Mortgages and assessments

Assessment versus mortgage rules

For the past 2 1/2 months the focus has been on upcoming mortgage rule changes, and how these changes will affect clients. 

Last week, the rubber hit the road.

What else happened last week? People across the province opened their mail and found their 2018 property assessments. 

Last fall, BC Assessment sent letters to thousands of homeowners advising that they would be seeing a larger than normal increase in assessed value.  According to a CBC article I read, those letters were issued to people whose assessment were increasing by 30 per cent or more.

I checked mine on the BC Assessment site. I was surprised to see my assessment increased by almost 20 per cent.

My initial response was mixed. Who doesn’t like to see that their home is worth more? However, being as our property tax bills are based on our assessed values, my mind starting calculating a proportionate increase in my property tax bill. 

My first thought was that I needed to appeal my assessment. How on earth could they justify a 20 per cent increase??

I scrolled down the page (at least halfway down), I found a tab marked Sample Sold Properties. By clicking on that tab, I found an extensive list of similar houses that sold in West Kelowna over the last year.

Based on the list of comparable sales, the new assessed value on my home is certainly in the ballpark of what I would list it for if I were planning to sell.

If you are considering appealing your assessment, I suggest you take a minute to look at the Sample Sold Properties tab for your own property. If the houses that come up were sold at prices similar to your assessment, and the homes are similar in size and area to your home, my guess is you won’t be very successful with your appeal.

If your increase seems odd or disproportionate compared to the homes you see listed, your best bet is to pick up the phone and call BC Assessment to discuss your new assessment.

How does this tie in to the mortgage world?

Over the last week, I had conversations every day with clients who called asking if they could now refinance their homes being as their property was worth so much more.

Lenders require appraisals for refinance applications. Appraised value and assessed value are (generally) not the same. Over the last year I saw appraisals on homes come in at well over their assessed value.

For a refinance, the maximum we can take the mortgage to is 80 per cent of the appraised value. When I am working with a client on a refinance, one of my first steps is to check the assessed value to see if we are in the ballpark.

Even if the assessed value seems low, with my knowledge of what homes are selling for, I usually have a sense of whether the value is there to move forward (or not).

The new assessments and lists of comparable sales are a great starting place for determining the true value of homes in the area. Had you asked me the same question based on last year's assessed values, my answer would have been different.

Clients choose to refinance their homes for many different reasons. Whether or not refinancing is a good idea is a highly individualized question, and is a topic for another day.

The next piece of the puzzle is to figure out whether clients qualify to carry a larger mortgage. With the changes that kicked in Jan. 1, clients now qualify for about 20 per cent less than they did previously.

It will be interesting to see how many clients are negatively affected moving forward.


Holiday traditions

While shoveling my driveway for the third time in one day, I spent some time thinking. Quite a bit of time actually. It’s a double-wide driveway and we get an awful lot of snow in Glenrosa.

Normally, when I commune with nature (aka shovel) my mind goes to the clients I am working with. I think about different options and ideas to solve challenging files. I think about things I’ve learned and consider more effective ways to help people.

Tonight, was a little different. I slowed down enough to appreciate the beautiful crisp evening. I found myself reflecting about what the holiday season means to me. I realized how truly blessed I am.

Whatever your religion and however you choose to celebrate, my guess is you have family traditions that have evolved over time.

Christmas is a time of celebration. Christmas is a time of giving. Christmas is a time of togetherness.

Christmas can also be a time of great stress and pressure. There’s a line from a Jo Dee Messina song that popped into my head, and it goes something like this:

“I’m above the below and below the upper … stuck in the middle where money gets tight but I guess I’m doing alright.”

I was raised Catholic, and my mom has always been very active in our church choir. Midnight mass has always been an important part of our celebration. For me, there is something truly joyous and peaceful about mass Christmas Eve.

From the time my girls were little, they were allowed to open one gift Christmas Eve. Spoiler alert – that gift was always matching pajamas from their Nani. Christmas stockings were (and still are) perhaps their favourite part of Christmas morning.

I come from a family of amazing cooks, so, of course, the holidays have always involved an inordinate amount of time spent in the kitchen. Sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle: cook/ eat/ clean/ repeat. 

