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

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

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

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

35 York Street
St. John's, N.L.
A1C 5M3
Canada
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

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# Monday, June 22, 2015

I joined Turner Drake in 1981, just about the same time the Space Shuttle successfully returned from its inaugural flight to usher in the use of manned reusable spacecraft to return to Earth. Upon landing, I believe astronaut John Young hyped on adrenaline, proclaimed “that was a ride of a lifetime”. While my time with my colleagues at Turner Drake has been more grounded, I also consider it a ride of a lifetime; ushering in new challenges, adventures and innovations along the way.

Operating throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond, we have valued a diversity of properties from airports to smelters; pulp mills to fish plants; convents to quarries and vast tracts of moose pasture … and just about everything in between.    Valuation of real estate is not a simple task or an exacting science: it has always been a combination of art and science.  With a predominance of the former in the years gone by,  giving way to the latter as a plethora of data and technology has,  and continues, to become available. As the saying goes … everyone has an opinion on value. However it is certainly more than just producing fluff and a leap of faith.  As valuers, we have to use the tools developed to capture, analyse and make sense of demographic, economic and market factors that drive real estate values. Clients of real estate practitioners expect and deserve accurate conclusions based on sound analysis and interpretation of the evidence available.

To meet this expectation, it is incumbent on valuers to be leading the wave, not just riding it.  As more and more real estate data becomes available, i.e. published sales data, online property zoning, assessment data, financial analytical tools, etc.,  the valuer’s  time is not so much spent working as an old time private investigator travelling the region and unearthing spotty evidence but more so assimilating the available data and recognising what is relevant and applying the correct analytical tools to interpret it to produce a creditable result.  The tools we use at Turner Drake include our Compuval® Database assembled over the past 35 years comprising over 200,000 detailed property records including sales, assessment, income and expense data on properties throughout Atlantic Canada and across the country; Geographic Information Systems (GIS) databases that focus on demographic trends, land use, spatial connectivity, development patterns and the physical aspects of property; and financial analysis and projection software.  These tools together with the knowledge and skill sets of my colleagues at Turner Drake make the challenge of valuing properties a rewarding experience and as I indicated at the onset … a ride of a lifetime.

 

Rick Escott, Vice President of our Valuation Division and Newfoundland Operations, reflects on his last 34 years at Turner Drake.  To find out more about Rick and his adventures, check out our Facebook page!

Monday, June 22, 2015 10:43:28 AM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Valuation
# Tuesday, May 26, 2015

 

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) released its first Standard Method of Floor Measurement for Office Buildings in 1915.  A lot has changed in the past 100 years: there were two world wars, man landed on the moon, and an underground unicorn lair was discovered in North Korea (yes, the Korean Central News Agency actually reported this in 2012…).  BOMA has evolved with the times and now offers measurement standards for a multitude of property types including office, industrial, retail, multi-unit residential and mixed use.

 

The BOMA Office Standard is by far the most recognised and implemented standard in the market.  It provides a logical and uniform method for measuring office space, including the proportionate allocation of all floor and building common areas in a building.  The existence and general idea of the standard is fairly well known in the industry but what is far less understood is the huge financial impact that a BOMA space certification can have on your asset. 

 

For years I have been telling clients that you are not buy a building – you are buying an income stream … and your income stream is rooted in your rent roll. Therefore if your building has not been certified in accordance with the appropriate BOMA Standard, chances are that the area on your rent roll is wrong.  How wrong you ask?  Well we undertook an audit of office buildings in Atlantic Canada and found the average area shown in the lease was off by 10.1% (!!!).  The financial implications are enormous. An 80,000 ft.2 office building sitting in a market where net rents are running at $12.00/ft.2 could be undervalued by as much as $1,100,000; simply because it had not been certified.

 

If a full scale building certification is more than you need, you should at the very least consider getting individual units certified during lease renewals/roll overs.  For “one off” units of 5,000 ft.2 or less, a space certification costs only a few hundred dollars and is often turned around in less than 24 hours: a small price to pay for the peace of mind which comes with a properly certified unit will last you a lifetime (or at least the term of the lease).  Space measurement provides you with tremendous bang-for-buck as the floor plans generated during the space certification can also be used for marketing the unit, as a fire exit plan, or for space planning purposes.  Most importantly, an accurately measured building will ensure better performance of your building.

 

At the end of the day, the rent roll for a building that hasn’t been certified is about as reliable as a news report about North Korean unicorns.

 

 

Questions regarding space measurement? Feel free to contact Mark Turner, Vice President of our Lasercad Division at (902) 429-1811 or MarkTurner@TurnerDrake.com. 

 

Don't forget to check out Mark's Featured Consultant piece on our Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 3:36:22 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Lasercad
# Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I recently had the pleasure of presenting to the New Brunswick Association of Real Estate Appraisers (NBAREA) at their Annual General Meeting in Saint John, NB.  Working with Alexandra Baird Allen of our Economic Intelligence Unit, we took the room through an exploration of regional demographic trends and their influence on real estate values.  We illustrated that we are at the cusp of a demographic sea-change; things are going to be fundamentally different in the future from what we’ve seen in the past.  Be wary of making decisions based on past trends!

