Monthly Archives: October 2017

Jessica Barrett – ‘I Left Vancouver Because Vancouver Left Me’ – “Like Living On An Abandoned Film Set.”

“I was, by many standards, the definition of success in Vancouver. I had a permanent, full-time job at the top of my field as senior editor of Vancouver Magazine, I had a rich network of professional connections, a solid group of close friends, and stable, albeit cramped and expensive, rental housing. Yet my entire life felt like a struggle. …

I quickly found the city I’d returned to had changed — and not just in the way that condo towers had supplanted even more vacant lots, old houses or beloved music venues. The tone had turned hostile. Property values, ever the stuff of shock and awe, had begun to skyrocket, defying even the most bullish predictions. Then the “million dollar line” moved out of Vancouver, erasing the division between east and west on the affordability scale. The revelation gave rise to a #donthave1million social media campaign which, for about a minute, became something of a millennial rallying cry. The response from the city’s powerbrokers — developers, newspaper columnists, etc. — was by and large blunt and cruel: if young people couldn’t afford it here, they should just leave. I shot back with a column detailing the absurdity of a city that is simply OK with the fact that its young cannot afford to live there and mused about whether it was time for me to leave for more welcoming pastures. …

My year away had opened my eyes to the fact that other cities also offered the uber-modern urban experience that Vancouver — ever narcissistic in its examinations — likes to think it has a lock on. …

This time, finding a place for my newly formed family of three —my boyfriend, me and his dog — was defeating and degrading. My place didn’t allow pets so staying put wasn’t an option. It took us four months to find a dog-friendly apartment in our price range with a reasonable amount of space (i.e. more than 450 square feet). In the two years since my last search, the rental market seemed to have gone completely insane. Half the listings we came across were scams, and apartments in once-affordable areas of the city, like the West End, or Main Street, were going for nearly $2,000 a month. Landlords seemed to demand everything just short of a claim on your firstborn child to consider you a serious contender. One woman refused us because I wouldn’t hand over my unredacted bank statements as proof of income to a total stranger.

While we searched we sublet, put our stuff in storage and lived out of boxes and slept on blowup air mattresses in bare rooms. My boyfriend started looking for work as a graphic designer and found the average pay in Vancouver to be $10,000 to $15,000 less than the same kind of work in Calgary, which, it bears noting, was in the middle of a recession at the time. Meanwhile, I had started my new job, which I loved, but the stress and instability of our housing situation made it difficult to focus on the demands of this new, high-stress position. …

My own collapse came when my partner declared that, although he did not wish to end our relationship, he couldn’t stay in Vancouver. I couldn’t fault him for a single reason he gave. We had finally landed in a 600 square foot coach house behind a mansion in Shaughnessy. It had a fancy address but the place itself was falling apart. The windows, which had been painted shut when we moved in, were now wedged open and wouldn’t close; the dishwasher (a major luxury we were excited to have) had broken and become a mildew factory, the door would only close when locked and would only lock if I heaved on it with my entire body weight. The heater in the bedroom buzzed so loud that I had to wear earplugs while I slept and we didn’t have a smoke detector. There was no storage, no place to put a kitchen table and nowhere else for us to go. For this, we paid $1,700 a month to a woman worth millions who clearly didn’t need the rent. It was obvious we were paying her to be onsite security for the winter months she spent in California.

The neighbourhood itself was like living on an abandoned film set. Aside from our landlord, we only ever saw construction workers, landscapers, and on occasion, the squatters who lived in the empty mansion across the street — just a line on someone’s investment sheet somewhere.”

– excerpts and photo from ‘I Left Vancouver Because Vancouver Left Me’, Jessica Barrett, The Tyee, 30 Oct 2017 [hat-tip Keith]

The whole Tyee piece is a must read.
Even for those of us familiar with all of the themes, this is a gutting story. The city really is hollowing itself out.
Greed and influence seem to have taken an even firmer grip of the reins and all momentum now is towards more and more and more of the same.
Perhaps a phoenix will rise out of the aftermath of a massive price crash.
Perhaps, later, Jessica and her family will come back. But I suspect she won’t, even if Vancouver miraculously becomes more hospitable, because she will have built a good life in Calgary (and Calgary will be the better for it).
– vreaa

“I’ve thought since early 2010 that Vancouver housing was in a bubble, and have refused to buy a house for this reason. I’ve felt that the risk of mean-reversion was far higher than the risk of missing the upside.”

“It’s all a speculative bubble. End of story. This includes housing prices in Vancouver (and elsewhere in Canada), as well as The Everything Bubble.

