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# Friday, 16 November 2018


Happy GIS Week! 

 

We were working recently on an assignment in the Annapolis Valley, the land of orchards and sloping vineyards…and that got us thinking about the impact of elevation on land area.  Ultimately, the question is one of land value: inherent in the value of agricultural land is potential crop yield.  More land area equals more growing potential equals more value.  Where slopes are acceptable or even advantageous, they may serve double duty in that sloped land is larger than it seems.

 

Our Valuation Division’s MO is to maximise your property value…this is an Economic Intelligence Unit blog post, and this is GIS Week, so we’re going to geek out on how to ensure you’re counting all your land, using a GIS, a little high school math, and a fair bit of Pythagoras[i]

 

Pythagoras’ Theorem defines the relationship between the sides of a right triangle with the equation a² + b² = c².  Side “c” is the hypotenuse, and is always the longest of the three sides. 





For illustrative purposes, we created a convenient, perfectly rectangular, parcel.  It measures 500 x 1,150 m, for a total area of 575,000 m² (57.5 hectares).





That is: 

But the land comprising this parcel is sloped.  The contour lines added to the image below demonstrate the degree of the slope; on average, there is an elevation differential between the highest and lowest elevations of 140 m.  




Thus, the 500 m parcel dimension is effectively 519.2 m:



and the effective land area is 597,080 m² (59.7 ha.), a difference of 22,080 m² – over 2 hectares of extra space for crops! 

 

This is a highly simplified example of the impact of slope on land area.  There are many other factors to take into account, such as the tipping point between beneficial slopes and unusable inclines.  But in a world where “land: they’re not making any more of it,” holds true, the most informed decisions are the best ones.  Where a precise figure is required, you’ll need to call in a professional land surveyor.  But when an area scaled from a map is fit for purpose, using a GIS and a little high school math can yield a more useful number than you’d get from a regular map. 

 

P.S. a related fun fact was shared at Wednesday night’s Geomatics on the Town event (part of the 2018 Geomatics Atlantic Conference): tree planters space their seedlings at a certain distance from each other.  For one tree planter, this was the equivalent of 3 steps on flat ground, but on sloped terrain, it was 12 steps in order to leave sufficient room between trees! 



[i] Mainly for defining the relationship between the sides of a right triangle, but a little bit for first floating the idea that the Earth is a sphere...it comes into play in measuring distance.  There are two methods of measurement in a GIS, Cartesian and Spherical.  The Cartesian method calculates distance and areas based on data as projected onto a flat surface (like scaling from a paper map), while the Spherical method accounts for the curved surface of the Earth (like scaling on a globe).  The distances in this example were measured in MapInfo using the Spherical method.   




Alex Baird Allen is the Manager of Turner Drake's Economic Intelligence Unit, and has a high level of expertise and interest in GIS. If you'd like to reach Alex, call 902-429-1811 Ext.323 (HRM), 1-800-567-3033 (toll free), or email ABairdAllen@turnerdrake.com 
Friday, 16 November 2018 12:36:31 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Tuesday, 02 October 2018

Several blog posts (and a few years) ago, drawing on the experience amassed over my twenty-five year career at Turner Drake, I did some property tax myth-busting.  One bears repeating- particularly at this time of the year:

 

The Best Opportunity to Reduce Your Assessment (and Taxes) is NOT on Appeal

 

In every Province in which we operate, assessing authorities are willing to discuss assessments prior to their values being inserted onto the official assessment roll.  In our experience, such preliminary consultations often produce better results- at lower cost- than waiting to file formal appeals.

 

Nova Scotia’s assessing authority, the Property Valuation Services Corporation- the “PVSC”- and its predecessor, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, is a pioneer in this regard, and has been pre-publishing its assessments for over twenty years.

 

This year, 2019 pre-roll assessments for commercial property and apartments containing six or more units were pre-published on September 25th.  Proposed values can be accessed on the PVSC’s website at www.pvsc.ca, and the underlying valuations can be obtained by using the AAN and PIN from the top right- hand corner of 2018 assessment notices at:

 

 https://www.pvsc.ca/en/home/findanassessment/multiple-report-tool/default.aspx

 

Owners with concerns with their proposed assessments have about eight weeks to contact the PVSC: assessors have the ability to amend values until the last week in November. The 2019 roll officially closes on December 1st.

 

PVSC’s management embraces the opportunity to discuss assessments (and to make changes, where warranted) at the “pre-roll” stage.  Property owners are encouraged to avail themselves of this opportunity, and PVSC should be commended for publishing its proposed 2019 values.

 

Of course, it’s not always possible to engage in preliminary consultation, as not all values will be available with sufficient “lead time” in advance of the filing of the roll.  But where the opportunity presents itself, my advice is always to be proactive, and to address a problem before it becomes one.  A stitch in time saves nine.


Giselle Kakamousias is the Vice-President of Turner Drake’s Property Tax Division.  Her experience negotiating and appealing property assessments is extensive: it is a wise property owner who follows her advice.  If you’d like more of it, she can be reached at (902) 429-1811 ext. 333 or gkakamousias@turnerdrake.com.

Tuesday, 02 October 2018 14:34:17 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Tuesday, 28 August 2018

It is a common misconception that a piece of real estate has a single value.  This is simply not true.  Determining which value is appropriate likely has the biggest impact on property value.

 

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ Global Valuation Standards, specify six types of real estate value (Market, Rental, Equitable, Investment, Synergistic, and Liquidation). The Appraisal Institute (of America) has identified ten distinct, and valid, property valuation bases in common use in North America. Legislation, case law, and the purpose of the real estate assignment, result in many variations of these property valuation bases. Any conversation about valuing your property has to start therefore with an understanding of the purpose of the valuation assignment or you can end up with a conclusion which is worthless at best, or seriously misleading at worst.

 

Let’s discuss the two most common types of value.

 

Market Value (Highest and Best Use) is typically quoted and understood by many (including appraisers) to be the only type of value.  It is the highest price you would get for your property on a specific date, if it was offered for sale, properly marketed, and exposed for a sufficient period of time to alert and allow all potential purchasers to submit offers.  It assumes that both seller and buyer are knowledgeable of property values, that neither are under pressure to sell or buy, are typically motivated, and are each acting in their best interest. It assumes a cash purchase, or typical mortgage financing, in Canadian dollars. It also anticipates that the purchaser will be able to put the property to its “Highest and Best” use, which may for example, include redevelopment, if this will create a higher value than the existing use of the property.

 

But beware, Market Value is not the price you could expect to get if the purchaser (1) was an adjoining owner, (2) was undertaking a land assembly, (3) was a relative or business associate, (4) knew something that the vendor should have known but did not, (5) did not know something known to the vendor of which the purchaser should have been aware, (6) wanted a “vendor take back” mortgage, (7) intended to lease back the property to the vendor, (8) enjoyed a negotiating advantage because, for example, the vendor was in dire financial straits, … and so on.

 

I was recently contacted by an existing client looking to secure financing for their property located on the Halifax Peninsula.  Their property was improved with an older, single storey commercial building.  The underlying land was worth considerably more than the building and property under its current use.  After discussing the purpose of the assignment with the client and their bank, it became clear that the bank was interested in more than just the Market Value (Highest and Best Use) of the property in this instance.  The bank’s goal was to determine if the income generated by the property, under its current use, was sufficient to keep the lights on and pay the existing mortgage.  However, the bank also wanted to know what they could expect to sell the property for if they ended up taking possession of it and selling it on the open market. Effectively, the bank had two different goals which gave rise to two different values.

 

We completed a thorough analysis of the property and provided the owner, and their bank with two values (1) Market Value (Highest and Best Use), which in this case was for redevelopment of the property, and (2) Market Value (Value in Use) as it currently exists without regard to redevelopment potential.  Market Value (Value in Use) is similar to Market Value (Highest and Best Use) but is based on the assumption that your property could only be utilised for its existing purpose.   

 

Difference in Value

 

In this instance the difference in value was significant: $1.5 million (Market Value - Value in Use) versus $2.3 million (Market Value – Highest and Best Use).  Both values were included and supported in the report, allowing the bank to make an informed decision on lending.

 

 

Looking for explanations on the different types of values listed above?  Visit our Valuation and Advisory Services site https://www.turnerdrake.org/WhichValue for more information on the various types of values.
 

Nigel Turner, Vice President of our Valuation Division, can be reached at nigelturner@turnerdrake.com
Tuesday, 28 August 2018 17:06:03 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Thursday, 07 June 2018

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) publishes measurement standards for office, industrial, retail, and mixed use spaces.  These measurement standards provide guidelines for measuring the area occupied by each tenant within a building and, when appropriate, allocating common spaces.