My family was spread out between Vancouver Island and Northern B.C. For Christmas, we alternated homes so that we could spend the holidays together. Once I moved to the Okanagan and my older daughters moved to Fort McMurray, travel logistics became even more challenging.

About three years ago, we made a decision as a family to approach the holidays a little differently. As my girls are getting older and our family is expanding, the pressure of trying to find the perfect gift for everyone was beginning to feel a little overwhelming, both physically and financially.

We decided to put all our names in a hat and each pull one name. We set a limit on what we would spend, and talked about picking up a few things for each other’s stockings. We talked about the importance of spending time together doing fun things, instead of packing in activities we felt obligated to do.

I didn’t realize how much pressure I felt about the holidays until we made this change. Life is busy at the best of times, and the holidays always seem to amplify the busyness. 

I remember feeling like there weren’t enough hours in the day to organize everything that needed to be done to make Christmas perfect.

Taking it down a notch by changing the focus from “Have I picked up everything I need?”  to “Who’s up for a game of Rummoli?” was the best thing we ever did. Don’t get me wrong … there will still be a lot of time spent in the kitchen, but now the holidays are so much more about the love and happiness of being together. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed during the holidays, take a deep breath. Take a look at how you are spending your time (and your money). Maybe there are some ways that you can change things up too.

I wish you and yours an amazing holiday season filled with much love and laughter.


Your mortgage team

Buying a home can be both exciting and overwhelming. One of the best things you can do is to surround yourself with reputable professionals you trust. 

Key members of your team will likely include:

  • a mortgage professional
  • a realtor, a home inspector
  • a lawyer or notary 

In some situations, you may also need an appraiser.

Professionals working in the real estate industry are often able to recommend highly qualified experts that they work with on a regular basis.

You can search out members of your team by talking to friends and family about who they have worked with when purchasing their homes, and by doing your research online.

It is very important that you feel comfortable with the members of your team. Working through the home buying process can feel intimidating, so you need to be able to ask questions as you move forward.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask if you are unclear about something – it is far better to clearly understand than to guess and potentially make a decision you may regret later. 

Here are the key members of your team:

Mortgage professional

Also known as specialists, consultants, brokers or sub-brokers, a mortgage professional might work with only one financial institution, or may have access to multiple financial institutions.

A significant advantage to working with an independent mortgage professional (not tied to one financial institution) is that they are able to shop for the best rates and features for you.

If for some reason one lender does not approve your application, independent mortgage professionals can then submit your application to other lenders who may have different lending guidelines.

Most mortgage professionals work flexible hours and are available to meet with you evenings or weekends. For standard residential home purchases, there is usually no fee or cost to you for this service.


Realtors are experts with respect to the legal aspects of purchasing a home, and are knowledgeable about the features and characteristics of your community. You will work closely with a realtor to find your home.

Your realtor will arrange for you to view several homes, and once you have decided on a property your realtor will guide you through the process of making an offer.  

Your realtor will support you until the keys have changed hands. Realtors work on a commission basis, and as a purchaser there is usually no charge for their service.

Home inspector

Your home inspector will go over your prospective purchase with a fine-tooth comb. They will look for any potential issues.

Home inspectors will spend several hours investigating every aspect of the house, both inside and out. 

They will inspect everything from the condition of the exterior (roof, gutters, foundation, potential drainage/water/  insect issues, etc) as well as the condition of the interior (remaining life span of the hot water tank, furnace, windows, etc) and provide you with both verbal and written reports of the overall condition of the house.

Your home inspector may save you thousands of dollars in costly repairs or identify problems with the home that cause you to reconsider – or may ease your mind by confirming all is in order with your new home.

The cost of a home inspection is something you pay.  Do your research, and choose a home inspector that comes highly recommended.


A lawyer or notary will work on your behalf to ensure that your legal rights are protected. Your lawyer or notary will take care of all of the paperwork required to complete the sale and transfer ownership of your new home to you.

It is a good idea to ask for written quotes so that you are able to add this expense to your budget for closing costs.


Keep in mind that every homebuyer’s situation is unique, and everyone’s level of knowledge is different.   

One of the first things I suggest when looking to purchase a home is to organize a binder or folder to store your research and information. Start an electronic folder to save information and links that might be handy down the road.

Although a great deal of your research can be done online, you will likely gather business cards, handouts, listing sheets, quotes for legal services, etc. and may find it most effective to have a central place to keep this organized.  

