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‘I feel cheated’: Telco customer set to speak on Day 1 of CRTC hearing into misleading sales practices

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Shawn Ahmed says he knew he wanted to participate, as soon as he learned the CRTC asked to hear, in person, from consumers frustrated by their telecom service provider.

The federal telecom regulator is holding a five-day public hearing this week in Gatineau, Que., part of an inquiry into misleading and aggressive telco sales practices, ordered in June by the federal government.

“For the average consumer, this affects every one of us,” says Ahmed, a Rogers customer who outlined in his submission to the CRTC concerns that he was misled about price. 

“It might be the most important inquiry the CRTC hears for years to come.”

Over the course of the week, the CRTC is set to hear from 31 presenters. They range from telco customers such as Ahmed — scheduled to speak on Day 1 — to advocacy groups, researchers and the country’s three largest telecom service providers (Bell, Rogers and Telus).

The hearing is part of a months-long inquiry that received almost 1,300 submissions and was called by the federal minister for telecommunications after months of Go Public stories on the issue. 

OpenMedia, a consumer advocacy group pushing for affordable internet, submitted another 1,100 complaints from Canadians.

“I feel cheated by them’

Ahmed, 37, says that as a gay Muslim and social media activist, he has received death threats and has had to resort to worshipping online to protect his safety. He says the internet is not a luxury like cable TV, it’s crucial.

“For people on the margins, like the elderly, disabled or immigrants, we use it as a lifeline,” says Ahmed.

So when the Toronto man saw a billboard and Facebook ad for high speed internet with Rogers for $74.99 a month, he signed up last January.

“I trusted what I was told over the phone,” he says, but then three months later his Rogers bill increased. “I feel cheated by them.”

Telcos are allowed to raise internet, cable and home phone rates as long as they provide advance notice, but Ahmed says it’s unethical.

After filing a complaint with Rogers’ office of the president and the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), Rogers credited his bill. 

Do your job. Protect Canadian consumers, not the telecommunications industry.– Shawn Ahmed, Rogers customer 

At the hearing, Ahmed says he will urge the CRTC to require all telcos to offer fixed prices for internet services.

“Do your job,” says Ahmed. “Protect Canadian consumers, not the telecommunications industry.”

Shawn Ahmed says he was misled on price. He wants the CRTC to make telcos stick to a set price in a contract, after his Rogers bill increased in the third month of a 12-month contract. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

77% want action from government

As part of the public inquiry into telecom sales practices, the CRTC commissioned public opinion research, which included focus groups and an online survey, and the results were recently published.

Some of the key findings:

  • 40 per cent reported experiencing sales practices they considered to be aggressive or misleading, most within the past year.
  • 77 per cent want governments at all levels to act to protect consumers from these sales practices.
  • 83 per cent support a mandatory code of conduct for the telecom industry. 

Government supports ‘code of conduct’ 

It’s all fodder for the Liberal minister responsible for telecommunications, Navdeep Bains, who is calling for the creation of a mandatory code of conduct to protect telecom consumers.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains says his government has heard from a high number of Canadians who feel misled by their telecom service providers. (Guillaume Lafreniere/CBC)

“We want to make sure there’s a clear code of conduct to protect consumers when it comes to wireless, internet and cable when they deal with their service provider,” Bains told Go Public.

The Wireless Code, created five years ago, makes it mandatory for cellphone prices to remain fixed during the duration of a contract, but price protections don’t exist for internet and cable services. 

“We want to move forward in a manner that re-establishes that people trust and feel confident about their dealings with telecommunication providers,” said Bains.

‘People are angry’

One of Canada’s most vocal consumer advocacy groups, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, is also urging the creation of a code of conduct, which it called a sales practices code.

“The code would generally say, ‘We don’t want to have misleading sales, overly aggressive sales, or ones that are unsuitable for the customer,'” says PIAC executive director John Lawford.

“It might have sections, for example, banning door-to-door sales, which are problematic,” says Lawford. “It might have sections forbidding companies from disciplining employees for not making sales targets. It might have prohibitions on offers of free hardware where there’s an underlying contract, and so on.”

Lawford says a sales practices code would go a long way toward restoring people’s trust in the telco industry.

“Right now, they basically believe that these guys are the used car salesmen of the 21st century,” he says. “People are angry and they feel they’ve been misled.”

Consumer advocate John Lawford says a sales practices code of conduct would restore people’s trust in the telecom industry. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

Telcos deny widespread problems

Later this week, a dozen telecom service providers will participate in the CRTC’s public hearing.

