Can feng shui and trees cut down your property tax bill?

The trees surrounding this home at 9031 Pinewell Cres. reduced its market value by more than 17 per cent in a neighbourhood with million dollar properties. - Google Maps
The trees surrounding this home at 9031 Pinewell Cres. reduced its market value by more than 17 per cent in a neighbourhood with million dollar properties.
— image credit: Google Maps

Interested in saving on your property tax bill in 2013?

If you own a detached house, you could save hundeds of dollars annually simply by researching whether your house aligns with Chinese feng shui superstitions that relate to environmental harmony.

What's more, you could realize similar savings if you have a big tree nestled up against the front or back of your home.

With Asian buyers largely driving the local real estate market, particularly when it comes to the purchase of older detached houses, their superstitions are having a significant impact on today's true market value of a given slice of terra firma.

In a couple of cases in the Saunders neighbourhood of Richmond, houses sold far below assessed value despite other surrounding homes selling for 10 per cent or more above assessed value.

Richmond realtor Tony Ling said he's come across many cases where a home's "feng shui-ness" or the presence of trees has negatively impacted selling prices.

And Ling agrees that it's in the best interest of local homeowners to scrutinize their annual property assessment, because it could save them in the short and long term, especially if their homes are really worth much less than the assessment notice indicates.

Take for instance the case of a house at 9031 Pinewell Cres., which had a lot going for it and was most recently assessed at $975,000.

It's big, at 8,300 square feet, and rectangular, precisely what home builders like because it means they don't have to adjust the specifications for their cookie-cutter style homes targetted to the tastes of the Chinese buyer.

But because of large trees on the lot that stand precisely where a new home would be built, and because of the City of Richmond's tree protection bylaw which makes it difficult for builders to cut down trees, that Pinewell home sold much below its assessed value.

It sold for just $751,000 in July of last year, and again for $810,000 last November, 23 per cent and 17 per cent below assessment.

Had the property owner previously appealed the assessed value of the house because of the fact those trees would serve as a hindrance and obstacle to a developer looking to build a 4,000-square-foot house, they could have saved hundreds of dollars in annual taxes. Actually, the owners of that home at 9031 Pinewell had a $3,293.69 property tax bill last year, which would have dropped by at least 17 per cent—or $559.93—had they successfully appealed its value based on the presence of those trees.

Another property, at 9171 Pinewell Cres., sold for $948,000—well below its $1,050,400 assessed value—for at least two reasons: it's an irregularly-shaped property, which is not attractive to builders targetting the Asian market, and it's at a T in the road, which Chinese buyers are superstitious of as vehicle headlights shine through the front window and door.

Craig Barnsley, deputy assessor for BC Assessment which produces the annual assessment on B.C. real estate, said property appraisers are aware of the feng shui factor, and already take that into account when valuing a house.

But BC Assessment doesn't keep an inventory of trees, and he said if appraisers are made aware of the presence of trees that could impact a home's selling price, that will be factored into a house's value.

"The onus is on the property owner to review their assessment notice," Barnsley said. And with the assessment period for 2012 already closed, he said local homeowners will have to wait for next year's numbers if they have feng-shui or tree-related concerns, or anything else for that matter.

Feng shui expert Sherman Tai said trees are actually perceived as good for a property's feng shui-ness, as long as they are not dying, or situated too close to a house, where falling limbs, spreading tree roots, and lightning strikes could cause damage.

A property located at the top of a T-style intersection can also be perceived as less valuable because it's busier than other properties, and vehicle headlights shine into the home, impacting privacy and enjoyment. On the other hand, a piece of land at a T could channel energy into a home, with the proper placement of fences and trees, he said.

Tai said traditional Oriental people want square or rectangular properties, and avoid irregular, pie-shaped or diamond shaped properties for superstitious reasons not related to feng shui, Tai said.

And so a parcel of land that's much bigger, but is irregularly shaped, doesn't necessarily fetch a premium compared to smaller rectangular properties.

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