Home Team Leaders Products News & Research Contact Us Related Sites Site Map Search Client Area
    Newsletters  |  Research  |  Media Centre  |  Surveys  |  TDP Trends  |  Case Studies  |  Careers  |  Quality Ratings  |  Blog  

Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
6182 North Street
Halifax, N.S.
B3K 1P5

Tel.: (902) 429-1811
Toll Free: (800) 567-3033
Fax.: (902) 429-1891

Suite 221
12 Smythe Street
Saint John, N.B.
E2L 5G5
Tel.: (506) 634-1811

Suite 11
109 Richmond Street
Charlottetown, P.E.
C1A 1H7
Tel.: (902) 368-1811

35 York Street
St. John's, N.L.
A1C 5M3
Tel.: (709) 722-1811

4th Floor
111 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON.
M5C 1S2
Tel.: (416) 504-1811

E-Mail: tdp@turnerdrake.com
Internet: www.turnerdrake.com

Sign In
Twitter Facebook Linked In

# Monday, March 30, 2015

Your current office space is no longer working for your organisation.  You are busting at the seams, unable to hire any help, otherwise setting up shop in the nearest broom closet.  Fortunately, your lease is nearing the end of its term and a refresh is in order.  You are currently located in an older, tired building, so you start the search for a new space… and somehow you got stuck taking the lead on this project with little real estate experience.


You decide you are out of your comfort zone so you turn to NAI Turner Drake for help.  After reviewing your space wish list, you are provided with a list of potential locations.  Some are currently built out with full offices, boardrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, washrooms etc., but there is not one that completely suits your needs.  You feel the best location is in a brand new building, fresh on the market, so you can achieve the exact layout to maximise efficiency in your space.


You walk into the empty bay, typically with an unfinished concrete floor, exposed ceiling, unpainted gyproc walls and the HVAC, plumbing and electrical only running to your unit, not throughout.  The landlord provides a space planner to help you layout the office based on your requirements.  You reflect back on your recent kitchen renovation and think “Hey, this won’t be so bad”.  The space plan comes back and now it’s time to determine the budget… how much is this going to cost and how will it be paid? You are shocked, feeling rather light headed and fearing for your job when the quote comes back from the general contractor… “I could build a new house for that price!”.


The average cost to build out a typical office space is $60 per square foot.  This figure obviously fluctuates with the market and inflation; however we can use it as a starting point.  Typically, a landlord will include a tenant improvement allowance within the asking net rent to help offset these costs.  The remainder is to be paid by the tenant.  There are a few options: a tenant can cut a cheque for the entire amount (this can have an accounting benefit), the tenant may amortise the amount over the lease term and pay back to the landlord as part of the rental payments (this helps spread the costs over the lease term, but the landlord typically charges interest on this amount) and/or a combination of both options. The landlord will make these concessions based on the strength of the covenant of the tenant.


Construction items to consider when building a space from a raw state:


Partition Walls (Metal Studs and Gyproc):  Even in an open concept space, washrooms, meeting rooms, etc. must be partitioned from the main space.


Flooring:  Flooring can range from carpet tiles to laminate flooring to ceramic tiles and anything in between. Carpet tiles can be among the more cost effective flooring options, while ceramic and porcelain tile are among the more expensive flooring types.


Paint: Fortunately, paint is paint.


Ceiling Tiles: A suspended T-bar ceiling grid can help improve sound nuisances within an office.


Lighting: There are many lighting options available today, including more efficient LED lighting.


Electrical Distribution: In a new build, the landlord typically brings electrical into the unit, but in some cases it is the tenant’s obligation to install a transformer and then distribute the electrical throughout the unit (outlets, drops, etc.).


HVAC Distribution: Again, the landlord will run HVAC to the unit, but it then becomes the tenant's responsibility to distribute the HVAC throughout the unit. This will depend on the unit layout, an open concept office will require less distribution and diffusers than a fully built out space with all private offices.