Any fool can lease a high end car. It doesn’t make you rich. It makes you fake – you live in a world of make-believe, which has been working out fine so far. But, all the wealth effect of rising housing prices here can be reversed in a heartbeat.

All bubbles mean-revert. Always. And the results are phenomenally painful, especially to the late-comers who thought the party would go on forever.

I’ve thought since early 2010 that Vancouver housing was in a bubble, and have refused to buy a house for this reason. I’ve felt that the risk of mean-reversion was far higher than the risk of missing the upside. Of course, I didn’t foresee interest rates staying at emergency levels for so long, and more stupidly, being actually lowered in 2015. I don’t really feel badly for having not bought, as it’s impossible to time the market and we could easily have been buying right at the peak at any time in the last 7 years. But, emotionally, I very much want to buy a house, so that my kids can grow up with better stability (my 7 year old is already living in her third rental house). Not that owning a house is a sign of stability, and our family’s/our marriage’s stability have not really been impacted by renting, but moving frequently is a huge drain of time and money. (and our credit scores are 832/850, with six figure investments/retirement savings, so we could buy if it made sense).

Now that Canadian (and Vancouver) real estate appears to have peaked and to be dropping though, I’m questioning if I even want to buy in the Lower Mainland in the foreseeable future. That would be buying into a declining asset class, which could even drop below the mean and stay there long term, due to upcoming structural demographic problems. I know this is considered impossible by the vast majority of Canadians, but if they would read about (1) asset bubbles, and (2) Japan’s economic situation for the last 20 years, a few might understand what I’m talking about.

My opinion is that, while both overseas buyers and local speculators have been absolutely desperate to get into the Vancouver housing casino game, that solid and sustained drops in prices here will have an ice water effect on their FOMO. I think that, like speculators everywhere, they will not want to actually lose money, and will do their very best to get their money out if at all possible. Those who can’t will ride it down. As it drops, the flood of speculative/store-of-value foreign “investors” will run, not walk, away from Vancouver and into safer markets in other countries.

Although I’m a 3th generation Canadian, born in Vancouver, I have lived in 4 other countries, and I understand there’s nothing magical about Vancouver. There are many special places around the world. Our ease of money laundering, ease of bypassing inconvenient and toothless taxation laws, and perceived strong laws and banking system have made us a magnet for all kinds of stolen money worldwide, money that in fairness should be helping to increase living standards in the countries of origin, not enriching a lucky corrupt few who managed to smuggle it out.

Please don’t see this as racist or against any particular ethnic or country group – I’m strongly opposed to corruption worldwide, and while I’m under no illusions, one of the things I love about Canada (and most of the other developed countries) is that levels of corruption are far lower here. You can be pretty sure that the police will help you when you need them, (without incentive payments), and not let you get away with things you shouldn’t, just because you’re rich. I welcome productive, honestly-earned foreign investment in Canada, and welcome productive, committed immigrants.

All those flashy cars bought for cash, top end clothing and jewellery being bought, dollars splashed around by young “rich” people? Well, when the money comes from dubious sources from one’s parents, it’s easy come, easy go. Or, it’s fake – the truly rich would not need to mortgage their purchases of Vancouver property, or lease those high end cars. But then, the truly rich don’t feel the need to buy such flashy excess.

Additionally, I am horrified at the massive expansion of credit and therefore debtload of all levels, worldwide – individuals, households, corporations, municipal and provincial governments. It is unprecedented and shocking — and unrepayable.

I see the result as nothing short of total economic collapse. The party simply can’t go on forever. “You can’t cure debt with more debt”. And, you can’t really inflate your way out of it, when trillions of QE mysteriously has not resulted in more than very minimal inflation. No matter how governments worldwide may try, I can’t see any way to avoid collapse, deflation, and depression. This is a terrible future vision, and I’m very saddened for the fate of my young children, and their possible children and so on. I worry so much that they won’t have health care when they need it, and that their safety will be at risk from desperate idiots who didn’t have the forethought to plan ahead and not consume beyond what they could afford. I worry about what we’re going to do when faced with seeing neighbours’ children going hungry – I can’t stand to see children hungry, but I can’t possibly feed them all.

It comes at a very bad time already, with climate change (yes, eventually the naysayers will have to admit it’s happening, whether they ever admit to the anthropogenic aspect of it or not) becoming an existential threat to populations worldwide. All it will take is one epidemic virus, with no money left to fight it, to devastate a large swath of humanity (not to mention the huge damage that so many billions of humans have already caused to every other form of life on this planet).