One of the hallmarks of this demographic transition is that it is impacting us faster than we think.  The stagnation and slow decline in population projection for Atlantic Canada is not the primary concern.  Rather, it’s the rapid change in population composition as a wave of boomers starts cresting over the age of retirement.  This increase in our population dependency ratio is happening much faster than the lethargic economic/demographic pace we are used to in Atlantic Canada.

Planning and Economics

In the second part of our presentation, I argued that the way we plan our communities needs to adapt.  To give us the best chance of success, our planning system needs to become more agile and responsive, more sophisticated in the use of fiscal analysis and tools, and offer more tangible involvement to our citizens.  I suggested that our approach to economic organisation holds some lessons for our approach to planning.

If you boil down planning and economics as social sciences, they’re really both about the same thing: making the best use of the resources we have to improve our overall conditions.  Planning talks about the disposition of land, economics talks about the transaction of goods and services.  Planning talks about the public good, economics talks about the welfare of society.

It’s really not surprising that they are so analogous since economies and communities themselves are similar.  Both are a complex system of numerous and interrelated actors, simultaneously pursuing their own independent goals.   The final outcome is the cumulative result of these individual behaviours; it emerges from the bottom-up.   Our approach to economic organisation, the free-market, is successful largely because it works with the nature of the problem; it uses price signals, subsidies and taxes to influence individual behaviour and leaves markets to allocate the resources accordingly to create emergent results.  However, in planning we still rely heavily on a coercive, centrally-organised approach that attempts to will a desired outcome into existence through policy and regulation.  As a result, planning is susceptible to fads, and risks failure when there is a disconnect between the ideas of decision-makers, and the realities of the complex community.

An Economics Approach to Planning

So how can planning emulate some of the most successful properties of our economic system to help us build communities that are resilient in an uncertain and resource-limited future?

(1)    Better Information

Markets allocate resources efficiently when provided with complete and accurate information. It’s the reason we have access to the accounting of publicly traded companies and protections against false advertising. Municipalities derive nearly all of their revenue from taxes and fees levied on private real estate. At the same time, nearly all their expenses are generated in providing services to the occupants of private real estate. Thus the location, use and form of land development (a domain over which they have nearly complete control) is central to a municipality’s sustainability, and their capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Yet, where is the fiscal analysis in the plan-making or development approval process? Under present practice, municipalities are making long-lasting decisions with, at best, a vague idea of whether those choices enhance or undermine their long term viability.

As a result, our communities often find themselves in a self-made pyramid scheme, justifying present development on expectations of future growth, or suddenly collapsing when reality turns out different from the version that was supported by “accepted wisdom.”

(2)    Price Based Incentives

Markets allow the collective choices of individuals to find the optimal balance of supply and demand at a given price. Governments step in to influence this price when the market fails to account for negative and positive externalities. Municipalities are often challenged to encourage or control certain types of development in different locations. The typical approach to this is to implement static policy and regulations; boundaries and targets. These only work to the extent that they are congruent with the market-based needs of the development industry. Using price signals, such as development charges, more prolifically and accurately (marginal cost rather than average cost) works with the market to determine the optimal mix of development required to satisfy demand. Rather than creating rigid regulatory limits that exist outside of the context of land development economics (and which are prone to becoming out-of-date), affecting price allows the market to self-regulate without restricting choice.

(3)    Managing Change – Leveraging Self-Interest

How tall should a new building be? Depending on who you ask, there will be a multitude of correct answers, but if you ask the person who lives beside it, chances are they’ll say “no larger than my house.”

One of the most challenging aspects of planning is managing the process of neighbourhood change, and the public reaction to it. Environmental psychologists tell us that satisfaction with one’s neighbourhood is better than satisfaction with one’s socio-economic status as a predictor of overall life satisfaction. This sense of contentment with your residential environment can be effectively undermined by making you feel excluded from the forces affecting it, or feel a lack of personal investment in it. In essence, to rob you of your agency to exercise control over your interest in the neighbourhood.

In response, good planning often includes some form of public engagement. A process that treats the community with respect and offers opportunity for direct input goes a long way to engendering acceptance of change. However, this can be further improved through the addition of policy tools which translate change into direct local benefit. Adding policy tools like density bonusing or community amenity contributions allow a community to trade increased development on a site for direct funding of public benefits such as park space, public art etc. It is a way of ensuring new development has a wider direct benefit for the residents that have to accept it.

Going one step further, a governance mechanism that sees a fixed percentage of all property tax reserved for investment in the area it is collected according to resident’s priorities would transform the public’s relationship with change and new development. If we are going to ask the public to help guide the use, appearance and scale of development in their neighbourhood (and we should), the more of their skin in the game the better. “How tall should a new building be?” becomes a much different question if a neighbour can imagine what they might stand to gain, rather than only what they risk to lose.

 

For more on the impact of changing demographics on real estate values, please contact the Manager of our Planning Division Neil Lovitt at 1 (902) 429-1811 or  nlovitt@turnerdrake.com.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 2:57:24 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Planning
# 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)  #    -
Brokerage
# 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:

Relocate

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?

Renew

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..

Resize

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)  #    -
Brokerage
# 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