Real Estate

New policy allows B.C. buyers three days to back out of a sale

Vancouver Photo by Shutterstock/EB Adventure Photography

As of January 3, British Columbia is requiring a three-day “cooling off” period for real estate transactions after the buyer has signed a contract.

The B.C. government introduced the new policy in response to the staggering real estate demand seen throughout 2020 and 2021. To stay competitive, buyers were omitting home inspections and other requirements from their offers. The three-day period should provide buyers with extra time to complete home inspections and arrange financing, the government said in a statement.

“Lack of time for buyers to complete due diligence can exacerbate risk or be used to hide property defects that otherwise may have been discovered,” said housing analyst Leo Spalteholz, in the statement. “Though the market has cooled dramatically in recent months, it’s good to proactively put buyer protections in place.”

The buyer can back out of the sale at any time during the three-day period, which doesn’t include weekends or holidays. If the buyer does back out, they’re required to pay the seller 0.25 per cent of the purchase price. This cancellation fee is meant to prevent buyers from placing offers on multiple properties and then backing out last minute. Prior to the new policy, if a buyer backed out after signing a purchase agreement, they could be sued by the seller for money lost on the sale of the home.

The three-day period applies to almost all real estate transactions, including detached homes, townhouses, condos, and cottages. The only exemptions are real estate on leased land, real estate bought at auction, or real estate bought under a court order. Otherwise, the cooling off period is mandatory and can’t be waived.

But with changes to the market, experts are questioning whether the new policy will have any impact.

After hitting a peak in 2021, the province’s real estate market has seen significant drops in recent months. The B.C. Real Estate Association reported 4,512 sales this past November, a 50 per cent decrease from last year. And prices are trending downwards. In November 2021, the average B.C. home price was $992,245. In November 2022, it was $906,785.

This drop in competition is what’s allowing buyers to include home inspections once again in their offers, not the addition of three extra days, said B.C. Real Estate Association CEO Trevor Koot.

“Anybody that’s bought a house in the last 10 years can tell you, you can’t get an appraisal or an inspection done within three days of an accepted offer. The resources are just not there,” he said. “It’s our concern that it then provides a false sense of security to buyers in a heated market, that they go in thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got time to do my due diligence,’ when really, what realtors will suggest, is that due diligence is done in advance.”

There’s also concern that the three-day policy puts sellers at a disadvantage. “Very often sellers are buyers themselves,” Koot said. “They’ve got a purchase going on that they’re going to be moving into, and all of a sudden, for three days, they have uncertainty. They don’t necessarily know whether the buyer will follow through.”

When the government introduced the three-day policy in 2021, the B.C. Real Estate Association responded by creating a list of 34 recommendations they felt could help improve the province’s real estate market. Koot said the association worked closely with the B.C. Financial Services Authority (BCFSA), the industry’s governing body, to develop the list. But when the list was passed on to the Minister of Finance, it was ignored.

This is where the government dropped the ball, Koot said. Rather than a three-day cooling off period, the B.C. Real Estate Association had proposed a five-day pre-offer period. This would require all listings to advertise for five days before accepting an offer. The five mandatory days would prevent bully offers where buyers swoop in with aggressive bids, telling sellers they only have a few hours to respond.

“That disrupts everything,” Koot said. “It changes the dynamic, it creates pressure, and it pushes the market into an unhealthy environment.”

A five-day pre-offer period would prevent bully offers and provide buyers with time to assemble their bids without leaving sellers in the dark for three days.

“We shouldn’t have to implement policy and adhere to new rules that don’t have any relevance and impact,” Koot said. “We need policy that’s based on good information, good data, and good research.”

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