Tag Archives: Speculators

‘Extreme Speculation’ – “The problem is that the diversion of resources into investments that are only justified by the stream of new money and artificially low interest rates will destroy wealth at the same time as it is boosting activity.”

The Vancouver RE market can only be understood as part of a global phenomenon of too-cheap money encouraging ‘extreme speculation’. -vreaa

“When the central bank pumps money into the economy and suppresses interest rates it creates incentives to speculate and invest in ways that would not otherwise be viable. At a superficial level the central bank’s strategy will often seem valid, because the increased speculating and investing prompted by the monetary stimulus will temporarily boost economic activity and could lead to lower unemployment. The problem is that the diversion of resources into projects and other investments that are only justified by the stream of new money and artificially low interest rates will destroy wealth at the same time as it is boosting activity. In effect, the central bank’s efforts cause the economy to feast on its seed corn, temporarily creating full bellies while setting the stage for severe hunger in the future.
We witnessed a classic example of the above-described phenomenon during 2001-2009, when aggressive monetary stimulus introduced by the US Federal Reserve to mitigate the fallout from the bursting of the NASDAQ bubble and “911” led to booms in US real estate and real-estate-related industries/investments. For a few years, the massive diversion of resources into real-estate projects and debt created the outward appearance of a strong economy, but a reduction in the rate of money-pumping eventually exposed the wastage and left millions of people unemployed or under-employed. The point is that the collapse of 2007-2009 would never have happened if the Fed hadn’t subjected the economy to a flood of new money and artificially-low interest rates during 2001-2005.”
– from ‘Setting the stage for the next collapse’, Steve Saville, The Speculative Investor, 22 July 2014

“Yellen will not use interest rates to head off or curtail any asset bubbles encouraged by the extremely low rates that might appear. And history is clear: very low rates absolutely will encourage extreme speculation. But Yellen will, as Greenspan and Bernanke before her, attempt to limit only the damage any breaking bubbles might cause. … I had thought that central bankers by now, after so much unnecessary pain, might have begun to compromise on this matter, but no such luck… The evidence against this policy after two of the handful of the most painful burst bubbles in history is impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the unwillingness of academics to back off from closely held theories in the face of mere evidence.”
– from Jeremy Grantham’s latest newsletter, GMO Q2 2014

“It won’t last. It just prepares the way for the bust. It forces out real businesses. And it drives out people who find themselves financially unable to live here any longer.”

When reading this article, Vancouverites may want to play spot-the-differences/spot-the-similarities. – ed.

How the Surge of Hot Money Pushes San Francisco to the Brink
Wolf Richter, wolfstreet.com, 22 July 2014 [also reprinted at zerohedge]

The median home price in my beloved and crazy San Francisco – that’s for a no-view two-bedroom apartment in an older building in a so-so area – after rising 13.3% from a year ago, hit an ultra-cool, slick $1,000,000.

It made a splash in our conversations. People figured that nothing could to take down the housing market. Yet, as before, there will be a devastating event: the moment when the billions from all over the world suddenly stop raining down on San Francisco.

Every real-estate data provider has its own numbers. The Case-Shiller placed the peak of the prior bubble in “San Francisco” in June 2006 with an index value of 218, well above the current index value of 191. Though named “San Francisco,” the index covers five Bay Area counties that include cities like Oakland and Richmond where home prices, though soaring, haven’t gone back to previous bubble peaks.

The $1,000,000 that DataQuick, now part of CoreLogic, came up with is for the actual city of San Francisco. In the data series, San Francisco’s prior housing bubble peaked in November 2007 when the median home price hit $814,750. People thought this would go on forever, that San Francisco was special, that the national housing bust would pass it by. A month later, the median home price plunged 10%.

It was the beginning of a terrible bust – the moment when money from all over the world stopped raining down on San Francisco. Real estate here lives and dies with the periodic storm surges of moolah from venture capital investors, IPOs, and corporate buyouts.

Now we’re in another storm surge. The Twitter IPO transferred billions from around the world to Twitter investors and employees in the city and the Bay Area. When Facebook acquired Whatsapp for $19 billion, its 55 employees and some investors started plowing some of this money into the local economy, money that didn’t come from heaven but indirectly from Facebook shareholders. In the current climate, hundreds of transactions, large and small, take place every month, including a slew of IPOs. That’s the great hot-money-transfer machine. And San Francisco sits at the receiving end.

There are some drawbacks, however. Number one, it won’t last. It just prepares the way for the next bust. Number two (and in the interim), it forces out real businesses with real revenues and profits. And it drives out people who find themselves – though well-employed – financially unable to live here any longer.

Take the story of Bloodhound that was catapulted into the limelight by ValleyWag. In January 2013, a Series A round brought its total funding to $4.8 million, based on its conference app, an “ambitious vision to fundamentally change how buyers meet sellers,” as TechCrunch put it. “Its hardcore dedication to product and the fact that it can reuse everything it builds puts it leagues ahead of….” Etc. etc. The article was dripping with startup hype.

Companies like Bloodhound are flush with money from investors and have no need to make revenues or profits, and they have no clue how to manage expenses, or that expenses even need to be managed, and there’s nothing to constrain them in any way and force them to be prudent with investors’ money. Armed to the teeth this way, they dive into the local real estate market.

As the startup bubble in San Francisco was coming to a boil, and billions started showing up in bits and pieces, landlords began lusting after this money. And so in October 2012, the Million Fishes Art Collective – “an incubation program” for artists – was not able to renew its lease on a 10,000 square-foot space on Bryant Street at 23rd Street, in the Mission, which had been an iffy area and therefore affordable. After ten years, Million Fishes was gone, and so were the artists and the shows that had been open to the public. It reportedly had been paying over $13,000 per month.

The space was prepared for a startup armed with hype, hoopla, and Series-A money piped in from VC-fund investors around the world. Along come Bloodhound with whatever remained of its $4.8 million in funding. It signed a 5-year lease for $31,667 a month in rent and $564 in fees, or nearly 150% more than Million Fishes had paid. The neighborhood wasn’t amused, but hey, big money rules, and it was a done deal.

So Bloodhound was blowing $387,000 a year on rent, and it didn’t care because expenses were no objective because profits weren’t even on the horizon. It was just building a thingy that would forever change the world. But now Bloodhound is gone as well. Stopped paying rent, ran out of money, just packed up and disappeared. ValleyWag reported:

When emailed for comment, Bloodhound co-founder Anthony Krumeich simply stated “We moved out of the office. No longer fit our needs.” However court documents indicate Bloodhound has gone AWOL and abandoned their office. The landlord’s attorney has not been able to issue the company or its founders a summons….

Bloodhound didn’t change the world. But its hot money changed San Francisco. It helped drive up rents. Each transaction impacts a number of future transactions via the multiplier effect. This scenario is repeated over and over. Enterprises with real cash flows are pushed out because they can’t compete with the hot money that briefly comes into town looking to multiply itself.

But occasionally, it goes too far, even for San Francisco. A little while ago, Pinterest jumped into the fray. It has raised $800 million so far, and sports a valuation of $5 billion, but has no noticeable revenues, doesn’t even dream of profits, and has no idea how to control expenses – and no need to. Armed with this distorted attitude and hundreds of millions of dollars in global hot money, it set its sights on the beautiful, historic 600,000 square-foot San Francisco Design Center at 2 Henry Adams St., where 77 design businesses were plying their trade the hard way by generating the cash flow necessary to sustain themselves.

The Design Center’s owner, according to the SFGate, “had sought to take advantage of a city zoning ordinance that allows owners of designated historic landmarks to change zoning from so-called PDR – production, distribution and repair – to traditional office space. That would have allowed Pinterest to locate its offices there.” The tenants would have been booted out in favor of a company that had no reason to care about how much money it blew on office space. Alas, after an uproar, the Board of Supervisors Land Use & Economic Development Committee voted to table the matter indefinitely.

The ratchet effect continues as each transaction impacts future transactions, pumped up by hot money that doesn’t care about actual expenses and profits. And the space Million Fishes had leased for $13,000 a month, and that Bloodhound had leased for $31,667 a month, went back on the market, ValleyWag reported, at $37,500 a month.

This too is happening to homes where one sale price of one home impacts the price on average of 60 others via the multiplier effect [How Wall Street Manipulates The Buy-to-Rent Housing Racket]. That’s how the median home price of $1,000,000 came about: powered by hot money that follows hope and hype about the next big thingy that will change the world. As before, someday the hot money will suddenly evaporate, with devastating effect. To pinpoint that moment, we just have to watch the IPO market. When it blows off its top, so will San Francisco.

UBS is already preparing for that moment. The world’s largest wealth manager is “very worried” about “the lack of liquidity” that could wreak havoc during the expected sell-off. So UBS reduces risk “over the full spectrum of assets.”

BC Premier: “I think the market’s good, it’s a buyers market. I want to make sure I get in before prices start to rise.”

“In Kelowna on Thursday, Clark said she has already been on the Internet looking for a home but would also like to hear from anyone in real estate about a home that requires low maintenance.
“I have a cat, but I won’t be bringing her. So no pets, no smoking and low maintenance,” she said.
The premier told reporters at her victory party on Wednesday night that she didn’t want to be “presumptuous” and start looking for a house while she was campaigning, but she’s getting serious now.
“I think the market’s good, it’s a buyers market. And you know the riding is really getting stoked again, so I want to make sure I get in before prices start to rise.”
– from The Times Colonist, 11 July 2013 [hat-tip kabloona]

Announcement:
With this brief (but sweet) post, we’ll be taking another break from our (admittedly very skeletal) posting habits of the past six weeks. We’ll be on hiatus for at the very least the rest of the summer. Refer to VCI and Whispers for ongoing Vancouver RE discussion. We hope to be back in full at some point. Enjoy the fine weather, and keep well, all. – vreaa
(PS: Nothing has changed regarding our overall bearish outlook on the Vancouver RE market.)

“We spoke to a friend of ours yesterday. Even though she has purchased a house, she wants to keep (and rent out) the condo she’s living in, because she thinks prices will only go up.”