Plumbing: The landlord will have a plumbing stack to the unit, but it then becomes the tenant’s responsibility to distribute throughout the unit. It is more cost effective to keep all plumbing in the same vicinity, as to avoid cutting into concrete to run pipes, significantly driving up construction costs.


Millwork (Kitchen, storage, etc.): Millwork comprises of kitchen cabinets, storage cabinets, washroom counters, etc. These items will depend on the space design.


All of these items add up.


Remember: the stronger your tenant covenant, the more concessions you can negotiate with a landlord.




Leasing and Sales Consultant, Ashley Urquhart, assists both landlords and tenants meet their space requirements, and vendors and purchasers optimise their property portfolios.


To learn more about Ashley, visit our Facebook page to see her Featured Consultant article!

Monday, March 30, 2015 2:50:38 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
# Thursday, March 19, 2015

If you own real estate in New Brunswick, you will have received your annual 2015 Assessment Notice and Tax Bill by now. Notices were mailed on March 2nd and there is a 30 day request for review period that expires on April 1st. This is the only opportunity for a property owner to reduce their taxes this year!

Property taxes are a significant burden on businesses and typically account for anywhere from 40% to 50% of a building’s total operating costs. Owners of commercial property in New Brunswick typically pay the equivalent of the entire value of their property over approximately 22 years… In many cases before they’ve paid off their mortgage! 

Although property taxes are significant, many owners lack the tools and data to effectively manage their property taxes. The assessment of commercial property is a complicated process. Many properties, especially large retail properties, are purpose built for the owner or occupant and may not appeal to a broad array of potential purchasers. Even though they may have a significant “cost” a purpose built or branded property may in fact have very little value if there isn’t a captive market for it. 

Assessment Act requires that property be assessed at its Real & True Value (aka market value) as of January 1st of the year in question. This definition seems transparent but the devil is in the details. The Act is silent on what constraints should be considered when determining a property’s value so one must have an understanding of precedent setting decisions, best practices, and the valuation expertise to correctly determine how a property’s unique attributes affect its value. The case law holds that Real and True Value is not the subjective test of “value to the owner” but rather the objective test of “value in exchange”. It’s important to ask the right question. Don’t ask at what price you’d be willing to sell, ask at what price a purchaser would be willing to buy!

Although not mandated in the Act, it is also important that assessments bear a fair relationship to others in the same taxing jurisdiction. Seasoned assessors recognise the importance of treating property owners fairly. The best way to do this is to compare your assessment per square foot to similar properties in your area. 

Many owners successfully navigate the appeal process on their own but our experience has shown there is a business case in seeking professional assistance when dealing with any commercial assessment. Although there is an investment required in obtaining a professional, it can be structured to eliminate the risk of the owner incurring a fee without obtaining a corresponding tax savings and typically the associated tax savings are 2-3 times the first year’s tax savings!

If you have questions concerning your property tax assessment, feel free to contact our New Brunswick tax team, Andre Pouliot or Chris Jobe (506) 634-1811 (Saint John) or 1-800-567-3033.

Thursday, March 19, 2015 2:23:23 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax
# Wednesday, March 4, 2015

June 28th, 2013 marked my twenty-year anniversary at Turner Drake.  At the time of writing this post, I’m almost two years closer to my golden anniversary. 

Originally hired, trained and educated as a commercial appraiser, I’ve spent the majority of my career in our Property Tax Division.  True to our in-house training program, which hires graduates directly from University, I started as a trainee valuer. Six years later I moved into a Manager’s role, and then, in 2006, became divisional Vice President.  As Vice President, I lead a team of seven that assist hundreds of owners every year in mitigating their tax burdens. 

Twenty-two years in property tax translates into tens of thousands of appeals filed and, over the course of addressing those appeals, some recurring themes have emerged.  I will discuss these themes below… and in the process, try to do a bit of property tax myth-busting.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Assessment.