BOMA states that if a building contains a single occupancy type comprising 51% or more of the total building area, the corresponding standard should be used.  In other words, the building owner does not have the right to simply choose the standard that best serves their interests. Given the ubiquity of commercial buildings that can be used for both office and retail uses, particularly in suburban and rural areas, it is critical to understand the differences between these standards.

Boundary Condition

Where does my measure line extend to? One of the most important differences between the Retail and Office Standards is how the measure line differs for exterior enclosures.  The Gross Leasable Area of a retail building is measured to the outside face of the exterior walls.  Under the Office Standard the measure line for the exterior enclosure is the dominant portion of the inside finished surface. The dominant portion is the finished surface that comprises over 50% of the vertical height, measured from floor to ceiling (not exceeding 8 ft.).  This difference can be significant.  The illustration below shows how a unit measured to the Retail Standard (right) captures more area than a unit measured to the Office Standard (left) based on this condition:


Allocation of Common Area

Under the Office Standard, building owners can allocate to each tenant their proportionate share of common area. This process of “grossing-up” the tenant’s space means each unit has two areas: a Tenant Area (the space physically occupied by the tenant), as well as a Rentable Area (the Tenant Area plus a proportionate share of common space).  In a retail building this is not the case, as this Standard does not allow for the grossing up of common areas. Under the Retail Standard, Gross Leasable Area is simply the area designed for the exclusive use of an occupant with no share of common area.

Consider a hypothetical office unit with a Tenant Area of 1,250 ft.2 located within a building that contains three additional units of the same size and 200 ft.2 of common area.  Each unit comprises ¼ of the total Tenant Area, and is allocated 25% of the common area (25% x 200 ft.2 = 50 ft.2) making the Rentable Area of the unit 1,300 ft.2 (blue overlay on left side graphic below). If this were a retail building the Gross Leasable Area would be 1,322 ft.2 as this unit would simply be measured to the exterior face of all exterior walls, while excluding any allocation of building common areas (green overlay on right side graphic below).


These are just two of the many differences between the Retail and Office Standards. With a total of six BOMA Measurement Standards it is critical to verify that the correct standard has been applied to your building, and that your space has been certified to verify its accuracy.  

    
Mitchell Jones splits his time between Turner Drake's Lasercad® and Valuation Divisions.  For further information feel free to reach out to him, or any one of our space measurement experts at (902)-429-1811 or toll free at 1-800-567-3033
Thursday, 07 June 2018 14:33:58 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Lasercad | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Friday, 09 February 2018

On February 5th, Scott Armour McCrea, CEO of The Armour Group, took to the airwaves to ridicule Alexandra Baird Allen, the Manager of our Economic Intelligence Unit … the cause of his angst, an earlier CBC radio interview with Alex on the results of a Halifax Central Business District (CBD) survey which revealed an office vacancy rate of 17.3%. Labelling her conclusions “manufactured hysteria” Mr. McCrea disparaged the survey results, questioned the competence of Alex, her survey team and Turner Drake … and ignited a gender war: “Mansplainer” was perhaps the most polite invective hurled in Mr. McCrea’s direction (we are keeping a list… it’s not pretty but quite informative… we might publish it). So what was it all about?

Scott Armour McCrea is a developer and a very important man, as he so informed the CBC, the largest private office landlord in the city. In sonorous tone and displaying gravitas befitting a man with gaze firmly fixed on his own navel, Mr. McCrea revealed that “no other real estate professional uses the Turner Drake data”.  In fact, he confided, no actual practitioner agrees with them!  He then proceeded to reveal why … the full Monty so to speak.

Turner Drake, Mr. McCrea intoned, is a minor player in the leasing field completing only 2% of leasing transactions while actual practitioners such as brokers CBRE, do 30% to 40% and publish their own survey. CBRE pegged market absorption at “about 300,000 ft.2 a year” stated Mr. McCrea, “not the 25,000 ft.2” calculated by Ms. Baird Allen. The Armour Group, Mr. McCrea’s company, did their own survey as well and estimated the vacancy rate at 13% to 14%. … and most vacancies were in buildings most people would “never, ever want to work in”. And the problem was exacerbated by the Province who were so concerned about saving taxpayers’ money, they insisted on consigning their employees to space that only the private sector would tolerate. But that, he confided, was about to change. The real reason though for the problem: “if there is a problem in Halifax and I am not suggesting there is”, was that the City was “under-demolished”.

So what are the (non-hysterical) facts?

Alex has been a valued colleague for twelve years, is a Chartered Surveyor and has a degree from the University of New Brunswick, a Diploma in Urban Land Economics from the University of British Columbia and an Advanced Diploma in Geographic Information Systems from the Centre of Geographic Sciences at Lawrencetown, one of the top three GIS institutes in Canada. She combines her work as Manager of our research group with her role as a mother of twins. We have never known her to engage in hysteria, manufactured or otherwise. The office surveys are, we believe, the most comprehensive conducted in Halifax and cover all rental buildings 5,000 ft.2 or larger. They are a structured survey using purpose designed survey instruments and software, deployed by a team of trained researchers. The survey to which Alex alluded in her CBC interview had a response rate of 89% (previously we have achieved 98% but this time a large landlord, The Armour Group, refused to participate). We do have human and programmatic error traps in place for quality control purposes but recognise that they are not yet infallible so seek to have as many eyes on the results as possible and offer the full survey to any participant who would like a copy. 40% take advantage. One such recipient, was kind enough to point out not one, but two errors, in our December 2016 Halifax office survey. We are not perfect, but we are transparent. We corrected the errors, reissued the survey, changed our software to catch similar human errors and published a correction, apology and thanks in our Spring 2017 Newsletter to the gentleman who had so diligently scrutinised the survey, Mr. McCrea.

Our Market Surveys are undertaken by a research team independent of our Brokerage Division. The volume of their lease transactions is therefore unrelated to the amount of research undertaken for the Market Survey.  In any event we cannot utilise data gathered by our Brokerage Division for the Market Surveys because that would be a breach of confidentiality.

The CBC interviews were focused on the Halifax CBD. Ms. Baird Allen’s data referred to the Halifax CBD. Mr. McCrea’s interview focused on the Halifax CBD… unfortunately the CBRE data he referred to did not. It pertained to the wider HRM metropolitan market. CBRE’s estimate of the vacancy rate for the Halifax CBD is very similar to our own (18.5% versus our 17.3%). A world away from the 13% to 14% cited by Mr. McCrea. CBRE’s vacancy rate for the entire HRM office market was 15.5% (we place it at 14.97%)… probably the source of Mr. McCrea’s confusion.  There will always be some differences between the Turner Drake and CBRE survey results, an important factor being that our survey does not just focus on larger buildings but covers some as small as 5,000 ft.2. Mr. McCrea’s comment that the “annual market demand was 300,000 ft.2  not the 25,000 ft.2 quoted by Turner Drake” was similarly erroneous. Alex’s figure of 25,000 ft.2 referred to the CBD, which, after all, was the subject of the CBC interview to which Mr. McCrea was responding. It was based on the average market absorption over the past five years. CBRE’s estimate of annual market absorption of 308,944 ft.2, referenced by Mr. McCrea, referred to the entire HRM market.

Mr. McCrea’s comment that most of the vacancies were in buildings that most people would “never, ever want to work in” does not accord with the facts. Class A buildings have an average vacancy of 21.8%.

We concur with Mr. McCrea that many office buildings will have to be demolished or repurposed, Alex pointed this out in her CBC interview. However 625,750 ft.2 of the 879,665 ft.2 of currently vacant space would have to be taken out of service to restore equilibrium to the downtown office market… the aggregate of the former Bank of Montreal tower, the former Royal Bank tower, Founders Square and … volunteers anyone? Oh but Mr. McCrea is adding another 125,000 ft.2 at Queen’s Marque… let’s see, what else for the wrecking ball…?

We politely pointed out to Mr. McCrea his confusion with the CBRE survey statistics and gave him the opportunity to rectify the error. He did not respond. As for the mansplainer moniker… nothing we can do about that... we trust he is not consigned to the couch. Probably have to make his own coffee from now on though.

For more information on mansplainer consult Wikipedia. For information on the office market in the Halifax CBD and lots of other areas in Atlantic Canada, contact Alex Baird Allen the (very calm) Manager of our Economic Intelligence Unit at 902-429-1811 Ext.323 (HRM), 1-800-567-3033 (toll free), or ABairdAllen@turnerdrake.com

Friday, 09 February 2018 13:58:02 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Economic Intelligence Unit | Nova Scotia | Turner Drake
# Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Another few years passed, another resurgence of attention and debate on Nova Scotia’s Capped Assessment Program. Municipalities are once again beating their drum against it, reiterating well-worn criticisms and receiving well-worn rebuttals. The public is largely disinterested, unfortunately, and the Province is loath to make the necessary changes without a strong call to action. The issues are not intuitive, and the impacts are largely invisible, and thus the CAP has immense political inertia.

