Toronto buyers and sellers are scrambling to beat incoming luxury home tax

In January of 2024, a new tax will come into effect for homes over $3 million — and buyers and sellers in the luxury market are doing everything they can to beat the buzzer.

“I’ve noticed a significant buyer attraction over $8 million,” Barry Cohen, president of RE/MAX Realtron Barry Cohen Homes Inc., said. 

The land transfer tax, or “luxury tax,” increases based on the value of the home will begin at a 3.5 per cent tax for homes over $3 million up to $4 million and will go all the way up to 7.5 per cent for homes valued at more than $20 million. For a $4 million home, that would amount to a $10,000 difference in land transfer taxes compared to the current structure. For homes in the $8 million range and above, the additional costs hit six figures. 

“For people who want to avoid the taxes, it’s more the homes over $7, $8 million where the amount starts feeling significant to buyers,” Cohen said. “So the uber high-end has got their eye on vacant homes, because they see them as attractive, that the sellers could close with them by Dec. 31.”

However, Cailey Heaps, president of Heaps Estrin Real Estate Brokerage, said sellers and buyers are finding ways to close before the Dec. 31 deadline even if homes aren’t vacant. “Some people are buying to close quickly, and then rent it back to the seller so that the sellers aren’t rushed to leave. The workaround is the renting back solution.”

Cohen has noticed a similar trend. “Buyers are saying, ‘If we were closing in April anyway, I’ll buy it now, rent your house back to you. You pay your utilities and taxes and I won’t charge you rent,’” he said. “And they’ll do it because they’re saving on a whopping tax.” 

Looking at the numbers of sales and listings for luxury homes from September to November so far this year compared to last year, Cohen has specifically seen an increase in sales and listings for homes over $10 million. In September, October and November of 2022, there were no sales of homes over $10 million. This year in the same period, there were seven. There has also been an increase in over $10 million home listings in October and November compared to last year — from just eight in 2022 to 25 in 2023. 

But Cohen noted that these numbers don’t reflect the full picture, since several off-market networks, where realtors share listings in Whatsapp or Facebook groups or privately instead of listing on MLS,  have emerged since COVID and are particularly popular for luxury homes. 

Overall, Heaps said that the ultra high-end market has already been performing well lately compared to the rest of the market. 

“Interest rates have less of an impact for these people,” she said. “And now that segment of the market is motivated to move quickly based on the impending land transfer tax.”

Heaps said she anticipates a slower start to 2024 as people adjust to the changes within the market.

For 2024, Cohen said the effect on the market depends on what happens in those first few months. “There could be some price adjustments, and you might have sellers agreeing to pay the excess buyer tax.” 

 Ultimately, he said it’s just a matter of time before everyone accepts this luxury tax as the new normal: “Toronto is a very accepting market. I think by June, there will be complete acceptance, in perfect Canadian form.”