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The high cost of transacting

This past Sunday I was over at my father’s place for dinner and we were talking about the high transaction costs associated with buying and selling homes. That is, we weren’t talking about the high price of homes in Toronto, we were only talking about transaction costs and barriers to market liquidity.

For example, let’s say for the sake of simplicity that you own a home that’s worth $1 million and you’d like to sell it and buy a different home that also happens to be worth $1 million. In this case, you’d be making an entirely lateral move. You’re not down sizing or up sizing, you just want a different home–perhaps because you’d prefer a different neighborhood.

In order to do this, you’re going to be faced with a number of costs. But the 2 most significant are real estate commissions and Land Transfer Taxes (both provincial and municipal). You only pay Land Transfer Taxes in Toronto when you buy (take title) of a new property, but they’re unavoidable, unless you’re a first time buyer, in which case you’d qualify for a bit of a rebate.

Real estate commissions are technically optional, but 70-90% of the market in North America still uses a a real estate agent to sell their home (based on the estimates I’ve found). Typically a seller pays around 5% of the sale price. So in this example, you the homeowner would be paying around $50,000 in real estate commissions.

Land Transfer Taxes would be roughly $32,000, and so you’re looking at a total somewhere around $82,000 in order to make this lateral move. This, of course, does not include legal fees or any other moving costs you might incur. It’s a hell of a lot of money and it’s a significant barrier to transacting.

But my hunch is that we’ll eventually see real estate commissions come down. No real estate agent wants to hear this, but I think it’s almost inevitable. The internet, as a disruptive force, is bound to make it happen.

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