Here’s what we think about real estate investing in Canada — and it may surprise you
We’re constantly asked about real estate investing in Canada and we understand the appeal. Even though today’s house prices still remain high in most markets (i.e., Toronto and Vancouver) mortgage interest costs are at historic lows. And owning your own home has a number of advantages.
For example, owning your house is a great tax shelter. That’s because gains on your principal residence are exempt from capital-gains taxes. Note, though, that this benefit only applies to your principal residence. You must still pay tax on gains on the sale of a recreational property, such as a cottage or a ski chalet. But these properties generally appreciate at a much slower rate than, say, a home in a major urban centre.
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Many investors underestimate the risk and cost of owning rental property
Capital-gains taxes are also applicable to gains on homes you buy for investment purposes, such as rental properties. Moreover, this type of real estate investing in Canada involves a number of other commitments that can make it feel more like running a small business than, say, investing in stocks. With stocks, you only have to tell your broker to buy—everything else is done for you.
In contrast, when you own rental property, you have to spend time finding and dealing with tenants, arranging for maintenance, doing the accounting and so on. You can hire others to do these tasks for you, but that can get very expensive.
Moreover, real estate investing in Canada can entail higher levels of risk than stocks. That’s because real estate is less liquid, more expensive to manage and to buy or sell, and highly geographically concentrated. Rising crime, unpleasant neighbours and other changes on the street or in your property’s neighbourhood can make it hard to find tenants or buyers. So can physical problems, like adverse traffic patterns, backed-up sewers and zoning changes that allow undesirable development, or limit what you can do with your property.
Many real estate investing enthusiasts say that if you buy a property with a 20% down payment (which is the Canadian government’s proposed new minimum to qualify for government-backed mortgage insurance on a property that is not your principal residence), then a 20% rise in the property’s value means you have doubled your money.
However, that claim neglects the costs of selling (up to 5% or 6% for real-estate commissions, plus lawyer’s fees and related costs). It also overlooks any negative cash flow you may have experienced while you owned the property, because rents failed to cover expenses.
REITs can kick start your real estate investing in Canada
We continue to believe that ownership of a primary residence is all the real estate exposure most investors need. However, if you want to add to your real estate holdings, one good way to do it is through real estate investment trusts, or REITs.
Real estate investment trusts invest in income-producing real estate, such as office buildings and hotels. That’s a segment of the market that is difficult for most investors to access through direct ownership of property. Moreover, real estate investment trusts save you the cost, work and risk of owning investment property yourself.
If you’re interested in real estate investing in Canada through a REIT, we still recommend RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (symbol REI.UN on Toronto). It, like all REITs, continue to suffer fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, RioCan continues to benefit from an increasingly solid portfolio of properties now focused on Canada’s biggest markets. It is also working to diversify its portfolio beyond malls (these malls feature large stores that are usually part of a chain). We cover RioCan in our Successful Investor newsletter.
The best real estate investment trusts have good management and balance sheets strong enough to weather an economic downturn. They also have high-quality tenants, and they carefully match their debt obligations with income from their leases. The best ones are still doing well, despite the economic slowdown, and are taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance long-term mortgages.
If you’re investing in real estate primarily for profit, you should look at multiple-unit rental housing or commercial properties, especially those with big parking lots or extra land. Investments like these can give you current income, plus long-term development possibilities. That’s a potent combination for patient investors. And of course, location is the most crucial part when it comes to real estate investing in Canada and in any country.
Have you used real estate investing in Canada as a way to diversify your investments?
Share your experience with us in the comments.
This article was originally published in 2016 and is regularly updated.
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