“We spoke to a friend of ours yesterday. Even though she has purchased a house, she wants to keep (and rent out) the condo she’s living in, because she thinks prices will only go up. She estimates her condo to be worth $530K, and rent she would receive to be $1800/mo. After taxes and condo fees, this appears to be a yield of 3%, without taking into account repairs/upkeep on the unit itself. She’s getting a one-year fixed rate of one point something percent to finance the thing. Sounds crazy to me!”
– from ‘s’ via e-mail to VREAA 13 Jun 2013

“I Wish Them Bad Luck.” – Jim Flaherty, on those who wish to profit from Canadian RE price drops

“I wish them bad luck.”
– Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, commenting on recent moves by some U.S.-based hedge funds and other big investors, who worry that the Canadian housing market is heading for a hard landing, and are looking to short, or bet against, Canadian investments.
[as quoted by the Wall Street Journal, 28 May 2013]

Other excerpts from the same article:
“Last year, Mr. Flaherty had voiced concern about the condo markets in Toronto and Vancouver.
“When I look at the housing market, I’m looking for the ‘doom and gloom’. I don’t see the ‘doom and gloom’. I see some moderation in demand. This is a good thing,” he said.

Flaherty’s wish for bad ‘luck’ for the ‘shorts’ is the equivalent of a hope for good ‘luck’ for the (immensely greater) ‘long’ position; a long position that he has, after all, attempted to shore up for many years. Flaherty cannot calculate the damage that the housing bubble has done, nor that which its resolution will end up doing. It’s natural for him to be simply trying to keep it going at this point.
Regarding those betting against price increases:
Any healthy market has to be able to tolerate the possibility of people speculating against price increases.
There are strong arguments that the ability for individuals to short a market improve that market’s strength. Shorts improve liquidity, make for more valid ‘price discovery’, and are around to buy when nobody else wants to (near bottoms).
There are no ways to directly short the Vancouver RE market (it would likely have benefited if that had been possible!).
Some are attempting to indirectly short, and hope to profit from price drops via their likely effects on the values of the shares of certain stocks or other instruments. For the record, vreaa is not trying to do anything like that. We’d simply like to see sane valuation of Vancouver housing.
– vreaa

“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

“Rent for $2,200 a month or buy and have a mortgage of $4,310 per month. Why would anyone buy?”

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7541 Kerr Street, East Vancouver (Fraserview)
2518 sqft SFH on 45×110 lot

“We considered renting this SFH a few months ago. It stayed on the market for a few months, looks like the landlord never got any tenants (rent went from $2500 to $2200) and today when I walked by – – it’s for sale for $999,999! Gee… tough choice, rent for $2200 a month or… buy and have a mortgage of $4,310 per month (based on 3.09%, 25 year, 100k down). Why would anyone buy?
Thanks, I think we will remain renters until prices come back down to earth. Or never buy in Vancouver.”

pricedoutfornow at VCI 5 Apr 2013 7:38pm

Think of this situation like this:
This landlord can’t find anybody who will pay $2,200 per month to actually use the house as a home, but they are hoping to find somebody who is prepared to pay over $4,310 per month to make use of the house as a financial instrument, by using it to bet on increasing prices.
The house’s fundamental value is that which one could calculate based on a yield of less than $2,200 per month. The speculative market has been valuing it at substantially higher than that. As the speculative mania unwinds prices will fall to reflect fundamental values.
– vreaa

Mom and Pop Get It Wrong In All Markets, Time And Again

“Villa and White felt “sucker punched” when stocks collapsed in 2008, he reports. The crash “wiped out half their savings.” They sold out of stocks, put their money in the bank, and “swore off stocks,” presumably forever.
Last month, as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index surged to new highs, they hired a new financial adviser and plunged into the stock market again.
The problem with Villa and White isn’t that they are unusual but that they are absolutely the typical American investor. Both of them are doctors, meaning they are presumably intelligent and educated. And yet they insist on investing like absolute fools.”

“They buy high, sell low, and the ending is predictable.”
“Share prices fall because there are more sellers than buyers. They rise because of the reverse. So mom and pop investors like the Villa-Whites rush to dump their stocks because they see the market plummeting, oblivious to the fact that the only reason it’s falling is because people like them are rushing to dump their stocks.”
– from ‘Mom and pop: The world’s worst investors’, WSJ Marketwatch, 4 Apr 2013

And so it is with all markets.
Regular folks (in the case of RE, the vast, vast majority of market participants) fell in love with Vancouver RE when prices started running up, became more and more adoring as they ran up more, and were most infatuated at the frothy peak (at the very time they should have been most wary). It is this crescendo of infatuation that drives speculative manias to their ridiculous heights.
As prices fall folks will become less enamoured, then discouraged, then disgusted by local RE, and when the most people are the most disgusted, it’ll be a sensible time to buy.
It’s not rocket-science, but it is emotionally very, very difficult to be a contrarian, and to take a position that is the opposite of that of the crowd.
– vreaa

“He’s sold all his properties except his current one, which is now for sale. He explained that the market’s currently in crash mode, worst that he’s ever seen.”

“Just spoke to someone in the neighbourhood, real estate came up and it came out he’s invested in real estate over the last 15 years, buying dumps and fixing them up and flipping them. Has done this multiple times I was thinking oh no, this is going to end badly, then he told me he’s now retired and I thought even worse… Then continued to say he’s sold all his properties except his current which is currently for sale and explained that the market’s currently in crash mode, worst that he’s ever seen. He talked about 2008 and thought we were in for something far worst this time. Talked about previous declines he’s seen and thought this is going to be worst. Doesn’t follow any of these blogs. He’s getting close to selling now for about a 40K loss, and thinks he’s close to sealing the deal, but I got the impression he’d be happy taking even more of a loss just to get out.
He’s moving away from the lower mainland and buying farmland to retire on. Mentioned there are a couple others a few streets away that bought/reno’d/now trying to sell, thinks they’re already listed at breakeven and that they need to come down quite a bit more before selling. …
This was in South Surrey, I should add. Was a guy that seemed to have had some very good days in his life and has seen some very tough times…. Sounded like he was in the midst of a tough time job wise in his life in the late 90′s and is a pretty good handyman and kind of fell into the real estate thing, rode it up, and jumped off when he realized he had gained enough money to live out his life without worrying any further about money.
I was taken aback by this guy… Good for him.”

groundhog at VREAA 1 April 2013 at 4:10pm and 4:39pm

“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

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.”

mortgages-property
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.”

group
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]

“I don’t think that most people think things are going to crash, just that there is going to be a slight correction, but it was amazing to me how sentiment has changed, and the fact Vancouver RE is too high was just understood.”

“Investors Group (I know, I know,) came to my office for a lunchtime seminar a few days ago. (Talking TFSAs, how to reduce your taxes, etc,). Anyway, it was open to everyone, and there was over a hundred people there. Without giving away too much about where I work, there are a few administration types, and then mostly people with professional designations or MBAs / PhD’s.
The presenter mentioned Vancouver’s Real Estate Bubble a few times, and said that everyone was talking about ‘how we are in a bubble.’ I scanned the audience each time, looking for shock or surprise, but everyone had a look of acceptance, like yes, of course we are overpriced. I don’t think that most people think things are going to crash, just that there is going to be a slight correction, but it was amazing to me how sentiment has changed, and the fact Vancouver RE is too high was just understood.”

Yellow Helicopter at VCI, 15 Mar 2013 9:48am

For A City To Have That Kind Of Vacancy, It’s Like Cancer – “Downtown, the vacant unit rate is so high that it’s as though there were 35 towers at 20 storeys apiece – all empty.”

bc-empty-condos-0320
UBC planner Andrew Yan’s research raises questions about whether the city is turning into a high-end resort or a haven for offshore investment. [image from Globe and Mail]

“Nearly a quarter of condos in Vancouver are empty or occupied by non-residents in some dense areas of downtown, a signal that investors play a significant role in the city’s housing market.
And the city overall has a much higher rate of empty apartments and houses than other Canadian cities, with a rate closer to places like New York and San Francisco at the height of their mortgage crisis in 2010.

Downtown, the rate is so high that it’s as though there were 35 towers at 20 storeys apiece – empty.

That’s the latest discovery that adjunct UBC planning professor Andrew Yan made when he analyzed 2011 census numbers to try to add more information to the contentious debate over whether Vancouver is turning into a high-end resort or offshore investors’ holding tank.

He revealed those numbers Wednesday night, as a capacity crowd turned out to listen to speakers on a panel at SFU Woodward’s talk about “foreign investment in Vancouver real estate.”

In all, the city of Vancouver appears to have about 7,500 more vacant housing units than what would be expected in most other Canadian cities. For Metro Vancouver, there are around 15,000 to 20,000 more.

That sign of high vacancies and non-resident-owned units, which contradict some other studies and assurances that Vancouver is not being flooded with investors, should give the city pause, analysts say.

“What kind of community are you living in if there are that many empty? For a city to have that kind of vacancy, it’s like cancer,” said Richard Wozny, a real estate consultant, during an interview Wednesday. “It distorts density and it’s delaying the impact. It raises the question ‘Are we over-building?’”

Mr. Yan, who specified that it’s not possible to know exactly why so many apartments were empty, said data indicate Vancouver is creating neighbourhoods that appear to be very dense, but actually don’t have an active full-time population.

That gives a skewed picture of, for example, the amount of commercial activity they can support.

In Coal Harbour, where up to one in four condos is empty in the tower-dominated waterfront neighbourhood between Stanley Park and the downtown convention centre, the scattered shops in the area often struggle to stay in business. By contrast, the West End, which has a low rate of empty residential units, is bounded by three streets – Davie, Denman, and Robson – that are packed with busy small shops and restaurants.

Mr. Yan said that the high numbers of empty apartments don’t prove there’s a problem with foreign investors, but they do indicate that Vancouver has a large proportion of general investor buyers, be they offshore or Canadian.

Housing analyst Tsur Somerville, director of UBC’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said the data he has seen also indicate that Vancouver built more housing in the 2006-2011 period than the number of new households that were added to the city’s ranks.

That means investors. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as those units are occupied, said Mr. Somerville, also on the panel.

“The problem is vacant units since that’s demand for real estate without housing people.”

Mr. Yan’s analysis entailed isolating the census data on dwellings that showed up as either “unoccupied” or occupied “by a foreign resident and/or by temporarily present persons” on Census Day 2011, which was May 10.

“These units could be non-resident occupied because their occupants were just away for the Census Day, between rental tenants, or moving in a just-opened building, but there is also a chance that they are someone’s pied-à-terre, vacation home or empty investment holding,” observed Mr. Yan.

In the city of Vancouver, the rate of those kinds of dwellings stood at 7.7 per cent overall, with some parts of the downtown as high as 23 per cent. In the city of Toronto, the rate was 5.4 per cent; in Calgary, 5 per cent.

