Last week, I received a Notice of Assessment from the Property Taxation Branch stating that I don’t qualify for a First Time Home Buyer’s Exemption from Property Transfer Tax after a review of my conveyance documents, and that because I don’t qualify, I owed the Government of BC over $3100, to be paid by the end of this month!

My eyes nearly started out of their sockets. What an unexpected blow! I had taken great care through personal research and legal help to ensure that I would be exempt, so what happened? And where was I going to find this money?

After allowing myself to freak out for a bit, I decided to do something more constructive and dug out all boring paperwork and various contracts related to this matter. After some crude analysis of numbers, my audacious conclusion was that the government made a mistake. I say “crude” and “audacious” because, coming primarily from an arts background, I tend to doubt my own abilities when it comes to understanding “government stuff,” business concepts, legalese and the like. Anything technical, dry, and requiring an expert, really.

But how was I going to make my case? While on the one hand I felt that I was in the right, I wasn’t completely sure. I was afraid that I would be talked down by some government official who might presume to know better than me.

So I thought I’d run my situation by my lawyer, just to see if I was on the right track. Unfortunately, my lawyer’s office too quickly assured me that “this is typically what happens,” that the government can tax me if their reassessment shows that the market value of my apartment has increased. But this was not quite my case. By my calculations, it appeared that the government had double-counted some large amount that had already been accounted for, which constructed a situation where I wouldn’t qualify for a tax exemption.

Because I sensed the law office wasn’t all that interested in sussing out the details of my case to give me the best advice possible, I decided that I had to take things into my own hands, in spite of my insecurities about my ignorance of such matters. So I left a phone message with the Ministry of Small Business and Revenue, and padded that with a very professional email explicitly detailing my concerns. I spent over an hour crafting this piece of correspondence, trying to get the right tone and articulate the exact questions I needed answers for. By way of contrast, I also politely offered my own understanding of things, but basing it on the Minstry’s definition of certain concepts (e.g. “consideration“). I thought this rhetorical strategy would enhance my credibility, and not a little bit.

I like to think that my preparation counted for something because at work on Wednesday morning, I got the following email from the Administrator at the Ministry:

“You are right! The contract was misread. I have corrected the error and reinstated the first time homebuyer’s exemption. Please feel free to contact me if there are any other issues.”

These were the sweetest words I have encountered all week. I was so relieved that I burst into tears, right in front of my co-worker Neil! The poor guy, having to put up with my weirdness.

But I was also very proud of myself, that I managed to figure this how-de-do on my own. Sometimes, I surprise myself, that I am more resourceful than I thought myself to be.

OK, enough tooting on my own horn now. But thank God I have brains. And tenacity.