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# Tuesday, October 2, 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, October 2, 2018 2:34:17 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Tuesday, August 28, 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, August 28, 2018 5:06:03 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Halifax Regional Municipality is in the throes of moving its long awaited Centre Plan from draft to reality.  With the first package of draft policy and regulation released in late February, it’s come a long way from the high-level guiding document that Turner Drake assisted with in 2016. However, there is still a ways to go. As one might imagine, when replacing multiple planning policy and development regulation documents for the most dynamic and complex urban environment in Atlantic Canada, the devil is truly in the details.

One of the biggest details being grappled with is the deployment of density bonusing, which is principally designed as an affordable housing tool. Depending on what you read, the current framework may actually backfire by delivering no affordable housing and even drive up market-rate housing prices by suppressing supply, or it may be perfectly fine and a good replacement for present ad hoc negotiations which are falling short of the Centre Plan’s achievable outcomes. Either way it provides an opportunity to highlight the perks and pitfalls of this increasingly common strategy.

What is Density Bonusing?

Density bonusing is a planning policy tool whereby new development projects can access higher regulatory limits on built area in return for provision of some public benefit. In other words, trade height for amenities. It is sound in concept. The value of urban land (but not the buildings on it) is primarily driven by where it is located, and what can be done on it. Thus, it is value created by our collective society through the infrastructure and services provided to it, the legal framework that governs it, and the surrounding public and private activities which would make one desire a particular location over another. When local governments “add density” by increasing regulatory limits over what is currently anticipated by the market (i.e. already reflected in its price), they literally create additional land value out of thin air. In requiring a developer to provide public benefits for this added density, local governments are recapturing the value they created in the first place.

There is an obvious tension here in terms of why this ‘bonus’ density was not permitted in the first place, but in the messy world of city-building, ideological purity will always lose to practicality. Density bonusing thus becomes something akin to racketeering: nice development application you’ve got there… what say you give us some art and affordable housing, and maybe that shadow ain’t so bad anymore.

How Does it Work?

While it’s a clear win-win in concept, it can be complex in practice. There are four important factors that determine whether or not density bonusing works on a given site:

·         the value of the property as it exists today

·         the value of the land if purchased for redevelopment

·         the value created by adding bonus density

·         the value captured through required public benefits

It is important to note that all but the last factor on this list are determined by the real estate market. The value captured is set by the municipality, and is typically based on an estimation of the value of the bonus density. In HRM, the tradeoff of density for benefits is structured under a predefined framework. Other municipalities negotiate these arrangements on a case-specific basis, but this approach it generally used in far larger centres due to the complexity and sophistication involved.

Roughly speaking, development projects are feasible in areas where the market price for land exceeds the value of properties as currently developed.  Adding a density bonusing program to the mix will increase the redevelopment value, but also add a new cost in the form of requisite public benefits. On net, this is usually a positive value; these programs are designed to recapture only a portion of the value they create.

It should be apparent that density bonusing is not, in principle, a drag on development. In fact, a properly designed program should improve the feasibility of existing projects and even increase the total pool of viable projects where the net positive addition of value (bonus density minus benefit cost) actually tips the balance of feasibility. For all intents and purposes, this is indistinguishable from a basic upzoning.

Where Can It Go Wrong?

There are plenty of opportunities for density bonusing programs to go awry, but most are the usual pitfalls of any public policy. There needs to be a logical and efficient administration process. The program needs to be supported by accurate data so that its function lives up to its intent. Appropriate buffers needs to be left to account for secondary costs and added overhead created by the program itself. There needs to be additional mechanisms in place to deal with the outputs (this is an important topic of conversation in the Centre Plan context, in which the majority of benefit is supposed to be in the form of affordable housing while the municipality has no formal jurisdiction or established programming).

However, the fundamental issue of whether a density bonusing program works is the value relationship between what is proposed, and what exists today. Most of the debate and discussion in HRM has been focussed on aspects of the former: what is the best value capture rate to use, what is the right threshold for triggering the bonus requirements, what are the correct value assumptions? Important questions, but their answers are all derived from the latter issue, not determined in a vacuum.

At the scale of a city, form follows finance. Whether density bonusing is implemented or ignored by the private sector will ultimately depend on whether the total value of entitled and bonus density, less the cost of delivering it (development costs plus public benefit), is a sweeter deal than exists today. If a profit incentive exists, a badly designed program will still deliver. If a perfectly designed program equates to a downzoning, don’t count on anything happening until prices rise, or losses are written off.

How to Get it Right?

As municipal planning increasingly makes use of economic and market-based tools (and it should) it also needs to expand its understanding of the principles and systems that underpin them. Weight does need to be placed on the market conditions of the present given their influence on the future (to say nothing of the municipality’s complicity in forming them).

The traditional approach would state planning policies cannot be captive to past practices and existing conditions, otherwise change would never be possible. While this is true, it is not justification for being willfully ignorant either. Understanding the basic value relationship between today's conditions and those proposed under new policy is the key to understanding whether density bonusing, or any planning policy for that matter, will deliver on its promise.

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 3:00:58 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island
# Thursday, June 7, 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, June 7, 2018 2:33:58 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Lasercad | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Friday, February 9, 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, February 9, 2018 1:58:02 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Economic Intelligence Unit | Nova Scotia | Turner Drake