If Vancouver’s “non-resident” category had the same rate as Calgary’s, it would have had only about 16,500 empty units on Census Day – the level to be expected in a regular city, where some part of the housing stock is always going to be empty for one reason or another. Instead, more than 22,000 units showed up in that category. An analysis for the whole Lower Mainland shows that it has between 15,000 and 20,000 more empty units, proportionally, than the Calgary or Toronto metropolitan regions.”

- from ‘Vancouver’s vacancies point to investors, not residents’, Frances Bula, Globe and Mail, 20 Mar 2013 [hat-tip Nemesis]

Thanks to Andrew Yan for the research and to Frances Bula for the article. Usually we quote brief snippets from articles, here it is all succinct and interesting enough that we’ve quoted it in its entirety.
The phenomenon described represents an important sub-type of RE speculation in Vancouver.
The most crucial form of speculation driving our spec mania has been regular folks over-stretching to buy their primary residences. That represented the vast majority of transactions in the RE markets, and served as the most important engine to drive prices skywards.
A more obvious sub-group is the flipper, who buys to resell within a year or two, with or without renos.
This article deals with yet another sub-group, the speculators who buy and hold properties (in this case condos but also applies to SFHs) as, essentially, gambling chips. They are betting they can sell at almost any time later, and win. Up until recently, preternatural price gains have made this a profitable method. Not so anymore. We believe that a weak market and falling prices will cause much of this ‘shadow inventory’ to come to market in coming years, with dire implications for prices. This is part of the reason that price drops will beget price drops.
By the way, note how Yan says that he can’t be sure who is holding these units. My own bet is that far and away the biggest holders will prove to be local gamblers. That distinction is not, however, of any particular importance when it comes to predicting outcome. All of this is more evidence of the Vancouver RE market representing a speculative mania, and the outcome is inevitably going to be a collapse in prices.. that’s how manias everywhere always end.
This work is also pertinent to discussions regarding population growth and densification: “Vancouver built more housing in the 2006-2011 period than new households.” Perhaps Vancouver is significantly less constrained than many fear.
– vreaa

Spot The Speculators #100 – Couple In 20’s Desire Light Workload, Early Retirement And Free Money From Their RE ‘Investments'; Current RE:Networth 10:1

“In B.C. a couple we’ll call Max and Portia, 28 and 27, are trying to plan their financial future. They bring home a total of $6,880 a month from their high-tech jobs, but Portia wants to take sabbaticals to travel more and Max wants to try out a new career. They also want substantial investment income — $1,000 a month by their mid-30s. All that, plus early retirement well before 65.
What is standing in their way is not just the problem of earning enough money to do all that, but more than half a million dollars of debt
They have already made big career switches, Max from running a theatrical company for four years, Portia from several years in pharmacy management. Their jobs, their incomes and their present high rate of savings can build a solid retirement, though not necessarily an early one.

So far, Max and Portia have made a big bet on real estate. A $265,000 rental condo is their largest investment. It has a $228,775 mortgage with 26 years left on its amortization. Without capital repayment on the 25-year mortgage, interest alone is $410 a month. Condo fees and taxes add $277 for total carrying costs of $687. It generates $1,050 rent, so their total return is $363 a month or $4,356 a year. That’s a 12% return on their equity — not bad, but vulnerable to rising interest rates. If they have to roll over their 3.0% mortgage at 4.0%, which is still historically cheap, they will lose their margin of profit. No one doubts that interest rates will rise and a 1% jump is easily in the cards…
Rather than take all the risks that go with being landlords — such as vacancy, tenant damage, and the inevitable rise in interest rates — they could sell, harvest their about $23,000 of equity after 5% selling costs, and use the cash to pay off most of a $27,000 student loan outstanding at 4.5%. If they choose not to use the cash to pay off the loan, then, at $500 a month, it will be repaid in five years. Their home mortgage would still have 24½ years to run. …
If they choose jobs for fun … their ability to have a secure retirement will be at risk
Their reality at present is that debts are almost 90% of their assets. To support a $1,000 monthly investment income, they would have to have $400,000 capital generating a 3% return after inflation. They can’t do that in seven years with their present incomes and the need to pay down debt. Moreover, if Max changes jobs or Portia takes lots of time off for travel, sacrificing income and perhaps career advancement, their financial outlook would dim.
“It is not possible in any reasonable scenario, especially if they impair their incomes with sabbaticals or risky job switches,” Derek Moran [a financial advisor from Kelowna] says.

Summary of finances:

Income:
$6.9K per month

Assets: $606.7K Total
Home condo $298K
Rental condo: $265K
RRSPs: $23.7K
TFSA: $8.9K
Stock options: $4.5K
Cash: $6.6K

Liabilities: $544.4K Total
Home condo mortgage: $284.6K
Rental condo mortgage: $228.8K
Loans: $31K

- from ‘Is this couple’s financial vision an impossible dream?’, Andrew Allentuck, Financial Post, 8 Mar 2013 [hat-tip MC]

Networth: $62.3K
Percentage of Networth in RE: 973%
[For those readers who have semantic objections to their position being expressed in that fashion, think of the '973%' as an elegant way of saying that their net-worth is leveraged to RE prices by 9.73 to 1.]
So, if their RE holdings drop in market value by a touch over 10%, they lose their entire net-worth. In fact, we can say with close to certainty that, given current market conditions, their actual current net-worth is very likely less than zero, as they’d be unlikely to clear 90% of the quoted amounts on their properties if they tried to sell.
This couple represents self-delusion run amok.
They clearly see RE as a path to a light work-load and early retirement. Free money, in effect.
How many Vancouverites have built positions in RE based on similar fantasies?
Note how the sensible financial advisor (from Kelowna, and thus, we’d assume, no stranger to collapsing RE markets) advises them to sell their RE ‘investment’.
What will the effect on our markets be when all those speculators in a similar position try to get out of money losing RE, over the same few years?

This couple’s position is also particularly noteworthy in that it represents the local speculative activity that has been the major engine of our perverse bubble. Most would still argue that their actions are innocent; that they are simply trying to get ahead in current challenging economic circumstances. We’d argue that they are being greedy; and ask what the hell they were thinking buying a second, poor-cash-flow property with a household balance sheet like that. It is purchases such as these, people over-stretching to buy primary residences and/or ‘investment’ properties in the hope of future abnormally large price gains, that have relentlessly pushed up prices and formed the bedrock of the problems now facing Vancouver RE: A bubble based on cheap borrowing and over-leverage.

Speculative manias represent ephemeral fantasies, and they all, ultimately, have to be reconciled with reality.

– vreaa

“We live next door to a large new house that replaced a beautiful one in excellent condition. It has been empty since its construction about 2 years ago. The owners live in another house nearby.”

“We live next door to a large new house that replaced a beautiful one in excellent condition.
This new house, contrary to the bylaw, does not meet the requirement that the bulk and size of new developement is similiar to existing developement. Nor is it as required, compatible with the existing amenity and design of developement. City Planning approved this contrary to the neighborhood objections.
It has been empty since its construction about 2 years ago.
The owners live in another house nearby.
In this block there are now 3 houses that have been empty for several years.”

– B. Mcloughlin, commenting 2:58 PM on March 8, 2013 below the Globe and Mail article Kerrisdale preservationists lament a tide of bulldozers.

Misallocation of resources.
Speculation.
– vreaa

Vancouver Sun Profiles A First Time Buyer – “I just wanted to build equity and not pay rent.”

8106638.bin

“Myles Wilcott, a single, 31-year-old general manager at Canadian Linen & Uniform Service, is among those who have met new financial requirements in order to buy a condo. He paid $412,000 for 705-square feet two-level loft in a 16-year old building in the Gastown district of Vancouver.

Wilcott had been looking at condos throughout the winter, waiting to find what he was looking for at a price he could afford.

By this spring, he had almost enough in his registered retirement savings plan to meet the minimum down payment set by the federal government. He had sufficient income to cover the monthly payments, even though new federal regulations meant he would be paying hundreds of dollars more each month than he would have been required to pay before the rule changes.

He was not concerned about reports of record high prices and talk of a possible crash in the real estate market. “A lot of people talk about getting into the market to make a quick buck,“ Wilcott said. “I just wanted to build equity and not pay rent.” …

Mr. Wilcott, who graduated from Simon Fraser University in business and human resources, said in an interview he had thought about buying a home a few years ago but did not qualify for a mortgage that was big enough to buy what he wanted.

He turned his attention to improving his credit rating, pursuing his career and putting aside some savings. “I was able to climb the ladder enough to the point where I qualified for a [25-year] mortgage.”

Mr. Wilcott started the home-buying process in December. The first step was to arrange for pre-approval for a mortgage. He had an agent to help him search in earnest for what he wanted – a loft-style condo in the downtown area. He looked at 12 different condos before finding what he was looking for.

He put down the minimum five per cent, which was about what he had saved in his tax-free registered retirement savings plan. A federal program called the homebuyers plan allows purchasers to use their RRSP as long as the money is paid back within 15 years.

His mortgage payments of $1,900 will be considerably higher than the rent of $1,200 he was paying before he bought the condo.

However it was his outstanding debts — not the monthly payments — that almost tripped up his mortgage application. Arrangements were finally confirmed at an acceptable rate with Vancity Savings Credit Union.

The whole process was a bit more stressful than he anticipated. The most difficult aspect of the purchase was evaluating the conflicting points of view he received on home buying. “I got too many people involved … there was such a wide array of opinions — buy now, don’t buy now; wait five years, don’t wait; don’t go into that neighbourhood, go over there.”

But once he met the qualifications and found what he wanted, he was ready to close the deal.”

- image and text from ‘First-time homebuyers adjust to federal changes; For those who can afford it, home ownership still a viable option’, Robert Matas, Vancouver Sun, 15 March 2013 [hat-tip OH YAH]

“$700 per month more outlay for accomodation plus condo fees, taxes, legals, move etcetera, etcetera (you all know the drill) and no mention that all his savings were wiped out during the purchase. Live and learn. Got to get on that ladder even if it only leads to a periscope.”
Farmer, commenting on the above story, at VREAA 16 Mar 2013 3:22am

Agreed, we don’t think Myles really did the math on this.
He says “I just wanted to build equity and not pay rent”.
Even if he’s not fully conscious of it, he’s speculating on future RE price strength.
We’d bet the math shows that he wouldn’t “build equity” without that.
– vreaa

Former PM Kim Campbell Sues Vancouver Condo Developer For Market Weakness

Former prime minister Kim Campbell is suing the redevelopers of the Hotel Georgia in downtown Vancouver, alleging her condo wasn’t ready on time, and now she wants her money back.
In her statement of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court Campbell says she paid a $368,000 deposit on a condo in the new residential high-rise at the Hotel Georgia in 2007.
Former prime minister Kim Campbell is suing the developers of the Hotel Georgia in Vancouver. (AP )
Her lawyer Bryan Baynham says the pre-sale agreement with Georgia Properties Partnership was that that the condo would be finished December 2011.
“The project wasn’t finished on time. They were more than a year late and not surprisingly the people don’t want to complete and they want their deposit back.”