With governments thankfully enacting open data policies, making publicly funded data publicly accessible, Turner Drake & Partners has now been able to crunch the numbers for more than 140,000 taxable residential assessment accounts in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to show just how ineffective this public policy has become.

What is the Capped Assessment Program?
The mechanics of the CAP, and the basics of its problems, have been explained many times over. Sources abound, but our own Property Tax professionals have previously covered the topic in our blog, as well as our recent company newsletter.

Normally, assessments are free to track market trends, but in Nova Scotia the CAP limits annual growth in a property’s assessment to inflation. Nova Scotia’s CAP is not like other taxpayer protection measures, such as California’s famous Proposition 13 which limits growth in assessment and total revenue collected. In Nova Scotia, if the total assessment base is reduced because of the CAP, tax rates are simply increased. Based on our analysis for HRM, we see no evidence of an impact on municipal spending. Operating Budgets have grown consistently since 2000:



Therein lies the problem. It is a program that only redistributes the tax burden. Some pay less, but the taxman gets his due, and so others pay more to make up the difference.

What is the Problem?
The problem arises in how the CAP decides who is to pay more. An assessment-based property tax system is not perfect, but one of its strengths is that property values generally correlate well with a household’s ability to pay. Of course this is not always true, and in fact the original purpose of the CAP was to alleviate situations where rural families were being priced off their land because Ethan Hawke bought the island next door. This is a valid issue that deserves a policy response, and we know that the CAP has helped people in this regard. However, by taking a broad based approach to solving a very acute issue, the program has created far more inequity than it was ever able to solve.

The CAP introduces distortion to the assessment system, reallocating tax burden based on occupancy length and tenure type. Most critics frame this issue as being arbitrarily unfair and use maps like the one below to illustrate the random nature of its distortions; houses in the same neighbourhood, with the same services, but carrying different tax burdens.


(Tax Distortion in a Halifax neighbourhood: red overpays, green underpays, sized by magnitude)

The sad truth is that its unfairness is less random, and its benefit more misallocated than most assume. As our Economic Intelligence Unit knows, people tend to sort themselves into similar locations and types of housing depending on their backgrounds, economic status, and life-stage. Thus, the CAP doesn’t just discriminate against certain properties on the basis of eligibility and program mechanics; it by extension discriminates against certain locations and people. This becomes apparent as the map zooms out:


(Tax Distortion in South End Halifax: red overpays, green underpays, sized by magnitude)

Today the CAP is championed as the way to bring “stability, predictability and affordability” to the taxpayers writ-large. In reality, the CAP generally fails to deliver these supposed benefits, while systemically giving the greatest assistance to those that least need it, by taking from those who can least afford it.

Halifax Case Study
To help illustrate the outcomes of the CAP, Turner Drake’s Economic Intelligence Unit compiled data from the Property Valuation Services Corporation’s DataZone for the 2017 assessment year, budget and tax rate data from the Halifax Regional Municipality’s website and Open Data Portal, and socio-economic data from Statistics Canada. Assuming the municipality would uniformly adjust tax rates to offset the 11% increase in assessment under a CAP repeal, our analysis allows us to estimate who is currently paying more and who is paying less, by how much, and whether these outcomes have social or spatial patterns. Every municipality is different, but with HRM comprising the greatest variety of settlement types, 44% of the population, and 55% of the total provincial assessment base, we find the results instructive.

Results
Urban – Spatial patterns in the urban areas are remarkable. Whether your kitchen has a view of the Northwest Arm seems to be the strongest predictor of tax savings, though much of the Peninsula’s west side makes out well. The apartment-heavy downtown and North Dartmouth areas are hit hard, while suburbs (unless recently developed) generally overpay, but just slightly. Aside from a small number of waterfront areas, Bedford and the developing suburbs are not saving much. Sackville and Spryfield are a mixed bag, with recent development in those areas hardest hit.


(Tax Overpay [more red] and Underpay [more blue] – Halifax Peninsula, Central Dartmouth and suburbs)

Rural – Compared to urban areas, rural areas tend to be more random as new construction and sales activity is dispersed while “hot” market areas tend to be highly targeted. The Chebucto Peninsula appears to make out reasonably well overall. The Head of St. Margaret’s Bay area is most favoured, while farther flung locations like Prospect have a more even balance.


(Tax Overpay [more red] and Underpay [more blue] – Head of St. Margaret’s Bay)

Unfortunately for the Eastern Shore, it looks like the shorter the drive to the city, the better your tax relief. Porter’s Lake is a mixed bag, and most communities past Jeddore pay a little bit more. Sheet Harbour is case in point, a very small handful of savers while most overpay mildly. The hardest hit property is a nursing home which pays an additional $5,000 in property taxes under the CAP. In aggregate, the outer rural areas of the municipality pony up an extra $110,000, while the rural areas within city commute distance save nearly $750,000.

Household Median Income – A strong relationship is observed between tax savings and median household income. Thanks to the mechanics of assessments, the more expensive and fast appreciating properties tend to accrue the largest discounts under the CAP. Shockingly, these desirable, expensive areas tend to be occupied by households of higher income. What is truly surprising, however, is the detail and extent to which this relationship holds true. Even within neighbourhoods that generally trail overall median income levels, tax distortions tended to favour the (relatively) higher income areas:


(Tax Distortion and Median Household Income in Fairview: red overpays, green underpays, sized by magnitude, darker grey is higher income, lighter grey is lower)

This relationship varies in strength across the municipality, but only truly breaks down in newly developed areas as new construction starts out uncapped, and tends to attract higher income households due to the premium price of a new home. Spryfield is a case study in getting the worst of both worlds:


(Tax Distortion and Median Household Income in Spryfield: red overpays, green underpays, sized by magnitude, darker grey is higher income, lighter grey is lower)

The level of income detail in rural areas is less fine-grained, but broadly, we see this pattern repeated when comparing the Chebucto Peninsula to the Eastern Shore.

Much Ado About Nothing
Despite the prolific shifting of taxes among tens of thousands of accounts, for most residential rate-payers in HRM the whole program may as well not exist. We estimate 45% of properties have their taxes adjusted (upwards and downward) by less than $200 per year, with the average bill enjoying less than $10 in savings. If we expand our bounds to adjustments of less than $500, we capture approximately 88% of all accounts, though now on average they have to pay $30 extra. Even at the extreme end of this sample, $40 per month is not exactly a significant level of tax relief. For the vast majority of households, the existence of the CAP does little to foster stability, predictability or affordability over an unadulterated assessment system.

Winners and Losers
With the vast middle-ground essentially playing musical chairs with small dollars, the real impacts are felt in the outliers. The maximum overpayment is limited by the artificial inflation of tax rates (roughly 11%), however the maximum discount has no similar limit; it is dependent on local market trends and the length of time a property remains capped. Thus the program tends to siphon tax dollars from a broad base of chronic over-payers and deliver them in considerable amounts to a relatively small number of super-savers.

The 403,000 souls in HRM are organised into just over 173,000 households; groups that occupy a single dwelling unit (usually based on family relations). Most of these pay more under the CAP. About 30% live in apartments that are not eligible for the program, and thus pay rents inflated by higher property taxes. Another 27% occupy eligible residences, but still pay more because the higher tax rate overwhelms their modest assessment discount (or lack of discount if newly purchased). So more than half, 57%, of all households in the municipality are losers, overpaying by an average of $275 per year. The majority of this unfortunate group will always pay more because their residences do not qualify for the program, or their capped assessment will simply not build up a sufficient discount over time. In total, the CAP extracts around $27 million from this bunch – a hefty sum on top of the taxes they fairly pay.


(Capped Properties That Actually Pay More: plenty of misery to go around)

Around $10 million of this is used to benefit land that is likely vacant but classified as residential, while the remainder is redistributed to the winner households, mostly in small amounts. Yet there are some very lucky recipients of this involuntary largess. Tax discounts in excess of 60% are not uncommon, and there is more than one tony street address that receives a larger tax break than the combined saving of entire mobile home parks.

The top 1% of households are afforded an average tax break of $1,500 per year. In total, this group enjoys more than $2.5 million of tax savings. In other words, it’s likely that the top 1% of beneficiaries are receiving around 15% of the total benefit collected by households, and much of this flows to high-income areas.


(Top 1% of Tax Savers: not quite so widely spread)

The System We Want?
Ultimately, tax policy is public policy, and the most fundamental test of public policy is whether it achieves its ends. It is a good and worthy goal that families not be forced from their homes by sudden tax spikes. It is also good that funding for local government be raised in a way that gives households stability, predictability, and affordability. Does the CAP achieve any of this, and to the extent that it does, is it worth the cost?