Whether you have purchased a home in the past or are looking to buy your first home, you will find that the more prepared you are, the less stressful the process will be.


What's on your wish list?

In a previous column, I talked about the importance of knowing how much you are qualified to borrow.  The next step is being really clear about what type of house you want to buy.

In addition to knowing what you can afford, it is equally important to connect with a realtor you are comfortable working with. Realtors are experts with respect to the legal aspects of purchasing a home, and are knowledgeable about the features and characteristics of your community.

Your realtor will arrange for you to view several homes, and once you have decided on a home, your realtor will guide you through the process of making an offer. Your realtor will support you until the keys have changed hands.

Before you start shopping, take some time to think about your priorities. Consider your plans.

For instance:

  • Is there a particular area you want to live?
  • Do you need to be close to work, schools, shopping, or medical services?
  • Is access to public transportation important? Will your family be expanding in the near future?

Put everything you can think of on your wish list, but remember to be flexible. Sometimes buyers have to compromise because their funds are limited. It is important to get into a house you can afford and consider cosmetic upgrades down the road.

Even if you can't afford to replace the hideous shag carpet in the family room right away, it might be worth living with for awhile to get into a home that meets most of the big ticket items on your wish list that are hard to change (i.e.: location, number of bedrooms).

Alternatively, if there are major renovations to be done, you might consider a purchase plus improvements mortgage.

One way to be prepared is to do some of your own research. If there are certain areas you are interested in, take some time to drive around and look at the type of homes available.

If you see "for sale" signs, jot down the address or listing number.

Another way is to visit the realtor.ca site. Enter your preferred options and price range to get a better idea of listings available. Your realtor will also do homework on your behalf to identify suitable properties, and will be able to provide advice and information about different neighbourhoods in your community.

Being very clear about what is most important to you in terms of wish-list items will help your realtor narrow down the scope of your search.

When you start to look at homes, be careful not to be caught up by a house where minor upgrades and cosmetic fixes create the look that you are after, but that do not include the important features you need.

For instance, don't buy a two-bedroom house when you know you're planning to have a family and will need more rooms soon.

Don't make a compromise that will likely create a major strain down the road. If you're on a budget, look for a home whose full potential has yet to be realized.

A good strategy is to look for a house that you can add value to, as this will help you build equity for when you decide to upgrade.

If your budget allows, buying a new home means you won't have much to do in terms of upgrades or finish work.

After looking at multiple houses, you may find it hard to keep them straight in your mind. One suggestion is to write notes on the listing sheets for each house you view. Write down your general impression, as well as any specific features you want to remember.

After you have looked at a few properties you will likely start to refine your wish list. This will help save time for both you and your realtor as you become very clear on what you want.

Once you choose your ideal property, it's time to make an offer. Your realtor will write up the documentation and present it to the realtor representing the sellers. It is not unusual for offers to go back and forth several times before all the details are finalized.

Your realtor will explain the process to you, and help you arrange any required inspections and documentation.

After you have an accepted offer (agreed upon by you and the sellers), your mortgage professional will submit your application for final approval.

Once final approval is in place and you have removed all of the conditions of your offer, your documents will be forwarded to your lawyer to finalize all of the necessary paperwork.

During the search for your dream home, make sure you work closely with your mortgage broker/banker to keep them in the loop.

If you have been pre-approved over the last few months, it's important that you connect with your mortgage broker to make sure you are still eligible to borrow the same amount.  

Buying a home may seem daunting, but having the right team to support you will make it seem far less intimidating.  

More The Mortgage Gal articles

About the Author

Laurie Baird and Tracy Head are mortgage brokers with Verico Complete Mortgage Services. Together they have over 45 years of experience in the mortgage industry.

As mortgage brokers, Laurie and Tracy spend time getting to know the people they work with and help them understand the mortgage process. They support their clients before, during, and after a home purchase.

Laurie and Tracy are able to offer their clients advice and options. With access to over 40 different lenders, Laurie and Tracy are able to match the needs of their clients with the right mortgage package. They work closely with their clients to find the right fit, and are around to provide support for years down the road!

Contact them at 250-862-1806 or visit:

Visit Laurie's blog at: https://www.okanaganmortgages.com/blog

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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