OPINION | Do you know how much your home is really worth? Well, you should

Assessment down, taxes up. Figuring out how much your largest asset is worth can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be.

When it comes to buying or selling a home, who wants to leave money on the table?

In terms of our property values, the recent tax assessments from the City of Calgary are a double-edged sword. Our property value went down while our tax rate went up. (Ed Middleton/CBC, Falice Chin/CBC, Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

This column is an opinion from Robert Price, the CEO of Bōde Canada.

Many of us were shocked recently when we received the always unpredictable property tax letter from the City of Calgary. 

This year, it seems many homeowners have been dealt a surprising blow — the city has lowered our assessed property value, yet at the same time, the city and provincial government have increased our residential taxes for 2020.

These values are based on June 2019 city appraisals, so we are likely to face even lower property values on our next bill in 2021. 

In terms of our property values, the recent tax assessments are a double-edged sword. Yes, we have been offered the opportunity to delay our payment for a few months, but it raises a couple of questions: How do we get a better sense of what our home value is, and why should we care? 

2019 vs. 2020 

If you're like me, your property value went down five per cent while your tax rate went up seven per cent from 2019 to 2020. These are big numbers when you consider the size of the asset we're talking about.

If you own the average Calgary home, valued at $489,000, its assessment dropped to $466,000, yet you still spent over $250 more in property taxes this year. Not a pretty picture.

It has never been made clear by the city or the province exactly what formula they use to determine our home values. We basically get the "it's complicated" answer, when in reality, with the right information about what's selling in your community and at what price, we are very qualified to conduct our own assessment. 

Property taxes vs. property value 

Based on sales data for March-May 2019 compared with the same period in 2020, the average home price is down by seven per cent in Calgary. If we assume your new 2020 property value is $432,000, down from $466,000 last year, and our tax rate stays the same, your tax bill would decrease by $180. Sounds good, right?

But here's the kicker — tax assessment can often play into home sales negotiations and mortgage options. So, if you've always wondered whether it's better to have a lower recurring tax cost or a higher property value, using the example above you would certainly forgo the $180 in annual savings to instead retain $34,000 in home value. 

Further, based on our current COVID-19 induced circumstances, it appears likely that the tax rate will increase again for 2021, creating yet another double-edged sword and no relief for homeowners. 

Significance of home value tracking 

The average home in Canada sells approximately every five years, but its value can change on a month-to-month basis.

Many of us are glued to our investment performance in other parts of our portfolios, looking at them daily or weekly. To me, your home is no different, but the access to the information definitely is.

With online tools that provide market data and sales data, giving you near-real time information, it's become much easier to track your home value. (Richard White)

Historically, it's been very difficult and/or expensive to track the value of your home. It would typically involve hiring an appraiser for hundreds of dollars, engaging a realtor whose services are more geared toward a transaction, or waiting an entire year to open that tax letter from the city.

We now have online tools that provide market data and sales data, giving you near-real time information to regularly track your home value at your convenience on any of your devices.

Calgary is not one but rather 198 micro real estate markets, as each community performs differently, depending upon location, access to amenities and the nature of its inventory.

We no longer have to count on others to tell us the value of our home — we now have this information, quite literally, at our fingertips. Information is power, and I believe homeowners can start using this more accurate information to their advantage. 

Why does it matter to have a confident sense of what your home equity is doing?

According to Canadian Mortgage Trends, 70 per cent of us own homes, and we have an average of 60 per cent of our net worth tied up in them. In addition to staying on top of your mortgage and taking advantage of interest rate fluctuations, having a firm grasp of your home's value has implications on your overall debt servicing capacity and investments in your and your family's futures. 

Taking the pulse of the post-COVID market 

Are you tired of hearing about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted our economy, the housing market and jobs? Me too. But we can't bury our heads in the sand, especially as homeowners.

There are predictions that many of us will be re-evaluating our homes, post-COVID-19. Is it big enough? Does it have a home office? Do I still need to live close to the core, if I'm working from home more often?

As more of us consider entering the volatile housing market over the coming months, it's critical to know the real market value of our most significant asset. After all, it makes up more than half of our wealth and, when it comes to buying or selling a home, who wants to leave money on the table? Not me.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robert Price is a Calgary entrepreneur and the CEO of Bōde Canada, Alberta's first real estate marketplace.


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