“Own a cottage or investment property? Here’s how to navigate the new capital gains tax changes”

This article was written by ROB CARRICK, Personal Finance Columnist at the Globe and Mail, published April 22, 2024.

New rules for taxing capital gains mean quick decisions are required for cottages that families have owned for decades, and investment properties as well.

Until June 24, you can sell a second property or cottage and pay tax on just half your capital gain, however much it is. After that date, the recent federal budget proposes to increase the inclusion rate on capital gains greater than $250,000 to two-thirds. Capital gains of this size can easily be envisioned in the property market after the massive price gains of the past 10-plus years.

“From now until June, we might be seeing some hasty sales to bypass the increase in capital-gains tax for those people who have held a property for long enough to realize that gain above $250,000,” said Diana Mok, adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario and an expert on real estate finance.

But maybe you don’t want to rush into anything. Historically, the capital-gains inclusion rate has many times been adjusted up and down. The rate went from half to two-thirds in the late 1980s and then up to three-quarters from 1990 to 1999. In 2000, it was chopped back to two-thirds and then again to 50 per cent.

The next opening for a change would be after the next federal election, which is expected by fall of 2025 unless the minority Liberal government falls earlier. People may want to hold on to secondary properties until after that election. “I think this is a huge reason that people will be focused on the Conservative Party,” said Lani Stern, broker and senior vice-president of sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.

Mr. Stern said he’s advising clients to sell only if they already had plans to do so. The federal government’s budget documents suggest there’s an expectation of a bulge of capital gains-generated tax revenue in general this year as people try to get ahead of the higher inclusion rate.

A capital gain is the difference between the purchase price of a home, stock or other asset and the sale price. The inclusion rate is the portion of the gain that is taxable. Currently, the 50-per-cent inclusion rate on a $500,000 capital gain means a taxable gain of $250,000.

The taxable amount of a $500,000 gain under the new rules would be $291,750. That’s $125,000, or 50 per cent of $250,000, plus $166,750, which is 66.7 per cent of the other $250,000 portion of the $500,000 gain.

Your margin tax rate would determine how much tax you actually pay on these gains.

Draft legislation for the new capital-gains rules has yet to be issued. But John Oakey, vice-president of taxation at Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, said he believes it will be possible for capital gains to be split on the sale of properties co-owned by spouses. Each spouse would be able to report up to $250,000 in capital gains at the 50-per-cent inclusion rate.

The higher inclusion rate was billed in the budget as a way of targeting high-net-worth individuals, but middle-class families could be caught up as well in selling family cottages bought decades ago at a fraction of their current value. A principal residence can still be sold tax-free, but the gain on a cottage or investment property is taxable.

“Whether/when to transfer cottages to the next generation is a perennial question for many Canadians,” Andrew Guilfoyle, partner at Chronicle Wealth, said by e-mail. “The time crunch could make this much more difficult to execute versus simply realizing capital gains in an investment account of public stocks, as there will be legal documents and valuations needed.”

Prof. Mok sees the impact of the higher capital-gains inclusion rate being felt more by long-term investors than those who are flipping properties. “I could hardly see even the hottest market in Canada, such as Toronto, gaining $250,000 within a year or two,” she said.

Longer-term real estate investors will adjust to the higher tax rate, Prof. Mok predicted. Her thinking on this is influenced by what happened in Toronto after the introduction of a municipal land-transfer tax in 2008. Some observers thought house prices would cool down or fall, but that never happened. Similarly, people will adjust to the new capital-gains tax rate.


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