How to exit the housing market without exiting your house
Let’s say you’re looking to get out of the housing market and pocket your wealth.
One option is obviously to sell, but then you have to either buy another place or rent. What if you could just lease back your own property?
It’s an unfamiliar concept in the residential housing market but a fairly common one in the commercial property sector. Most of the major banks, for example, sold off their property holdings long ago with the proviso that they could stay put for the length of the lease signed.
It’s called a sale and leaseback and now a group of Toronto realtors, who say they are specialists in dealing with seniors, are bringing the concept to the residential market. The group says they have already structured 15 deals with hopes of more to come.
“That’s kinda of the whole point of it, (not moving). We’re looking at seniors but others too,” said Chris Newell, who works with fellow realtors on a product called Sell ‘n Stay.
Seniors are a prime focus of the sale and leaseback group because they often need more money for retirement but don’t want to leave their homes. Those same seniors have been driving the reverse mortgage market, which also allows people to stay put in their homes but involves borrowing against future equity.
Reverse-mortgage advocates will tell you they’ve got the better product because it protects homeowners, whether prices are rising or falling in the market. A reverse mortgage lets you draw money out of your house with a promise to live in it for forever, with money owed on what amounts to a loan repaid out of the equity when the house is eventually sold.
“If there is no money left (from the equity), it’s our problem not yours,” said Yvonne Ziomecki, senior vice-president of marketing and sales at HomEquity, the leading provider of reverse mortgages in Canada. Under her program, you can extract up to 55 per cent of the value of your home, albeit at a hefty rate by today’s standards of 4.99 per cent. Plus, you have to pay upkeep and property taxes on your home.
The key advantage of selling your home and leasing it back might be that it allows you to exit the housing market without moving, leaving you unexposed to a crash. In Metro Vancouver and the city of Toronto, where the average price of a detached home is $1.8 million and $1.2 million, respectively, that’s no small consideration.
“What we are trying to do is a matchmaking between the investor and the homeowner,” said Newell, who lines up investors through real estate investment clubs and contacts. His longest leaseback has been 10 years.
Investors are generally looking for stable cash flow and also a chance at capital appreciation. Sellers want to make sure they have a rock solid lease that will allow them to stay in their homes for the prescribed time, though those leases often have an escape clause should the renter become ill.
The realtors hooking up these deals are getting their typical commission, about five per cent in Ontario, which is split evenly between agents acting for buyers and sellers.
Gerald Miller, a real estate and condominium lawyer at Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP, says he hasn’t seen deals like this, but says a key consideration will be the language in the lease.
“You can contractually do anything as long as it’s not illegal,” said Miller, adding that, in Ontario, the investors would not be able to evict a tenant who had a long-term lease, even if they wanted to move into the property themselves.
But, he cautioned that someone renting could find themselves out of house and home if the investor buying the property defaulted on a mortgage. Although Miller hasn’t seen these deals in residential property, he says that in commercial property mortgages any tenant “postpones their interest in the lease” to any lender. A tenancy with rights above any mortgage would make it harder to get financing.
Another friction point might be the actual negotiated rent. Based on achieving a four per cent return on a $1 million home, an investor would be looking to capture $50,000 in annual rent once operating costs like taxes are thrown in. A monthly rent of close to $4,200 is probably more than some people want to pay — even if that is the going rate to let a home.
“You’re not getting that type of money in rent,” said David Batori, the broker of record with Toronto-based Re/Max Hallmark Batori Group Inc. “You’d need $6,500-a-month rent for a $1.5 million house (in the city). It only costs $4,000 to rent that house. Rents just haven’t caught up with prices. The problem is, once you got up the price spectrum, people just say they’ll buy a place.”
Craig Alexander, vice-president of economic analysis at the C.D. Howe Institute, says the price gap illustrates how out-of-whack housing market prices have become in comparison to rental markets.
“Given how high home prices are relative to rental costs, the buyer won’t accept such a low return if they only get the equivalent rental rate. This illustrates how unbalanced the real estate market has become in the highest priced markets — with Vancouver and Toronto being the obvious examples,” said Alexander.
Author Don Campbell, founder of the Real Estate Investment Network, said sales-and-leasebacks hasn’t become a major strategy yet but acknowledges that some homeowners want a way to get their capital out of their homes.
“We are seeing different ways to do that,” he said, adding that there is a lot of inter-generational wealth transfers. “A baby boomer will renovate a house, create a secondary suite and sign a lease. They sell the home to the kids, probably lower than market price, and then rent from their kids (so they can carry it.)”
He says that in Vancouver’s pricey real estate market, laneway houses have become more common and are often used for seniors downsizing and looking to live on their property.
The bottom line, says Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, is that people want to figure out a way to get the wealth out of their house.
“I think there is a market for anything that allows you to make some money without forcing you to move out of your house,” Tal said.
Illustrations by Chloe Cushman/National Post