– from ‘Former PM Kim Campbell sues Vancouver condo developer’, CBC, 15 Mar 2013

EVERYBODY speculates on Vancouver RE, it seems.
If prices were up, these claims wouldn’t be occurring.
– vreaa

“Over the years, we refinanced our home a few times to pay off our debts. Now we’re selling our home as we can’t keep up with mortgage payments. In this market, we’re not sure if we’ll break even.”

Q: “Over the years, we refinanced our home a few times to pay off our credit cards and other debts, but we never actually got ahead. Now we’re faced with selling our home as we’re having a hard time keeping up with our first and second mortgage payments. With the market the way it is, we’re not sure if we’ll break even. What can we do?”

A: “… With over a decade of extremely low mortgage rates and fast-rising home values, many homeowners refinanced their mortgages to access the equity in their homes. Unfortunately, this can work against you if you aren’t living within your means.”

- from ‘Evaluate all options before selling your house’, Scott Hannah, The Province, 11 Mar 2013 [hat-tip Alexcanuck]

Savings rates in BC have been negative for years.
The average BC consumer debt is a remarkable $38,837, the highest in the country (up 6.2% in the last year!).
Whether by means of low downpayment or large HELOC, a significant percentage of owners are woefully over leveraged to the RE market.
All of this information represents downside risk for the RE market.
– vreaa

Sold One In Vancouver; Bought Three In Prince George – “It seems that Vancouverites just can’t get out of the real estate mindset even when they have the best chance to get off the ladder.”

Announcer: “In 2011 Prince George’s population grew by 1.4% over a five year period. [sic. ROTFL. -ed.]. Developers have had to keep up with demand, not just from new families, but from investors, like this couple, who moved here from Vancouver 5 years ago.”

the harpers

Shauna Harper: “For the cost of our house in Vancouver, we could buy three rental properties here..”
Mick Harper: “..three houses.”
Shauna Harper: “.. and that’s what we did. We sold our house in Vancouver and we own three properties up here.. and.. they can cash flow.”

Announcer: “Prince George’s population is supposed to get even higher over the next few years.” [Yeah, watch out for that 0.2% per annum parabolic growth. -ed.]

pg house

Announcer: “A more affordable lifestyle is making living here more attractive, especially to those from the lower mainland. Take this house for example: 2200 sqft, 5 bedrooms, 3 baths.”
Realtor: “And we’re looking at $299,900.”
Announcer: “And how much do you think a home like this would cost in the Vancouver area?”
Realtor: “In the Vancouver area it would be over a million dollars, for sure.”

– from ‘Prince George Revival’, Global TV, 14 Mar 2013

Hat-tip to E.G., who comments:
“The report gets into the fact that house prices are quite reasonable in Prince George. Fair enough…
Then the reporter interviews some Vancouver transplants who sold off and moved to Prince George with money in their pockets. Do they buy one house and invest the rest wisely? Nope… they buy several houses and rent out the spares. Seems that Vancouverites can’t get out of the real estate mindset even when they have the best chance to get off the “ladder.”

“I am a boomer. I am appalled at some of the financial situations that my contemporaries have gotten themselves into. I can’t stand it, it is all around me.”

“I am a boomer. I am appalled at some of the financial situations that my contemporaries have gotten themselves into. They have borrowed against their homes while saying “that’s just a line of credit, the house is paid for”. They have counted on the run up in real estate without selling and now owe more on the house than when they bought it TWENTY years ago! When renewing their mortgages they roll in their latest credit card debt. Then they keep the amortization high so the payments are as low as possible. These people owe hundreds of thousands of dollars and now are having health issues, divorces, and want to retire. How can you do all that and not have a thought as to paying off your debt? Time is not on their side.
When the lender they started with is cautious and turns them down, they go elsewhere, get the loan and a promise of more if needed and then bad mouth their first lender. They never miss a chance to go somewhere warm for a month and love the casino and the lottery. Their cars are new, Friends, family, acquaintances, I can’t stand it, it is all around me.”

camper at VREAA 8 Mar 2013 11:05am

… and then prices start to descend, and the whole debt expansion process goes into reverse (as is occurring just about… now). Ghastly implications for the individuals involved; not good for the group, either.
– vreaa

Lower Mainland Couple In Their 70’s; RE Makes Up 216% Of Net-Worth; Desire To Buy More – “My friend is getting worried about his parents’ financial situation.”

“I was talking to a friend earlier today, He’s getting worried about his parents’ financial situation…
Get this:
$2.6 million invested in real estate… all in the Lower Mainland.
$1.4 million of mortgage debt (54%). Dad is over 70, mom not much younger.
Imagine a collapse of 50% of the market in the LM. The entire family’s net worth would be wiped out. Really scary. The irony? They want to invest even more in real estate (because they lost so much money in mutual funds…).”

Makaya at VREAA 6 March 2013 8:22am

We still believe that the (90 minus age)% guideline for maximum percentage of net-worth that should be in RE makes sense.
These guys should have less than 20% in RE, their actual number is 216%… and they want to increase it!
We’ve heard enough of these stories now to extrapolate that there are a significant number of people in this position. They are very vulnerable to price declines, and they make the market that much more vulnerable, too.
– vreaa

“Forty percent of homeowners over age 65 had mortgage debt in 2010, compared with just 18% as recently as 1992, Reuters reports.
The Investor Education Fund recently found that 24% of Canadian homeowners surveyed expect to have debt on their principal residence after they retire. Of those who expect to owe money on their homes when they retire, more than one-quarter said they don’t know how they will pay it off.”

advoc8 at VREAA 6 Mar 2013 at 2:12pm, quoting from ‘How Baby Boomers are rewriting the rules of retirement’, Financial Post, 6 Mar 2013

Vancouver Reddit Boards – ‘Paid Shills In Our Midst?’ – “Does anybody else find there are too many real estate/property development posts on the /r/vancouver sub-reddit?”

“Does anybody else find there are too many real estate/property development posts on the /r/vancouver sub-reddit?
Moderators, and fellow /r/vancouver-ites: Can we consider banning/pruning the number of real estate submissions as a new rule? It’s rather frequent that I can come to /r/vancouver and see 4-5 posts on the page that certain individuals have posted.”
pfak at reddit.com 16

From the comment exchanges on that thread:

“I’d say the number of posts are in perfect proportion to the frequency Vancouver real estate comes up in conversation and the local media… “- [nutty buddy]

“The price of real estate in Vancouver is too high. This isn’t controversial, I don’t know why you are suggesting it is, everyone I know down here agrees about this, and some of my buddies overseas, the ones who are familiar with real estate/finance, agree completely.” – [MyFavouriteAxe]

“The fact that it’s subjectively “too high” might not be controversial, but this notion (that almost all of OP’s articles are pushing) that the housing market is about to crash any day now is a complete fabrication, and it’s one we’ve been hearing for at least a decade now.” – [Niyeaux]

“Obviously not everyone agrees the prices are too high, there are people buying houses for those prices, and there are others desperate to join them if the prices drop. Supply and demand my friend.” – [idspispopd]

“In a community as small, as easily accessible, and as geographically centralized as this one, it would be pretty surprising if there wasn’t at last a few paid shills in our midst. I’ve always assumed the aforementioned user /u/derpaderpe (formerly /u/proudbedwetter) is one of them.” – [Niyeaux]

“Paid by whom to sell what?” – [Smallpaul]

“Either the shitty “news” outlets who are peddling these crappy real estate articles, or someone with an interest in making people think the price of real estate in Vancouver is too high. I imagine the list of people who fit the latter description is quite lengthy.” – [Niyeaux]

“Oh, really? Like who exactly?
Agents want people to believe their property is valuable, worth it, and selling well. Developers want to charge as much as possible and make everyone think demand is high. Construction people want as much development as possible. Governments want high assessments so they can charge owners as much tax as possible. Banks want to collect as much interest as they can get on long-term mortgages. Owners want reassurance that their property isn’t losing value…
So, I guess you’re referring to mid to low-income renters and young people who don’t work in a field related to real estate. Yeah, they’ve got a lot of clout. Damn propagandists.”
– [FellSwoop]

“Or, y’know, any prospective investor who is waiting for the market to crash so they can pick properties up for cheap.” – [Niyeaux]

Real Estate infiltrates every discussion about Vancouver, so it certainly won’t surprise any of us here that the subject comes up frequently on the Vancouver reddit boards.
We don’t know whether there actually are any “paid shills” on Vancouver sites (other than the recently publicized OlympicVillage/VancouverIsAwesome ‘arrangement’, of course).
The idea that there are “prospective investor[s] who [are] waiting for the market to crash so they can pick properties up for cheap” is relatively new to the Vancouver RE discussion. It’s an interesting idea to ponder. These ‘vultures’ would have to be people who consider Vancouver RE to currently be appropriately priced, and who are hoping for ‘bargains’ at prices lower than this, such that when the properties recovered what they see as fair price levels, they would profit. We don’t ourselves know any prospective buyers of that stripe; we would certainly be interested to hear about any. All the prospective buyers we know (and there aren’t many of them) see prices as currently being far above fundamental values, and simply have a desire to buy themselves a stable shelter arrangement at a vaguely reasonable price.
– vreaa

South China Morning Post Headlines MAC Marketing Deceit – “Bogus Buyers”; “Scam”; “Teetering Market”; “Steadily Falling Prices”.

scmp
Supposed homebuyers Chris and Amanda Lee were exposed as employees of MAC Marketing Solutions in Vancouver [image and caption accompanying the SCMP article]

“A senior executive at a Vancouver marketing firm was forced to resign after employees of the company were caught posing as the daughters of rich Chinese property buyers in interviews with TV reporters.
The deception was intended to create the impression that Chinese buyers were still queuing up to buy into Vancouver’s teetering real estate market, which has long been fuelled by money from China and is now rated as the second least-affordable city in the world, behind Hong Kong, according to the Demographia consultancy.”

“The scandal erupted after a series of news reports this month, sourced to MAC Marketing, suggested that an influx of Chinese buyers would give the Vancouver property market a boost over the Lunar New Year period. That would have been in contrast to statistics from the local real estate board showing that prices have been steadily falling in Vancouver for the past eight months.”