Property values and ability to pay are closely aligned, but not perfectly. There are always those who will have difficulty when taxes on the former unexpectedly outstrips the latter. They deserve protection, but the CAP is not a precise tool; for every property owner truly assisted, many others receive unneeded relief, or are undeservedly burdened. Beyond this, most households would experience stability and predictability in their property taxes regardless of the CAP, and the majority would actually have improved affordability without it, if only mildly.

So this is the outcome of the CAP, ten years after full implementation. Are we achieving these feeble results at an acceptable cost? Can we only provide peace of mind in taxation through a system that demands someone else’s sacrifice? Is it acceptable that we systematically target people like rural nursing home residents, low income apartment dwellers, first-time home buyers, and downsizing seniors to make those sacrifices? And is it acceptable that we provide only meagre relief to the residents of mobile home parks and housing co-ops, while systematically directing the greatest savings to neighbourhoods with lowest need? Surely we can do better than this.

©2017 Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. all rights reserved. Contains information licensed under the Open Data & Information Government Licence – PVSC & Participating Municipalities, and the Open Government Licence—Halifax. Analysis and conclusions are the product of Turner Drake & Partners Ltd., and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Property Valuation Services Corporation, the Halifax Regional Municipality, or any other entity. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of this document, no liability is assumed by Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. for errors or omissions. This is distributed without charge on the understanding that the contents do not render legal, accounting, appraisal or other professional services.

For more information on this analysis, contact Neil Lovitt, our Senior Manager of Planning & Economic Intelligence at 429-1811 ext. 349 (HRM), 1 (800) 567-3033 (toll free), or nlovitt@turnerdrake.com.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017 17:11:44 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Economic Intelligence Unit | Nova Scotia | Planning | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Nova Scotia’s 2018 Preliminary Property Assessments are available on the Property Valuation Service Corporation (PVSC)’s website, and there is a brief window to discuss assessments with PVSC assessors prior to the assessment roll being finalized on December 1st.

Between now and then, the PVSC is encouraging property owners to discuss any errors or provide additional information which may have an impact on the value of their property. The benefits in taking advantage of this opportunity are:


1)     It provides a higher level of certainty in preparing tax budgets for the 2018 fiscal year (for both the owner, and the municipality).


2)     It provides property owners with an opportunity to address concerns with 2018 assessments outside of the formal appeal process, and before the values are finalized and inserted on the official assessment roll.


3)     Owners who are not satisfied with the results of pre-roll consultations can still file a formal appeal when official assessment notices are received in January.

 

Preliminary consultations are typically less formal and more timely (and thus cost effective) than an appeal.  This is especially so because at the “pre-roll” stage, assessors aren’t in the position of defending an assessment that has already been published.  The best time to address an assessment issue is before the problem becomes one.

 

The link to proposed 2018 assessment data is as follows: https://www.pvsc.ca/en/home/findanassessment/searchbyaan.aspx.  Preliminary 2018 assessments are publicly available; owners will need their Assessment Account Number and PIN Access Code (which can be found at the top-right hand corner of their 2017 Assessment Notice) to access the underlying valuation records.


 

Giselle Kakamousias is the Vice-President of Turner Drake’s Property Tax Division.  Her experience negotiating and appealing property assessments is extensive (don’t be fooled by the photo - her calculator is older than some of her colleagues): it is a wise property owner who follows her advice.  If you’d like more of it, she can be reached at (902) 429-1811 ext. 333 or gkakamousias@turnerdrake.com.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 12:49:18 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Nova Scotia | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Friday, 18 August 2017

Of Heaven and Sea and Earth 

Please be suitably impressed by this photo: it has all three of a church, a lighthouse and a commercial heritage building


Five years ago, the Chronicle Herald reported that some of Nova Scotia’s churches were exploring the option of deregistering their buildings’ heritage status under the provincial Heritage Property Act.  Nova Scotia’s churches are often their town’s signature property, featuring architectural details ranging from elaborate stained glass windows to ceilings built by 19th century shipwrights using the same techniques used on the hulls of wooden ships.  But cultural and demographic shifts have reduced demand for churches in the province.  Dwindling congregations mean reduced budgets unable to cope with the high costs of maintaining and operating historic properties.  Deregistration is required for demolition, the only option some congregations saw in the face of financial realities: maintenance requirements outweighed the ability to keep these architectural gems standing.  Recent years have seen other churches amalgamate congregations, keeping and maintaining a single building while selling the rest off for (hopefully sympathetic) redevelopment.

Wolfville United Church as it was

A more literal beacon facing a similar threat of extinction is the Canadian lighthouse.  Changing technologies have rendered redundant their function, if not their cultural attraction.  In May 2008, Parliament passed the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, a bill to designate and preserve lighthouses of historic significance.  It took effect in May 2010, only to be followed in June by an announcement declaring almost all Canadian lighthouses surplus, no longer to be maintained by the Coast Guard.  Since then, community groups have become the champions of select historic lighthouses, while the rest, presumably, will suffer the same fate as many an unfortunate ship along our rocky coasts.  

Peggy’s Cove lighthouse, a likely survivor

The foregoing each illustrate the perils of functional obsolescence: when a building’s functionality no longer meets market demands only its cultural significance can protect it – and then only if a champion steps up, e.g. government, community group, or passionate property owner.  Urban heritage properties are particularly susceptible to rising functional obsolescence due to the high value of the land on which they sit: the financial rewards of redevelopment contrast starkly with the economic pitfalls of retaining and maintaining them. Demolition is tempting. 

This year we celebrate Canada 150.  With our history and heritage, for better or worse, on prominent display, we decided to turn our attention to the uphill battle faced by commercial heritage properties in Halifax.

Size Matters

Hemlines are the harbinger of stock prices.  Construction of the tallest skyscraper marks the dawn of recession.  Floorplates sound the death knell of heritage properties?  

Open concept office-in-waiting

Downtown heritage buildings in Atlantic Canada are at an inherent disadvantage versus modern construction because they are simply too small.  Even 30-year-old buildings are feeling the strain imposed by their new, more spacious contemporaries, whose design is able to accommodate demand for open concept offices.  In Halifax, total demand has yet to catch up with new supply. Rental rates are restricted and tenants can afford to move into the new buildings, leaving the last generation of Class A office space struggling to stay relevant – and occupied.  The trend is toward larger floorplates as companies are opting for large, open concept offices with collaborative workspaces and few individual offices.  Downtown Halifax doesn’t have a supply of unused historic warehouses with high ceilings and large floorplates ripe for conversion well suited to modern tastes. Instead, our heritage properties are mainly small buildings, 3-6 storeys high and with floor plates between 1,000 and 6,000 square feet (typically at the lower end of this range). 

Halifax has a few examples of what can be done to overcome this drawback.  Barrington Espace and the RBC Waterside Centre both maintained the façades of a number of adjacent heritage properties while completely overhauling their innards, joining the buildings within to allow for larger floorplates (Saint John’s CentreBeam Place is another example of where this technique was used successfully).  If done carefully, this can present a best of both worlds compromise.  If not, the result may be the Disneyfication of heritage: it looks about right, but there’s no soul.  Either way, it is not an option for detached heritage properties: they are left to find occupants happy with the original floorplates size.

Barrington Espace, RBC Waterside Centre, CentreBeam Place…thanks, Google Street View!

Finding a Fit

Heritage properties need a certain tenant.  The predominant competitor of the heritage office building is the home office: to attract a tenant away from this “free” space, a historic building must provide cachet and interest, and must find a tenant who wants (or needs) both as marketing tools for their business.  Heritage tenants are drawn from a pool of largely creative firms represented by public relations and marketing firms, IT companies, and (interestingly) employment recruiting agencies.  Often, these firms are start-ups; there is a symbiotic relationship between the two, with the heritage property providing an inspiring ambiance (and maybe cheap rent: see below), and the company providing income and life to the building.  What the heritage property has more trouble providing is a flexible workspace that can grow with the company.  When they become too large for their space, they must seek a larger floorplate in a more modern building.  There is a happy medium: mid-sized companies who could occupy an entire heritage property as a single tenant.  But in Atlantic Canada, most companies are either large or small, a by-product of provincial regulatory demands which force companies to “get large or go under” (Atlantic Canada is made up of four small provinces each with their own regulatory requirements for businesses: half the population and half the land area of any other province, but four times the regulations…but this is a topic for another day).         

The Champions

There are three classes of champions for heritage properties: passionate owners (hopefully with deep pockets), community groups who recognize the social benefit of maintaining our built heritage, and governments which either have a measure of both these characteristics or are open to the influence of those who do. 

