family home sales during the month broke a string of five consecutive month-over-month declines and the condo market ended a streak of four straight monthly declines.

In September, there were 958 MLS single-family home sales in Calgary for an average price of $460,278, up from 867 sales and an average price of $445,617 in August. In September 2009, there were 1,257 sales at an average of $459,085.

There were 366 condos sales in September, up from 364 in August, but down from 580 in September 2009. The average sale price in September was $284,028, down from $286,384 the previous month and $290,253 a year ago.

“There are signs that September may mark a gradual, if not slight, uptick for Calgary’s housing market - we are seeing modest improvement since the market’s decline, that really started in April of this year,” said CREB president Diane Scott.