Watch those exchange rates when considering Canadian property

They are impressed by the health care, bargain medications, clean air, favorable exchange rate — and clams. The buzz of the upcoming Olympics doesn’t hurt either.

Retirees and aging baby boomers from the United States are drawn to Canadian property during a variety of seasons and for a variety of reasons, but it’s best to do your research before signing on the bottom line.

Americans face two large issues when investing in real estate abroad. First, you have the appreciation or depreciation of the real estate itself — or the property side of the decision. You also have the currency risk when you sell the property and bring the money back into this country. If the Canadian dollar slides further, you run the risk of losing money on that investment. However, if the Canadian dollar improves against the U.S. dollar, your investment suddenly rises significantly.

Before those Canadian dollar signs in your eyes block your brainpower, research the capital-gains ramifications if you expect to execute a tax-deferred exchange. You may be able to rent the getaway — especially if it’s in a popular location such as Whistler where snow skiers can be seen on the mountain-top glacier nearly year-round — but it will not qualify as a replacement property.

With investment property in the U.S., you can defer your capital gain if you buy a "like kind" property of equal or greater value than the one you sold, provided you identify it within 45 days and purchase the replacement property within 180 days from the day you sold the first property. The Internal Revenue Service says any property outside of this county is not "like kind" so no capital gains taxes can be deferred.

However, a big plus in the past few years has been the dipping of the Canadian dollar. A U.S. buck can bring one-third again as much in Canadian goods ($1.35), a strong incentive for Americans with cash that like to visit or invest north of the border.

According to Canadian brokerage Royal LePage, U.S. residents are the reason the average house in Whistler, B.C., has leaped to $650,000. In addition, Americans have purchased 50 percent of the new high-end waterfront condominiums sold in downtown Vancouver. In the east, Americans have been grabbing vacation properties in Nova Scotia and downtown condominiums in Montreal.

Americans can borrow from Canadian banks and vice versa. But trying to finance Canadian property with U.S. funds becomes difficult. Location, security in the property and ability to enforce simply make the package unattractive to most U.S. lenders.

And, if you do choose to buy and borrow Canadian, don’t expect to see the loan options available here. Most Canadian conventional loans are written with a 5-year term. There are some 7- and 10-year options available but the most popular loans right now are 6-month, 1-year, 3-year and 5-year loans (comparable to our adjustables and known as "open"), each typically amortized over a period of 25 years.

"Open" does not mean the borrower’s monthly payments adjust as the monthly market fluctuates, it means the borrower can prepay the loan at any time.

Borrowers pay more for an open loan. Fixed-rate loan rules only allow for prepayment once a year. When a loan reaches its term, the lender usually renews it.

Shorter loan terms encourage borrowers to consider paying off loans as soon as possible, giving the consumer more of a stake in the property. This accelerated equity makes more sense to Canadians than it does to U.S. taxpayers because Canadians are not able to deduct home-loan interest from their taxes. For some American consumers, the mortgage-interest deduction is the only major write-off available.

Many investment advisors say that folks looking to purchase property abroad — for investment or a principal residence — often refinance or take out a home-equity loan on a property in the U.S. and pay cash for the "offshore" home. That way, all financing questions are eliminated and the interest on the home-equity loan or refinance often is tax deductible.

So, that little log getaway in the sunny Okanagan might look terrific and the exchange rate is definitely favorable. But what will your money look like when it comes time to repatriate?

Tom Kelly hosts "Real Estate Today" from 11-noon a.m. Sundays on 710 KIRO-AM. Send questions and comments to

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