Monthly Archives: March 2013

“A beautiful Belfast home, in the equivalent of 1st Shaughnessy, bought at their RE peak in 2007 for £3.5 million, has now sold for £800K, almost 80%-off. The market didn’t suffer any significant economic shocks. Rates & unemployment didn’t skyrocket. They didn’t build more land. Sentiment just changed and the prices fell and fell.”

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“My old high school pal works at a Belfast, Northern Ireland newspaper – The News Letter – I believe it is the world’s oldest, continuously published paper. Unlike Vancouver journalists he regularly wrote “this is a bubble” articles during the incredible real estate boom that Belfast endured. It was at LEAST as extreme as the 2000-2012 Vancouver bubble period. Their bubble burst in 2007 and real estate has been a taboo topic at middle-class dinner parties ever since. I must say, my return visits have been much more enjoyable since people there stopped crowing about their real estate winnings.

Anyway, his latest of many articles highlights the plight of the owner of a beautiful home bought at the peak in 2007 for £3.5m. The area is the equivalent of 1st Shaughnessy. It has just sold for £800,000, or [almost] 80%-off. I must stress that 80% is not indicative of the average market which ONLY fell about 55% from peak.

Why this is relevant is that the Northern Ireland market didn’t suffer any significant economic shocks. Rates didn’t skyrocket, neither did unemployment, there is a huge percentage of people there who have safe government jobs with pensions. They didn’t build more land; and for those who don’t know the geography, Belfast is surrounded by the Irish Sea and an agriculture land reserve where there isn’t sea.

Sentiment just changed and the prices fell and fell. I will also add that my friend was considered a kook when he quoted the rare economist who called for a massive price correction. People just couldn’t conceive of such an outcome.

If you’re interested in the article it’s available here.”

- Ulsterman at VCI 29 Mar 2013 9:38pm

A story for Vancouver RE market observers that requires no commentary.
– vreaa

“Two family members of hers are trapped, underwater, in condos on the East Side.”

“My new business partner & I were talking about office space and got to talking about the cost of RE, as always seems to happen in this city. I don’t like to bring it up having been contrary for so long, but it does come up anyway, and I get a pained look on my face. Anyway, happily, we had a shared moment of agreement about renting. My partner hasn’t done extensive reading in RE, having decided it was “a ponzi scheme”, but had a simple story that she felt proved her out. Two family members of hers are trapped, underwater, in condos on the East Side. One is looking at assessment or maybe maintenance increase? and wishes to move because work situation has changed and he’s commuting to Surrey. The other has too little room for a growing family and is thinking of moving out, renting space, and putting their condo up for rent … “if they can get enough to cover the mortgage”. We both pulled a face at that. Seems unlikely.”
Absinthe at VREAA 27 March 2013 7:59 pm

“Interprovincial migration is not saying good things about BC’s economy.”

extraprovincial flow

- the above table via e-mail from ‘JJ’, 27 Mar 2013. Thank you, JJ.
JJ adds: “Did you need another reason to be bearish on Vancouver real estate? I’m guessing not but here you go anyway. Interprovincial migration is not saying good things about BC’s economy – looks like net international immigration ticked up slightly in 2012 (+1000 or so vs. 2011) but this was more than offset by departures to other provinces.
Q4 was worse than the year as a whole and suggested an annualized rate of negative ~13,500 or something along those lines.”

These figures reflect (1) paucity of good employment opportunities and (2) high cost of living (especially, of housing). Ask any migrant.
– vreaa

Vancouver RE: Not As Expensive Provided You Don’t Think – “It’s clear that our perception of affordability has been coloured by living on a continent where housing is unusually inexpensive.”

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The following excerpts from ‘Vancouver: Not as Expensive as You Think’, Jim Sutherland, Vancouver Magazine, 1 April 2013 [no joke -ed.]:

“The real estate market is soft, and it’s going to get softer. In the last year, average prices have dropped five percent or so, and they’ll sink some more, guaranteed. Less certainly, the market will…not plunge American-style but rather drift, sometimes downward, sometimes sideways, and perhaps not for very long.”