“TV news crews at an open house for the new Maddox apartments in downtown Vancouver on February 9 were introduced to two buyers supposedly from China to support the notion of a Lunar New Year boost, who identified themselves as sisters Chris and Amanda Lee. In an interview with CTV, Chris Lee said: “I’m from China, and that is my sister, Amanda. So, we are looking for a place together.”
She told the reporter their parents were visiting Vancouver for Lunar New Year and were bankrolling the sisters’ purchase of an apartment. “So, if we like this place, we have to tell them and they make the decision. Yes, really, Chinese people like to buy at this time [Lunar New Year].”
A similar story was carried by CBC, featuring Chinese house hunters Chris and Amanda Lee.
Two days earlier, a story predicting a Lunar New Year boost in property sales was carried by The Vancouver Sun newspaper, quoting McNeill.
However, an anonymous local real estate blogger known as the Rainforest Whisperer last week questioned whether the sisters were authentic Chinese buyers, after another internet posting showed that an “Amanda Lee” worked for MAC on the Maddox project.”

“MAC was eventually forced to admit that both the “Lee sisters” were its employees, and that they weren’t even sisters. MAC hasn’t revealed the true identity of “Chris Lee”.
“We regret we did not do a better job at ensuring full transparency with those interviewed and apologise for any misunderstanding this may have caused,” MAC said last week.
McNeill told the newspaper : “I don’t know if it was an overzealous employee or if this happened in a formalised way.”
In announcing the resignation on Wednesday, McNeill refused to reveal the identity of the executive who quit.
“McNeill owes an explanation to the media [whom MAC duped], to the broader real estate community [whose reputation MAC has irrevocably damaged], and to the general public [the ultimate targets of this fraud],” the Rainforest Whisperer wrote.”

“The average price of a detached house in the core district of Vancouver West topped out at C$2.25 million (HK$17.13 million) last May. It has since fallen by more than 11 per cent.”

– from ‘Bogus buyers exposed in scam to boost property market in Vancouver’, South China Morning Post, 22 Feb 2013 [hat tip to numerous readers who alerted us to this via comments or e-mails]

The SCMP article carries some big messages, regardless of veracity:
1. The Vancouver RE market is falling.
2. Sellers are desperate enough to attempt subterfuge.
3. Buyer beware (moreso than usual).
This fiasco is turning out to be a spectacular back-fire for MAC Marketing and will quite probably have deleterious effects on the entire Vancouver RE industry.
Ongoing kudos to Whisperer for detecting the blatant deceit.
Regular readers know that we have always maintained that off-shore buyers of Vancouver RE, along with the vast majority of local buyers, have been buying on the premise of ever rising prices.
Now news is getting out that prices are falling.
And the knowledge of the seller desperation implied by this marketing deceit could have a more profound negative effect on buyer sentiment than any of us had initially guessed.
Do you see why we maintain that falling prices will beget falling prices?
– vreaa

Original story covered here:
CTV TV News Featured ‘Condo Buyers’ Actually Marketers Of Very Same Condos!
VREAA 13 Feb 2013

Home Inspector Oversight – “It’s been a nightmare, like I wish I’d never set foot in this house. I just wanted a place to live.”

rotten

“Buyers like Lindsay Denton, a 39-year-old single mother, are finding out the hard way they have little recourse if they believe a home inspector misses an obvious, visible defect. Complaints to the inspectors’ association might cost an inspector the loss of his or her license for a week, but financial settlements are only awarded through the courts.
Denton was battling breast cancer when she bought a $750,000 home in East Vancouver after an inspector’s report found no structural defects.
“It’s been a nightmare, like I wish I’d never set foot in this house. I just wanted a place to live,” Denton said.
“It doesn’t mean anything that they have a license or that they have errors and omissions insurance.”
Denton has filed a lawsuit against inspector Christopher Stockdale, who used to be the president of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of B.C.
In her notice of civil claim, she alleges Stockdale failed to follow the standard practices of his association.
Denton claims he missed the fact that her home was structurally unsound, with extensive water damage, a hole in the roof, asbestos in the air ducts, and visibly rotten sill plates and posts.
She also claims Stockdale examined her one-storey roof with binoculars instead of climbing up with a ladder and failed to carry a tool to prod any potentially rotten wood.
Denton said she discovered some rot in the structure after the tenants in her basement suite moved out.
“I went downstairs to paint and I touched the wall and it was wet and soft and the wood on top of the foundation was rotten,” she said. “It was crumbling away.”
The crumbling wood Denton refers to is the sill plate, which sits underneath the posts that hold up the structure. She said the inspector should have seen rotten posts next to the furnace he inspected.
Inspections ‘do not constitute a guarantee’
In her claim, Denton says Stockdale of Home Sweet Home Inspections returned to her house, looked at the problems and offered to refund her the $565 inspection fee.
She claims she told Stockdale he also should have seen rot on the side of her house.
“I’ve borrowed $40,000 and I’ve spent more, and I’m looking for another $100,000 to fix my suite because it’s been 18 months without being rented.”
Denton says she’s struggling to make her mortgage payments and is waiting for another inspector’s report to assess the defects allegedly missed in her home, a report which will go before a judge in her civil case.


It’s almost impossible for homeowners to get compensation if something is missed during a home inspection, despite new regulations introduced by the B.C. government in 2009 requiring all home inspectors to be licenced and insured.”
– from ‘Buyers left with big bills when home inspectors miss defects’, CBC News, 21 Feb 2013[hat-tip 4SliceofCheese]

During a speculative mania, construction and inspection standards drop, as the abnormal pace of price gains paper over shoddy work. People are forgiving of all sorts of deficits as long as they know they are accumulating equity at a rapid pace. When the tide goes out, they look for people to blame. Ironically, that often leads to standards being tightened at the very time when such measures are least needed.
As an aside: If you “just want a place to live”, why buy a house where you need to rent out your basement to make the mortgage payments?
– vreaa

New High – “Inventory is now at the highest point it has been in the last 8 years for this time of year.”

RE Inventory Chart130221

“Inventory is now at the highest point it has been in the last 8 years for this time of year.”
– chart and observation care of b5baxter at vancouverpeak.com 21 Feb 2013, created with numbers from PaulB.

West Side Property Example – Resold Feb 2013 At 9% Below 2011 Sale Price

“Just though I would pass along this info as I had the history of the
property at 2662 W KING EDWARD AV because I was watching it:

Sold May 2002 – $495,700 (5 days on market, $27K over ask)
Sold Nov 2009 – $1,230,000 (2 days on market, $41K over ask)
Sold May 2011 – $1,810,000 (25 days on market, $8K under ask)

Oct 2011
New Listing – $2,100,000

July 23, 2012
Price Reduced! – $1,999,000

Listing expired

September 19, 2012
New Listing – $1,830,000

Listing expired

February 18, 2013
New Listing – $1,830,000

Sold Feb 2013 – $1,650,000 (17 months on market, $450K under ask)”

- Many thanks to ‘NSR’ who sent this along by e-mail to VREAA 21 Feb 2013

If this was a flip, and there is a high chance of that given that it was bought in May 2011 and put back on the market in Oct 2011, then the loss is $160K plus transfer/commission costs plus carrying costs.
– vreaa

“Canadians shouldn’t count on home prices to be their main source of wealth gains. Real wealth is built through innovation, and hard work. Not through some magical asset inflation.”

“The correction underway in Canadian house prices is likely to persist for another two years, warns Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney.
“We’ve seen the adjustment in the housing market. We think there’s a bit more to come over the next couple of years,” Mr. Carney told CTV’s Question Period in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Mr. Carney said rapidly rising prices experienced in Canada over the past decade are “certainly not normal” and Canadians shouldn’t count on home prices to be their main source of wealth gains.
“Real wealth is built through innovation, and it’s gained through hard work,” Mr. Carney explained in an interview taped before this weekend’s G20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Moscow. “It’s not through some magical asset inflation.” …
Ottawa has tightened mortgage rules several times since 2008 to cool the market. But interest rates still remain at rock-bottom levels, as do borrowing costs.
Mr. Carney said the pace of debt accumulation has slowed to about 3 per cent a year from 10 per cent.”

– from ‘More adjustment to come in home prices: Carney’, G&M, 17 Feb 2013

Spot The Speculators #99 – ‘Canada Don’t Let Your Retirees Grow Up To Be Real Estate Cowboys’ – Alberta Couple Late 50’s; Net-worth $196K; RE Holdings $1,850K

“Alberta couple, Edward, 58, and Sue, 56, earn gross income of $247,200 per year from working in two great jobs — his in transportation management, hers in health care. Yet they are almost broke.
The problem is they are shelling out $47,514 per year just in interest charges on liabilities that amount to 6.7 times their annual pre-tax income. Their assets add up to $1.85-million, leaving them with a net worth of only $150,000 as the end of their careers comes into view.
The problem will get worse if not fixed, because they are not making a dent in the principal they owe. When interest rates rise, their debts will become ever more costly to carry. Unless they act, they will not be able to retire as planned. They may not even be able to avoid eventual insolvency. “Should we be selling off investments, some at a loss?” Edward asks. “We are working hard to keep our heads above water, but we feel that it is a losing battle. Our goal is to quit when I am 64. Question is: Can we do it with our heads above water?”
The numbers don’t look good: Their debt is about nine times their equity and their investment income is negative.”

