Category Archives: 14. Social Effects of the Boom

The New Yorker – Vancouver RE As A ‘Hedge'; “Zombie Neighbourhoods”; “The rest of us better get used to being tenants”

“The most expensive housing market in North America is not where you’d think. It’s not New York City or Orange County, California, but Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, Vancouver is a beautiful city—a thriving deep-water port, a popular site for TV and movie shoots. By all accounts, it is a wonderful place to live. But nothing about its economy explains why—in a city where the median income is only around seventy grand—single-family houses now sell for close to a million dollars apiece and ordinary condos go for five or six hundred thousand dollars. “If you look at per-capita incomes, we look like Reno or Nashville,” Andy Yan, an urban planner at the Vancouver-based firm Bing Thom Architects, told me. “But our housing prices easily compete with San Francisco’s.”

When price-to-income or price-to-rent ratios get out of whack, it’s often a sign of a housing bubble. But the story in Vancouver is more interesting. Almost by chance, the city has found itself at the heart of one of the biggest trends of the past two decades—the rise of a truly global market in real estate.

A recent report by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada examined more than twelve hundred luxury-home sales in Vancouver in the first half of 2013 and found that foreign buyers accounted for nearly half of sales.

Vancouver isn’t an obvious superstar. It’s not home to a major industry—as New York and London are to finance, or San Francisco to tech—and it doesn’t have the cultural cachet of Paris or Milan. Instead, Vancouver’s appeal consists of comfort and security, making it what Andy Yan calls a “hedge city.” “What hedge cities offer is social and political stability, and, in the case of Vancouver, it also offers long-term protection against climate change,” he said. “There are now rich people around the world who are looking for places where they can park some of their cash and feel safe about it.”

The globalization of real estate upends some of our basic assumptions about housing prices. We expect them to reflect local fundamentals—above all, how much people earn. In a truly global market, that may not be the case. If there are enough rich people in China who want property in Vancouver, prices can float out of reach of the people who actually live and work there. So just because prices look out of whack doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bubble. Instead, wealthy foreigners are rationally overpaying, in order to protect themselves against risk at home. And the possibility of losing a little money if prices subside won’t deter them. Yan says, “If the choice is between losing ten to twenty per cent in Vancouver versus potentially losing a hundred per cent in Beijing or Tehran, then people are still going to be buying in Vancouver.”

The challenge for Vancouver and cities like it is that foreign investment isn’t an unalloyed good. It’s great for existing homeowners, who see the value of their homes rise, and for the city’s tax revenues. But it also makes owning a home impossible for much of the city’s population. And the tendency of foreign buyers not to inhabit investment properties raises the spectre of what Yan has called “zombie neighborhoods.” A recent study he did found that a quarter of the condos in a luxury neighborhood called Coal Harbour were vacant on census day.

One option would be to severely restrict foreign ownership, but that’s politically difficult, and not great for a city’s economy. It might make more sense if the Vancouvers of the world simply charged foreign buyers a premium for the privilege of owning there. “We’re one of the places where people seem to want to park their cash, and there aren’t that many of those places,” Yan says. “So let’s raise the parking fees.” As for the rest of us, we’d better get used to being tenants.

- heavily excerpted from ‘Real Estate Goes Global’, James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, 26 May 2014

When the New Yorker mentions Vancouver RE, that deserves a post.
– ed.

“No problemo. 69 per cent of the condo tower is pretty stable.”

Downtown Vancouver

“Only 31 per cent of sales have been to first-time buyers, or new immigrants from offshore, so 69 per cent of the market is pretty stable.”
– Bob Rennie, local condo salesman, as quoted in ‘Vancouver real estate moguls unfazed by axed immigration program for millionaires’, Kate Webb, Metro, 12 Feb 2014

[A post from beyond the grave. This is a one-off post-death ‘rattle’. Keep well all. – ed.]

Making Sense Of It All

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- Leandro Erlich’s Dalston House is at 1-7 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL until 4 August as part of Beyond Barbican.
See here for video from The Guardian 26 Jun 2013: “A Victorian terrace has popped up in east London that lets you swing from its ledges, run up its walls and generally defy gravity. Architecture critic Oliver Wainwright hangs loose at Dalston House, the novelty installation by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich.”