“… the Cassandras have gained the upper hand lately, and looking at some of the numbers it’s easy to see why. Sales running at only two-thirds the normal pace. Lots of dwelling completions due this year. Historical norms that are way out of whack. The unreasonable chunk of average income that buying a house here requires. Rents that stack up well against buying. Then again, there also exist other, less ominous numbers, some of which will be revealed here for the first time.” [What cheek. MOI has been well know in local RE discussion for years, thanks to the work of jesse (YVRHousing) and others. - ed.]…
The mystic metric is called months of inventory, which is the number of homes for sale divided by a given month’s sales. When the MOI is neutral-around six or seven-average prices change little. Below six, prices rise. And an MOI in double digits results in lower prices. The formula works so reliably, it’s bizarre. … Long before prices respond, anyone willing to make a simple calculation will know.”

“Of course, the mild price drops currently predicted by MOI look nothing like the armageddon forecast by those who believe we’re in a real estate bubble. Why not a U.S.-style meltdown here? The reasons are many (shortage of land, solid financial institutions, impressive livability, fiscal health, low mortgage rates…) even if far from categorical. A major safeguard is the provincial economy.” …
How can this be the case when so many sectors are in trouble? Film production, gaming, life sciences-so much for the halo industries that were going to make us a post-industrial poster child. But at the same time, a lot of industries are thriving. … (goes on to list lumber, mining, pipelines)…
TEDtalks, HootSuite, Plenty of Fish, and Lululemon sure sound like storytime selections at the daycare centre but actually mint money while helping to define the 21st century. Fortunes can be fickle out there on the cutting technical-entertainment-design edge, as a prior generation of civic champions like Angiotech, Electronic Arts, and Ballard Power Systems proves. Still, it’s an indication that at least some cultural creatives can afford to live here. So the local economy is almost certainly going to be just fine, which will help keep the real estate market from crashing, regardless of all those micro-metrics.”

“The monster that threatens to swamp us is declining immigration-and in Vancouver that’s the worst thing that could happen to property markets.”

“But why, one might reasonably ask, are immigrants to Vancouver so fixated on buying real estate? Isn’t it foolish to dive into such a pricey market? Reasons have to do with everything from cultural predilections to the perceived riskiness of other investments; from the apparent solidity and performance of our property market to the essential nature of being adrift in a foreign land. But beyond all that, the fundamental explanation is straightforward: especially to immigrants from Asia, real estate in Vancouver doesn’t seem expensive at all. In fact, it’s pretty cheap.”

“One [analysis], by the Serbia-based crowd-sourced website Numbeo.com, comes up with house-to-income ratios very similar to Demographia’s but analyzes 362 of the world’s largest cities in more than 100 countries. On Numbeo, Vancouver sits not second or even 25th, but as the 125th least affordable city in the world. Our price-to-income ratio is about one-third that of Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen and comparable to or cheaper than most other places where Chinese emigrants might reasonably expect to land. Potboiler settings like Moscow, London, Paris, and Tokyo are up to twice as expensive, while secondary but still global cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Barcelona-the kind that join us on livability surveys-are tightly bunched around us in terms of affordability as well. Comparable American spots like Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego are a little to a lot more affordable, but prices in the U.S. recently experienced a catastrophic plunge and are now bouncing back strongly, even as ours soften. It’s clear that our perception of affordability has been coloured by living on a continent where housing is unusually inexpensive.” [...and why shouldn't our housing be inexpensive? -ed.] …

“None of this means that housing affordability isn’t a problem in Vancouver. We know that mortgage payments are taking up too much of our income, that young people discouraged by the high cost of entry are leaving town, and that the situation isn’t sustainable. We also know that prices are currently falling and that the MOI the formula says they will drop some more. But unless we lose status as a global magnet or immigration is otherwise reined in, a real estate environment akin to that of other Canadian cities or currently depressed American ones is not a realizable dream.”

See below for one reader’s impressions of the article.
Personally, we won’t attempt a comprehensive analysis at this moment.
The author deserves credit for listing evidence that Vancouver RE is overextended and some of the negative effects of high RE prices. At the same time he also throws in many of the mythical reasons for ongoing relentless support.
One critique I would offer is that there is a strong possibility that the BC economy has only seemed relatively resilient because of the RE spec mania (and all its knock-on ‘positive’ multiplier effects), and thus using apparent BC economy resilience as a reason for ongoing future RE strength is a circular argument. We still believe that our economy will suffer badly when our RE inevitably reverts to mean.
Another thing: why shouldn’t our RE be as inexpensive as places such as the US?
– vreaa

Regular reader ‘space889′, alerted us all to the above article with the following [edited] comment at VREAA 23 March 2013 at 10:19 pm:

“OMG!! You have to profile this!!! I just flip through April 2013 issue of Vancouver Magzine’s cover story about Vancouver RE. It is simply unbelievable the extent to which they try to convince people that Vancouver RE is still cheap by global standards. Two things stuck out for me -

“The first is a map of Vancouver, Burnaby and North Shores redraw with new neighborhood names like – Hanoi for most of Burnaby, Macau & Kew Gardens for UBC, Downtown Abby for Cambie from Broadway to 41st, and then North & South Yorkshire from 41st to Marine Drive, Queenstown and Gaslamp Quarter for North Van, and Brighton, Monte Carlo, Chamonix Mount Blanc for West Vancouver. Unbelievable!!”

“The second is they tried to dispel the myth that Demography Survey tries to peddle that Vancouver is expensive by world standards. They gave these reasons why you shouldn’t trust that survey. One the survey only included 7 countries and excluded most of the world including Asia, Africa and South America. Second the backers of the survey is an ultra conservative right wing think tank that opposes any idea to moderate car use. As a counter example, they used data from a Serbia-based crowd-source website that shows on a price to income ratio, Vancouver is cheap, cheap, cheap, especially compared against world class cities.”

“Further, in a comparison they claimed to show that a desirable house in 7 cities with higher price to income ratios – Phnom Penh, Rome, St. Peterburgs, Tel Aviv, London, Mexico City, and Melbroune – all require you to spend “the same for less square footage, less lawn but more history”. However their comparison really got my blood pressure up… They do not compare apples to apples… The ‘desirable house’ in Vancouver they picked is a 4 bed 2 bath house near King Ed Canada Line station and they describe it as TEARDOWN! Let’s just let it sink in for a minute. An example of a desirable home in Vancouver is a teardown on a busy main artery road!!”

—-

Here are the definitely-not-apples-to-apples vanmag comparisons that got space889’s blood-pressure up:

“Around the World in Seven (sic) Homes
What does a desirable (but you know, not outrageous) house look like in cities with higher price-to-income ratios? In many cases, you’re spending the same for less square footage, a lot less lawn, and a lot more history.” 
[P:I ratios cited appear to be median city home price to median city income, not related to the specific properties. -ed.]

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More Undisclosed RE Industry Insiders Publicized As Clients – “In 1995, Allan and Karin Hoegg were mortgage-free. But no more. Today their Vancouver home is a valuable source of income as they plan for full retirement.”

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Allan and Karin Hoegg are pictured in their home in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 8, 2013 [image F.Post]

“In 1995, Allan and Karin Hoegg were mortgage-free. But no more: today their Vancouver home is a valuable source of income as they plan for full retirement.
Allan Hoegg says when their son and daughter-in-law wanted to buy a house, they took out a variable-rate mortgage so they could help them out. “We wanted to take advantage of the stability of the current rates.” To cover the mortgage payments, they rent out a suite in the home to students.
The couple also established a home line of credit that allows them to free up cash for investment purposes when they need it. “It gives you maximum flexibility and you can pay it any time you want without penalty,” he says. “It’s dead easy.”
Like many people planning their retirement, there’s a sentimental side to keeping their home, he says. But there are just as many practical reasons. In the Hoeggs’ case, selling to downsize would mean substantial commissions and moving costs. “Besides, real estate is a very good investment in Vancouver,” he says. “The longer we can stay here, the greater the possibility of no-tax capital gains.”

“For the most part, people want to stay in their homes, says Rob Regan-Pollock, senior mortgage consultant with Invis – Team Rob Regan-Pollock mortgage brokers in Vancouver. “The fact is they’re sitting on a big nest egg. So when they get near to retirement, they start asking how they can use that equity to help them in their retirement.”
There are plenty of options to consider, from applying for a line of credit or reverse mortgage to renting out your property to finance your monthly costs at another residence.
A line of credit is the most flexible option, Regan-Pollock says. “If for some reason you can’t meet your monthly expenses, a line of credit on your home can be a very good buffer. The interest rates are low — typically prime or prime plus one per cent, depending on the institution and your qualifications. It’s also quite sustainable, since your home will often appreciate in value more than the amount of debt being drawn down against it.”