Heritage property owners must appreciate the unique features of old buildings.  To quote one (you’ll never guess who), they “speak to you in a way new buildings don’t.  There is a sense of calm, a personality.  They have been there for centuries, and if the economics can work, they will be there long after you’ve turned to dust.”  Ah, the economics.  Heritage properties in Halifax do not attract a rental premium as they do in some larger cities, such as Toronto’s trendy Distillery District.  There may be a purchase premium, albeit not driven solely by heritage, but location as well, due to the prime situation some heritage properties enjoy by virtue of having gotten there first.  Halifax’s downtown is distinguished by its waterfront; heritage properties with a connection to it in particular may enjoy a purchase premium, provided this connection is maintained (pause now to be thankful for the public outcry that halted “Harbour Drive” before it started…and hopeful that the redevelopment of its first phase, the Cogswell Interchange, will be successful in repairing the fabric of the area). 

 

Toronto’s Distillery District, as modelled by a pair of junior TDPers

There is a social benefit to heritage properties, usually external to the site itself.  A 2011 study by Place Economics highlighted six areas of positive economic impact attributed to heritage preservation: jobs, property values, heritage tourism, environmental impact, social impact and downtown revitalization.  Heritage properties differentiate cities from one another, providing a unique draw to residents, visitors and immigrants alike.  The world’s most successful cities have vibrant heritage architecture, often interspersed with modern buildings.  Community groups recognize this and fight to preserve historic built environments, but it is often the building owners who fund these broader social benefits by bearing the increased costs of renovation and upkeep.  It is here that governments can play a vital role via heritage preservation policies, but they must take care that they get them right.       

Incentivise or incense?

Halifax Regional Municipality recently commissioned a study to investigate heritage incentives.  However structured, these are a means by which society as a whole, via taxes, can help pay for the social benefit of heritage properties.  Two of the largest pitfalls of which governments must be wary when enacting policies to protect heritage properties both involve the risk of (inadvertently) penalizing property owners. 

The first is the more obvious one, wherein the owner of a protected building is prevented from redeveloping a site to a more lucrative density, diminishing the ability to make money from the property and potentially its market value.  One avenue available to the city is to compensate the property owner for the diminished value by purchasing the air rights, i.e. the space above the building in which they would otherwise be allowed to build, but are prevented by heritage preservation policy.  This could be accomplished either directly, with the municipality retaining ownership of the air rights, or by opening the market for air rights trading, allowing heritage property owners to sell their air rights to developers of non-heritage sites to increase the allowable height on their sites.  (Yes, this has the potential to open another can of worms, but it’s a good theory if the policy is well thought out). 

The second potential pitfall lies in supporting some, but not all heritage properties; such as with the creation of a heritage preservation zone.  While those properties (and their owners) located within the zone stand to benefit from financial incentives offered by the municipality, any heritage properties outside the zone are placed at greater disadvantage.  Still competing against larger modern buildings, they are now on an uneven field against their direct (heritage) competition.  The supported properties have the money to modernize without deficit to their owners’ bottom line, while unsupported properties are further penalized physically and financially. 

For more on heritage rights and wrongs, don’t miss our Summer 2017 newsletter, coming soon to a mailbox near you.  If you are not already subscribed to this informative and gutsy publication, please get in touch with us at 902-429-1811 or tdp@turnerdrake.com.

Alexandra Baird Allen is the Manager of our Economic Intelligence Unit, a position which makes surprisingly good use of her liberal arts degree in history & cultural studies, as well as her expertise in GIS.  For more information on our Economic Intelligence Products, visit our website or contact Alex at 902-429-1811 ext. 323 or abairdallen@turnerdrake.com.

Friday, 18 August 2017 12:21:25 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Thursday, 01 June 2017

I can honestly say that these 13 weeks have been nothing short of amazing, over this time I have learned so much and gained experience that will help me throughout my life. I expected to come in one day a week for 8 hours a day and job shadow someone. I never thought that I would have my own space to work and be able to do so many things on my own. Every Tuesday morning I would meet with Ashley Urquhart (my boss for the day) and she would tell me the plan. If I had any questions that her door was always open, she was always very upbeat and happy, that made it extremely easy to talk to her.

I got into a morning routine of doing certain jobs, I would do Tenders, Google Analytics, and they even let me post on their social media accounts! I got to tweet about news that I thought was important, that was probably one of the best parts of my Co-Op experience. I never thought that they would give a Co-Op student in high school this much responsibility, I am beyond grateful that they did.  I always had someone close by to help me if I ever needed anything. The person sitting closest to me was Michael McCurdy, he made the day fun and I got to see how to be professional in the workplace and how to talk to clients over the phone. I worked with a great bunch of people that made this experience a lot of fun and helped me learn new things. My aunt, Patti Farewell, has work at Turner Drake & Partners for 26 years and now I see why, it is a very enjoyable place to work and everyone makes you feel welcome. The owner, Mike Turner, would always talk to me and ask me how things are going, along with his wife Verna, who would always make a point of talking to me and saying how nicely I was dressed, they were nice little conversations that made me smile. One day I got to sit in on a support staff meeting, we got lunch and talked about new ideas for TDP, I felt very included and like I was a part of the team.

The Co-Op interview was with Mark Turner (Vice President of the company) it was professional like a “real” interview would be so that I would be prepared for the actual thing when I go to apply for my full time job later in life. He was very nice and made me excited to start, I later got to work on a small project for him.

Right away I was being trained by two people who did exactly what I wanted to do. Ashley Urquhart and Alex Baird Allen were my safety nets throughout this time. The first few things they let me do on my own was, Tenders- finding new jobs and properties for the company to look at. The next job was Google Analytics- finding out how many people looked at the websites and how many people follow TDP’s social media accounts. They also trained me to do a few other jobs that would help me later, Data Mining- updating client’s information, Media Sheets- updating who they send things to. There were also basic jobs such as, photocopying, mail-outs and manuals. After a bit of time went by I was able to post on the company’s twitter. I was given the job of making a new flyer that would later be sent out to clients, I was surprised that they felt like I was doing well enough to be given a project that important. I spent many hours on it and got nothing but positive feedback. It’s going to be weird not seeing these people for a while, I would really like to come back for my grade 12 Co-Op and give it my all once more. Lastly I liked how much responsibility I had. They gave me my own place to work but it was also around people so I never alone. This is definitely a place I would love at work at after I finish school.

Help us prevent youth migration, hire a coop student today!


Thursday, 01 June 2017 16:08:11 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Turner Drake
# Monday, 08 May 2017


(Image via Global News)

Symptoms of an Election
In the run up to the now transpiring Nova Scotia provincial election, our governing party engaged in the time-honoured tradition of the spending announcement roadshow. A few million for a community centre here, a few million more for an overpass there, culminating finally in the double whammy of a new outpatient facility in suburban Halifax, and toll-free twinning of several sections of highway.

Unlike most spending announcements, the outpatient facility drew immediate criticism. While the highway twinning has started to attract some rightful critique, the patently foolish choice of locating a medical facility in the retail backlands of a dysfunctional industrial park was apparent to many; not the least of which being senior municipal staff who’d advised the Province of these issues months prior. Embarrassingly, the location is a miserable failure when measured against the Province’s own aging population action plan, Shift, which it had announced along with nearly $14 million in funding mere weeks before.

As an aside: of the opportunities for criticism of the outpatient location, and there are many, the purchase price of the land is not a fruitful one. Without the benefit of knowing the particular details of the deal, the $12.00/ft² paid by the Province for the raw land includes the cost to bring the site to a state of development-readiness. Land in this condition elsewhere in Bayers Lake has sold in the neighbourhood of $11.50/ft², so this is hardly the 12,000% markup insinuated by some reporters and rival politicians. (For future reference, comparing purchase price to assessed values for development land – or any real estate for that matter – can be extremely misleading. Media Types: if you’re looking for a real estate angle on a story, give me a call… I know some people.)

A Bad Prognosis if Left Untreated
So here’s the rub. Atlantic Canada, as we’ve described many times, is facing a serious demographic crunch that will constrain income tax revenue to the provinces, and property tax revenue to municipalities (in Nova Scotia, see Canso, Springhill, Hantsport, and Parrsboro for a preview). Given the scale of these trends, immigration is not likely to alleviate this difficulty. This means public investment utilises increasingly precious dollars; long gone is the time where we could rely on growth to overcome poor decisions.

Yet, public capital spending is and will remain one of the most significant factors in the trajectory of our communities. The provision and location of these facilities influences development trends for decades. A new medical facility is not just a site for convenient patient care. It is also a major employer, and consumer of both public and private services. It generates broader impacts; spinoffs that if harnessed properly can enhance the benefits of other facilities, strengthen neighbourhoods and local business, and mitigate future infrastructure costs. A newly twinned highway is not just a safety improvement for the travelling public, it is a half-billion dollars no longer available to be spent on other priorities. We’ve got to get serious, we’ve got to be scrappy, and we have to be careful to maximise the benefits our public spending generates. Opportunities of an equivalent scale from private-sector activity are few and far between.