If you own property in Nova Scotia,  it’s tempting (and, with the information available online,  relatively easy) to compare your assessment to competing properties.  For some owners I’ve encountered, logging on to assessment sites and feverishly clicking on surrounding properties has become sport… in some cases, bordering on an obsession.

Comparable assessments are undeniably a useful benchmark and helpful tool to identify an over-assessment (we do it too!). While some assessors will consider assessments on similar properties as grounds for reducing an assessment at the (relatively informal) initial appeal review stage, the fact that your assessment compares unfavourably to others will carry no evidentiary weight before Nova Scotia’s administrative Tribunals, Boards, and Courts.

Nova Scotia’s Assessment Act requires uniformity of assessment… but legislated uniformity is achieved across entire classes of property in a Municipality (and there are only two such classes: residential and commercial).  Sadly, ensuring that your property’s assessment is consistent with similar properties does not ensure uniformity.  This is one of the most common misconceptions that we encounter in dealing with property appellants.

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 those values being inserted onto the official assessment rolls.  In our experience, such preliminary consultations often produce better results – at lower cost – than waiting to file formal appeals.  A number of provinces, including Nova Scotia, fully embrace the opportunity to discuss proposed values and to make changes, where required, at the “pre-roll” stage.

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

Not Every Property is Over-assessed.

There, I’ve said it. 

It’s the truth – not every property offers the opportunity for tax relief.  My colleagues and I take many, many calls where we have to break that unwelcome news to owners… sometimes in spite of a double digit increase, or an assessment that exceeds its neighbours by a considerable margin.   In fact, for every appeal we file, there is probably a second property that was reviewed and its value accepted. 

Assessors – They’re Just Like Us.

They wonder about going gluten-free.  They drive their kids to countless sport practices  and extracurricular  activities.  They think about work while they’re walking the dog.  They worry about getting enough fibre.  And, for the most part, they are well educated and professional, and open to reasoned argument.  That’s not to say that we don’t take the gloves off from time to time: positions do become polarised.  But professional relationships built on mutual respect with assessors from across the country have allowed for the settlement of hundreds of appeals every year without the need for Board and Court appearances.


Property assessment myth-busting brought to you by Giselle Kakamousias, Vice President of Turner Drake's Property Tax Division. For more on Giselle, check out her Featured Consultant piece on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 1:33:00 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax
# Wednesday, February 11, 2015

As an existing tenant with a lease expiry date looming, your varied options (relocate, renew or resize) may seem intimidating. Here are some tips to consider:


One of the first things to look at is what length of notice your current landlord requires in regards to your notice to renew or move on. This is a process that should begin anywhere from six to nine months prior to your lease expiry depending on the complexity of your move.

Some leases have clauses that specify how much notice is required. In some cases, if that notice period is missed you could find yourself in a delicate situation. If you get into an over-holding position some leases have the right to increase your base rent anywhere from 150% to 200%.

After determining the length of notice required, it is now time to decide: where do you want to be; what issues are critical to making a move; what costs (other than rental) are involved?


If the market is soft and is what is described as a “tenant’s market”, some landlords will look at renewing your lease earlier in order to guarantee a longer tenancy. A sound knowledge of market conditions (supplied by your broker or agent) will guide you through this process and outline what incentives the landlord will supply, i.e. paint, carpet, renovations, parking, etc..


If your growth has not gone as anticipated and you are looking to downsize, you will find that the majority of landlords are more than willing to accommodate your requirements, should you have a good relationship with your landlord.

If you are looking to expand because you are exceeding growth expectations, the landlord will be pleased to speak with you to determine if they have options in the current property or availabilities in other properties within their portfolios.

Overwhelmed by your leasing options? Call Russ (or any member of our Brokerage Division) at (902) 429-1811.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 10:00:24 AM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
# Friday, January 23, 2015

A decades-long dispute between Halifax and the federal government over the value of the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada (Citadel) came to a head on January 15, 2015, when the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Dispute Advisory Panel (DAP) issued its advice on the Market Value of the Citadel.

