Closing costs should be included in condo prices, lawyer says

There are calls for more protection for condominium buyers after a group of new Scarborough homeowners said they were surprised by tens of thousands of dollars in closing costs.

Ministry of Consumer Services to consider unexpected costs as it develops new regulations

Toni Bougharios moved into the Birchmount Road condo last October and says he lost sleep after receiving the bill for his closing costs. (CBC News)

There are calls for more protection for condominium buyers after a group of new Scarborough homeowners said they were surprised by tens of thousands of dollars in closing costs.

Earlier this week, about 40 residents of 1328 Birchmount Road got together to compare the letters they had received outlining the closing costs on their new units.

Some said they had been expecting costs of between $5,000 and $12,000. Instead, they received bills for between $20,000 and $30,000, and as high as $60,000, just days before their closing dates.

The situation has some calling for closing costs to be included in a condo's "sticker price," which is similar to airlines, which are now required to advertise fares that include taxes and fees.

In addition to developers' fees — which the city sets and developers then recoup — closing costs can include utility connection fees, legal fees and, for some, the land transfer tax and HST.

Audrey Loeb, a real estate lawyer who specializes in condos, says developers don't include closing costs in the advertised sale price because they are not required to.

"There should be no surprises," Loeb told CBC News this week. "The government should require that these charges be included in the purchase price."

David Orazietti, Ontario's Minister of Consumer Affairs, acknowledged that there can be an "information gap" between developers and buyers when it comes to the advertised sale price and the closing costs.

"They want to attract people into their condo development, they want them to buy it," Orazietti said this week.

David Orazietti, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, will step away from politics officially as of Dec. 31. (CBC News)

"And so, if they can lower the upfront price by adding fees later where they can recover some of those costs, that in many cases seems to be what they're attempting to do in the way they've worded their contracts."

Ontario's Condo Act was updated in December 2015, and the province is in the midst of establishing two new condo authorities, Orazietti said: one to oversee condo managers and another that will establish a conflict-resolution framework to settle disputes over fees and other issues.

Ministry staff have "taken note of the concerns expressed by these condo purchasers who faced unexpected closing costs," Orazietti said in an email to CBC News on Friday. Staff will consider these concerns as they develop new regulations under the Act, he said.

The minister is advising all would-be condo buyers to seek professional advice so there are "as few surprises as possible" in their contracts.

'It's the government they have to pay'

Developer Van Lapoyan, president of VHL Developments, says buyers are aware that the closing-cost bills are coming.

Real estate lawyer Audrey Loeb says the provincial government should make it mandatory to include closing costs in a condo purchase price. (CBC News)

Those costs include things that his company is not responsible for, he said. Developers' fees, for example, are set by the city.

"It's the government that they have to pay," Lapoyan told CBC News.

"Whatever they're paying, just to be clear, none of it is coming to my pocket. It's all expenses incurred that we're just recovering. We're not making money off it."

Meanwhile, at 1328 Birchmount, the residents are now struggling to come up with the money they owe.

Toni Bougharios moved into the building with his family last October. Like many of his neighbours, he's a first-time buyer.

"I had to call my dad to provide that money for me," he said, adding that he didn't sleep for a few nights after receiving his bill.

"I did not have enough experience about that. This is my first home and nobody told me about that."

Residents are scrambling to borrow money, empty their savings accounts or take cash advances from their credit cards.

"I had to sell off everything: my GIC, investments and all my savings. I closed up all my accounts," resident Nemala Shelbam said. "I thought I could manage it, and at the end of the day I couldn't manage anything."


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