I’m sorry to be such a doom-and-gloomer, but I wish I could see a way forward for humanity that didn’t have this outcome. Yes, humans are incredibly adaptable and clever, especially in coming up with insane financial weapons of mass destruction (like CDOs, CDS, derivatives, rehypothecation, and all the other things that keep me up at night). These are nothing more than clever ways to transfer money from large numbers of middle class people/taxpayers to a small set of people who know how to play the game very well.

I’m not left wing, nor right wing, just somewhere in the middle like most Canadians, but I’m appalled at what we are doing to ourselves by taking on unrepayable debt just to keep up with the Joneses, to pretend we have lifestyles which we haven’t actually earned. This debt is merely pulling demand from the future, and it won’t be there when we need it – in the future, we can’t rely on the “consumer” to support our GDP growth or increasing quality of life. (and, nor is infinite growth in a finite world a real solution either)

Sadly, I can only see a return to a much more hand-to-mouth existence for much of the population of the developed world, and an even worse existence for the bulk of the world’s already poor and starving populations. The can can only be kicked down the road for so long. We just can’t extend and pretend forever, as much as our politicians don’t want to admit. I sure hope I’m wrong though.”

– ‘JCH’, commenting at VREAA, 28 Oct 2017

Many thanks, JCH. – vreaa

“It is very difficult to live here.”

“Famously liveable and famously unaffordable.”

“For nearly 40 years from his vantage point at the top of the Empire Landmark Hotel, Yunus Khan has watched Vancouver grow up. “You would barely recognise it,” he says of the city as it looked when he took his first job at the hotel, doing maintenance. Beyond the 42nd-storey window, the jagged silhouette of the North Shore mountains, the lush surprise of Stanley Park, and the cobalt passage of Burrard Inlet are just about the only landmarks that remain unchanged.

“These are all new,” Khan says, indicating a cluster of condo towers and the ultra-modern Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre further south. Construction cranes rise around them. “Any older building you see now, it’s going. They break it down, make a high rise.”

What the view from the Empire Landmark offers is perspective: on the Canadian city’s past, present, and future. But not for much longer. The hotel, a downtown Brutalist icon from the 1970s, closes for good on 30 September. It will be demolished to make way for a proposed luxury condo development.

Khan plans to retire. He won’t miss the 60-mile round trip commute from the outer suburbs, or the frantic pace of life downtown. “Vancouver used to be a small town, easy,” he says. Now, you see all these tall buildings with the glass, it looks a bit more beautiful. But it is very difficult to live here.”

– image and text from ”We stand to wipe out a whole era’: how the 1970s could vanish from Vancouver’, Tyler Stiem, The Guardian, 27 Sept 2017 [hat-tip The (indestructible) Auteur]

And from the comments below the same piece:

‘I have visited Vancouver at least every decade and loved the place up until last year when I found that the downtown/Gastown area was being overtaken by gold-plated glass festooned high end shops a la Rodeo Drive. FFS. Oh, and there is a new Trump Tower as well. The Seattle waterfront area is going the same way, albeit without the Trump Tower. I see a pattern of homogenization of our cities. Screw that. Vive le difference. – TeeJayzed Addy

“We want young people to buy Real Estate.” – Vancouver’s Mayor

Saturn devouring his children – Goya

“In a statement released on Friday, Robertson says the proposed policy, which he intends to put in place by the end of the year, will give priority to local residents for sales of new homes in multi-family developments as part of the city’s new 10-year housing strategy. The city defines local residents as people who live and work in Metro Vancouver and whose permanent address and place of work is in the region, regardless of citizenship.

“My priority as mayor is to deliver new housing supply that is first and foremost for people who live and work in Vancouver, and this motion aims to give local residents the first opportunity to purchase a new home,” said Robertson. “In Vancouver’s red-hot housing market, local employers are crunched to retain talent, whether they’re doctors, tech workers, retailers, firefighters, teachers or nurses. I regularly hear stories about people who work in Vancouver, but are forced to move elsewhere in the region because they can’t find a place to live. At a time when we are seeing record levels of housing construction, local residents should be able to get the first shot at purchasing a home in new developments.”

“Vancouver’s Housing Vancouver strategy seeks to dramatically increase the supply of new housing, but it needs to be the right supply — homes that are affordable for people who live and work in Vancouver,” said Robertson. “We want young people and families to put down roots in the city. This motion will support that by helping make sure people who live and work here get the first opportunity to buy into new developments in Vancouver.”