In their written submissions to the commission, the largest three telco companies — Bell, Rogers and Telus — downplay the prevalence of aggressive or misleading sales tactics, and argue that many avenues for consumer protection already exist — such as the CRTC, the Competition Bureau, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) and various provincial agencies.

‘Mismatch’ between expectations and outcomes

The first intervener to present on Monday will be the CCTS, an industry-funded independent agency that mediates thousands of complaints a year between consumers and their telecom service providers.

In its submission to the regulator, the CCTS writes that it can’t say whether those complaints 
are the result of deliberate “misleading” by telecom companies.

“It is not the CCTS’s role to investigate intent, nor would our current process allow it,” the submission states.

It writes that a “mismatch between expectations and outcomes” often results in complaints about billing charges, service, delivery or usage, and that changes to any of these “take the customer by surprise.”

The CRTC has to complete its inquiry and report its findings to government by the end of February 2019.

— With files from Enza Uda

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11-Step Guide to Buying A House

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Purchasing a home is likely going to be one of the largest purchases you will make in your lifetime, which is why it is so important to follow the right steps when starting on your home-buying journey to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly from start to finish!

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to buying a home, to help you get off on the right foot when it comes to buying a home. Click the download button below to download these steps in PDF form.

1. Decide to buy a home

Make sure you are ready both financially and emotionally!

2. Get Pre-Approved

Work with a mortgage broker or your bank. They will work with you on what you require to submit an application. Once approved, this will determine how much you can afford to spend on a home.

3. REALTOR® Consultation

Work with a RE/MAX agent to help guide you through the process. The right agent will discuss your price range, ideal locations, current market conditions and much more!

4. Start Your Search

Your REALTOR® will get you information on new homes that meet your criteria as soon as they’re listed. They’ll work with you and for you to ensure you find your dream home.

5. Current Market Conditions

Your experienced RE/MAX agent is a valuable resource as you consider different properties. They will be there when you have questions regarding the homes you’re interested in – they can tell you what is a good deal, and when to walk away.

6. Make an Offer

Your REALTOR® will help create your offer tailored to your needs including the right subject clauses down to the closing date that works best for you.

7. Negotiate

You may receive a counter offer but don’t be worried! RE/MAX agents will negotiate for you to ensure you get the best possible price for the house you love!

8. Accepted Offer

It’s crunch time! The next few weeks are busy as you need to schedule and remove every one of your subject clauses by the specified date. You’ll likely need to schedule an inspection, appraisal, financing approval, and several others. You will also need to provide a deposit to put down on the home. The deposit will be a pre-determined amount given in-trust to your REALTOR® to show the sellers you are committed to this home. Don’t worry, that money goes towards the purchase of said home if all goes well! This is a busy time but be sure to reach out to your RE/MAX agent if you have any questions or are unsure about next steps.

9. Subject Removal

Once you have completed all your subject clauses, and everything went smooth, it is time for you to sign on the dotted line and consider your new home to be yours (almost!).

10. Official Documents

You will need to provide your RE/MAX agent with your preferred lawyer or notary to have the official title transferred into your name. You will meet with the lawyer or notary in person to sign all the legal documents before you move in. This typically happens a few days before you take possession of your new home.

11. Move In!

Congratulations, you are officially a homeowner! The date pre-determined by you is your move-in day! You can now move into your new home. Your RE/MAX agent will be there ready and waiting to hand you the keys. Enjoy!

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Know When to Rent ‘Em, Know When to Buy ‘Em

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We’re told it’s always better to buy than rent. Everyone—from our parents to the banks to the government—encourages us to buy, buy, buy our homes.

But times have changed, and I dare say that these authority figures might be slightly out of touch. The jaw-droppingly high cost of real estate in big cities is encouraging millennials to rent instead of own, causing homeownership rates to drop. At 30 years old, 50.2% of millennials own homes versus 55% of baby boomers at the same age. As a millennial homeowner, I can’t help but wonder if I’m generationally displaced.

There’s an old misconception out there about renting that needs to be addressed. You’re not “throwing away your money” if you’re renting. While that familiar axiom might be true sometimes, there are plenty of circumstances in which it does actually make more sense to rent than buy.

You Might Choose to Rent If…

…You Invest What You Save

Renting tends to come with lower carrying costs than owning. Typically, all you’ll have to worry about paying as a renter is, well, the rent (clearly) and perhaps a share of utilities. This leaves you with extra monthly cash to invest, which can ultimately put you on even financial footing or better with a homeowner.