Overlooking the city’s downtown core, the Citadel comprises 48 acres of land including a historic fortress.

The issue before the DAP was the Market Value of the Citadel for the 2013 assessment year. The parties agreed on the value of the improvements to the property, however argued the value of the underlying land. The 2013 published assessment of the land was $25,763,700.

At the hearing, Halifax submitted two reports based on a land value estimate derived from sales of land in the vicinity of the Citadel, conducted by the following parties:

1) Local assessor who valued the land at $51,000,000, and;

2) Private Property Tax Consultant Mark Turner of Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. who put the value at $68,214,000.

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) commissioned an appraisal report by a local appraiser, in which the value of the site was based on a hypothetical subdivision on a portion of the property, as well as a value for land beneath the footprints of the existing improvements. The appraiser valued it at $12,160,000. PWGSC then submitted a separate document stating the value in the appraiser’s report should be further reduced by 70% to reflect use restrictions tied to the National Historic Site designation. The final value submitted by PWGSC was $3,648,000.

The panel made a number of findings in preparing its advice on the Market Value of the Citadel:

  • The role of the Minster is not merely to review the value attributed by the local assessing authority; however, that value does serve as an important reference point.
  • A Market Value estimate should be based on the current/existing use of the property without regard to potential or hypothetical alternate uses.
  • The slope and restrictive zoning compliment the intended “public purpose” for the property; thus, are not suitable grounds for a reduction in value.
  • Properly selected and adjusted sales comparables form an appropriate basis for determining a Market Value.
  • The restrictions places on the property by virtue of its status as a National Historic Site area not an appropriate basis for a reduction in value.

The result: the panel determined the Market Value that would be attributed by an assessment authority for the 2013 assessment year to be $41,222,000.

If you have any questions regarding the Halifax Citadel property tax dispute, you can reach Mark Turner at (902) 429-1811 or MarkTurner@TurnerDrake.com.

Friday, January 23, 2015 4:29:32 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Property Tax
# Friday, January 9, 2015

Apartment Property, Nova Scotia ($112,048/annum - 89 % in tax savings)

If you own property in Nova Scotia you should receive your 2015 Assessment Notice shortly: it was mailed out today, January 9th 2015.  You have 31 days in which to file a Request for Review (appeal).  If your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax manager program we have already reviewed your property assessment and have filed an appeal if the opportunity exists to reduced your tax burden.  If your property is not yet PAMS® protected we can still file the appeal for you or you can file it yourself.  Bear in mind that the basis for the 2015 Assessment, as mandated by the Assessment Act, is your property’s Market Value on January 1st 2013 (the “Base Date”) having regard to its physical condition on the date the assessment roll closed on December 1st 2014 (the “State Date”).  You can estimate the Market Value by comparing your property with the sale prices of properties that sold within six months of the Base Date.  Sale prices are now published on PVSC, the assessment authority, web site www.pvsc.ca  Find An Assessment  Advanced Search 

The fact that your property is assessed higher than a similar property is not a valid ground for appeal even though the Assessment Act contains a “uniformity” provision.  Instead, court decisions have established that “uniformity” must be applied to all properties in the municipality using the General Level of Assessment (“GLA”) mechanism.  The GLA is calculated by dividing the sum of the 2015 assessments of those properties that sold between July 1st 2012 and June 30th 2013, by the aggregate of their sales prices.  PVSC have, on occasion (when prodded) condescended to divulge their General Level of Assessment.  However it is unwise to place any reliance on it.  On the one occasion in which we were able to formally review PVSC’s calculations, they proved to be a nonsense: a point on which the Court concurred.  When calculating the GLA first determine whether the property is assessed as “residential” or “commercial” and utilise the relevant pool of property transactions.

þ If your property is enrolled in our PAMS® Property Tax manager program we automatically review your assessment and file an appeal where necessary.  If your property is not yet PAMS® protected and you would like advice on whether to file an appeal, call our Nova Scotia Tax Team, Giselle Kakamousias, Mark Turner or Greg Kerry at 902-429-1811 (HRM) or toll free 1-800-567-3033 (elsewhere).  They will be pleased to help you.  For further information visit our web site Corporate Site Property Tax Tax Appeals.