By narrowly constraining their site selection study (I presume, as this information is also not publicly available), the government has perhaps saved money on the land for the outpatient facility, only to create far greater costs in the form of municipal servicing expenses, diminished economic spinoff, and foregone social benefits. This short-sightedness is not resigned only to our provincial overlords, municipalities large and small consistently miss opportunities to strengthen and improve neighbourhoods or commercial main streets. At best, we have a habit of placing community facilities in a location that only performs well on measures of land price and vehicular accessibility. At worst, it is directed by decades of parochial bickering and ends up in a location agreed to be equally terrible for everyone.


Nice wellness centre you have there, shame about the sidewalk.
(Image via Pictometry ©2015)

Prescription
As the highway twinning issue has shown, no “overwhelming public consensus” is going to emerge on any policy or funding choice other than those promising a free lunch. It is going to take political guts to lead the way: the decisions we need to make are pound-wise at the risk of appearing penny-foolish. Better analysis can help identify the optimal site selection and communicate the wisdom of that choice. A paltry million saved in cheap land will pale in comparison to full lifecycle costs of poorly located public infrastructure. The property taxes generated by that good natured economic development project might never recoup its initial cost. And increasingly, methods are available to help quantify and communicate the broad community and economy strengthening effects that government undertakings can create. A complete approach to site selection and capital project analysis in a time where each dollar counts is the difference between spending decisions that achieve lasting public value instead of fleeting public relations.


Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we have the skills required to evaluate your options in the context they deserve. Neil Lovitt, our Senior Manager of Planning & Economic Intelligence can be reached at 429-1811 ext. 349 (HRM), 1 (800) 567-3033 (toll free), or nlovitt@turnerdrake.com.

Monday, 08 May 2017 10:29:39 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Property tax is by far the most important source of revenue for municipalities in Canada, accounting for 49.5% of revenue in 2008 with an annual average growth rate of 1.6% (1988-2008). As reliance on property tax increases, so does the complexity of administering this regressive but necessary evil. Increased computing power in the mid-1960s prompted a shift towards automation of property tax systems, beginning with simple tasks and culminating in today’s fully automated assessment, notification, and payment systems. Modern Automated Valuation Models (AVMs) allow for rapid processing of data with minimised human-bias… but (and this is a large but) real estate appraisal is a nuanced trade: reducing the role of Appraiser to AVM Technician can have significant negative repercussions.

Service New Brunswick’s ongoing cleanup of their attempt at an AVM is a prospective case study in the dangers of a “hands-off” approach to the valuation process. Massive value errors were created by a computer-driven system with insufficient checks in place to alert users to suspicious results. When reviewed by human appraisers many of the shockingly incorrect valuations were easily overturned based on traditional market comparison valuation. Autopilot replaced the flight crew and actual appraisers are left cleaning up the crash, while their political and bureaucratic colleagues deal with the rightful public outcry.

While seemingly seductive, potential time and cost savings offered by an AVM should never mask the fact that, in order to operate successfully, an AVM must integrate human expertise throughout the valuation process. At Turner Drake the “A” in our in-house AVM stands for Accelerated to reflect the role that expert opinion plays in our two-stage computer-assisted mass appraisal model. Stage One combs through real property sales to select comparable properties based on locally relevant, value-defining attributes such as size, location, and design. Stage Two adjusts and weighs a unique set of comparable sales to create a market-based value estimate for each subject property in an assessment area. Throughout each stage of the model, a professional appraiser defines the selection criteria and adjustment values for comparable properties based on market evidence and local expertise. The model does the heavy lifting but certified appraisers evaluate and refine the results.



Outliers - which no system can avoid - can wreak havoc on the results of an AVM unequipped to handle the inherently diverse nature of real estate. It is critically important to flag potential outliers for review so the model can be adjusted for future assessments. During the initial rollout of an AVM model, refinement is time consuming but absolutely necessary for creating reliable, equitable assessments in successive years. In developing our Accelerated Valuation Model, we put the time in up front so the system flags out of the ordinary results, and the professional appraiser, made aware of the potential issue, is able to quickly and easily account for them.

In a Case Study of condominiums on the Halifax Peninsula, the Turner Drake AVM out-performed PVSC assessment values by a margin of up to 45%. That is, 86% of TDP value estimates were within 5% of an actual time-adjusted sale price versus PVSC’s 41% and 98% of TDP values were within 15% of actual sale price versus PVSC’s 84% in the same pool of properties. Our combination of custom programs and a traditional direct-comparison valuation can produce a list of unique comparables with adjustments for 1,000 properties in about two seconds.

Property tax administration systems are as diverse as the municipalities they serve and every region relies to a degree on the convenience of computers and automation. However, no matter the size or complexity of a property tax system it is important to follow best practices, and learn from the success - or failure - of others. When the pursuit of speed comes at the expense of quality there is a significant risk to the accuracy of valuations and the credibility of the property tax system as a whole.

For more information on how our AVM can benefit you, call James Stephens at 902-429-1811 ext. 346 or email jstephens@turnerdrake.com

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 10:21:10 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Monday, 03 April 2017



Our Economic Intelligence Unit is always on the hunt for new data sources to bolster our maps and feed our spreadsheets: any good analysis begins with high quality data. The majority of our databases are populated with a wealth of information via a process of blood, sweat, and tears (though increasingly data is graciously released by provincial gatekeepers) and it could be that our next trove of valuable data is being cultivated on farms across the Maritimes. The movement of food from field to plate involves numerous stops along the agricultural supply chain and, when property tracked, that data can prove valuable for a host of analytical tasks.

The ability to track an item from Point A to B in a large-scale supply chain is known as traceability. The theory behind it is relevant in all aspects of our lives: be it an Amazon package or a donair pizza, consumers - and businesses - have discovered that real-time knowledge of where a product is, physically, at any point in time is a competitive advantage in terms of marketing and efficiency. Agriculture is no exception. Traceability is already in use as a health risk management tool: it allows for rapid response to health emergencies by identifying exactly where and when afflicted produce or livestock stopped along the supply chain. Efficiently pin-pointing sources of contamination (think E.coli outbreaks) and creating cost-effective responses, such as targeted treatments and recalls, are critical in a modern, globally connected agricultural sector.

In addition to the obvious benefits of using traceability from an epidemiology perspective, there is also major potential for economic spinoff benefits from tracking the movement of agricultural goods. At a recent gathering of Nova Scotian Agrologists, speaker Chris deWaal of Getaway Farm (of Seaport Market fame) touted the very real benefits of offering consumers the entire life history of their food as a competitive advantage over mass-produced “mystery meat.” The introduction of the “Trace My Catch” program for canned seafood provides an example of how seafood processors are embracing traceability as a marketing tool, and provides an indication of the feasibility of doing so. In a province with a growing love affair for all things local it is no surprise that demand for local meat and produce is on the rise.

Benefits beyond health and marketing can be opened with traced agricultural data. Used in conjunction with GIS, the location and density of animals, farms, stockyards, abattoirs, and processing facilities become inputs for site selection and trade area analysis and indicators of economic health in rural economies - an issue of pressing concern for many Nova Scotian communities.

Imagine opening a meat processing and distribution facility to feed growing demand for local, organic products while still maintaining capacity for foreign exports. A standard GIS-based site selection analysis would use static location data (suppliers, purchasers) with network data (highway, rail, sea) to build a short-list of potential development sites which minimize transportation costs for both inputs and outputs. Additional variables such as workforce availability, machinery and equipment suppliers, veterinary services, and property taxes can all be integrated with locational data to suit the needs of the processor. But a standard analysis does not take into account how many animals are produced by individual farms or the variability in production from year to year.

Traceability data can enhance GIS analysis by optimizing site selection so it is based on not just the density of farms within a trade area, but the capacity to bring high volumes of livestock (or produce) efficiently to market. Historic tracking data of individual animals could forecast future production including where livestock are ultimately processed and sold. A savvy processor would use this data to identify opportunities for expansion and generate reliable, defendable business projections.

The agricultural sector already collects traceability data for use in health risk management; leveraging that same wealth of data for marketing and day-to-day business operations is the logical next step. The agricultural sector is a ray of light in the gloom of rural Nova Scotia: according to Statistics Canada’s census, between 2006 and 2011, Nova Scotia was the only province in Canada to see an increase in the number of farms, total farm area, and number of farm operators. Should the 2016 census indicate continued growth, it will clearly indicate that it’s time for all players in the agricultural game to leverage their existing data infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage at home and abroad.

For more information on how spatial analysis can benefit your business, call James Stephens at 902-429-1811 ext. 346 or visit: Economic Intelligence Unit

Monday, 03 April 2017 10:02:51 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Thursday, 02 March 2017



If you own property in New Brunswick your 2017 assessment notice is in the mail and is likely to hit your desk later this week. There will be some surprises this year. Apartment and camp ground owners… sorry! The number you are looking at isn’t a mistake… both were re-assessed this year... Before you call the Premier’s office, grab another cup of coffee and give me a call and I’ll share what I know so far!