As always, there’s a familiar caveat here: You need to be financially disciplined for this strategy to pay off. One mistake I see a lot is that those who rent tend to fall prey to something called ‘lifestyle inflation.’ Rather than investing what they save as renters, they just rent nicer apartments, eat at fancier restaurants, and put more money into their wardrobe than their RRSP. But this money vacuum can be easily avoided by:

1. Budgeting to find out how much you have left over to invest each month after factoring out all your expenses, then;

2. Funneling that leftover money directly into your investments. Some robo-advisors, like Wealthsimple, allow you to do this automatically via pre-authorized contributions, which set recurring transfers from your chequing account into your investment portfolio, at whatever amount and interval you choose.

…You Have Rent Control, aka the Urban Holy Grail

Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to benefit from the urban miracle known as rent control. That means your landlord can only increase your rent by the rate of inflation, which in turn keeps your cost of living way down and leaves you with more money to invest. In Canada, rent control is now implemented in most big cities like Toronto and Vancouver (although not in Montreal).

…You Have a Mobile Lifestyle

Renting makes it easier to move; if you’d like to relocate it’s usually as simple as giving your landlord 60 days written notice. But when you own a home you’re more tied down, and the obligation to be near your property may prevent you from chasing new adventures in faraway lands. I once turned down a fantastic job opportunity in Dallas, Texas for this very reason.

…You’re on a Tight Budget

Renting tends to be more affordable than buying in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver. I know, I know, renting is still unreasonably pricey in certain neighborhoods. But buying in those same areas can be arm-and-a-leg expensive.

When you rent, all you have to come up with is the first and last month’s rent; no need to scrimp and save to pull together a massive down payment on a house, which, incidentally, will take you two to four times longer to save than it did your parents.

And homeownership leads to a lot of other costs aside from mortgage payments. When you buy real estate, you’ll need to pay closing costs, which typically add up to between 1.5%–4% of the property’s purchase price and can include a home inspection fee, real estate lawyer fee, land transfer taxes, and homeowners insurance (sometimes you’ll have to fork over an entire year’s worth of home insurance as one lump sum).

There’s also the elephant in the room that nobody likes to speak about: repairs and maintenance. Homeowners are responsible for paying the big bucks for costly home repairs, such as a new roof and furnace, and are advised to set aside 3–5% of a home’s value toward home repairs and maintenance each year. Renters, on the other hand, can just call their landlord whenever they need repairs (provided the landlord actually picks up). Still, it’s important that tenants know their rights when renting to be aware of which fees do and don’t fall under their responsibility.

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A Montreal Real Estate Broker Answered 5 Qs About Buying A Property To Rent Out

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You’ve probably heard that Montreal’s real estate market is on fire. But how can you get in on the action? According to Alex Marshall, a local real estate broker, buying a property as an investment for the purpose of renting it out is a great way to go about it.

Marshall, who’s part of the Keller Williams Prestige team, sat down with us to explain why and how to purchase an investment property. These types of properties are also known as revenue properties.

Why do you recommend buying a revenue property?

Marshall used personal experience to highlight the advantages of owning a revenue property. He’s currently renting out the Saint-Henri loft he bought in 2010.

“Not only is my tenant paying off my mortgage, but I’m making a couple 100 bucks a month as well,” Marshall said.

Marshall was also able to take out a line of credit on the property, he said, and use the equity to buy an additional property.

“You actually don’t need to live in the property that you buy. I’m seeing clients who are in apartments with low rent [who] don’t want to move but have got the money right now … and are looking for smart ways to invest,” he said.

What are some tips to help people save up for a revenue property?

When Marshall was saving up to buy his first property, he said he worked a second job. 

“There’s a lot of value to having that side hustle … even if it’s at Subway or it’s at a landscaping company on Saturdays. It will add up significantly in the long run,” he said.

He gave the example of adding $5,000 to your annual income.

Marshall said you can qualify to borrow roughly four times your annual salary for a mortgage so $5,000 could actually provide you with an extra $20,000 of buying power.

“That might get you a second bedroom, that might get you a parking spot, that might get you a larger space,” he said.

The pandemic, Marshall said, has also helped some of his clients save extra funds.

“You can’t travel, you can’t go to the restaurant, you can’t go to the theatre, you can’t go to the bar. So a lot of people right now are finding themselves with almost a disposable income,” he said.

Marshall also recommends looking into Canada’s Home Buyers’ Plan program, which allows you to withdraw up to $35,000 — — tax-free — from your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to put toward buying or building a qualifying home. 

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