– from ‘High-income couple has to deal with some real estate headaches’, Andrew Allentuck, Financial Post, 11 Feb 2013 [hat-tip kansai]

Breakdown of their assets and debt:

Assets (market value where applicable):
House: $950K
BC ‘income-generating’ property #1: $540K
BC ‘income-generating’ property #2: $240K
Arizona Condo: $120K
Total assets: $1.85M

Debt
House mortgage: $758K
BC property #1 mortgage: $446K
BC property #2 mortgage: $329K
Business Loan: $75K
CC Debt: $32.7K
Car loan: $13.2K
Total debt: $1.654M

Net-worth: $196K
RE holdings: $1,850K
Ratio of net-worth to RE: 1:9.4

By sensible estimates, one should hold no more than (90 minus your age)% of your net-worth in RE.
By that measure, this couple should have 33% or less of their net-worth in properties; the actual number for them is 944% (yes, not a typo – nine hundred and forty four percent).
If RE blinks, these guys are underwater. In fact, given the current market, they very likely are already underwater in that they’d probably have to drop prices by at least 10% to liquidate their holdings.
If prices drop by 30% or 40% or 50%, or even more, their retirement plans will be completely destroyed.
This is a more extreme example, but the fact remains that a very substantial percentage of Canadian ‘boomers’ are overdependent on the health of the RE market for their future financial health. And, like the couple in this example, they will likely be advised, or forced to the conclusion, that they have to lighten up their RE holdings.
– vreaa

“J.J. Miller and his brother William made their fortunes in real estate, and built giant houses in East Vancouver in 1908. They then lost everything in the crash of 1913.”

mansions09re1

“It’s a natural that the conversion of big old mansions into multiple-unit housing can boost density and protect our heritage in the process.
As one of Vancouver’s developers found out the hard way, one of the biggest sticking points is if the neighbourhood will allow it.
Developer James Evans and architect Timothy Ankenman, who are old friends, are also responsible for two recent conversions: one in the hotbed of community activism, Commercial Drive, and the other in the polar opposite prestigious hood that is Kerrisdale.
Anybody who’s lived around Commercial knows the Jeffs Residence at 1240 Salsbury Dr. It’s a hulking three-and-a-half-storey, 1907 house that’s provided rental housing to the area since the 1920s. It was built as both residence and doctor’s office for Dr. Thomas Jeffs and his wife Minnie and their kids. The popular doctor, also a city council alderman and police commissioner, moved out of the house shortly before he died in 1923. It may be considered an old working-class neighbourhood now, but in the early part of the 20th century the Commercial Drive area was a rich person’s enclave, and the Jeffs Residence was surrounded by many other Queen Anne Revival grand houses with turrets, pitched pyramid roofs and hipped dormers.
Mr. Evans lives about a block away, so he’d walk by the house all the time and think about restoring it. One day, he contacted the owner.
“We put together a deal and went through a rather painful approvals process, ended up buying the site, and here we are today,” says Mr. Evans, standing on the job site.
The painful process he is referring to is community reaction against the loss of rental stock.
“It’s a pretty reactionary neighbourhood with anything that smells like development, so here I am, getting launched in the middle of the thing,” he says, sounding dismayed at the memory. “A lot of people in the neighbourhood know who I am, and so I was walking around the neighbourhood with a bull’s-eye on my back over the course of the year I went through it.
“Loss of rental continues to be a sensitive issue,” he adds. “And I looked into trying to use this as rental and I figured the only way I could do it was to spend $1-million on the site, which would have bumped everybody’s rents by about 30 per cent, and that’s not affordable housing anymore.”
Instead, he and Mr. Ankenman went through the process of getting the house added to the heritage registry in exchange for density and other variances. The result is a seven-unit house comprised of mostly two-bedroom units, except for the top unit, which will be one bedroom, with an amazing view from the turret. The price starts at $400,000 for a 750-square-foot condo, and Mr. Evans says he’s already pre-sold three of the units. It’s about two months away from completion.”

I ask him if he would do the Jeffs Residence project over again, having gone through a year under the hot spotlight of contention. He pauses.
“This one is unique,” he finally says. “There’s only one of these in Vancouver. And I’ll be able to walk past this thing in 10 years and it will look great and continue to look great, and I will get some personal satisfaction out of that.
“Will I make any money out of it? I don’t know yet. Time will tell.”

– from ‘Vancouver developers of heritage properties convert homes and hearts’, Kerry Gold, Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 2013

Thanks for the link to the above article goes to regular reader and commenter Aldus Huxtable, who adds:
“I used to live right by this development and have watched it for some time.
It’s a fun story we can watch play out over the next few years.
Down the block is J. J. Miller’s Kurrajong, a heritage house [photo below].
It’s also really important to read the heritage waymarker [see below].
J.J. Miller and his brother William made their fortunes in real estate, and built this giant house on Salsbury in 1908. They then lost everything in the crash of 1913.”

800px-J.J._Miller's_Kurrajong

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brent Toderian, Former COV Director Of Planning – “The competition between external demand and local demand is one of the reasons that barring a collapse and a crash, we are going to remain a very expensive city to own in.”

Question (woman at microphone): “I would like to hear your comments on limiting foreign ownership as it addresses local affordability.”
Brent Toderian [Brent Toderian, former Director of City Planning, COV]: “Great question.”
Other male panelist: “I call that the elephant in the room.”
Toderian: “I’m really glad you brought it up because I had it on my list. That is the elephant crushing the table. It’s not under it, it’s not on top of it. It’s something the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability dropped the ball on. The competition between external demand and local demand — that’s the nicest way I can put it — is one of the reasons that barring a collapse and a crash, we are going to remain a very expensive city to own in.”
– from exchange at a keynote panel discussion on “Living Affordably in Greater Vancouver” at BUILDEX (convention on designing, building and managing real estate), Vancouver Convention Centre, 13-14 Feb 2013. Quoted in comment by ‘urbanizta’ at their own blog ‘CityHallWatch’, 15 Feb 2013 at 12:01am

To say “barring a collapse and a crash, we are going to remain a very expensive city to own in” is a tautology; it’s like saying “if prices don’t go down, they will stay up”. In other words, to say this is to say nothing at all.
That aside, this exchange, and the article above the comment, does demonstrate how people are continuing to wrestle with the issue of ‘foreign ownership’ and how it may effect the Vancouver market. The discussion is hobbled by a number of things: lack of actual data, lack of political will to gather pertinent data, the mixing-up of local and foreign buyers, and a lack of understanding of what constitutes speculation. We anticipate that this issue will continue to be ineffectively churned over in many similar discussions while prices begin to collapse. Once the price collapse is convincingly underway, we won’t hear much about ‘foreign ownership’ for quite some time. Firstly, because foreign buyers, like local speculators, will disappear in a falling market; they are momentum players and hate any asset falling in price. Secondly, many locals will be dearly wishing for buyers – any buyer – to rescue them from their real estate holdings. Once prices have ground down into a trough (likely over years); once speculation has been wrung out of the market and the dust settles; – then there will likely be a meaningful place for civic discussion about the wisdom of regulation of foreign ownership.
Currently, the far, far larger ‘elephant in the room’ is a speculative mania that has yet to unwind.
– vreaa

“I’m a Canadian living in L.A. and to me the bubble as been clearly visible for many years. I’m fascinated by the ‘cultural’ aspects of the Canadian bubble.”

“I’m a Canadian living in L.A. and to me the bubble as been clearly visible for many years. Now, my interest has evolved, and I’m more fascinated by the ‘cultural’ aspects of the Canadian bubble. Like real estate people being invited as ‘guests’ on the evening news. To my eye, that alone screams overvaluation and speculative mania. Believe me, in a couple of years, that’s the kind of details that will go in the “what were we thinking” category.
I flew to Montreal recently and *everyone* there has something to say about real estate. I wasn’t the one who it brought up. They talk about how this condo sold for X amount, how holding on to a (bubbly) property is the best investment known to man. Greed permeates every one of theses judgments, but greed is never acknowledged. It’s just ‘common sense’.”

Nick at VREAA 9 Feb 2013 11:37am

‘Martin From Richmond’ Update – “Prices are down more than 15%. Another thing worth considering is that 2013 is the Year of the Snake for those of Chinese ancestry.”

“Prices have dropped more than 15 per cent in one popular neighbourhood in Richmond.
Almost a year ago, a 2800 square foot, five bedroom three bath house sold in the Garden City area for $952,000, a bit above asking price in what was described as a cash sale that followed a bidding war between two interest parties.
Within the last week, another house, a 2400 square foot, three bath house on a similar-sized lot sold in the same neighbourhood for $805,000, below the asking price of $838,900 and even below assessed value.
In both cases, the homes didn’t need any work, and were move-in ready, updated, and well-designed.
The $147,000 drop in price works out to be a 15.4 per cent price drop in the area.
And I think it’s an indication that at least one home owner seriously considered “cashing out”, and ultimately did, and that others might do the same, if the real estate industry continues to grind to a halt.
Another thing worth considering is that 2013 is the Year of the Snake for those of Chinese ancestry.
A renowned Richmond fortune teller and feng shui expert predicts that the Year of the Snake will see profit margins slip, and said business will slow down
Whether you believe in Chinese astrology is not the point; considering the influence of foreign and mostly Chinese buyers on the price spikes since late in 2010, it’s whether this significant subset of deep-pocketed people believe it.
The fortune teller said 2013 will see a significant slow down, and said people will be more careful in spending their money.
As with my earlier “self fulfilling prophecy” comment, if Chinese investors really do believe that 2013 will be a slow year, that could influence their decisions, and in fact, result in a slow down. It all depends on if enough people are drinking the Kool-Aid.
But the fortune teller also noted that the “wealthy Chinese” are unlikely to liquidate their assets by taking low-ball offers, and will decide to rather sit on their properties, awaiting better times.
So, recent sales activity (according to the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, January 2013 sales were the second lowest for that month since 2002) combined with the Chinese New Year, could further trigger prices to slide.
Something worth considering for those who are mullling over the possibility of re-entering the world of home ownership.”

– Martin from Richmond, via e-mail to VREAA, 6 Feb 2013

We don’t believe in astrology any more than we believe in leprechauns, but we do ‘believe’ in the fact that others believe in such things, and that those beliefs can influence herd behaviour.
A speculative mania is itself based on false beliefs.
– vreaa

Spot The Speculators #98 – “Robert has been tapping his savings for years to support his biggest investment, a rental property that bleeds more than $1,000 a month over the rents it produces.”

“Registered retirement savings plans are the lifejackets for the retirement of a British Columbia couple we’ll call Robert and Jill. At 55, he is a maintenance supervisor for a small town. Jill, 48, is a self-employed management consultant.
“We need to get more money for our retirement and we have to make up for the savings that Robert lost through bad investments,” Jill says.
“We have to rebuild our investments, specifically our RRSPs, if we are going to be able to retire comfortably.”
Their RRSPs have a balance of $355,000 heavily allocated to growth stocks and mutual funds.”

“Robert and Jill have been short of cash and have abandoned RRSP contributions in the wake of a divorce that cost Robert $100,000 on top of a six-figure loss on a business.”

“Unfortunately, Robert has been tapping his savings for years to support his biggest investment, a rental property that bleeds more than $1,000 a month over the rents it produces.
If the property were sold for its $650,000 estimated value, it would leave $200,000 after paying off the $414,366 selling costs. That would pay off $30,000 in other debts and leave $170,000 to put in RRSPs. In 10 years at retirement, that would have grown to as much as $290,500 and could then add $16,000 a year to retirement income.”