Friday, January 9, 2015 2:34:30 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax
# Tuesday, January 6, 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, January 6, 2015 2:24:13 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Turner Drake
# Thursday, December 11, 2014

Court work is one of the responsibilities - and hazards - of our profession. Valuation reports are often prepared to help settle disputes and assist with negotiations, but inevitably some cases will proceed to a court or arbitration hearing.  In my field of work, expropriations are the most common files to end up in the court room, where I will be obliged to attend and present evidence as an expert witness.  I can expect to be examined and questioned by lawyers for both sides, intent on casting me either as hero or villain depending on their client’s respective interests.  This is the ultimate test of professional accountability, and there is no doubt the role of expert witness can be an uncomfortable one even for the initiated.  The true objective is to survive with credibility still intact, but after 30 (plus) years in the business I have found there can be rewards.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

There will be no rewards if you are not properly prepared before entering the court room. It is not unusual for a case to be heard months, even years, after the work was done, by which time much of the detail will have been forgotten.  It is vital to take the time to review each page and every document in advance.  Fumbling through files in the witness box is unsettling - particularly if the client is watching.  It is akin to revising for exams; you know the information is in there, if only you could find it.  If the mantra of the real estate profession is location, location, location, then the slogan of the expert witness is prepare, prepare, prepare.  You’ll be glad you did.  This can be your finest hour… or your worst nightmare.

Taking charge of the witness box

Thorough preparation builds confidence and makes the presentation of your own evidence go much more smoothly, but most importantly it prepares you for the onslaught of cross examination. You rarely get an easy ride on cross examination.  The questions are intended to expose every flaw, magnify every error and batter the witness into submission.  But you are entitled to defend yourself; the witness box is your stage and you are entitled to perform when called upon.  

My colleague recalls an occasion before a particularly hostile and theatrical lawyer.  The cross examination began with a blistering attack, unleashed with menace and purpose, intended to reduce the witness to a quivering wreck right from the start.  He demanded an answer and was clearly prepared to wait all day till he got it.  The court room fell silent.  Not easily intimidated, the witness paused then calmly asked the court for a glass of water, drank it, and asked “Now, would you mind repeating the question, please”.  By which time the lawyer had forgotten the question and fumbled through papers trying to reconstruct the moment.  But it was lost. You could almost hear the applause.

The weight of the evidence

Don’t underestimate the power of paper.  “The one with the thickest file always wins” – or so they say, and I believe there is some truth to that when it comes to expert witnesses.  These days of course it’s the one with the most megabytes, but you can’t beat a thick file to demonstrate that the work was done thoroughly and diligently, full of supporting notes, data and analysis to defeat every question that might be asked.  Much of it might never be referred to but some of it will be entered into evidence and scrutinised.  I recently reached new heights at the weigh-in, hauling several boxes of material into the court room which were wheeled into place and unloaded in front of an expectant audience.  So effective was the reaction that I intend to repeat the performance on every occasion, filling boxes with dusty files from the basement if necessary.  “Question me at your peril; I have all the answers” is the message.

Testifying tips brought to you by our experienced expert witness and Vice President of our Counselling Division, Lee Weatherby. To learn more about Lee, visit our Team Leaders page or check out our Facebook page to get a little more intimate!

Thursday, December 11, 2014 12:54:47 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
# Thursday, November 6, 2014

This month’s blog is dedicated to providing some simple advice to help you increase your chances of successfully resolving your assessment appeal and avoiding the dreaded “confirmation letter”.  Ironically, it is actually inspired by some terrible advice a prospective client relayed to me while describing the process he used to resolve his own appeals. 