We’ll be compiling some data over the next few days and will have some more insights on what has changed but until then there has been some talk of reforms to the New Brunswick property tax system of late and there is one important issue that hasn’t been brought up but should be.

Equity, Uniformity, Fairness – The Missing Link

Ignoring the process part of the system (which is largely a function of resources committed to it) and the “my tax bill is too high side of it” (which is a function of municipal spending), the assessment part of the system which is governed by the New Brunswick Assessment Act generally represents the gold standard in assessment. New Brunswick has a market value system, requires that values be updated annually, and has a current base date (January 1st of the current year) so taxes are allocated based on the most current economic conditions. There is however one glaring omission and that is a provision to allow owners to challenge their assessment on the grounds their assessment is higher than other properties.

How can this be? Certainly equity and fairness is something all stakeholders would want in a system of taxation. During question period on December 13th, the current government confirmed that they want a “system of taxes that is relevant, that is fair, that is progressive…” During the discussion the word “fair” was referenced six times along with the word “equitable”. Similarly in 2012 when reforms were last made to the Act, the White Paper that was published referenced fairness 25 times, and the word equitable 12 times.

If we go back further… much further… to 1963… The New Brunswick Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation chaired by Mr. Edward Byrne (Byrne Commission) set out its vision for an equitable system of property assessment:

“The accurate assessment of property is as difficult as any tax administration problem. And it is impossible to have equitable taxation without accurate assessment. A primary aim in levying any type of tax should be to treat similarly-situated taxpayers similarly … In order to accomplish this, all property must be valued on the same basis … The only satisfactory basis is market value. If there are variations among different properties in the ratio of the assessed value to the actual market value, the taxes imposed by applying a uniform rate will be inequitable. The owner of property with an assessment ratio that is higher than the ratio for another owner will bear an unjustly heavier burden.”*

Nonetheless, despite more than 50 years of consensus that a fair and uniform property tax system is in the public interest, New Brunswick is among the few jurisdictions in North America that doesn’t give tax payers the right to seek tax relief on the grounds that their assessment is not equitable with other properties.

How is this possible? This requires some speculation. Before the Province took over the assessment process from municipalities during the mid 1960s assessments were ad-hoc. Assessment Levels (the ratio of assessed value to market value) varied by municipality from 23% in York County to 102% in St Andrews and most municipalities had at least one piece of special legislation setting municipal taxes for its major tax payers. When the modern Act came into force, legislators intended to bring consistency to the process and required that:

“all real property shall be assessed at its real and true value as of January 1 of the year for which the assessment is made.”

It can be difficult to know the exact intent, but knowing that the legislature was seeking a fair system of taxation that would ensure that assessments were uniform within and across municipal units it stands to reason they were assuming that the Assessment Services Division would be able to consistently achieve an assessment level at 100% of market value across all municipal units. At the time, the Act also included a provision for owners to appeal other assessments in the municipality providing at least a partial remedy for owners assessed at levels higher than their neighbors.

Legislators may have felt these provisions would be sufficient to ensure an equitable assessment roll, however the task of assessing tens of thousands of properties isn’t an easy one particularly when it comes to commercial properties. It requires developing models for all the different types of properties and for all of the individual neighborhoods in the Province and it isn’t always easy to return an assessment roll where all of the properties are assessed at 100% of market value. In fact, looking at statistics contained in SNB’s annual report from 2006-2014, the commercial level of assessment provincially has ranged from a low of 89% in 2008 to a high of 93% in 2010. The practical implication of this is that a property owner assessed at 99% of market value has no remedy for a reduction despite all other properties being assessed on average, at 89% to 93% of market value. Even had the owner been willing to appeal all of the other commercial assessments in the municipal unit, that option was removed when the Act was amended in 2008.

In the past, the New Brunswick Court of the Queens Bench has ruled there is no remedy within the Act or at common law for owners to have their assessments reduced on the grounds their assessment is unfair relative to other properties. Rather than hoping the Court of Appeal will provide a remedy at some distant future date, lets ask the legislature to give assessors and the Assessment and Planning Appeal Board the tools to ensure tax payers truly have a fair and equitable property tax system when they review the Act this year.

* Excerpt taken from Report of the Auditor General - 2005


Written by Andre Pouliot, Vice President of our New Brunswick operations and Senior Manager of our Property Tax Division. For more information about our counselling services, feel free to contact Andre at (902) 429-1811 or apouliot@turnerdrake.com

Thursday, 02 March 2017 09:50:50 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | New Brunswick | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Thursday, 16 February 2017



Finding Answers in the Bottle

Recently our Brokerage Division closed a deal that will see a mid-century commercial building transition from a hair salon to Halifax’s first cidery – a business dedicated to the production and enjoyment of hard ciders. It is the city’s newest addition to the burgeoning craft beverage industry, and by my count, the fifth such business within short walking distance of our head office. Thanks to double digit year-over-year growth in the industry, such businesses have been setting up shop throughout our region, but I have good reason to believe we at Turner Drake are working in the very nexus of Beer Oriented Development.

The craft beverage industry is booming throughout the continent evidently. However, BOD is a specific variant distinguished by integrating the production element the brewery, with the social gathering element of a retail/food service business, wrapping it all in a locally authentic brand identity and plunking it in walking distance to residential neighbourhoods. The term itself was apparently coined in the weary rust-belt city of Buffalo where a pattern of revitalisation lead by the craft brewing industry has been observed in neighbourhoods otherwise dogged by the Midwest’s manufacturing decline and hard hit by the Great Financial Crisis.

Back in our corner of North America, we can certainly attest to the healthy “third place” function of Beer Oriented Development. That is to say, in addition to the production itself, many businesses serve as a nexus for community development outside of the home and workplace. They are small enough operations to revitalise defunct or underused properties without the timeline and complexity of projects requiring land assembly. The size and design of the retail operation typically creates an enjoyable atmosphere and promotes interaction between customers (who are often neighbours). Where the sale and service activities are able to spill outside onto a patio or sidewalk café, they further add to the vitality and liveliness of the entire street. With seemingly endless groups of engineering school buddies (it’s always those engineers) keen to start their own sudsy venture, why do some areas see a flourish of BOD while others simply get an increase in breweries?

The Broken Window Fallacy

There’s a classic economic parable that goes something like this: A baker’s shop window is broken and he hires a glazer to repair it. Passersby observe the glazer at work and remark on the economic activity stimulated by the broken window. Meanwhile, the baker having spent his money on the window now postpones his plan to purchase a larger oven to increase his production. In this way, the passersby are mistaken about the benefit of a broken window because they consider only what they see, and not what they can’t see. That is, they do not consider the opportunity cost; the lost benefits that would have been generated by things that were prevented, often without conscious purpose, from ever happening in the first place.

We don’t often think about opportunity cost in planning. We like to have the initiative; there are no problems that can’t be fixed through the application of more regulation or better policy. In this mindset, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that many (perhaps even most) good things tend to happen on their own if we leave the space for it. Nevertheless, Halifax, like many Atlantic Canadian cities, does benefit from not having gone too far off the deep end when it comes to land use regulation… at least compared to standard practices west of our region. Consider the present (if outgoing) land use bylaw for the Halifax Peninsula area where residential land use is governed by 6 zones. Contrast that with London Ontario, a city of comparable population and municipal budget, where no less than 17 zones are needed just to regulate single detached housing! Clearly one approach provides more “regulatory space” than the other.

Six of One Ain’t Always a Half Dozen

London, like Halifax, is a university town with no shortage of thirsty students or courageous engineering buddies. Like Halifax, it has its own litany of recently launched microbreweries. And finally, like Halifax, London did not, and does, not specifically target or promote Beer Oriented Development. What London does have is its hyper specific approach to coding land use which classifies microbreweries as “Food, Tobacco, and Beverage Processing Industries” and among the 20+ flavours of commercial zoning, relegates such uses to the “General Industrial” areas of the city. In Halifax, some microbrewers also set up shop in the industrial areas, depending on their business model. However, Beer Oriented Development is mostly occurring under the General Business zone which allows – to paraphrase – basically any business that doesn’t create problems in the area.

The shocking result? All of London’s new microbreweries are segregated into soulless industrial parks. Sure, they’ve got a quality product, backed by the same witty, self-aware marketing, and most even have attached tasting rooms and offer brewery tours, but to access any of it you’ve got to drive out past electrical suppliers and find their docking bay among the other distributers and warehousers. So while both city economies are benefiting from growth in the craft beverage industry, only Halifax is gaining the additional benefits to neighbourhood revitalisation and contributions to a lively pedestrian atmosphere. These are not just intangible perks for urban hipsters. There is a hard dollar cost to London in terms of lost economics spinoffs and unrealised gains in property value, but that cost is the new oven, hidden behind a broken window.

The Future is Delicious

Beer Oriented Development is just a microcosm of a larger dynamic. No one was anticipating an explosion of craft brewing or the potential of BOD when the zoning codes were written twenty years ago, just as the codes we write today do not address a futuristic possibilities like the rise of distributed manufacturing, or an explosion of artificial intelligence. In truth, it’d be foolish if they did. In dealing with an ultimately unknowable future, it is basic human nature to play it safe; control what is knowable, and regulate the unexpected out of existence. The costs of this approach are easy to ignore because we are never fully aware of paying them. Yet, as Beer Oriented Development clearly demonstrates, there is a benefit, indeed a competitive advantage, to the city that sets itself up to embrace the unknowable future and capitalise on the unexpected.

Our Role

What can you build on your property? The answer to this is determined by interpreting the local planning policy and regulation. However these are living documents, and project timelines are often measured in years. Thus, it is essential to not only look at the present-day context, but peer into the future for additional opportunities. This is precisely why all our Planning Policy and Regulatory Review reports contain a Long-term Outlook section.

For a recent client, this feature paid dividends. For their property, the desired outcome would have required multiple amendments and the negotiation of a Development Agreement under present requirements; an expensive and risky process overall. However, by casting a wider gaze in our investigation, we identified an opportunity to pursue the same goals through a larger policy update the municipality was preparing to make. While this didn’t save our client any time, it lowered the risk, and greatly reduced the cost.

We’re finding our Planning Division lends vital assistance to our other areas of operation, improving the detail and delivery time of Valuation, Counselling, Economic Intelligence, Property Tax and Brokerage assignments. More importantly, it creates value for our clients, aiding with development projects big and small.



Whether you’re musing about options or working towards a clear goal, ask Neil Lovitt, our Planning Division Manager, how we can help: 1 (902) 429-1811 (HRM), 1 (800) 567-3033 (toll free), or nlovitt@turnerdrake.com

Thursday, 16 February 2017 12:26:42 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Tuesday, 06 January 2015

In these blogs my colleagues detail the parts of their career that engage them, and hopefully convey some of the passion each brings to their job.  And while most would probably deny it, be embarrassed even to admit it, most do bring a good deal of passion to what they do.  It is part of my responsibility to bring the various strands together, provide the tools, and channel that enthusiasm in a way they find fulfilling and that allows them to grow professionally… the better to serve our clients.  It is also important that we are profitable.  Training is expensive; and we have to continually invest in information technology (IT) so that we have the tools to capitalise on our human resources.  

We also have a moral obligation to contribute to organisations who help others help themselves, and commit 1% of our gross turnover, about a tenth of our profits, to Oxfam, The Salvation Army and Amnesty International.  This all probably sounds clinical but working with intelligent, creative colleagues help solve clients’ real estate problems is exciting and usually great fun.  It is also very satisfying to hire a new recruit and then observe them grow professionally.  It is wonderful as well, to see them develop their personal lives and to feel that, in some small way, to have contributed to that journey.

The Challenge

Running a company whose main assets leave at the end of every day is a hell of a lot more difficult than I thought it would be when Verna and I founded Turner Drake in 1976.  Had I known then what I know now, I doubt whether I would have had the courage.  Still fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and it has been and still is, an exhilarating journey.  What makes it worthwhile is people: colleagues with whom you share the lows as well as the highs; clients whose faith and loyalty is humbling; and suppliers like Barb Hill our programmer, still there after thirty years and at least two attempts to fire us.

Despite our Newsletter, web sites, mailouts, seminars and Geneviève’s efforts with social media, we find that most clients have a one dimensional view of Turner Drake.  If they deal with a Division such as Property Tax, it is assumed that this must be our real face.  As a consequence I get countless letters saying “The reason I use your company is Gxxx of your Property Tax… Valuation… Counselling… Lasercad®… Brokerage… Economic Intelligence… Planning… Division, he/she is wonderful”.  It’s very flattering but somewhat frustrating. Part of the problem, I think is that we are all used to choosing a firm based on the expertise of a single individual, usually its principal, in a fairly narrow field … or if we chose a company with a broad range of expertise we expect that depth will have been sacrificed for breadth.  

So how can we offer such a strong bench (as one client put it) in seven different areas of real estate?  The short answer is that we do not have seven silos each selling their service under a single brand. Every member, of every Division, has to go through a common, seven-year training program which includes experience in each Division … irrespective of whether they have a post graduate qualification in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or Planning.  We prefer to hire direct from university (up to three years’ post graduate experience is acceptable) and then cycle each professional trainee through a choreographed program comprising twenty seven Training Modules, the University of British Columbia’s Diploma in Urban Land Economics (DULE) and Bachelor of Business in Real Estate (BBRE) degree, and mentored On the Job Training.  The objective of this common training platform is to give every member of our professional staff, no matter their speciality, a broad understanding of the depth of expertise available.  It involves a lot of sweat and tears but it works because it forestalls tunnel vision.  Every member of our professional staff can spot early in the assignment if and where other specialist expertise can contribute to solving the problem.  As a result we are able to cost effectively resolve problems in a manner that maximises benefit to the client, rather than spinning wheels, arriving at a sub-optimal solution, or building a mountain out of a mole hill.

Never Look Back:  Never Give Up

My formative years were spent in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.  Change was in the air:  youthful frustration with the status quo was everywhere; offshore pirate radio stations, satire (That Was The Week That Was), womens’ fashion (colour and the mini skirt), music (Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al), sexual liberation (The Pill), theatre (Tom Stoppard), drugs … it culminated in Margaret Thatcher’s free market revolution in the late ‘70s early ‘80s.  The status quo was repeatedly unmasked for what it was … a sham, a benchmark of the past, not a guidepost to the future.  As a consequence I have always distrusted the status quo.

Running a business always requires that one looks forward:  the past cannot be changed, only the future represents opportunity.

Spotting change and sifting trends from tremors so that the firm’s scarce resources can be deployed, rather than squandered, is the sine qua non of any successful management strategy.  I am constantly reminded that every business is just one week away from disaster no matter its size, just look at BP’s Gulf of Mexico fiasco:  a couple of fools decimated one of the world’s largest oil companies, cost $40 billion and disrupted tens of thousands of lives.  In retrospect some of our successful decisions were obvious … our decision to embrace Information Technology in 1978 and focus on database development rather than analysis because we correctly realised the latter would be ubiquitous and cheaply available; our early and enduring commitment to real estate education and training; our embrace nine years ago of Geographic Information Systems; and now (I hope) Planning with an economic rather than a physical focus.  Our aim is to create a set of synergistic skills, underpinned by a common training platform, cemented by an ISO 9001:2008 Quality System. Those are the building blocks, but what trends will define the future?  

These are my predictions:

1. Municipal and provincial government departments and agencies in Atlantic Canada will increasingly fail to deliver services to taxpayers at an acceptable level and cost.  With few exceptions, most are sclerotic, insular, decision adverse and fiercely resistant to change.  Time has already passed them by … they are now decades behind the private sector in the use of information technology, staff training and education.  Many are burdened with salary expectations and pension commitments which a declining working age population cannot possibly fund.  Eventually service delivery will be transferred to the private sector but the powerful civil service unions will prevent this migration until we are beyond the point of fiscal return.  In other words, this will not be an incremental process … it will be precipitated by financial collapse, and only after we have burdened future generations with intolerable debt. 

2. Firms will continue to consolidate.  Unless ownership control of their real estate assets is critical to their core competency the trend of renting, rather than owning, will continue, and tenants will increasingly seek professional representation for their lease negotiations. 

3. Firms that consider ownership control of their real estate assets critical to their core competency, or who view it as an investment opportunity over which they can exert direct control, will increasingly recognise the complexity and interdependency of real estate services such as acquisition, leasing, disposal, planning, market intelligence, property tax abatement, valuation, counselling, space measurement … and will seek complete solutions rather than attempting to solve the problem themselves by selecting from a menu of potential answers.

4. Consumers will continue to be better educated and informed, and hence more discriminating buyers of real estate services.  They will be less willing to accept the supplier’s “brand” or its employee’s qualifications at face value.  They will require that advice be grounded in data rather than digestion (gut feel), that expertise be demonstrated by competence, training and education not just longevity, and in a world of heightened scrutiny they will demand integrity.  As always they will seek suppliers who bring passion, creativity and reliability:  solution seekers not problem finders.

5. Atlantic Canada will continue to transition from a resource to a knowledge based economy. Property ownership will become increasingly international.  Provincial borders will become as irrelevant as the politicians, civil servants and special interest groups who attempt to preserve them.


Company President Mike Turner reveals his exclusive outlook on the company he started nearly forty years ago, and shares his behind-the-scene perspective on running a successful firm. 

To learn more about Mike and his many accomplishments and interests, check out his Featured Consultant piece on our Facebook page!
Tuesday, 06 January 2015 14:24:13 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Turner Drake