BRITAIN-ART-HOUSE-MIRRORS

Trump on Vancouver – “Your people, they go to New York, they go all over the world, and they speak so highly.”

“I love Vancouver. I have had so much experience with Vancouver and with people who live here. You don’t even realize how important it is in terms of a destination and also your people they go to New York, they go all over the world and they speak so highly.”
Donald Trump, as quoted in ‘Trumps announce exclusive tower deal in Vancouver’, CBC.ca, 19 Jun 2013 [hat-tip jesse/YVR]

Did he try to say that people in New York speak highly of Vancouver, but just couldn’t?
– vreaa

‘Canadians obsessed with real estate, poll suggests’ – “Just as many people reported talking about real estate on a regular basis as they did about hockey.”

hi-realtor
Besotted.

“Most Canadians think about real estate on a regular basis, and a good number of them are obsessed with it, an online survey suggests.

That’s the takeaway of a recent poll by online home selling firm Zoocasa, where the real estate company commissioned Abacus Data to poll 1,000 Canadians online between June 3 and 6, 2013.

The poll found that 84 per cent of respondents across the country think about real estate on a regular basis, and 85 per cent have gone as far as shopping online for a new home in the past year.

“In ever increasing ways, Canadians seem almost obsessed with real estate. And it’s understandable,” Zoocasa president Carolyn Beatty said in a release. “For the vast majority of Canadians, their home is the largest purchase they will make in their lifetime.”

Nationally, more than a third — 34 per cent — described either themselves or a loved one as obsessed with real estate. In the Greater Toronto Area, which has the second-highest average home price in the country after Vancouver, the percentage of people who identify themselves as being obsessed jumps to 47 per cent, the highest in the country.

Zoocasa notes that the survey took place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and just as many people reported talking about real estate on a regular basis as they did about hockey.

Some 28 per cent of respondents say they have gone to an open house at some point in the past 12 months.”

- from ‘Canadians obsessed with real estate, poll suggests’, CBC, 20 Jun 2013 [hat-tip elchavo]

Not me!
I can quit whenever I want!
– vreaa

A Bed in the Bathroom, Why Not? [Let Us Count The Reasons…]

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“Here is another great Vancouver rental listed on Craigslist [link no longer active]. A bed in the bathroom..”

“Rental information:
Newly finished 1 bedroom with own ensuite. Furnished.
Access to dining room, living room and kitchen on main floor.
$500/month includes utilities, washer and dryer, and wireless internet.
Close to transit and shops.
No smoking. No pets.
Perfect for international students and short term renters.”

- from ‘Vancouver rentals: A Bed in the Bathroom, Why Not?’, vancitybuzz.com, 28 May 2013 [hat-tip space889]

Outrageous!
The underlying message, of course, is that we are Tokyo.
Again, consider this idea in relation to Canada’s vast expanse of land.
The bubble continues to grossly distort our thinking.
– vreaa

Vancouver-Rental-bedroom-in-a-bathroom

“My neighbours, in their late 60s, just put their house on the market. They had said they would die in that house, but now they are worried that with the housing market going south they may be losing a lot of equity and they better sell now before it gets worse.”

“I can’t believe it!
My neighbor and his wife, who are in their late 60s, just put their house on the market.
I talked to them often before, and they said they would die in that house and leave it to their only son.
But now they say they are worried that with the housing market going south they may be losing a lot of equity and they better sell now before it gets worse.
To make matters worse, 1 year ago they took out a HELOC for $30k to help their son buy a condo.
Two week’s ago their son received a note from his strata that a special levy of $40k to cover inefficiences in the building envelope has to be paid.
Another leaky condo!
Needless to say, the old couple has no other assets than their rapidly depreciating house, so they are panicking.”

– Real Estate Tsunami at VREAA 23 May 2013 10:53pm

Hello again to all readers.
Posts recommence with this powerful anecdote from RETsunami.
We will aim to pop up anecdotes here on an occasional and irregular basis; we trust they will be appreciated nonetheless.
Keep well.
– vreaa