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6 Tax Tips That Flippers or Renovators Should Not Miss

With the 1 million immigrants coming to Canada in the next 3 years (historically about 40% come to Ontario), it’s almost inevitable that we’ll have housing shortages and crazy rental increases.

It’s basic economic principal – supply and demand.  High demand and low supply = high price.

It can be crazy the amount of rent or skyrocketing house prices – they are both fundamentally driven by the number of immigrants coming to Canada.

We, Canada, do need these skilled immigrants with education and money to grow our economy.  

Fortunately (for people who are already in the market) and unfortunately (for people who don’t have properties yet), we must learn to deal with the rising real estate prices.

For the smarter ones (i.e. real estate investors), they may even take advantage of these rising home prices and make some quick profits by flipping properties.

So, what are the 6 tax tips we have for real estate flippers and renovators?

1. Profits from flipping a property is considered income

Many flippers or renovators are often confused with the tax implication of flipping a house.  Many people are under the impression that if you sell a house, only 50% of the profit is taxable.

The misconception often comes in at a huge cost.  

If you are truly renovating a property for a quick flip, there was no intention to rent the property out, the profit is considered income.  100% taxable.

If the profit from the flip is $100K, this entire amount is added to your income.

At the highest marginal tax rate in Ontario round it down at 50%, $50K goes to the government and you are only left with $50K.

If you report the flip incorrectly as capital gain, CRA may even impose penalty on top of the amount due.  This can substantially increase the tax liability.

2. You may have to pay HST on the sale

If you substantially renovate a residential property for resale, or add an addition, you may be required to charge HST when you sell the property.

It is like being a builder selling a new house, you are required to charge HST and remit the amount collected to CRA.  You can also claim the HST you paid to contractors and vendors against the amount collected.

Most residential home buyers do not understand the implication of HST.  The box on the standard purchase and sale agreement often had the box that says, “purchase price is inclusive of HST”, which leaves the flipper and renovator responsible for HST, should the CRA ever come back after you.

You can refer to my previous blog post that discusses this topic further.

What if you are simply renovating, is there a HST implication?  You can still be exposed to a certain self-supply rule. Be sure to speak to a professional accountant about HST exposure.

3. Paying subcontractors cash without receipts does not qualify for deductions

Contractors love to offer cash deals at a cheaper price to complete the project.  As a registered accountant, I can tell you that it’s not worth it.

I have had a few clients who paid cash for a renovation, did not have any receipts and ended up being audited by CRA.  There’s nothing in an accountant’s power to defend you, when you cannot provide a receipt.

If you choose to take the cash deal and decide not to take the deduction, be aware of the tax cost associated with the decision.

For example, if you pay someone $20,000 cash to do work for you, and you own this flip in the corporation, the cost of not deducting it is $20,000 x 15% = $3,000.  

On top of the tax loss, you are also exposing yourself to higher amounts of risk.  What if the subcontractor isn’t doing what he’s supposed to?  Without a proper invoice, how do you properly protect your right?

I have a previous blog post discussing this issue 

4. Earning income through corporation would help with tax deferral and legal liability protection

Flipping projects can be big or small.

If it is a big project, proper insurance should be undertaken (instead of a regular home owner insurance).  

If it is a big project, you may also be exposed to higher risk.  (For those of you who have followed my blog long enough, my mom’s house was under renovation from top to bottom.  During the renovation, there was a pipe burst.  Insurance eventually covered it, but the story goes to show you that anything can happen!)

A corporation is considered a separate legal entity, which can be used on its own.  When you flip a property inside the corporation, it simply provides another layer of protection against your personal assets.

Of course, if you are doing flips inside a corporation, profit from flips are considered active business income.  Active business income is subjected to 13.5% corporation tax in 2018 and will be 12.5% corporation tax in 2019.

If you were to earn the same amount of income in your personal tax, you are liable to pay taxes based on your marginal tax rate, which can be as high as 54%.

5. Moving into the property for a short while to avoid taxes

Some renovators/flippers decide to move into the property to avoid tax liability.

They usually plan to live there for a couple of months, move back to their own home, and sell the property thinking that they can shelter the gain using the primary residence exemption.

To qualify for primary residence exemption, it’s a 2-step process.

First, the property in question must be capital property.  There are a bunch of criteria that the CRA looks at when determining whether a property is considered capital property.  One of the criteria is intention.  

The problem is that intention is subjective, how do you prove that your intention is to truly move into the property?

Some other criteria also include whether the transactions form a part of your regular business, frequency of transactions, etc.

If your true intention is to flip, chances are, you would not even pass the first test.

Of course, if your true intention is to build a home for your own use, that’s a different story.

You are eligible to use primary residence exemption to shelter all the capital gain. 😊

6. 7 common deductions you can take as a flipper

Last but not least, I would like to share with you the 7 common deductions a flipper should not miss.

    1. Acquisition costs, legal costs and any other closing costs
      Be sure not to miss out on all the deductions such as legal costs, land transfer tax, title insurance and any other closing costs.
      To pick up these expenses, you would have to review the trust ledger.
    2. Carrying cost of the property
      This includes property taxes, insurance, mortgage interest, hydro, any utilities, lawn care, etc.  Be sure to keep track of these expenses so you can deduct them against your profit.
    3. Material cost, labor and contractor’s fees
      Generally speaking, you are allowed to deduct expenses you incur for the purpose of generating the income.
      Direct material cost, labour and contractor you use are expenses that you can link directly to generate the income. Hence these are all deductible expenses.
      Be sure to keep diligent record of the expenses, make sure they do not fade over time (Home Depot receipts simply fade after 2 years).
    4. Automobile expenses
      When you drive your car to the site to do the work, inspect the work, pick up materials, expenses incur on the vehicle are deductible against the income.
      You are required to keep diligent record of the mileage you incur to do the work.
    5. Home office expenses
      Many flippers or renovators do not have a proper office space to handle the day to day.
      They often use a portion of their home to manage their business.
      In that case, you may qualify to claim a portion of your home office expense against the profit to reduce the tax liability.
    6. Advertising
      Advertising expense is the same as direct material cost.  Any expenses you incur to assist in selling the property are considered deductible.
      This includes staging cost, cleaning expenses (renovation = mess), printing signs and flyers, advertising costs on local newspaper, kijiji, etc.
    7. Closing cost such as realtor commission fees and legal cost
      Closing costs such as realtor commission, legal cost and mortgage termination charge are all deductible against the sale of the property.
      Be sure to keep track of the expenses to maximize your deduction.

Until next time, happy Canadian Real Estate Flipping!

Cherry Chan, CPA, CA

Your Real Estate Accountant

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