Assets:
Residence $550K
Rental property $650K
RRSPs $356K
cash $10K
3 cars $35K

Liabilities:
Mortgages $414K
LOC + CC $30K

Networth:
$1.12M

- from ‘Family Finance: RRSPs to the rescue’, Andrew Allentuck, 6 Feb 2013 [hat-tip space889]

Clearly only hanging onto rental property for presumed future price gains. Ergo, speculators.
Percentage of net-worth in RE: 100%
Percentage of net-worth that should be in RE at age 55: 35% or less
Percentage of BC boomers in similar position: [your guess here]%
Implied price downside when couples like this started selling: [your guess here]%

- vreaa

Cowboys Will Be Cowboys – “I just opened up an account with National Bank to trade Over The Counter stocks… I know it’s super risky but I need the money to buy a condo.”

Don writes by e-mail [2 Feb 2013]:
“A friend of mine who lives in lives downtown YVR posted this on Facebook complaining about Bank Investment people:
“I do my own research beforehand. I never buy their shitty products. I just opened up an account with National Bank instead to do OTCs… I know it’s super risky but I need the money to buy a condo this year”.
So here they are trading OTC BB stocks (aka Pump and Dumps) to make money to buy a Condo!…no risk here!”

Moody’s Downgrades Canadian Banks – “High levels of consumer indebtedness and elevated housing prices leave banks more vulnerable”

“Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the long-term credit ratings of six Canadian banks, including Toronto-Dominion, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and CIBC. National Bank and Desjardins were also downgraded. The ratings agency lowered each of its ratings one notch, citing high levels of consumer debt and high home prices as threats to the Canadian economy.
“High levels of consumer indebtedness and elevated housing prices leave Canadian banks more vulnerable than in the past to downside risks the Canadian economy faces,” David Beattie, vice-president at Moody’s said in a note.
Canadian consumer debt has risen to a record-high 165 per cent of disposable income in the third quarter of 2012, up from 137 per cent in mid-2007. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has repeatedly warned about these levels, but they remain stubbornly high.”

– from ‘Moody’s downgrades 6 Canadian banks’, CBC, 28 Jan 2013 [hat-tip Bally]

‘Saskatoon Housing Bubble’ Reviews Vancouver RE Fundamentals – “Boom Bubble and Bust”

Kevin at saskatoonhousing bubble has posted the first of a two part review of the Vancouver RE market:
‘The Vancouver Real Estate Market: Booms Bubbles and Busts’ (saskatoonhousingbubble, 25 Jan 2013).
Take a look at the entire article at the site.
Here we repost two of the charts:

Average Vancouver House Price and Average BC Weekly Wage Index Base 1991 =100

Average Vancouver House Price and Average 2 Bed Apartment Rent Index Base 1992 =100

Thanks for the analysis and the post, Kevin.
Vancouver RE is at about twice the price it should be, based on fundamentals such as rental yield and incomes. – vreaa

The Atlantic – “How real is Canada’s housing bubble? More real than any other country’s.”

HousingPrices

“Canada has a new worthwhile initiative. After years of booming prices, that bastion of politeness north of the border is looking to avoid a catastrophic housing bust for something more, well, boring. Initiatives don’t get more worthwhile, and perhaps not more difficult considering Canada just might have the biggest housing bubble in the world right now.
Not exactly boring, eh?
The distinction between higher prices and bubbly prices isn’t as subjective as it might sound. Like any other financial asset, there should be a fairly steady relationship between the price of housing and the stream of income — rent — it produces. Should be. The chart above, from The Economist, looks at the price-to-rent ratios across different countries, and measures how under-or-overvalued housing is, with negative numbers corresponding to the former and positive ones to the latter.”


“..by keeping rates where they are and slowly tightening mortgage requirements, Canada hopes to engineer a more gradual price decline that won’t set off a vicious circle. In the best case, prices wouldn’t fall, except below the rate of inflation, so that real prices decline without hitting household net worths. This strategy is hardly unique — China has done the same the past few years — but it has the very Canadian name of “macroprudential regulation”.

– from ‘The Biggest Housing Bubble in the World Is in … Canada?’, The Atlantic, 25 Jan 2013

Yes, we have a big RE bubble.
Noteworthy, again, for the mention in the international press.
It is our considered opinion that a soft landing, particularly in markets such as Vancouver’s, is an impossibility.
Our market has been completely dependent on rising prices to draw in buyers.
Stagnant or falling prices will beget falling prices. Yes, that’s a circular, self-reinforcing effect, and that is why the downdraft, once established, will be so powerful.
– vreaa

“They transformed an old Greek couple’s house into a 3 suite main house and coach house. 8 months ago they came up for sale, at a little over $1M ask on each. Now, all 4 are for rent with the same RE company that was trying to sell them.”

“House near me where an old Greek couple lived sold over a year ago for a couple million to a developer. They transformed it into a 3 suite main house and coach house. About eight months ago they came up for sale, averaging a little over a million ask on each.
This weekend I was out for a walk and I saw that all four are now for rent with the same real-estate company that was trying to sell them before.
Yikes! I’m thinking that developer bet the farm on current market softness being only temporary.
Obviously even the professionals are delirious.”

Anonymous at VCI 20 Jan 2013 10:13pm

What would each unit have to rent for to merit the $1M (each!) price tag?
What price would be realistic for each unit, given the likely rental income?
– vreaa

Spot The Speculators #97 – “We are moving to Burnaby in March, so we decided to keep our house in North Vancouver and put it up for rent.”

craigslist

“We are moving to Burnaby on March, so we decided to keep our place and give it [for] rent, it has never been rented before, very well cared and Very nice designed two levels, 3_Bed, 2_Bath, 1 seperate entry Den, located in one of the nice and quite neighborhood.
You have the option to choose(Furnished: $2700 or unfurnished: $2500).”
craigslist ad, 21 Jan 2013 [hat-tip Guy Smiley on VCI]

The ‘speculator’ classification is based largely on the assumption that they have purchased in Burnaby.
– vreaa

Flipping Into The Teeth Of The Storm

4464 W 7th

4464 West 7th Ave, Vancouver West-side (Point Grey)
2,094 sqft SFH; built 1978; 33×112 lot

Listed 22 Jun 2011, Ask Price $1,698,000
Sold 28 Jun 2011, Sale price $1,826,000

Listed 16 Jan 2013, Ask Price $2,190,000

Remember the heady days of 2011, where SFHs sold over-ask?
This flipper appears to have disregarded market signs and is fishing for a big catch.
They have listed at 20% above 2011 sales price, whereas most SFH sales are currently at 5% to 10% or more below 2011-2012 peak prices.
This’ll be one to watch.
– vreaa

Spot The Speculator #96 – “In 2008, when I was 28 years old, I had saved $70,000, enough for a 20% down payment on a triplex in Toronto. I moved into one unit and the rent from the other two units paid for the mortgage and utilities.”

“I’ve always been very focused in my life. I was born a triplet and knew from an early age my parents wouldn’t be able to pay for many extras, or for postsecondary education for all of us. But I was determined to go to university and to buy a home of my own. So in high school I started working as a waitress for 20 hours a week. During the summers I took as many shifts as possible, often working seven days straight. I was a workaholic and should have cut back because my grades were suffering, but I persevered.”

“I earned enough to pay for tuition by living at home with my parents and commuting to York University. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a car so I used buses to make the two-hour journey to York and back each day. At one point I considered buying a car but was shocked when my dad showed me how expensive it was. I kept commuting every day for four years. Believe me, it was really depressing. I would get home every night and it was cold and dark, and I was tired. But I knew I was saving for my big goal of owning an investment property, which kept me going.”

“After graduating with an English degree in 2006, I had no student debt and $20,000 in savings from my waitressing job. Then I got a lucky break-I landed a job as an administrative assistant, paying $32,000 a year in downtown Toronto. In 2008, when I was 28 years old, I had saved $70,000, enough for a 20% down payment on a triplex in Little Italy. I moved into one unit and the rent from the other two units paid for the mortgage and utilities. Last year, I got married and my husband moved into the apartment with me. I’ve never doubted the triplex was one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made.”

“The key for me was tracking my spending in a journal to see exactly where every penny was going so I knew where I could cut back and add to my savings. Most years I saved 70% of my earned income, which I used to pay for university and for the down payment on the triplex. By living at home a little longer than most people I was able to really beef up my down payment. That’s made me truly independent a lot more quickly than many of my friends who are still mired in debt.”

“Now my goal is to pay off the mortgage on the property as quickly as possible. I’ve done some renos over the years and I’m putting $500 a month extra on my mortgage to pay it off faster. The triplex’s value has also gone up. I bought it for $350,000 and it’s worth $450,000 today.”

- Angie Oliveira, 32, Toronto, as featured in ‘How to become a landlord’, Julie Cazzin, MoneySense 16 Jan 2013 [hat-tip proteus, who sent this link by e-mail and added "Saving 20k waitressing is a heroic accomplishment."]

Angie has an admirably proactive savings habit. Because of this ability, she will quite likely do fine in the long run, but we suspect this will end up occurring despite her RE investment, not because of it.
Yes, she is describing a ‘cash-flow positive’ property (something unavailable in our city in 2008), but we’d like to see more of the math before being sure about that. Also, there is downside risk of increased mortgage rates, downward pressure on rents (TO condo glut), and unexpected expenses.
She bought a few years prior to the peak of a multigenerational bubble in real estate. If property prices drop 33% from the peak, she’ll likely still be able to maintain her ownership, but she will, on paper, have lost her profits and her downpayment. This is something we’d imagine would be particularly painful for her, given the hard work it has taken for her to accumulate her savings gains.
In that regard, it is interesting to note that it took her many years of extreme saving to accumulate $70K, but her RE purchase then rose in value by $100K from 2008 to 2012. In fact, she ‘made’ more on paper in RE than she did in entire income those 4 years, when taxation is taken into account. This is a good example of how RE price rises through the speculative mania have perverted the way in which people consider the relative value of real estate, money, work and saving; and how homes have become financial instruments as much as places of shelter.
– vreaa

“Person two said that the apparent downturn in sales and values in Vancouver is largely illusionary because it is only real estate at the top end of the spectrum that has slowed, which is artificially skewing the statistics in the mid-range.”

“Last night I was listening to the following discussion about the Vancouver housing market. It went basically like this. Person one said that real estate is coming down in Vancouver. Person two said that the apparent downturn in sales and values in Vancouver is largely illusionary because it is only real estate at the top end of the spectrum that has slowed, which is artificially skewing the statistics in the mid-range, and that homes in the midrange and below are still selling well and have not slowed. Is this accurate? Personally, I was going to say that he was not correct but I did not have the exact statistics to back up my claim. Where are the statistics on each market price segment?”
Mark W at greaterfool.ca on 18 Jan 2013 at 10:25 pm

Not so long ago we heard the reverse argument: that the high end market was special, and resilient to price drops.
Each sector of the market, whether categorized by price range or by geographical area, may take different price trajectories peak to trough. Condos or SFH, Richmond or West Vancouver, Central or Peripheral – price paths will have different shapes.
Regardless, in the end, each sector will have lost very similar large percentages. No subgroup will be spared.
We continue to anticipate 50%-66% drops in real prices peak to trough, across all property types.
– vreaa

“I have homes in Canada and the US. I have a paper loss in Florida but still have a home.”

“I have homes in Canada and the US. Here in Florida there was a massive “correction” which led to total bankruptcy of a lot of people, huge losses by banks and a huge mess. I am not too sympathetic with people who borrow over their heads but Canada is far better off as it is than here. Fortunately both my houses were bought with cash I actually worked for and saved so I have a paper loss in Florida but still have a home. Others are not so lucky.”
– Skitty commenting at G&M, January 12, 2013 10:45 AM

This individual is not leveraged, and it seems they will be able to sit tight through any price fluctuation, if they wish.
But we know there are Canadians who have used HELOCs against their Canadian properties to buy US RE, and we wonder how many will be pushed to the brink by the very large price drops we anticipate in Canadian RE.
– vreaa

House Price And Family Income Growth

House Price and Family Income Growth, 2000 -2010
– chart care of Kevin at saskatoonhousingbubble, 15 Jan 2013. [Thank you Kevin.]

A nation-wide bubble in home prices, driven by cheap financing and local speculators.
– vreaa

Spot The Speculators #95 – “Each had a house with a mortgage. Then they bought a new residence and used a line of credit to add a rental apartment to the new house. Their $1.5-million of debt is 12 times their gross employment income.”

“A couple we’ll call Tiff (49) and Sandy (45) turned their long-time friendship into a union when they bought a house in British Columbia and combined their fortunes in 2008. The relationship came with a lot of baggage, however. Each had a house with a mortgage. Then they bought a new residence and used a line of credit to add a rental apartment to the new house. Their $1.5-million of debt is 12 times their gross employment income.
Revenue from the income properties barely covers their total costs — mortgage and line-of-credit interest, taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance. Add in falling prices in the sliding B.C. housing market and the couple is subsidizing losing investments.
They save only $100 a month for RRSPs and $25 a month in an RESP for a Sandy’s nine-year old child from a former marriage. At mid-life, the couple, each of whom works for a large publishing company, has just $31,000 of RRSPs and almost no cash.”

They started with 25% conventional down payments, but now find themselves with about 10% equity in the rental units as a result of falling property prices and debt-financed buyouts of former partners. Their return after paying all interest costs, utilities, insurance and taxes is negligible. Unless they can raise rents drastically or realize future capital gains, the investments are flops.

A financial crisis triggered, perhaps, by unemployment, illness or accident would require them to add debt, for they have just $2,000 in cash. If interest rates rise by 1% or 2%, they would be forced to refinance, but they already have 30-year amortizations. To pay more interest, they would have to face deregistration of some or all of their $31,000 of RRSPs, heavy taxes on payouts or, in the worst case, bankruptcy.

Family Finance asked Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager and financial planner at KCM Wealth Management Inc. in Vancouver, to work with the couple. He is candid in describing the issues.
“The couple’s problems are far too much debt, especially for properties that are poor investments, and an excessive concentration in real estate, for each unit is within just blocks of the others,” he says.

Real estate has produced substantial gains for homeowners in parts of B.C., but the boom is waning. When interest rates rise, prices could fall further, for most people buy what they can afford and, with higher borrowing costs, they will afford less.

– from ‘Bad real estate investments leave couple with $1.5-million in debt’, Andrew Allentuck, Financial Post, 11 Jan 2013 [hat-tip JoeQ]

Summary of finances for this couple:
Assets $2M [$1.862M in RE at current market prices; $137K other]
Debt $1.542M [3 mortgages, 1 LOC, CCs, Car loan]
Net worth $456K [Assets minus Debt]
Ratio of RE holdings to Net worth: 4.1 to 1
Put another way, more than 400% of their net worth is in RE.
(I find this figure as shocking as the debt to income ratio of 12)
If/when the market price of their RE holdings drop 25% they would be wiped out.

What, me, a speculator?
Just innocent locals doing what innocent locals do, right? Building wealth with RE.
How many more out there are in similar situations?
– vreaa

College Student Living With Parents In $7M “Piece Of Junk House” – “I have had to sit through countless dinners where my parents friends bragged about foreign investors leaving notes in their mailboxes making cash offers on their houses and how they could “cash out” at any time. But they didn’t.”

“I am a college student living at home in a house assessed at 7 million dollars. With that price tag you would expect a mansion right? Nope. The house is 90 years old, doesn’t have insulation or a proper heating system. My parents bought the house in 1985 for 450,000. Adjusting for inflation that is 860,000 in 2012 dollars. That is the most I would pay TODAY for this piece of junk house. However we do live in a quiet area in the UBC area and the property itself is quite large with a premium view, but even those factors do not begin to justify the difference between the assessed value and the inflation adjusted price my parents paid 28 years ago.
Luckily my parents were smart with their finances and a large correction in the market will not affect them. My parents have avoided using any paper gains in the property even when their coworkers and friends kept pestering them to take out loans against the house to buy condos and rental properties. These same coworkers and friends have been driving around in fancy leased cars and enjoying nice vacations every year while my parents worked hard to pay off the mortgage. I have had to sit through countless dinners where my parents friends bragged about foreign investors leaving notes in their mailboxes making cash offers on their houses and how they could “cash out” at any time. But they didn’t. Now that they do want to sell they are finding the market has cooled and no on wants to pay peak prices for their homes. Very few people are prepared to spend 15 million dollars on a home in a cooling market.”

Robert Borden at VREAA 8 Jan 2012 3:43pm

Spot The Speculators #94 – They’ve lowered their price to $950K already, but they’re “not going to lower it any more because they want to retire, and they really believe that’s what it’s worth because they built it themselves, and it’s one of a kind, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“Talking to a colleague at the office this morning over coffee. Her relative is trying to sell their $950K house and acreage on the Sunshine Coast in BC, just a 45 minute ferry ride north of Vancouver. It was built it in 2000…..but they inherited the land for 10 years before that. So, a 50/50 “freebee” from a monetary perspective, but that’s only “IF” they didn’t take all of their equity out, that is……and we don’t know that they didn’t do this already.
I casually asked how long it had been listed, and I got the reply “since late 2008″. ROFL !!
Then I get told they’ve lowered their price already, but they’re “not going to do it any more because they want to retire, and they really believe that is what it is worth because they built it themselves, and it’s one of a kind, yadda, yadda, yadda”. So I go and search the town on realtor.ca and it looks like a really bad case of the measles have hit the Sunshine Coast. Not only is there literally a hundred red dots, but most of them have numbers like 12, 25, 43, 33, 17, 5, etc, overlaid on them, indicating multiple listings contained within that dot.”

Carioca Canuck at VREAA 28 Dec 2012 8:18am who added “Here’s another anecdote from the “willing to sit until I get my price crowd”.

We’re making the point here that any owners who have decided to sell, but then don’t steadily drop their ask price until they hit a bid, are delaying selling on the premise of future market strength.
This is also an example of long-term owners who have, it appears, become dependent on the presumed value of their RE for their future retirement security. We fear that there are many in their position who will have their plans hobbled in the downturn.
– vreaa

Canadian Cities Inflation Adjusted House Prices, 1980-2011, Annotated Chart

Canadian cities house price index with quotes 1980

- chart from Kevin at saskatoonhousingbubble, referred to at VREAA 28 Dec 2012, headlined by popular request. Thanks Kevin and UBCghettodweller. Kevin adds: “The housing bubble that popped in the early 80′s was in Western Canada while Central and Eastern Canada were not affected. The housing bubble that popped in the early 90′s was centered in Toronto and area while the west was still recovering from the 80′s. Today, in 2012, it looks like the housing bubble is spread throughout Canada but to differing degrees.”

“I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”

housing-obrienxxrb1
Sarah O’Brien and her husband Darryl Silva were able to buy a home a few years ago because their 35-year mortgage kept payments low.

“In 2006, the new Conservative government in Ottawa allowed CMHC to tinker with its tried-and-true formula. One of the key changes was in mortgage length: CMHC would insure mortgages 35 and 40 years in length.
The measures helped people like Sarah O’Brien, who bought her first home at the age of 26. She and her husband, Darryl Silva, purchased a condo three years ago in Etobicoke, on the western side of Toronto, with a down payment of just 5 per cent. Mortgage rates were low, which helped. But so did the bank’s willingness to give them a CMHC-insured 35-year mortgage. The longer amortization held their biweekly payments to about $700.
“We’re young to be getting into the real estate market, so if the monthly amounts were significantly higher, we probably wouldn’t have,” Ms. O’Brien said. “We probably would have waited.”
The arrival of buyers like Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Silva has changed the market, however. Home buyers have responded to low rates and easy mortgage rules “by bidding up the price of houses,” said bank analyst Peter Routledge at National Bank Financial. Since 2000, the price of houses across Canada has risen 127 per cent; they’ve gone up nearly 50 per cent since 2006.
“You can never really provide cheap housing,” argues Moin Yahya, associate professor of law at the University of Alberta. “All you can really do is provide cheap cash, which of course then drives up the price of housing. You’re only distorting the market.”


“What is beyond dispute is that CMHC’s rules have enabled a change in behaviour among home buyers like Ashleigh Egerton. When she and her boyfriend bought a townhouse in Brampton, Ont., in May, 2008, they could have made a 5 per cent down payment – but opted to put nothing down instead.
“Instead of putting that money into the house, we felt like we’d be off to a better start if we had some money to furnish the house,” Ms. Egerton says. “I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”
But the zero-down mortgages created a new problem in the housing market: Buyers who weren’t building any equity in their properties, since the payments were primarily covering the interest in the early stages of the loan. When Ms. Egerton moved out about two years later after splitting up with her boyfriend, the pair still didn’t have any equity in the home.”


– above two anecdotes excerpted from ‘Ottawa’s $800-billion housing problem’, Tara Perkins and Grant Robertson, The Globe and Mail, 26 Dec 2012

Examples of two couples who bought houses, but shouldn’t have; and who, under normal circumstances (and, ironically, at lower prices), wouldn’t have.
– vreaa