– from ‘Vancouver’s mayor makes move to give locals first crack at condo pre-sales’, Scott Brown, Vancouver Sun 6 Oct 2017

Allowing our young to be first in line to buy preposterously overpriced RE, using large mortgages, will make them miserable, indentured wage slaves for life.
This will not solve Vancouver’s housing challenges, but will further impoverish our social environment.
The only ‘solution’ will be a bursting of the bubble, with a very large price crash, and a flushing out of all speculation in the market.
Such a price correction will return all properties to utility value, which is healthy.
Understandably, such a crash will never be facilitated by any incumbent government, at any level, and of any stripe.
Until then, expect many levels of government to continue to play ‘re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic’ with ineffectual policy tweaks (such as the one the mayor describes above).
– vreaa

“Vancouver RE Balloon Pricked; Median Price Detached Home Down >$500,000 to $1.7 million; Prices Need To Be Slashed”

Strong signs are appearing that Metro Vancouver’s real-estate balloon has indeed been pricked by China’s heightened capital controls.
Demand for multi-million dollar dwellings in Metro Vancouver is falling. “All the high-end stuff is sluggish,” says Vancouver realtor-analyst Steve Saretsky.
Sales volumes and prices on detached houses are especially dropping on the west side of Vancouver, in Richmond and in West Vancouver, where Mainland Chinese buyers had been active buying and building mansions.
Real Estate Association of Greater Vancouver figures show the median price of a detached home is down more than $500,000 since February, to $1.7 million.
Veteran Canadian real-estate data analyst Stephen Punwasi also has little doubt “Chinese capital is having a tougher time getting out of China” since leaders introduced tighter controls in January.
“Vancouver locals selling $3 million bungalows are going to have trouble finding an alternative to foreign urban land buyers, so prices need to be slashed,” Punwasi said.

– from ‘Is China bursting Vancouver’s housing bubble?’, Douglas Todd, 6 Oct 2017 [hat-tip to ‘The (indefatigable) Auteur’]

Pretty strong stuff for the Vancouver Sun.
This must give speculators (all buyers) pause.
23% down in 6 months? Gee.
Will anybody buy at these prices if they anticipate/fear future flat or decreased prices? We’d guess not, but we’ll have to wait and see how many “bargain hunters” step up to “buy the dip”.
Please see the last post for our discussion of why this is arguably an important juncture.
– vreaa

PS and BTW: The Auteur also kindly referenced a G&M article on how the BC NDP has essentially been petrified when it comes to promised housing action; in this regard we’d say this: No government can legislate or plan BC out of a gigantic speculative bubble in housing prices. There is no way to do that. Prices have become way too far removed from those determined by simple utility. The only way out is by a price crash (with no bailouts or any other silliness). That will solve the problem for a generation.

Detached Price Trend Remains Up, For Now. Speculators Hold Their Breath?

“Detached homes made up 30 per cent of all sales in September and represented 62 per cent [5,869] of all the homes listed for sale on the MLS® [9,466]. This dynamic has slowed the pace of upward pressure that we’ve seen on detached home prices in our market over the last few years.”
The sales-to-active listings ratio for September 2017 for detached homes is 14.6 per cent …
The benchmark price for detached properties is $1,617,300. This represents a 2.9 per cent increase from September 2016.

– from the REBGV Sept 2017 stats package

“Average prices in British Columbia are forecast to grow 2.2 per cent this year and remain unchanged in 2018, CREA said.”
– from ‘CREA cuts 2017/2018 outlook for home sales in Canada’, G&M, 15 Sep 2017

To reiterate, from our last post:
In a market that has come to expect 7% growth p.a. (with peaks to 25% p.a. being seen as normal) a substantial period of flat price growth will feel odd; almost like a contraction.
The eternal question for Vancouver RE is: “Will people be willing to step up and buy if prices are not rising?”
This is the essence of our longstanding belief that “all buyers are speculators” — we believe that people buy at these price levels not for utility, but largely for anticipated price growth. We believe they certainly would not be buying without anticipated price growth.

So, what will happen to Vancouver RE prices if prices stop rising? What happens if the speculative component of buying disappears?
We believe that this will result in prices dropping to a level that reflects the value of the utility of the property, and that currently such values are far, far below asking prices.

It’s too early to say, but it does seem that prices in some sectors of the market have stagnated.
Talk at the corner of Rumour & Grapevine is of $3M, $4M, $4M+ – ask-price homes getting no interest whatsoever, and being removed from market. Also of condos over $1M getting little interest. If the supply of eager buyers is limitless, why is this happening?
Perhaps that house isn’t ‘worth’ $4.5M if there is no longer a chance of it being ‘worth’ $5.5M next year. Perhaps its actually ‘worth’ closer to $1.5M (a price that would already value it richly for its actual utility), or even (preposterously!) $1M if we consider local incomes and historic norms. [This argument can be scaled for all levels of the market].

– vreaa