How the new HST transition rules affect new homes in BC

The transitional tax rules for new homes in B.C. announced on Friday by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon are significantly more generous than the old ones.

The rule changes are intended to keep the tax burden on most newly-constructed homes at the same level that they were under the old PST regime, that they are under the current HST and that they will be when the PST is reinstated on April Fool’s Day next year. But three provisions make this a sweeter deal for builders and buyers:

. The threshold for a substantial tax rebate has been raised from $525,000 – a ludicrously low amount in the Lower Mainland, which is Canada’s most expensive housing market – to $825,000.

. Buyers of higher-priced homes will also benefit because they’ll pay tax only on the amount over and above the exemption.

. Recreational homes in most of B.C. will be eligible for the tax break for the first time.

The increased exemption goes a long way to address one of the most serious criticisms of the well-structured but badly implemented HST that has caused the governing Liberals so much grief. The exemption was so low and homes are subjected to so many taxes that the HST became yet another driver of sky-high urban house prices.

Would British Columbians’ reaction to the HST have been less visceral and less powerful if measures like these had been adopted from the start?

We’ll never know.

But maybe, just maybe, this more realistic approach indicates the government at least learned a lesson from the voter rage that drove former premier Gordon Campbell from office.

Since houses take a long time to build, the policy recognizes that many will be started under one tax regime and finished and sold under another. Falcon said the objective is to keep the tax burden the same, regardless of the timing.

In the old PST era, there was no provincial tax on the selling price of a new home, but builders paid PST on materials they used. The PST added, on average, two per cent to the total cost of the home.

When the HST was implemented, the seven-per-cent provincial tax applied to the selling price of the house, but the government said it wanted to keep the tax burden at the same level as under the PST. So it implemented a rebate of up to $26,250 (now raised to $42,500) to bring the effective provincial tax rate down to two per cent on the first $525,000.

When the PST resumes next year, the assumption is that the PST will, once again, add about two per cent to the cost of each new home.

Those prices should all work out to be equal.

The problem Falcon had to address was what to do about houses started under one tax regime and finished under another.

Depending on the timing and the policy, it’s easy to come up with scenarios where buyers might be able to duck both taxes, or where they might be dinged with both.

Falcon’s solution is a two-per-cent transitional tax on homes built with tax-free materials and sold with no HST applied. It’s a bit more complex than that, because it has a provision to consider what portion of the materials are bought and what portion of the home is completed under each tax regime.

Complex tax policies always create opportunities for unfairness. But Janice Roper, a specialist on indirect taxes at the Vancouver office of Deloitte, tells me the rules appear to be comprehensive, fair and hard to manipulate.

Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, said they provide the certainty his builders want, and they were announced sooner and with better terms than expected.

So – thus far, at least – Falcon seems to be finding his way through the HST minefield he inherited with his new job.

Source: Don Cayo, The Vancouver Sun

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