Buying Kelowna Real Estate in a Sellers Market

In the Central Okanagan Real Estate zone this December, new listings decreased 11% and unit sales increased 33% compared with this time last year (stats here). This has been a relatively consistent trend over the Fall and Winter of 2013 with inventory dropping and sales increasing. This trend shows our real estate market “re-balancing” after years of stagnation and suggests that we are moving toward a Sellers market.

Given that Buyers have “ruled the roost” for so long I thought I was important to revisit some important things for Buyers to remember as the market momentum picks up:

  • Get pre-qualified, talk to your Mortgage Broker first to lock in a rate, and know what you can comfortably afford. Interest rates will rise; an early rate hold in a fast rising market can save a Buyer hundreds of dollars on a monthly mortgage payment.
  • Negotiations will have a sense of urgency in a Sellers Market, so do all your homework first (before you start viewing any homes in person):
  • Get your REALTOR to start a “Activity Alert” for you for all relevant listings in your top neighborhoods – this will give you a sense of what the homes are selling for and how fast they are selling;
  • Have sufficient funds in the bank for down payment, moving and closing costs (ideally about 9-14% of your intended purchase price being 5-10% down on the home, plus 2% estimated moving and 2% estimated closing costs)

 

  • Negotiate on price, but leave sufficient time for due diligence;
    • Due Diligence is the process of “kicking the tires” on a residential property and looking at the quality and suitability of premises. No matter how intense the negotiations are, Buyers should always leave time and have subject conditions in place to:

i.     Finalize a Mortgage Commitment;

ii.     Do a Home Inspection;

iii.     Review the Land Title with a Lawyer;

iv.     Review the Strata Documentation (if applicable);

  • Many negotiations will be competitive, and a good, experienced REALTOR makes all the difference here, but remember:
    1. It’s okay to “lose” on a house if you are not 100% comfortable with the deal, “winning” a competitive bid is not like winning the hockey game, its “winning” the right to pay for an asset for the next 25 years of your life.
    2. Its way easier to find another good house than it is to find a good spouse… yes I am serious… there are lots of good houses, there are lots of good neighborhoods, seldom is there only “one house”.
  • Final point: Don’t assume the good times will last forever. Lots of people learned this lesson the hard way in 2008 buying pre-sale contracts they could not afford. Real estate is not considered to be a “liquid asset” and you cannot simple sell it with a click of a button. If you sign a real estate contract, plan and expect to close the deal.

Written by Kelowna Real Estate Lawyer Peter Borszcz

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Wildfire Covenants: What Okanagan Home Owners Need to Know.

The Peachland Wildfire highlighted the importance of good urban planning and the use of Wildfire Covenants to reduce the danger posed by wildfires in the Okanagan.  The Ponderosa Golf Course development by TreeGroup acted as an important firebreak to prevent the fires from spreading into the densely populated Princeton residential subdivision. (see news story here)

In many new subdivisions which have been developed since the large Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003, local municipalities have mandated that Wildfire Covenants be registered against title to the newly created lots. A Wildfire Covenant is a Section 219 Covenant by which municipalities impose obligations on the landowner to lower the wildfire risk.

A Wildfire Covenant legally requires landowners to:

a)      maintain a minimum distance of 3m between conifer trees (this may require a homeowner to thin existing trees as they naturally grow much denser than this requirement)

b)      do not plant conifer trees, only plant small shrubs and deciduous trees;

c)       prune all low branches (below 3m) on tall trees (over 9m) (this will likely require a homeowner to hire an arborist);

d)      remove all dead trees, woody debris, branches, and pines needles on the ground, roof and gutters (this is easy, keep the yard clean);

e)      use fire resistive materials for exteriors, roofs and  walls of all structures (no wooden shingles or shutters);

f)       ensure house address is visible (to assist emergency personnel);

g)      have an evacuation plan (know alternative routes);

h)      for ground cover use pea gravel, lava rock or other non-combustible material rather than combustible materials such as bark mulch;

i)        water your lawn and have a hose that can reach the roof(with a sprinkler) and around the house; and,

j)        do not store flammable materials near the house.

The Wildfire Covenant puts landowners on notice that they live in an interface area and there is a risk of wildfire. Under the terms of the covenant, the municipality will not be liable in the event of wildfire to the homeowner.

Wildfire Covenants can be found in most new subdivisions including Ponderosa, Wilden, Kettle Valley, South Ridge, Kirschner Mountain and the Ponds. These Wildfire Covenants assist the entire neighborhood in reducing the naturally occurring wildfire risks associated with living in the sunny Okanagan.

Peter Borszcz is a Kelowna Real Estate Lawyer and Kelowna Business Lawyer at Pihl Law Corporation. Have a legal question? Contact the firm at 250-762-5434

Covenants

In British Columbia, there are generally two types of Covenants which are noted as charges on a Land Title:

  1. Covenants or Restrictive Covenants – must be “negative” obligations restricting what an owner can do on the lands and, similar to easements, there must be a dominant (benefited) lands and servient (burdened) lands.
  2. s.219 Covenants – which can imposed both positive and negative covenants and can only be registered for the benefit of certain local and provincial governments. There is no requirement for a dominant tenement for s.219 covenants.

Covenants have long been used as real estate development tools in British Columbia by both developers and municipalities. Covenants are also used in commercial properties to restrict operation of certain types of businesses.

Importantly, covenants cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry or place of origin. Notoriously, the British Properties development in West Vancouver historically had a covenant which forbid sales of lands to persons of certain races.  Where a covenant is over broad, Section 35 of the Property Law Act grants the power the Supreme Court of British Columbia to modify covenants and easements.

Section 219 Covenants are commonly found on many new real estate developments in British Columbia as they are used by municipalities, regional districts, the Crown (Province), as tools to ensure the development proceeds on certain terms and conditions (like restrictions on the number of homes that can be built). Alternatively these covenants can be used to ensure that obligations are placed on current and  future property owners (hillside development covenants, wildfire covenants, flooding covenants).

Recently Section 219 Covenants have also been utilized by municipalities and land conservancies to protect environmentally sensitive wetlands, islands, and foreshore areas.

Buyers should ensure that they understand the terms of any Covenants and Section 219 Covenants on the land title to the property prior to subject removal as both types of instruments will contain terms which limit the owner’s use and enjoyment of the property.