- from ‘Home is where the retirement money is’, Denise Deveau, Financial Post, 13 Mar 2013

Comments from ‘Bo Xilai’ below the FP article, 27 Mar 2013:
“Denise, why didn’t you mention Allan Hoegg works for Invis – Team Rob Regan-Pollock mortgage brokers. Of course he’s going to use his house as an ATM… he’s just eating his own cooking. And at the same time you’re interviewing Rob Regan-Pollock as an “expert” in your piece. http://www.teamrrp.com/team/
More fake real estate stories using employees as plants.” …
“They used an employee of the “expert” interviewed without disclosure and, I would argue, in a deceitful manner to promote a strategy beneficial to the “expert’s” reputation and business interests.”

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Allan Hoegg (top left) part of Team Rob Regan-Pollock mortgage brokers [image teamrrp.com]

[thanks to 'C', for sending news of the article and 'Bo Xilai's comments to vreaa via e-mail, 27 Mar 2013]

This article is interesting..
1. for the undisclosed insider publicized as client
2. for the journalist’s ineptitude or, alternatively, collaboration
3. for the retirees’ dependence on RE holdings for retirement funds
4. for the fact that such borrowings were used to purchase more RE
5. for the need for tenants in their ex-SFH to cover mortgage payments
6. for the assumption that Vancouver RE is “a very good investment”
7. for the assumption that prices will continue to rise.
– vreaa

For those readers unfamiliar with the recent high profile case of industry insiders masquerading as condo buyers, please see:
CTV TV News Featured ‘Condo Buyers’ Actually Marketers Of Very Same Condos!, VREAA 13 Mar 2013

UPDATE:
This article also headlined and discussed by Whisperer here:
‘Another media scandal from the real estate industry? News article appears to be contrived shill piece from PR company.’, 28 Mar 2013

Rumor that some OV units will be reduced by 20%.

“I’ve just had a re-freshing chat with that realtor who’s selling an investor-held unit in the Olympic Village. He told me that Rennie has applied to the City to have certain, hand-picked units at the OV reduced by 20%. This guy is very straightforward and has insight into how investor bulk buying works.”
– Posted by mac to Whispers from the Edge of the Rainforest at March 24, 2013 at 6:31 PM [hat-tip Whisperer]

Downside Weights On The Vancouver RE Market – “One of the older guys (over 60) mention to the guy beside him that he and his wife were thinking about selling their family home, and renting, in order to get some of the money that was locked up in the house.”

“Every Friday I play hockey with a bunch of guys who are over 55. I’m a goalie, so even though I’m not 55, they let me play – I guess it’s hard to find 55 year old guys whose knees are willing to bounce up and down off the ice for an hour and half.”
“Anyways, I overheard a conversation in the dressing room last Friday. One of the older guys (over 60) mention to the guy beside him (over 70) that he and his wife were thinking about selling their family home, and renting, in order to get some of the money that was locked up in the house. The over-70 guy nodded in approval. The over-60 guy asked if he had heard of anyone doing this before, as they couldn’t see any other way to continue to fund their retirement.”
“The over-70 guy nodded, and said “Yup, we did it a couple of years ago. We’ve been renting now for two years – we had to do it, because we couldn’t afford the property taxes each year anymore”.

– anecdote from ‘Ross’, relayed by Garth Turner at greaterfool.ca 27 Mar 2013

“Boomer retirement supply” will be just one of the factors weighing on the Canadian RE market in these coming years.
In Vancouver, there will be many other downside weights. We anticipate that the largest will be the loss of speculative buying (all buying based on the idea that prices go up will stop). Another downside weight will be the knock on effects of a shrinking RE sector (loss of jobs; loss of related economic activity; people leaving). Yet another will be the disappearance of the ‘move-upper’ market (as condo prices contract, almost all wannabe move-uppers will be stuck.. they will not provide support for townhome or SFH prices). Another downside weight will be cash flow negative properties coming to market that have only been held because prices have remained strong enough (we’d expect this to include some of the empty condos we recently heard about). Collapsing RE markets in China will have a modest direct downside effect, but also a larger indirect downside effect through the psychological impact on local speculators.
This list is not comprehensive, I’m sure readers can think of other mutually-perpetuating downside mechanisms. When a speculative mania cycle turns from ‘virtuous’ to ‘vicious’, the multiplier effects reverse.
Boomer supply will be just one of the many downside weights. Many who are reliant on paper RE wealth for their retirement fiscal health will come to market; as prices drop, some will do so with urgency.
– vreaa