First off, the disclaimers.  All appeals are not created equal and as a result there isn't a “one size fits all” approach to successfully resolve all appeals.  Second, some appeals are complex and warrant an equally complex strategy to resolve them, but since the overwhelming majority of assessment appeals get settled without necessitating a contested hearing and most cases don’t warrant bringing in one of TV’s top lawyers[1], let’s assume our goal is to resolve our appeal at the review stage.

What Not to Do

Let’s start with the strategy my prospective client was using.  I may be paraphrasing here but as I recall when he was explaining his strategy he proudly proclaimed “I don’t tell the assessor a darn thing!”.  Presumably, this advice was rooted in an inherent distrust of the local assessor but given that an appeal is initiated by the owner, and in most jurisdictions the onus is on the owner to prove an assessment is incorrect, this strategy is condemned to failure.  In order to make a decision to reduce an assessment, an assessor requires facts and issues to justify processing a change.  Although it’s possible that an assessor will unearth these facts on his own, an owner greatly increases his chance of succeeding if he can assist the assessor in his quest for new facts.

A Philosophy For Success

If you keep in mind that your assessment is based on a valuation model that is by necessity, developed to estimate the market values for thousands of properties, the path to success in an assessment appeal is to show why this model overstates your assessment.  At the most basic level you should ask yourself, what is unique or different about your property that detracts from its value and hasn't already been accounted for in the assessment?  Accordingly, step 1 is to request disclosure and get a copy of your assessment calculation and step 2, is to develop a list of facts or issues that were not previously accounted for.

  • Is a portion of the land encumbered by an easement, a rocky slope, or a swamp? 
  • Does one of your leases have a clause or clauses that make it less desirable than those typical of the market? 
  • Is your vacancy higher than the market and is there a reason for it? 
  • Is the property awkwardly configured in a manner that makes it less useful than most others?

The list of potential issues is endless but the only way an assessor will be able to incorporate them into the assessment is if they are brought to his or her attention.  Seasoned assessors will appreciate the transparency and although you’ll still have to resolve by how much the issue should detract from the value you’ll be well on your way to getting past the confirmation letter.   


[1] In a recent poll of the members of our Property Tax Team it seems we’d hire Suit’s Harvey Spector, Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, Law & Order’s Jack McCoy or the unbeatable Ben Matlock. I can only conclude that our tax team spans a few generations!  Like our Facebook page if you agree and post any that we might have missed! https://www.facebook.com/TurnerDrakeLtd  

Property Tax advice provided to you by André Pouliot, Senior Manager of Turner Drake's Property Tax Division and New Brunswick office. If you have any questions regarding property tax, feel free to contact André at 1 (800) 567-3033 or apouliot@turnerdrake.com.

Thursday, November 6, 2014 2:12:40 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Property Tax
# Wednesday, October 29, 2014


The Urban-Rural Balance

Among the strongest barriers to growth identified by the Ivany Report was Nova Scotia’s urban-rural dissonance. This is unfortunate because when it comes to the urbanisation rates of a population, the real divide exists in prosperity, not personality. As illustrated above, across 190 nations and city-states, urbanisation is a strong determinant of economic progress as measured by per capita GDP, and more importantly, social development by more holistic measures such as the UN Human Development Index. The UN determined in 2008 that humanity, for the first time, lived predominantly in urban areas. Given the link between increasing urbanisation and improvements in a host of vital societal characteristics, it is a big deal that the global population is majority urban.

It is important to note that in this context, “urban areas” is defined by Statistics Canada according to population size and density. It does not inform us about the type of built environment the urban population inhabits and it sets the bar for “urban” is very low. Thus we are not talking about city versus suburbs, or even city versus small town, but more the contrast between populations organized around even modestly sized communities, versus spread out in decentralised settlement patterns.

As the crossing of this global threshold is being driven by developing countries, we suspect the full impact of this milestone may be lost on most of us in the developed world. Canada for example has been a majority urban population since before the Great Depression. In fact, today 81% of our national population resides in urban areas. Though Canada is a highly urbanised country, it is also large and diverse; national averages tend to conceal substantial regional variations. Nova Scotia for example started out heavily rural like the rest of the country, but urbanised at a slower pace, reaching a majority decades later around the end of WWII. However, while the country as a whole continued to trend upward, Nova Scotia stayed roughly where it was. The 2011 Census puts its urban population at 57%; the story for the rest of Atlantic Canada is generally the same.

