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    3. Appathy

      Let’s say you buy a parking lot, hire a grumpy attendant, build a little hut for the guy, pay the property taxes, erect signage and hope to make a few bucks. Then the people living down the street sign on with the Rover app, rent out their unused driveways during the day for half your hourly rate and suck off your traffic.

      They can undercut you because, to them, it’s free money. No overhead. No surly, needy ticket-puncher. No taxes. No insurance. Nada. Just a steady trickle of cash into their account. How can you compete? Nope, you can’t.

      Just be happy you didn’t buy a taxi license for $200,000 five years ago because – thanks to Uber – it’s now worth 80% less. Or it could be worse. You might own a small hotel or motel with an investment in the millions, only to see your neighbours go Airbnb, taking in overnight guests, collecting the revenues, yet paying no income tax, hotel tax, HST, employee costs, suppliers or commercial property tax.

      Welcome to the online, sharing economy. Shifting wealth. Shuttering businesses. The creative destruction of capital.

      A top destroyer is Airbnb, which may go public later in 2019 in a blockbuster IPO (be careful). What started as a rinky-dink platform for people to rent out bedrooms is now the nemesis of the global hotel biz and a social force spreading as much evil as it does money. Governments have been slow to respond, with politicians unable to grasp the social implications.

      So today literally thousands of condo units in Toronto (and Vancouver) have been bought by investors, registered with Airbnb and are rented out as virtual hotel rooms. This means they’re commercial properties, yet pay low residential taxes. They’re usually in contravention of condo bylaws, almost undetectable. The owners collect cash flows they may not report as taxable income. And all these units are neither primary residences nor on the rental market. As a result the overall housing stock is diminished, forcing prices and rents higher.

      In small places, the consequences can be even more insidious. Investors buy houses for Airbnb seasonal tourist rentals, pocket the cash for four or five months of the year, then leave them dark through the fall and winter. Long-term renters are shut out. Streets are dark at night. The local drug and hardware stores wither and die. Tourist towns turn into museums. Communities decay.

      In the big places, this phenom is collapsing the vacancy rate and jacking up rents. The evidence of this is overwhelming, yet governments take idiotic moves to ‘calm’ housing markets like slapping 20% levies on scant foreign buyers when it’s greedy locals causing most of the problem. Yet another report has proven the point. Airbnb, says McGill University, has removed as many as 31,000 units from the rental market in Canada – enough to halve the vacancy rate from where it would otherwise rest. And the lower that rate, of course, the higher rents become.

      This 31,000 number is for entire houses or units that are frequently rented online (of the 280,000 Airbnb listings in Canada), which means they’re removed from the rental pool. Of those, 1,700 were in Vancouver alone – enough to more than double that city’s total existing vacancy rate. In Toronto there were 4,200 units, and in Montreal, 4,100.

      Thus far politicians have totally misunderstood the impact. In Vancouver, while Airbnbers are supposed to obtain a license and only rent space in principal residences, enforcement is lacklustre. Compare that to the draconian blanketing of the entire city with official notices to ferret out ‘rich’ people who may own a condo they don’t occupy full-time – who are then subject to a massive, endless ‘empty houses’ tax.

      In Toronto it’s a complete gong show and Airbnb free-for-all as zoning bylaw amendments to curtail short-term rentals get appealed in a languishing process. If they ever pass owners will have to register, pay an accommodation tax and only use principal residences. That would remove about 8,300 listings, 65% of which are for full houses. But so far, nothing, as the average rent for a one-bedder soars past $2,100.

      So far only in Quebec is the hammer coming down. Starting this autumn Airbnb hosts will have to register with the province, inform Revenu Quebec of their income (and claim it), plus collect federal and provincial sales taxes along with a lodging tax. But the rental vacancy rate in Montreal is already twice what it is in Toronto and Vancouver, plus leases cost far less in a city where renting is no stigma. This move should make things even more affordable.

      So, kids, if you want lower rents, more choice and cheaper real estate, start here. Oh, and stop inventing this crap, okay?

       

      Be prepared

      Big week. Trump and Xi meet at the G20 and talk trade. The tariff war between the US and China is the main thing on Mr. Market’s mind these days. It’s also weighing on everything else, from interest rates to corporate profits, jobs and the 2020 presidential slugfest.

      Will the two heavies agree to back off? Start negotiations again? If so, investors might power equity markets to new highs by Friday. If not, stocks will sell off and we’ll get a rate cut next month. If your portfolio’s properly balanced, just ignore this stuff.

      There’s more. Iran could get a lot uglier. New sanctions hit that country Monday. Boris Johnson’s sleazy girlfriend woes might keep him out of 10 Downing and mess up Brexit. Again. In the land of beavers & moose the Doug Ford government’s in crisis, the T2 Libs are 122 days from the fight of their lives and the Greens might actually outrun the Dippers. Amazing.

      Of course, most people just care about themselves, which is what you’d expect. Trade wars, ideologies and monetary policy are less important to the biggest block of voters (Millennials) than the issues they’ll be voting on. Those would be housing, climate change and authenticity. Not sure how young Andrew Scheer is going to score there.

      So, in conclusion, we have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen on any front. The best possible strategy, then, is to be aggressively conservative and stay out of trouble. No crypto. No gold. No weed stocks. No junior oils. Stick with diversified, low-cost, liquid ETFs, a 60/40 balanced portfolio and roughly equal dollops of maple, MAGA and offshore.

      Despite the chatter, a recession is not a foregone conclusion. The two biggest forces in the world right now – the Fed and Trump – don’t want one. Those pantywaist advisors who have been sitting in cash for two years, muttering ‘things are too expensive’, have a lot to explain to their clients. There’s no way the US president – who takes the stock market as a proxy for his magnificence – is purposefully blowing this. This week may make that obvious.

      Meanwhile, moisters, some good news. We’re just days away from the first drop in the stress test rate, as five-year mortgage rates come tumbling down below 3% almost everywhere. Given the above, this could be a rare window to load up on cheap money. Seriously consider a locked-in, half-decade long loan instead of rolling the dice and borrowing with a variable rate.

      This week more banks are expected to follow the lead of the TD and CIBC and advertise five-year mortgages at under 3%. Last week those two lenders formally lopped off about a third of a point, although they’ve been quietly offering borrowers cheaper money for weeks. (Go ahead and ask the TD for a fiver at 2.8%, for example.)

      Of course, there are better deals around. HSBC continues to offer its predatory 2.59% and online mortgage brokers representing outfits you never heard of are even cheaper. But the Big Banks at sub-3% move us closer to the stress test rate dropping from 5.34% to something closer to 5%. That will make it slightly easier for house-lusty kids to complete their descent into debt slavery and helpless middle age.

      And on that note, here’s Dan. Yes, another 30something, but one who has learned valuable lessons about money, time, freedom – and what matters. World leaders, momentous events, tectonic political shifts and economic cycles all come and go. Meanwhile you have but one, brief life to live. Never surrender control of it, meander into debt nor be pushed into an action because ‘everybody else’ is doing it. Think Boy Scout. Be prepared.

      “I’ve been reading your blog since 2010, and it’s been a guide through many of my life decisions since then.? I moved to Calgary in 2010, finished a masters in 2014, and generally saw increases in my income and net worth the entire time.? For one year, and one year only, I even joined the 1% in regards to income.? Then everything changed…

      “Through that time I watched my friends buy first and even second houses, finance fancy cars and trucks with balls (it is Calgary), and spend every cent they made on niceties like vacations, clothes, and sometimes even dogs.

      “In October of 2015 I lost my job, and my fiancé in the span of two weeks.? With layoffs everywhere I used the funds I had saved renting and my full TFSA to disappear to SE Asia for 6 months, I came back much healthier mentally.? You’re right when you say time, and how you spend it, is priceless!? Because I didn’t own and had saved/invested, I wasn’t yet worried about money after I returned to Canada.

      “Then the unthinkable became reality, the months ticked by, hundreds of job applications went out, and a very few job interviews happened, yet nobody would hire me.? I wasn’t even being picky, from oil and gas, to municipalities in other provinces, to Superstore down the block.? In the meantime I met my wife who needed to be sponsored and couldn’t work until the immigration approved it.? Needless to say the RRSPs floated us until today.? 30 months later, odd jobs where I could find them, and sponsoring a wife, I was just hired by Suncor with a solid 6 figure income.

      “People may be slamming you on your blog, but I credit you for great and free advice that got me through this tough time.? I had choices others didn’t have because I read and followed.? I still don’t own and a bank wouldn’t touch me, but I take you at face value when you say ‘consider buying but be smart about it’.

      “So Garth, thank you!? I don’t know what would have had happened if I didn’t find your blog on a snowy day 9 years ago…”

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