Now obviously quality of life outcomes are driven by numerous factors. Urbanisation is an inseparable part of progress, but still only a part. Additionally, economic prosperity itself drives urbanisation; an urbanising population is both a means and a result of progress. However these considerations do not diminish the fact that increased urbanisation is a key ingredient of positive economic development.  The chart at the opening illustrates this relationship superbly.  Continuing research affirms this it in both the economic histories of developed countries and the current transition underway in the developing world.  Notice the association is less clear between prosperity and total population.  When it comes to human capital, it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it.

Our Urban Opportunity

By saying this, we are trying to illustrate the opportunity before us.  Urbanisation produces twin economic benefits; significantly improved resource consumption efficiency, and enhanced economic productivity.  The more urban our population, the cheaper and easier it is to provide high quality public services and infrastructure.  Simultaneously, the more productive our economy is, and the better our general welfare. Society doesn’t just get more, it gets more for less.

Yet, we have something of a neurosis when it comes to the topic. The Ivany Report specifically highlights ideological conflicts that fall along the urban-rural “fault line” as a barrier to positive unified action.  More locally, Halifax’s recent Regional Plan 5-Year review process offered numerous examples of conflict arising from the perception of one population group benefitting at the cost of the other.  This is the debate we are familiar with; one that confuses support for urbanisation with passing judgement on individuals, and one that is grounded in how the built environment evolves as populations urbanise.

However, for now the point is that we surely can agree that there is much to gain from a basic shift in our urban-rural balance.  At the very low end, achieving a minimum total population of 1000 people and a density of at least 400 people per square kilometre (“urban” as defined by StatsCan) is relatively easy and uncontroversial.

Looking at our standing relative to the rest of the country, we ought to recognize that Atlantic Canada has plenty of room to make these easy gains.  Even dramatic changes do not threaten to eradicate rural lifestyles for those who choose them.  We must also recognize that our own perception of urbanisation’s value is muted.  We have been shielded from the full brunt of our economic reality by the equalisation we receive from the larger and more urbanised population in the rest of the country.  We stand to benefit from urbanising, but it is difficult to build consensus around the idea because we exaggerate what we risk to lose, and underestimate what we stand to gain.


Regardless of where you live in the Maritimes, you should be concerned with our current rural-urban balance.  Adopting a vision for the region that is more urban is important if we are going to mount a serious attempt at meeting our economic and demographic challenges.  It should be something we can all agree on because:

  • Supporting urbanisation isn’t about choosing one segment of the population over the other; it’s about choosing prosperity over stagnation. 
  • If we totally ignore urbanisation, but are still successful in promoting economic development, it’s essentially guaranteed to happen anyway.
  • The current decline of rural areas means it is already happening, has been for the last few decades, and will likely continue in the event that we fail to achieve meaningful economic progress.

If urbanisation is going to continue either way, let’s make it happen for the right reasons, and make the most of it while we’re at it. Focusing policy and investment strategically around urban areas amplifies the return on our effort.  There is a great deal more we can do, but even engaging at this basic level will pay dividends.  Strengthened urban communities reduce our fiscal challenges and improve our economic competitiveness.  In turn, they support stable, vigorous rural communities.  Embracing that goal should not be a polarizing idea.

Neil Lovitt heads up our Planning Division and can be contacted at nlovitt@turnerdrake.com or 1 (800) 567-3033. For a deeper examination of urbanisation in Atlantic Canada, see his full article at the following link: http://www.turnerdrake.com/newsresearch/documents/Urbanisation-RESEARCH.pdf.

Population, Urbanization & Development (2011).jpg (105.4 KB)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 8:47:16 AM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -