Tag Archives: Construction

“I know a contractor currently putting $800k into a house near UBC that will be listed in the spring. Sale price should be over $4 million. Big chunk o’ change.”

“I know a contractor currently putting $800k into a house near UBC that will be listed in the spring. Sale price should be over $4 million. Big chunk o’ change.”
thinktom (a local realtor) at RE Talks 11 Jan 2012 9:05pm

Would very much like to see more figures on this kind of venture.
How big is the profit margin on such a buy-reno-sell spec?
How large a ‘can’ are these contractors carrying? Risky business given market developments.
– vreaa

The Disappearing Vancouver SFH?

Regular reader and commenter ‘formula1’ has pointed out an interesting statistic: that of the apparently fast disappearing SFH in the City of Vancouver.

(from a table in ‘Metro Vancouver Housing Book’, metrovancouver.org, April 2011 [pdf])

formula1 writes (at VREAA 9 Dec 2011 9:30am and 4:40pm):
“If you want an explanation of the price increases in detached the last 10 years you need look no further than the loss of supply.
We were at 67K in 1991, 65K in 1996, 65K in 2001 and 48K in 2006 – so the majority of this 20K loss happened in just 5 years. So here we are 5 years removed from the last census. If the trend holds we’re now at around 30K detached…a loss of 60% since 1991.
Kinda puts a kink in detached housing crash plans.” …
“The demand for a SFH is alive and well. The supply is on life support.

This is an interesting claim, let’s look at the figures.
A drop in detached SFHs in Vancouver from 65,390 to 48,365 between 2001 and 2006. That’s a loss of 17,025 SFHs, or 26% of the existing SFHs, or one in every FOUR SFHs, in just 5 years!! Where did all those houses go?

We find this number remarkable. If it is indeed true, we’d have to address the implications, as formula1 points out. But the numbers have what researchers call questionable ‘face validity’, meaning that, just on the face of it, it’s a figure we find we want to question. Did Vancouver really lose one in every four SFHs over 5 years? Part of our reason for asking for verification of the data is that, in our recollection of watching SFHs destroyed between 2001 and 2006, almost every time one went down one or two new SFHs seemed to rise in it’s place. Sure, some were levelled for townhome or condo developments, but surely not a total of one in every four?

We’d ask readers to help clarify this matter.

Firstly, is there anybody who can shed light on the data table or source? There is a footnote to the table in the report regarding reclassification of certain dwelling types between 2001 and 2006. Is the apparent change in SFH numbers simply in part a classification change?

Secondly, did any of you out there actually see these 17,025 SFHs disappear? Is this just something that I missed? Sure I’ve seen some go, but 17,025?? Let’s collect a rough inventory of the SFHs in Vancouver that were knocked down to make way for multi-occupant dwellings. Something like ‘2004: ABC block XYZ Avenue; 80 SFHs became EFG condos (or highway, or whatever)’. It’ll be most efficient to first focus on places where this happened in large swatches. We’ll ignore SFHs that were knocked down to be replaced by a single SFH, but, on the other side of the ledger, let’s take note of SFHs that were knocked down to be replaced by two or more SFHs (contributing to a rise in the number of SFHs). Post the observed data as comments and, if it turns out to be necessary, we’ll collate later into a separate table.

Thirdly, we thank ‘formula1’ for sparking this exercise. If the number of SFHs are dropping at a rate of 25% every five years, we need to consider this effect on the whole market. ‘formula1’ does commit a logical error in assuming that the 2001-2006 trend has continued 2006-2011 and that “..we’re now at around 30K”. That’d mean that more than one in every two SFHs had disappeared in the last 10 years, a claim that is very hard to believe.

So, are SFHs indeed disappearing at a remarkable rate in the City of Vancouver?
Please shed light on this, readers.

Renting In Vancouver – “…Unfold a tale to harrow up thy soul…”

This from Vesta at VREAA, 9 Dec 2011 10:01pm

“Two anecdotes from the last few days. (I know some of you don’t believe in anecdotal evidence. Being a writer, I believe in it more than I believe in statistics.) Warning: perhaps inappropriate humour below. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I had looked for rental housing here for 3 months this summer. Finally thought I’d found someplace decent. Well, in the last 5 weeks there have been two sewer backups that flooded the basement. Turns out that there were sewer backups last year here too (thank you for that info, previous tenants). Funny thing is, I’d specifically asked the property manager if the house had ever had “water problems.” She’d said no. Nothing much had been done about these backups until this latest one, upon which I called City Hall (#311) and didn’t try to use my “inside voice.” That actually got the City out here, and after at first blaming the problem on indolent plumbers, they had to admit that there’s a rotted City pipe that’s actually part of the problem. But the City said it’s not a priority to fix it because it hasn’t “collapsed” yet. So I guess I can look forward to greeting Mr. Floatie in my basement sometime again in the near future. (Those of you who don’t know who Mr. Floatie is, he’s a revered figure in the BC capital.)”

“Renter Anecdote #2 just from this evening: Responsible young couple arrives in Vancouver. Hears that Balfour Properties manages good buildings. They interview at a building near Broadway and Macdonald (West Side). They think it’ll be great. Then they happen to run into a tenant who tells them that two doors down there was a meth-lab explosion where somebody died. They decided to keep looking and they’ve landed in a building that’s badly managed and has — wait for it — water problems.”

“What I don’t get sometimes about Vancouver, on the continuum of human civilization, is how architects and builders here have still not figured out how to defeat the (world-class) precipitation.”

“Okay, enough silliness. My next post: I’ve heard back from Stephen Harper about my concerns about the Vancouver mania! Stay tuned for some hilarious advice.”

Architect Bing Thom – “The city needs a strong vision to avoid becoming a tourist resort and a place to park money.”

“We rely on each other, so it’s really important for us all to engage in dialogue,” emphasizes Thom. Which is why – even though friends warn him that he may be alienating himself from potential clients – he has rallied publicly against the now-defunct bid for a casino at B.C. Place and the “god-awful” Canada Pavilion built in the city during the Olympics.
“Actually, I’m a very optimistic person, so it’s not that I go out of my way to be controversial,” he says with a boyish laugh, throwing up his hands. “It’s just that we have to earn democracy every day, which means caring about your community. And if you care, it’s your duty to speak up.”
Currently irking him is the “issue” of Metro Vancouver: to his mind, Vancouver needs to accept that there are no more boundaries between it and the wider metropolitan area, and to be thinking and acting regionally – especially in terms of economic development – as well as globally. “This little paradise is only here because we simply exported all the dirty stuff to the developing world such as polluting heavy industries and unwanted toxic wastes,” says Thom.
The city needs a “strong vision,” he believes, to avoid becoming “a tourist resort and a place to park money.” For example, as an architect who builds “homes – not commodities to be traded or vertical gated communities,” he applauds social-housing policies that mix people of different incomes in the same building. “It’s a way of building a real community,” says Thom, who lives nearby in a condo – that he designed himself – with his wife Bonnie, whom he met at high school in Kerrisdale.

– from ‘Lunch with Vancouver Architect Bing Thom’, BC Business, 7 Nov 2011

“Welcome To Vancouver. Now Buy Some Real Estate”

– photos by ‘ams’, who writes:
“Just came back through YVR international arrivals and got pictures of the real estates ads that you see once you clear customs and are on your way out, there are two billboards inside and two outside. The last time I went through YVR it was all Real estate ads, today only four.
Most world airports, in the international arrival area, greet you with some ads for local companies, or the local economic development explaining how great the city/region is for business.”

[thanks ams. – vreaa]

Open Invitation To Candidates and Parties In The Upcoming Vancouver Civic Elections – Publicize Your Position On Vancouver Housing

“On November 19, 2011 Vancouver residents will vote for 1 Mayor, 10 Councillors, 7 Park Commissioners and 9 School Trustees in the municipal election.”
– City of Vancouver, 2011 Election Information

We see approaches to the challenges of housing as a central issue in the upcoming elections. The following is an excerpt from a letter that has been sent to specific candidates and parties and is posted here to solicit positions from any entities involved in the elections who may not have received an e-mail but would like to make their position known. Positions will be headlined, and linked in the ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing’ post and sidebar.
Formal replies via e-mail, please, to vreaa@hotmail.com

Dear Candidate:
_Invitation to publicize your position on housing policy._
The ‘Vancouver Real Estate Anecdote Archive’ (VREAA) is a local blog that focuses on the personal stories of Vancouver citizens meeting the challenges of housing during a real estate price boom.
We are currently running a series of posts called ‘Policies On Housing’ in which we feature the positions of local political groups/entities who may end up shaping future policy.
We would like to invite you to lay out your policy in that regard, around the following questions:
1. What do you see as the main housing challenges facing Vancouver?
2. What measures do you propose to address those challenges?
3. What is your policy on housing densification?
4. Would you support policies that would lead to a drop in real estate
5. What is your own family’s housing situation?
Your answers to these questions will be headlined as a separate post, and discussion will ensue.
This is an opportunity for you to have your position on this central issue publicized and debated.
Please send your reply to: vreaa@hotmail.com
‘jesse’ (frequent contributor at VREAA) &
‘vreaa’ (vancouver real estate anecdote archivist)


“Man, I really hope some candidates engage on this. Definitely prepared to listen and consider making choices based on what candidates say here on this issue.” – Royce McCutcheon, Vancouver citizen, reader and poster, VREAA 2 Nov 2011

High Up On The Roof

“My brother, who has zero experience in construction, answered a craigslist ad for a roofer position at a large roofing company. They offered it to him after a brief interview, 15 bucks an hour. He started work and was ‘trained’ by a crack addicted employee. The crack head, actually asked to borrow money from him for supplies, which turned out to be a lie for drugs – he obliged and offered up $200 – which he never saw again. My brother confronted his boss after the crack head went awol for a week. The boss had the keys to his apartment (the crack head was staying at an apartment of his) and offered him to go in and take whatever he wanted ! My brother quit shortly after.
If this is the quality of the people who are in the industry now, I can only wonder the quality of the output… crazy.”

– Loon at VREAA 30 Oct 2011 8:46pm

“When I was younger I did roofing for an outfit in Alberta and they had strict standards:
– sneak off to a local pub at lunch for a quick beer if you’re going to drink on the job. Or a one beer limit on the roof, but pound it so the customer doesn’t see
– smoke weed in the company truck but never ever on the roof. That would be unprofessional
– if it goes up nose I don’t want to know about it, but you’d better share
– if you’re working on the road don’t bring hookers back to the motel room you’re sharing with your fellow roofer. That’s what parking lots are for.
– be nice to the new guy. He just got out of prison, and oh by the way – can he stay with you for a while until he gets on his feet?
– all fights are to be done on the ground away from the kettle. And don’t throw hot tar at your enemy/co-worker no matter how much you want to kill him
Good times!”

– nobody you know at VREAA 30 Oct 2011 9:29pm

Concerned citizens hear these stories all the time, but they’ve gotta be exaggerations, right?
– vreaa

Cambie Corridor Speculation – “People are overpaying for land”

Six months after Vancouver City Council approved a plan to transform the Cambie Street corridor, homes in the area have nearly tripled in value and some residents fear development will ruin the neighbourhood. Ten homes on Cambie Street near 41st Avenue recently sold for $3.4 million each, nearly three times their assessed value.
City planner Brent Toderian says the city is trying to cool down land speculation in the neighbourhood. Toderian says the city has been meeting with developers and realtors to discuss land transactions after getting wind of some very high deals negotiated in the months after the Cambie corridor plan was approved.
He says the final prices didn’t appear to have factored in community amenity contributions the city negotiates with developers in order to pay for infrastructure and services associated with increased density
“People were overpaying for land — thus we sent messages out into the marketplace to say you’re going to have to adhere to the expectation of the plan if you wish to succeed in development.”

– from CBC 27 Oct 2011 [hat-tip ‘subterranian’]

“He said every house he tried to put an offer on was bought by developers with no conditions.”

“A month or two ago, a guy at work described his experience looking for an old starter house in Coquitlam. I think he was looking around the Coquitlam/Burnaby boundary. He said every house he tried to put an offer on was bought by developers with no conditions. He was not considered by the sellers because it was easier to sell to the developers, so he gave up looking.”
– Summer at vancouvercondo.info October 22nd, 2011 at 9:09 am

“In ‘Burquitlam’, whole blocks of old houses are being leveled for townhouses.”
– Patiently Waiting at vancouvercondo.info October 22nd, 2011 at 9:26am

Four Out Of Four RE Industry Insiders Agree: “There is no bubble in Vancouver” – “[Moderator] Podmore wore a ‘no bubble’ button to the debate”

“Ward McAllister, president of Ledingham McAllister Properties, and fellow panelists Eugene Klein, president-elect of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, and real estate consultant Richard Wozny, of Site Economics Ltd. were at the board of trade to debate whether or not Vancouver real estate is in the midst of a bubble. They all agreed it is not. …
“Buyers, especially the under-25 mark, are sitting on the sidelines,” said Klein. …
The HST effect was the only real damper on Metro Vancouver real estate, which the three panelists and moderator David Podmore, CEO of Concert Properties Ltd., all said (was) not a bubble. Podmore wore a button to the conference with the slash symbol for “no” imprinted over the word bubble.
“I am very optimistic about where we are heading,” he said, noting that his company largely pulled out of Metro Vancouver Real Estate in 2007, but went back in 2009.
He cited two reasons for the region’s strong real estate market: immigration and the fact that real estate is being viewed as a hedge against the uncertainty that has hit global finance.
Klein said international interest in Vancouver is attracting foreign buyers. He said buyers are coming here to live, with only three per cent characterized as foreign investors. He said supply is now out-stripping demand, but it has no affected prices. Prices have increases dramatically in some area over the last 12 months; in Richmond by $200,000, in West Vancouver by $275,000 and Vancouver’s West Side by $400,000.
“Demand for high-end properties have helped drive our demand for most of the year,” he said.
Wozny said Metro Vancouver’s real estate prices are “very high by any measure.”
“It must be something political or social because it certainly has nothing to do with economics.” he said.
He forecast low interest rates for the foreseeable future, which will translate into continuing sales.
“There is no bubble in Vancouver,” he said.
McAllister had advice for prospective homeowners in their 20s who are questioning whether they should wait for prices to come down. Don’t wait, he said; borrow from mom and dad.
And he warned against selling hoping to get back into the market later.
“Affordability is one of the main concerns in this market and I think will continue to be over the rest of my life.”
– from ‘New housing sales stall over transition out of HST’, Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun, 21 Oct 2011
[hat-tip Patiently Waiting at vancouvercondo.info]

Well now, ain’t that.. cosy?
Quite the ‘debate’.
Metaphors almost fail us… kinda like getting Palmer, Nicholas, Woods and Player to debate the subject “Golf, the Best Game?”; or four vultures to debate the merits of carrion.
1. Interesting terminology, “the under-25 ‘mark’ “. (Ever seen ‘The Sting’?)
2. They are seeking buyers at the margins: persuading those in their 20’s to borrow downpayments.
3. Their analysis is arguably even more nebulous than the usual “limitless demand” position: Even though prices are very high and not supported by “economics”, low interest rates and “something political or social” will “translate into continuing sales”. “Immigration and the fact that real estate is being viewed as a hedge against the uncertainty that has hit global finance” will continue to buoy the market. This really is little more than wishful thinking. Consider what may happen to this market if just a 15% drop in prices (and a 10% drop in the loonie) lead investors to question its “safe haven” status.
4. “Affordability is one of the main concerns in this market and I think will continue to be over the rest of my life.” – Classic bubble quote. Whenever people start expressing opinions that markets will never change, take note.
5. With reference to our discussion earlier regarding the media and the RE industry, witness the Sun running this as ‘news’.
– vreaa

Brad Lamb Is Not Worried – “We are the number one condo market for new development on the planet. This talk of bubble is ridiculous.”

Announcer: “Remember that so called real estate bubble that’s been predicted to burst for what seems like forever? (laughs)… well it certainly didn’t happen last month… Canadian home sales rose almost 3% in Sept and 11% from the same month last year.”

Brad Lamb: “We are the number one condo market for new development on the planet.”
Announcer: “Brad Lamb is a RE broker and developer who has “been selling Toronto property for two decades, he says 2011 could be a record breaker.”
Brad Lamb: “I’m building over 2000 condos across Canada at present, and I’d say that 50% of those are under 520sqft.”

Announcer: “Yet there are worries that developers may be building too many condos in Toronto.”
Will Dunning, economist: “… we don’t know how they’ll be absorbed in the market place.”
Announcer: “Brad Lamb, who builds them, is not worried.”
Lamb: “This talk of bubble is ridiculous. But, we’re going to have recessions, we have them every 15 or 10 or 8 years, and when it happens, people are going to put their hands in their pockets and not buy real estate.”
-CBC Radio, “World at 6”, 17 Oct 2011

Consequences, Intended and Otherwise

‘Vesta’ and ‘jesse’ treated us to a fine exchange yesterday (and in the early hours of today, Wedn 14 Sep 2011) regarding possible actions that could be taken by citizens concerned about Vancouver’s housing predicament. Take a look at the posts starting here. Other posters chimed in, including yours-truly. The exchange has some posters calling for various actions, including the lobbying of policy makers. Vesta and jesse treated us to lists of possible actions, jesse adding to some he had previously mentioned.
When one calls for action, it is wise to have a fairly good idea of the likely outcome. After all, as your Mom always said “Be careful of what you wish for”.
So, before attempting to ask for specific changes, let’s first clarify which changes we think may be useful (and why).
We may attempt to collate them (along with prior suggestions).

Here are two thought experiments, to this end:

1. Broad Thought Experiment:
You are the ‘Vancouver Czar of Housing and the Economy Pertaining to Housing’.
What changes would you implement immediately, and what consequences do you anticipate?

2. Specific Thought Experiment:
Imagine that the City completely and immediately discards all laws preventing densification. Multiple units can be built anywhere in the greater metro area.
What are the consequences?

Olympic Village Update – A Waggish Resident Expresses Their Frustration

– Seen posted in one of the Olympic Village buildings. Photo from ‘zerodown’, via e-mail to VREAA, 6 Sep 2011.

Vancouver’s Second-Oldest House A Teardown – “Dates to 1888, when Vancouver had 6,000 people.”

– images and excerpts from ‘Vancouver’s second-oldest house to be demolished’, John Mackie, Vancouver Sun, 6 Sep 2011

The small house at 502 Alexander is pretty well hidden. It’s sandwiched between a couple of apartment blocks, and the front is barely visible behind a stand of trees. The address first appears in a Vancouver directory in 1888, only two years after the city was incorporated. It was built by John Baptist Henderson, and a story in the Dec. 31, 1888 Vancouver World newspaper says it cost $1,500 to build. [Inflation adjusted, about $36,000 in 2011 dollars. -ed.] Somehow the house has managed to remain standing through 123 years of Vancouver real estate booms. It may now be the second-oldest house in the city. But not for much longer. An addition at the back of the house was recently taken down during a renovation, which has rendered the house unstable. The owner is now applying for a demolition permit, and it will probably be torn down.

Don Luxton of Heritage Vancouver said it would be a “travesty” if the second oldest house in the city were torn down while the city is celebrating its 125th birthday.
“Our earliest buildings are the story of Vancouver being carved out of the wilderness,” he said. “This house dates from the time when the train was just arriving and the city was growing – there was nothing here when this house was built.
[Several commenters at the Sun site noted that, of course, Salish people had lived there for centuries. -ed.] To look at the history of this building is like going to Rome and seeing a Roman house. This dates back to the establishment of the city, very clearly.”

Modest as it is, the house has an interesting history. After Henderson moved in 1893, it was occupied by John Stitt, the manager of the Hastings Mill store, which is now the Hastings Mill Museum in Kitsilano. (The Hastings Mill store was originally located on the waterfront at the foot of Dunlevy, a block away from 502 Alexander. It dates to 1865, which makes it the oldest structure in Vancouver.
The oldest house is 385 East Cordova.)

Early residents of 502 Alexander included a bookkeeper named Huddart, an accountant named Jackson and a restaurateur named Schuman.

The street would be part of Japantown until Japanese-Canadians were forced to leave their homes during the Second World War. For a brief period prior to the First World War, the 500 and 600 blocks were also a red light district.
In 1911, Ruth Richards took over 502 Alexander, and a year after that, Dollie Darlington is the first listing at 500 Alexander. Which means 500 Alexander was probably built as a brothel.

Vancouver’s planning director Brent Toderian said the city “did investigate some options” to try and save the house, but none worked out. Part of the problem is that Alexander east of Main is outside the officially designated heritage districts of Gastown and Chinatown, “so frankly the amount of [heritage incentive] tools that we had to offer in this particular case were limited.”

VANHATTAN – Vancouver The Next New York? – [“These ludicrous comparisons have to stop.”]

– Photo of ‘BC Homes Magazine’, Aug/Sep 2011 cover, gratefully received via e-mail, from Aldus Huxtable, who sensibly adds:
“Is Vancouver becoming the next New York City? These ludicrous comparisons have to stop…..”

Moment Of Truth For An Old Favourite – Attempted Flip For $350K Profit In 6 Months

4411 W 11th; 4,696 sqft SFH; 63×121 lot (7,623 sqft; 0.175 acres)
(Old Timer; Backs onto alleyway behind 10th Avenue stores.)
Listed 9 Oct 2010 $2,980,000;
Price change 6 Dec 2010 $2,890,000
Sold 15 Feb 2011 $2,830,000

Now, the February buyer has turned into an August seller: the house if back on the market (V905972) with an ask price of $3,180,000

MLS blurb includes: “BONUS: 2 self-contained basement suites with potential rental income of at least $2500. Great Holding property – Entire home could rent out for $7000/month.”

The seller is looking for a gross profit of $350K, as reward for holding this property for 6 months. Net profit could be substantially lower.
Who is next in line to own this place?
It seems a little like Russian Roulette… one of these days that gun is going to go off.

This house was first featured at VREAA 6 Dec 2010 when we noted that, at an “Ask Price of $2,890,000”, “10% downpayment ($289K); 4% rate; 25yr amortization” would result in “Monthly mortgage payments: $13,681.79”
In a later post, 5 Jan 2010, we cited it as the kind of house that would sell for less than $1M in the coming trough.
This house was also featured representing our fair city in ‘Unashamed House Porn: Seattle Vs Vancouver’, VREAA, 11 Aug 2011. Looks like we’ll now have to find an even more expensive Seattle home to make this a fair comparison.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #13 – “You’reInvited! GhostMalls ‘O TheOkanagan… by RSVP”

Ya know, the only problem with ‘NaganTouring in a 48 Pontiac Woodie (apart from occasionally having to deal with the irate/disconsolate ‘Darlings’ one neglected to invite) is that they’re Darn!ThirstyBeasts. Which means, sooner or later (usually, sooner) it’s FillErUP!Time… (as opposed to MillersTime – which one ought never to do when in charge of mechanical contrivances in motion; which, come to think it, as ‘catch-all phrases’ go – could include some rather unusual appliances; but I digress  [just this once. -ed.]).

Accordingly, following a recent sojourn exploring the ‘delights’ of Highway97’s assorted RoadSideAttractions/Signage. Imagine, just imagine ‘TheHorror!’ upon discovering that your BigBlockV8 is now reciprocating on mere vapour – and you’re about to experience the GloomyMisfortune of gliding into…

A GhostStation.

As in No SingingTexacoGuyz. No Pumps & Definitely NoGas.

Now, as it happens, there is a good reason why the current PesosPerLitre signage has been ‘blacked out’ at this PitStop…

And it just might have something to do… with whatever it is that’s on the other side of that hoarding. Let’s have a look, shall we?

OhGoodie! RSVP! Have we just been invited to Partay!… @UrbanLiving?

But, “Hey! Just a minute now – this is WestBank. So where the Heck’s The’Urban’?”

Leaving that issue aside, for the moment, upon closer inspection (the kind that reveals the spreading cracks in this faded DevelopersDreamSignage) we discover that this is, regrettably, yet another incitement to ClimbAboard the PreSalesCondoTrain.

Albeit… in this particular instance, a superfluous/obsolete ‘invitation’. For, not surprisingly given the region, the CondoDreams of UrbanLiving’s Montréal QC Developer DevMcGill®, are… Defunct.

Of course, as with all such disappointments… There are consequences.

For example, there are a lot more WestBankers hand-washing their cars themselves these days…

And, more’s the pity, no chance to reprise BackToTheFuture’s superlative retro ‘50’s ‘FullService’ sequence either.

So. What’s an aspiring WestBank, BreakingBad, ‘WalterWhite’ type – looking for a cash business to masquerade his horticultural earnings – to do? Especially, when you allow that the only ‘vacant’ CarWash/GasStation in town is frozen in legal limbo.

‘Better Call Sol’, I guess. Unless…

Yeah! There is a restaurant. Heck, there’s a WholeDarnedStripMall!

Loads ‘a possibilities here! Could work.

Hmmm. Better check out those interiors, though – cause ya never know, do ya. Caveat emptor, and all that stuff.

Ah. Just as well we decided to Peek‘nPoke… Judging by the abandoned air mattress, broken glass and somewhat haphazard arrangement of dusty colonial furnishings – what was once a popular restaurant has been reduced to a temporary refuge for the circumspect (but, presumably, handy with tools) homeless.

Just look at all those stacked/discarded menus. One can almost see them now… The Wives n’ Daughters of The’Nagan. Those effusively fulsome and ebulliently perky purveyors of GrilledSurf&Turf! Rushing to and fro, juggling enormous platters and steaming stainless pot’s ‘o java. Each and every gal lovingly adorned in a fetching, freshly scrubbed ‘PeachQueen@TheProm’ themed ‘CattleCountry’ uniform.

Well, it’s a nostalgic thought, ain’t it?

Yep, “CattleCountry” it once was… but, sadly, there ain’t no RibEyes, Tbones or Lobster a sizzlin’ here. Anymore.

Still – it does afford us a splendid excuse/opportunity to explore the broader implications…

‘Cause, “CattleCountry”, as any aspiring actor could tell ya, or for that matter, anyone who’s ever experimented with OnLineDating in the ‘hinterlands’… is, subliminally at least, an apt moniker for a ‘Nagan eatery.

Even an abandoned one.

And here’s why – because it is also suggestive of that apt turn of phrase from ‘TheShowBiz’, “The Cattle Call”.

So, getting right down to the NittyGritty – it doesn’t take an enormous leap of imagination to equate a Developers’ clarion invitation to StrokeTheSteel & GraspTheGranite to a casting director’s MassAudition (usually to find the perfect DancingTomato, for ‘scale’). Or, for that matter, to the OnLine Catalogues ‘o The Forlorn maintained by the FieldsMedal winning entrepreneurs of SocialMedia. [we’re still with ya, but only just. – ed.]

Regardless, it all amounts to pretty much the same thing… The aggregated exploitation of the ‘vulnerable’ and/or blissfully ignorant.

And, more specifically, the relentless commoditization of people and their dreams.

Well, at the risk of driving a “Steak” through the Heart ‘o those dreams… (or barricading them with welded steel security grilles)… The ‘answer’ just might be…

That some things are best left ‘unsold’. Not hyped. Not marketized. Not ‘traded’.

..& lest we collectively succumb to the temptation of ‘BlameCasting’, however… how about a little reflexive introspection first?

In the LookingGlass. All of us.

For, to quote the MostEstimable Chinese President Hu JinTao’s enthusiastic address to an impressive assembly of the PartyFaithful earlier this year:

“We must go deep down. We must immerse ourselves in the reality!”

“Good night, and good luck” [google that, All – you’ll like it.]


Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]


[Once in a while, it’s good to give your brain a workout. Keeps you ‘agile’. -ed.]

$1.6M Teardowns – “Until demand shrivels at the higher end, families at the lower end will be priced out as we can’t compete with the developers. I’ve given up and can’t wait to get my family out of here.”

“Who’s to say the market will ever correct? I keep hoping it will but I’ve finally given up and am in the process of making plans to leave Vancouver once and for all.
In my neighbourhood, teardowns, or what developers consider teardowns, sell within days for well over $1.6 million. Having said this, developed houses selling in the $3 to $4 million range are taking a lot longer to sell than they used to. Anyway, it seems that the market in this area is driven by the upper end, not the lower end. Developers calculate what they can sell the finished product for and then calculate their maximum price for a teardown based on the finished product. Until demand shrivels at the higher end, families at the lower end will be priced out as we can’t compete with the developers. As I said I’ve given up and can’t wait to get my family out of here.”

chopper at vancouvercondo.info 21 Aug 2011 6:44pm

Vancouver Market Poster-Boy? – “The house formerly known as 4104 West 11th Ave…” – 50 x 122 lot, $2.825M ask

4108 West 11th Ave, Vancouver
[This house/lot was formerly known as 4104 West 11th Ave; had its number changed to 4108 at some point since 2009.]
1920 built 1,952 sqft SFH; 50 x 122 ft lot

On market February 2009 (above; as 4104) ask price $1,258,000
From realtor blurb:
“…basement suite…currently rented to good tenants for $1200 per month…”

On market February 2011.
Asking price $1,888,888
Sold in 4 days for $2,500,000 ($612,000 over ask).

On market 1 April 2011 (above; as 4108) ask price $2,880,000
Listing removed 11 July 2011

Relisted 12 July 2011 $2,880,000
Price reduced 8 Aug 2011 $2,825,000
From the current realtor blurb:
“50.3′ x 122.1′ corner lot (RS-1 zoning) which allows buildable area of approx 4200 sq ft (3 level) brand new house. All brand new houses in the area is selling over $5.5M. Will build to suit if needed. The approximate monthly rent is $5000/mo. Tenanted until end of July.”

This sentence, in the April listing, has been dropped from the current blurb:
“Don’t miss this opportunity cause this is the best place on Earth.”

1. Market price rise from $1,258,000 to $2,825,000 in 30 months. That’s a 125% increase; or a compound rate of 38% p.a.
2. [edited after comment by M–] The current listing states that the rent on the property is now $5000 p.m., which would mean that the monthly rent has risen from $1200 for the basement suite (about half the house?) to $5000 (for the whole house) over the same 30 month period. That’s about a 100% increase on the whole house rent. Similar properties in the area have monthly rents substantially less than $5000.
3. We obviously realize that the ‘value’ in this property, in our current market, is in the land, not the house. Thus, pointing out the laughably high price:rent ratio [$2.825M:$5K is 565:1] isn’t too meaningful. Very smart move for the owner to sell, asap.
4. “Will build to suit if needed” – Does this mean a developer already owns this property? Attempting profitable lot flip rather than develop themselves?
5. (a) massive price run up; (b) very large price:rent ratio; (c) address change to an ‘8’ number; (d) prices with ‘8’s; (e) ‘BPOEarth’ quote in realtor blurb; (f) functioning house becoming a tear-down… You just gotta love this property as one of the poster-boys for our market.
6. Also noted here as a sample ask for a Point Grey 50 x 122 lot circa August 2011; for the record.
– vreaa

PS: In the interest of fleshing out the whole story, any reader with access to earlier price history on this property, please post.

Westside New Build Calamity – “The house is for sale for $2.7M at the moment.”

rmac at VREAA 21 July 2011 4:01pm“The house next door to ours (on West 21st) was constructed by casual labourers that were trucked in daily from Surrey – not much English between them but they did anything required, including discovering an old oil tank and disguising it in a pile of debris to be hauled off. After the house was finished but before curtains were up we glanced in the front window from the sidewalk and noticed a veritable waterfall cascading out of the ceiling fixture. We called the real estate agent listed on the sign out front and hours later someone came to look at it. The never used plumbing in the bathroom had exploded. The water was cleaned up and the plumbing fixed but the wiring, light fixtures, hard wood floors were just left to dry out. Shortly after that the three stairs leading to the front porch came separated at the porch because no rebar had been used to tie in the stairs. That little faux pas was tiled over. The house is for sale for $2.7M at the moment.”

In a red-hot speculative ‘seller’s market’, construction standards disintegrate. Buyers get even less than what they would for lower prices in a more normal market. The ‘high-end’ has not escaped this effect. – vreaa

Victoria – “How long you been building I asked? 12 years he replied. You’re about to get the rest of your lesson, I said.”

Dan in Victoria at greaterfool.ca 10 Jul 2011 at 10:47 pm
“Things are definitely starting to turn [in Victoria], there is no doubt about it.
Went to a few open houses today, talked to a few sellers, oh yeah lots of interest, things are good….blah blah blah.
I think you are over priced I said to one fellow.
Got the down the nose look, well if you can’t afford it…
Had a good chuckle.
How long you been building I asked?
12 years he replied.
You’re about to get the rest of your lesson I said.”

Many in the market have no experience of significant price downdrafts and genuinely assume prices will continue to rise indefinitely. These guys clearly don’t do much reading. – vreaa

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #12 – “Quality, Quality, Quality!” Or “WhenDreamsGoBust…”

Has it been three years… or just two? Hmmm… I’ve rather lost count. Regardless, this abandoned forest ‘o rebar is surprisingly situated within ‘spitting distance’ of Penticton’s OhSoTony Yacht&TennisClub! (yes, they have those in the HillyBillyRiviera, too)… Apparently, the CourtOrderedSale didn’t quite work out. Never mind, DearReaders! – let’s go ‘walkies’, shall we!??

Now, look carefully and you’ll notice rebar sprouting from this lot, too – albeit they’re more like asparagus tips than the RealSteel … This partially developed/vacant lot was originally purposed for a companion dwelling to the structure visible in the background… Hmm. I wonder what it’s called – I must confess, I’m rather partial to that whole SouthWest/Pueblo thang…

Ah! They called it TheArizona!… Now that was prescient. Best of all, it isn’t just an ordinary old case of “NowSelling” – they’ve gone one better and declared it, “NowPreselling!”. I wish them luck. But here’s the thing – when Developers are compelled to go the “ComFree” route… you KNOW times are hard.

Yikes!… That is SO the biggest WeatherWane I have ever seen. I know, DearReaders – you mistook that erection for a crane on an active site. Truth be told, it hasn’t functioned as a crane in at least two years. But it does accurately indicate wind direction and I am reliably informed that it is sufficiently conspicuous to the “OnFinal” NetJetJockeys BarrellRolling in on the ApproachPath to CYYF’S RunWay16 to serve as such…
At least it’s useful.
Still, I wonder what this one was called… Let’s peek!

‘Ashley’s Dream’. One almost yearns to know… who was Ashley?… The Developer’s daughter?… Their MainSqueeze??? Their MaMa? Their Commercial Loans Officer?
Or was “Ashley’sDream” merely the febrile ‘hookline’ of a Down&Out CondoHype CopyWriter struggling to make good on his tab at “TheDecoy”.
We’ll probably never know.
But you’ve got to love that tagline…
“Quality, Quality, Quality”!
Alas, sometimes: dreams -> nightmares.

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

City Councillor – “The main source of profitability in the real estate market is capital appreciation rather than income.”

“The main source of profitability in the real estate market is the line not shown in your pro forma, which is capital appreciation rather than income. This kind of performance is not untypical of real estate companies who embarked on a buy-and-hold strategy.” – North Vancouver City Councillor Guy Heywood, commenting on a rental apartment developers request to waive city fees to save the project [‘Rental developer asks city for $500K in fee help’, North Shore News, 15 July 2011] (hat tip VCI)

Local governments are endorsing a new norm where developers are expected to build rental properties that are not cash-flow profitable, but rather on the premise that strong price appreciation will continue unabated?
Yet another example of ‘new paradigm’ thinking common during speculative manias. – vreaa

“I just bought a house which I am waiting for permits to be torn down. It will take 6-8weeks for the permit, so I will rent it out for $500 per week.”

From craigslist.ca Date: 2011-06-16, 2:37PM PDT-
“I just bought a house which i am waiting for permits to be torn down. It will take 6-8weeks for the permit, so I will rent it out for $500 per week.
The house was a rental property. I am renting it as is and will not repair anything in the house, as i am taking it down. There are 2 kitchens and 2 bathrooms in the house. it has 6 bedrooms. 38th ave at ontario.”

“I admit I had a lump in my throat, thinking that one day soon this lot would meet a typical Vancouver fate: the bulldozer, followed by a “water feature”, fake brick and faux stone.”

The Fourth Horseman at francesbula.com 23 Jun 2011 3:26pm
“I often find myself walking down and around our beautiful and unique “country” area of the city, known as Southlands. Did it last night, in fact.
The area was, and still is, bucolic, for the most part. Yet, my beloved “Flats”, is changing, fast.
I walked past an “old timer” home down there, one that I knew from my childhood, near where when my parents used to take me pony riding. We’ve all seen them. A modest little two story stucco home, maybe 60 or 70 years old, with architectural touches that qualify it as a Vancouver ‘character’ home for all who love that sort of thing.
Located on a corner lot that is maybe 50′ long but quite narrow, the house takes up perhaps 1/3 of the lot. What distinguishes this house from others nearby that are far “grander”, is the incredible home garden. It has been tended by the same woman, who has lived in that house for at least 30 years.
When I rounded the corner, on my walk down last night, that vast garden was in full, glorious early summer bloom. It was fairly vibrating with plant life, wafting in the gentle breeze. A serious rose garden that is second to none in this city amongst private homes, and long, long, long borders and bed of delphinium, pinks, campanula, and foxglove amongst the flora. A veggie patch rounds out the glorious site.
I stood out in front , on a perfect summer evening, looking at all this sight, and listening to the perfect sound of near silence. I admit I had a lump in my throat, thinking that one day, this lot, so obviously lovingly, stubbornly and meticulously tended by that old lady in the sun hat, would, in all likelihood and in the not-too-distant-future, meet a typical Vancouver fate: the bulldozer, followed by a “water feature”, fake brick and faux stone.”

All cities move on; develop; ‘progress’. Movement is necessary. Change is inevitable and very often for the better.
During a speculative mania, however, large profits are to be made through rapid and ill-conceived development. This alters behaviour, and people change methods, goals, standards. The resultant ‘progress’ is often no advance at all. – vreaa

‘The Canadian National Museum of the Perils of Excess, Hubris, and Fantasy’

This 65,000 sqft, $25M ask, incomplete home in rural Ontario, featured in ‘Few Offers For Canada’s Biggest Fixer Upper’, G&M 19 Apr 2011.

Here’s an idea: When most opportune, secure this behemoth for the nation of Canada (we should get it for pennies; perhaps even for owed back-taxes), and turn it into ‘The Canadian National Museum of the Perils of Excess, Hubris, and Fantasy’. Exhibits to include images and testimonials from great Canadian bubbles and frauds. Educate young people about infatuation, debt, and ponzi schemes. A pilgrimage destination  for realists. Also incorporating a residential reform program for recovering debtors.
A monument to a golden age with feet of clay. – vreaa

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #11 – HollyWoodNorth’s GulagArchipelago – The LakeCityBurnaby Commercial RE Glut

Wow! There’s an ‘Elephant in the room’… And in Burnaby, no less!

And a TigerShark… dining!
(NoteToSelf: ‘Doing Lunch’ with sharks inevitably ends poorly.)

And how about this forlorn, rusting sentinel…?

RazorWire? In the Lower Mainland?

Everything you’ve just seen (and will see) was photographed, “OnLocation!” in Beautiful Burnaby’s LakeCity & environs.

Our explorations begin with a very special and particularly privileged corporate EconomicMigrant peculiar to BC’s LML… The ‘RunAway’ HollyWood Production.

Ooooh, Goody!!! HollyWoodNorth at work!… Or as the BurnabyHillBillies are wont to say, “MovieStars&SwimmingPools!” Let’s go have a look, shall we?

Darn&DoubleDarn… No celebrities and PublicParking’s a little scarce. Fortunately, we’re on foot today.

Hmm… No Stars here, either! – but somewhere, somebody’s definitely making a killing on OrangeTrafficCones and associated signage.

Definitely no ‘parking chaos’ on this BackLot (and as it turns out, no “Chaos” anymore either – but we’ll get back to that in a moment).

Yep. Ain’t no doubt ‘bout it. Them HollyWoodNorth Moguls – rather like their CounterParts in the CityOfAngels – just love designated private parking spots. But, Hey!? What’s that BigOrangeSign in the background all about?

That’s what. The RazorWireEconomy of vacant, disused industrial & commercial space (and by implication, vanishing enterprise, transient jobs & ‘DisposableWorkers’).

Indeed, although this particular venue was briefly resurrected as a temporary sound stage and production facility for the short-lived CBS television series, “Chaos”… Only 13 episodes and about as many weeks later and it’s just one more, “HereToday & GoneTomorrow”, “NowLeasing!” story.

And that, DearReaders is how it usually works in HollyWoodNorth – where indigenous production is virtually non-existent and the principal attractions to foreign producers of ’run-away’ productions were the Loonie@.65USD, weak local craft guilds and generous public subsidies.

So. There it is. Your visual harbinger of the HollowedOut, ‘MovieSet’/Facade economy so emblematic of our province’s graft-ridden, peculiar political economy of Construction&RealEstate, HumanTrafficking and ‘Horticulture’.

A terrible pity. And as for that forest of superfluous DesignatedParkingSignage? Well, never mind – because it makes great kindling for the CampFires ‘O The HomeLess who actually inhabit the parklands nearby.

Nothing screams out, “OpenForBusiness!” like barbed wire, chainlink and DisposableWorkers on picket duty. All that’s missing are the Pinkertons.

OK – so here’s the skinny on LakeCity’s vacant industrial/commercial premises – and it’s hardly a, ‘solitary building here&there’ kind ‘o thing… Warning: you might want to flip through these “quickly” – ‘cause there sure are a lot of them!

It’s simply amazing how quickly it adds up… 1200SqFt up there…

Becomes 2200 SqFt over here…

5,500 SqFt down the street…

10,463 SqFt around the corner…

12,500 SqFt KittyKorner from SkyTrain ‘University’…

To 15,500 SqFt…

To 60,000 SqFt…

To 63,000 SqFt (in this instance, former home to “Chaos”). See where this is going?…

Indeed, some developments have so much vacant space on offer – they have circumspectly chosen not to advertise the available square footage…

OK – this is just one district in Burnaby. If we throw in the rest of the LML – how many Millions ‘O Square Feet of commercial space are currently sitting vacant?

Sadly, and with few exceptions, the only thing growing around these industrial premises and accompanying LeasingEnticements is the grass.

As most of you have already surmised – each one of these vacant properties was once home to a business. And although Nemesis knows the ‘ordinary’ businesses that once occupied these premises don’t enjoy the Cachet/Buzz ‘o ShowBiz, they did for the most part, provide people with worthwhile, stable employment of a type not found in the GlamIndustries.

Perhaps there’s a lurking labour economist or econometrician in the audience who could provide us with a rough guide to the solution of: (x)[SqFtVacant] = (y)[JobsGone] ???

The SmallPrint on this Cushman&Wakefield signage reads, “Global Real Estate Solutions” – and that’s your next clue… Hmm. Perhaps it should say, “Arbitrage” instead of “Solutions”? Works with people and, apparently, RE too.

Ok – this is way too depressing. Time to board SkyTrain and GetGoin’.

Oops. SkyTrain’s ProductionWayUniversity Station is rubbing our noses in it, too. Three years after completion and they’re still flogging space in this development. Well, at least some of that OfficeSpace is furnished (locally sourced & ‘lightly used’ LakeCity disposals, ‘Nem’ wonders?).

Even TheResidentials’ are vying for our eyeballs & a piece of the action. To wit, a transit bench featuring the balding, collective rictus of ColdWellBanker’s “LoveTeam”.

Wandering towards the escalator and trying to ignore the commercial hoardings – for my own private amusement I briefly envisage LakeCity’s FarFuture…

A park like landscape where FlyingCars compete for AirSpace with children’s Frisbees … Where SFU’s Industrial & Urban Archaeologists of tomorrow are momentarily perplexed upon discovering the corroded remnants of sentinels, elephants, and a tiger shark… beneath a discarded transit shelter apparently dedicated to the Arcane&Taboo Rituals of RE’s “LoveTeam”.

Yikes! Startled BackToReality by yet more RezCouture/RE AgitProp.
I guess that when it comes to Vancouver, there’s really no escaping it.

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

“The city has gradually ended all leases with local businesses and sold the land to developers.”

vanpire at vancouvercondo.info 22 Jun 2011 8:00am
“I’ve lived in South Burnaby for a long time now. My neighborhood was not so special – mostly transitional residential bordering with light industrial/warehousing. As an upside there were many, many places across the street that employed people and manufactured things – a neon sign shop, a chocolate factory (for real!) a flower wholesaler, an architectural design firm, an electronic distributor. In the walking distance to my home we had a childcare, a church, a bank, a doctor’s office…
That was then. But now? The entire area was apparently owned by the city and city has gradually ended all leases with local businesses and sold the land to developers.This created a domino-effect as block by block what was once an actual city neighborhood turned into a huge condo desert, with hundreds upon hundreds of units sold mostly to chinese “investors”. City planning at its finest.
No wonder government wants the housing boom to last forever.
It’s making very easy money very fast.
Like a big party, but without hangover.”

‘Three Back Yards’ – Update On 3 SFH Development In Point Grey – One Sold, $2.55M

‘Three Back Yards’

This via e-mail from ‘a regular visitor’ to the blog –
“I’d like to revisit your post of September 28, 2010 if I may…nostalgia overcame me. We were nearby over the weekend and wondered how that development was progressing. When that sodden framing went in last autumn, we were incredulous that they were shoehorning three SFHs into such a small parcel of land! I attach some photos here; what boggles the mind is why someone would be desperate to drop a couple of million or more on one of these. So darned close together  – you can hardly get a cigarette paper between these three houses. What will happen when they have to get a ladder in there for those inevitable major repairs?! Those accompanying laneway houses seem pretty big; how small those yards are between the main houses and the laneway houses. Ugh. A friend who lives a few streets away from there (for the past 20 years or so), said there are many laneway houses being built in the vicinity. She said that some of them are so large, they obstruct the daylight that neighbouring houses used to enjoy. That’s not good in our light-deprived city…”

“Definitely feels like change is in the air, albeit at what seems like snails pace to anyone trying to survive here as a renter or wannabe buyer. As people have said on your blog so many times before, if you say anything at all about overvaluation of property in the Vancouver area you just get a blank stare and the same old stories – ‘no more land’, ‘everyone wants to live here’, etc. etc. Gets tired, doesn’t it? [But it does] give us something to talk about other than the rain and grey skies ;-)”

vreaa comment: In our 28 Sep 2010 post, we estimated that these three houses would come on the market at about $2.25M each (Point Grey; new; 2500+sqft; 33×122 ft lots).
Well, it turns out our estimation was 13% low. One of the three (likely the corner one based on the number) is registered as sold:

4698 West 11th Ave, Point Grey, Westside, Vancouver
Sold 8 Apr 2011, $2.55M
‘Bonus: Price includes a laneway house and HST!
Laneway homes are approx 370 square feet.’

Realtor photos:


PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #10 – The Okanagan Bust – “The GreatConflagration ‘O HospitalHill & Other OkiTales ‘O ‘SpontaneousCombustion'”

It could be your SmokeDetector going off in the WeeWee’s ‘O TheNight… A building AlarmActivation – or maybe even a FranticNeighbour BANGING! on your door. This is when CrossStreets are important – Life&Death important.
Know yours. Because, when you ReallyNeed the EmergencyServices and you’re doing the ‘911Dance’ you may be too stressed to blurt out a street number. Knowing your cross street will enable a faster response time. And sometimes, seconds count.

Here’s the thing, DearReaders – Housing Booms&Busts come laden with externalities. UnintendedConsequences. BlowBack. And, not infrequently…   BackDraft!
Witness the OhSoMany SadTales ‘O Detonation, Conflagration & Deflagration that have occupied our Metro & Regional HeadLines these past couple’o years. From CoalHarbourYachts to NewBuildCondo’s in Surrey&Richmond to every second restaurant on a certain stretch of Broadway near Main.
Even in the best ‘o times, careless people do stupid things and stressed people do careless things. But… in the worst ‘o times??? Well, financially stressed and/or inherently DishonestPeople do criminal things – and they do them more often.

[Disclaimer: OK, there’s nothing intrinsically funny about “Fire!”. So, please forgive ‘Nem’ for penning a serious piece. And we have no special knowledge of whether crimes should be suspected in these cases. Fortunately, no one perished at the SkyLine or in any of Nem’s subsequent examples ‘o Okanagan ‘SpontaneousCombustion’. Let’s hope it stays that way.]

Our story begins here… Welcome to Vernon’s SkyLine Apartments!
The astute among you will notice the PoliceTape and the charred, skeletal remnants of furnishings strewn about the lawn…

Ah yes. That would be why.
Let’s step back a few months and experience the event’s ‘frisson’, shall we?…

[VernonStar – February 25, 2011 12:06 PM] – “Firefighters remain on scene of a major apartment building fire on Vernon’s Hospital Hill. Flames and smoke engulfed the structure on 31A Street at about 5 a.m. Friday, forcing about 52 people to flee into temperatures that dipped to -17. “As soon as the guys left the department, they could see it,” said Dean Wakefield, fire investigator. Firefighters from Vernon, Okanagan Landing, BX-Swan Lake and Coldstream converged on the scene. “We’re protecting exposures,” said Lawrie Skolrood, Vernon deputy fire chief. Emergency Social Services personnel also responded and tenants were being sheltered in the Vernon Jubilee Hospital cafeteria. A cause for the fire has not yet been determined.”

Damage was extensive.

No part of the SkyLine escaped unscathed, not even the ConcreteCarPark.

Indeed, from one end to the other – the entire expanse ‘o the Skyline’s TopFloor was ‘crisped’.

On the BrightSide though, Vernon’s Jubilee Hospital was certainly close at hand!

On the NotSoBrightSide… At least one SkyLine occupant remains unaccounted for. Rorey.


…back in Kelowna – another OptimisticDeveloper is putting the FinishingTouches on his ParticleBoard MagnumOpus… or is he?

Actually, that would be a resounding, “No”…

[BCLOCALNE​WS: Updated: April 11, 2011 1:42 PM] – “Residents of the Laurentian Heights 3 condominiu​m building at 1405 Kelglen were collecting what personal belongings they could this afternoon after a fire swept through part of the complex at about 4 a.m. Sunday. The Kelowna Fire Department​’s initial response included 21 firefighte​rs, four fire engine trucks, two ladder trucks a Rescue truck, and one command unit. Another 45 career and paid on-call staff were recalled to the scene and to also help maintain firefighting crews for other emergencie​s. Upon their arrival, firefighte​rs were greeted by well involved fire on a balcony of a unit in the southeast corner of the building. It quickly spread into the attic area and throughout the upper part of the building, causing extensive damage to the roof and top floors in the south end of the building.”

Something about those ParticleBoardMansions… Once those flames get going…

They just…



And while we’re talkin’, “Spreading” –
“What’s all this doing on MainStreet Osoyoos?”

[OSOYOOS TIMES – May 4, 2011 – By Paul Everest] – “The Osoyoos Times has confirmed that an 18-year-old Osoyoos man arrested in connection to a fire that destroyed two Main Street businesses on May 1 had ties to one of the devastated businesses. Police announced on the evening of May 2 that they had arrested a man late the night before in Osoyoos in connection to the fire. The fire is being treated as suspicious in nature at this time, police added. The Times has learned that the suspect in police custody is Phoenix Lonsdale, a man who the owner of the Osoyoos Christian Ministry thrift store, which was destroyed in the blaze, said had begun playing a piano in the store on a volunteer basis the week before the fire broke out. Lonsdale’s foster mother confirmed to the Times on May 3 that her foster son had been arrested. He is charged with committing arson and appeared in court on May 3 and is scheduled to return to court on May 9.
The fire broke out before 9 a.m. on May 1 and gutted the Osoyoos Christian Ministry church and thrift shop and the Dollar Smart Discount. No one was injured.”

Those Thermoplastic Resins… They don’t like heat.

DryWall & Plaster Lathing doesn’t always fare that well, either.

The Banks always seem to escape unscathed. It’s so unfair!

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

Misallocation Of Human Capital During Speculative Bubbles – “What do you call societies that depart from meritocracy? What tends to happen to them in the long term?”

JRoss at VREAA 29 May 2011 11:50pm, in response to a comment suggesting that a couple who are both academics at UBC looking for accommodation in Vancouver shouldn’t have an attitude of “entitlement and elitism” and should consider “some homes in Renfrew area that require some elbow grease for <700K with revenue suites" –
“I lived on < $900 month from a TA at UBC in Point Grey for several years so I could obtain an advanced degree. My wife did same. Why would I or anybody else do that if there were not the potential (potential, not promise) of some future reward? That is not entitlement. That is a meritocracy.
Question for you my obtuse friend – What do you call societies that depart from meritocracy? What tends to happen to them in the long term? And just exactly who are the 'elistists' in same?
You seriously think that is is entitlement for the dentist who fixes your kid's teeth, or the doctor who treats your wife's cancer, or the lawyer who writes up your real estate contracts, or the CA who does your taxes, or the pharmacist who had the misfortune to graduate 25 years after you, or the professor who teaches all of them, to want some chance at a reward commensurate with their efforts? Seriously, what is wrong with you?
You do realize there are very nice places in the world where people who EARN such qualifications are afforded a better life than an 80 year old house in a marginal neighbourhood with strangers in the basement? Why would anybody who is possessed enough of their faculties to EARN one of the aforementioned careers not question what it has bestowed on them and realize they might be better off elsewhere?
You seem to think that we should all just accept the status quo and sign up for a lifetime of debt that will fund your retirement with wealth that came your way mostly because of the accident of the timing of your birth and you actually have the balls to call ME entitled."

Very, very eloquently put.
A speculative mania in real estate causes misallocation of resources. JRoss highlights how people with skills useful to a society can be forced away because of a profound perversion of normal reward dynamics. People are avoiding Vancouver because of these forces. The detrimental effects on our society are mostly hidden during the boom leg of the bubble, but will almost definitely compound other negative aspects of the inevitable deflation.
Forcing hard-working, talented and useful members of our society to avoid Vancouver is just one aspect of this misallocation of human capital. Other manifestations include (1) young people being drawn into short-term-attractive construction work (rather than studies or more sustainable lines of work), (2) professionals decreasing their hours worked or retiring early (as a result of perceived paper profits in RE), (3) people in useful professions selling their homes and leaving the city (because the capital accumulated in their home has hit life-changing levels), etc. We personally know of individuals in each of these categories, and related personal stories have appeared on these pages. People do unusual things in unusual times, and we’re living through unusual times in Vancouver by virtue of our overly-expensive real estate. – vreaa

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #9 – The Okanagan Bust – ‘Roadside Attractions On Highway 97’

What, it’s raining you say!  And you haven’t the time or the ‘wherewithal’ to LoadUp the FamilyWagon and RegalInTheSplendour of SuperNaturalBC!…  No fear, DearReaders! – ‘Nemesis’ was able to secure the loan of a 48Pontiac Woodie…  So…  What ya waitin’ for!?  Hop In!  Cause, we’re gonna MotorThe’97! [if you’re feeling musical – go ahead and put the B52’s “Love Shack” into your 8Track]…

Yes!  The Okanagan ’97 Westside Road Interchange!  Like the sign says, it’s “The Best Place On Earth”!  And when has BC’s Department of Highways ever lied to you???

Yep!  SceneryGalore! [Look harder, it’s really there! – albeit, the hoardings do at times make it a tad difficult to appreciate]…

Pretty soon we’re coming across evidence of DealsGalore!  Yes! Galore! [Nem just loves that word].

See!?  “BlowOut!” Yes!  “BlowOutPricing!”.  Although evidently, this particular enticement has thus far proven unsuccessful – given that it was replaced last week with New! EvenMoreSpectacular! Signage.

And when you’re finally ready to PullTheTrigger on that Sweet Oki Deal – these Gals will help ya do it!…  Ok, Nem admits that he was first attracted to this particular BillBoard by the astonishing resemblance of MortgageBroker Deb White to actress/comedian Tina Fey.  More to the point though, it serves beautifully as an illustration of the nefariously pervasive (and socially corrosive) Culture ‘O Celebrity.

But it’s not just Celebrity they’re SellingYou.  They’re really in the business of promoting TheDream.  See?  Just look at that HappyCouple!!! Happy, because they’ve “Experience[d] the Advantages of Working with an EXECUTIVE!

And if RealtyExecutives doesn’t do ‘it’ for ya…  Well, Darn!  There’s always SUPERMAN!  Better known as Les York (of King Remax’s RoundTable).  Damn!  That guy looks so sauve I wouldn’t let him within 10Km of my Squeeze!…  Sincere, too!  And what a LogLine! “Les gets you MORE!

Of course, not all Oki RE ‘players’ are in the game for ‘accommodation’…  I’ll bet you’d be DarnSurprised to know that many of these astute PropertyOwners are actually INVESTORS!  And that’s where Dustin, Davis & Sean come in…  You could be forgiven for mistaking them for a BoyBand – but these guyz actually ManageProperty.

Ok. Now it’s starting to get a little scary.  “Kelowna Born & Raised”?  Please forgive ‘Nemesis’, Kathy – but that logline is more evocative of livestock provenance and/or BBQ potential than profession​​al competence​​/commerci​a​l savvy.  Indeed, ‘Nem’ is surprised that the copywriter didn’t add ‘FreeRange​​’ and/or ‘GrainFed’ to Kathy’s list ‘O NoteWorthy Achievements/Attributes.  Or, at the very least, exploit the ‘fervour’ of an important local demographic with a little ‘tweak’ along the lines of, “Kelowna BornAgain & Raised!”.

OK, ‘Nem’ disclaimer.  Hot brunettes are…  Well… UltraHot!  And when their stage name is “Lovin”.  They’re SmokingHot!   But why couldn’t Alina’s parents have gone WholeHog – and just called her Lotta!  What other Realtor could compete with that?  Just imagine, DearReaders – stepping into your new LottaLovin’ Home!

On the ProsaicSide however, we have Mr. Allan Taylor.  You will note the clever italicization of “IS”.  So, bonus points to Allan for typographical simplicity.  Still, there’s something to be said for ‘telling it straight’, without flourish (as VREAA constantly reminds me!!!).  So in all honesty, if ‘Nem’ were seeking agency – he would certainly include Allan on the UsualSuspects list of Realtors to interview (albeit, he’d have a tough time competing for Nem’s attention with his RegionalRival, LottaLovin!).

Now – I know you’ve all heard those stories about ‘difficult’ trading conditions in BC’s Interior RE markets.
Guess what!?  They’re true.
Indeed, things are so bad that Macdonald Realty Okanagan South has had to diversify into other ‘lines’.

Ah yes.  This is the Okanagan.  And, believe it or not, there are plenty more where this one came from.  Albeit, whereas most RegionalIndigenes are patiently waiting for an as yet unrealized ‘spiritual experience​’ – untold legions of UnderWater OkanaganPr​opertyOwne​rs have unquestion​ably already had their ‘ComeToJes​usMoment’.

Speaking of which…  A faded and cryptic GuidePost to us all!  Hey, Art is where you find it.

As ever, DearReaders.  Thank you!

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]


“I moved to Vancouver from Holland 3 years ago, planning to buy a business, house and settle. Last year we moved to the States.”

left already at VREAA 20 May 2011 8:53pm
“I moved to Vancouver from Holland 3 years ago because my wife’s family lives there and many of my friends and family also.
Planning to buy a business, house and settle.
We had approx 10million CAD in cash. After looking at all possible businesses for sale for two years, we realised that there was really no opportunity to buy smth decent with cap rates higher than 3 to 4% same as what our money was earning on a savings account (most businesses were franchises, restaurants and other retail).
We rented for 2 years thinking that the RE prices will fall to reasonable levels.
It was not so much that we could not afford it but having come by our money the hard way, we realised that there was really not value in paying 1.5 million to live in very ordinary poorly build house. Weather was not so much an issue for us are we are used to rain and we really did not have bad whether the two years we lived there. The summers were beautiful, we liked it so much.
Last year we decided to invest in the States and moved here on an investor E2 visa. We bought an apartment building (42 apartments for 3 million USD) with a cap rate of 6.5%. The same building in Vancouver would cost 6 to 8 million.
And since we are here, I can tell you that once you get used to the San Diego sunshine, you can hardly dream of another place.
We just bought a house four ourself ( 860 000USD) with swimming pool and ocean view, lots of oranges in the garden, they are ripe and sweet now. Unbelievable how far the money goes here compared to Vancouver. Evth is cheaper. Vancouver is a TOTAL RIP OFF anyway you look at it. I will never regret the decision to leave.
Also, having worked for 27 years as an electro-mechanical engineer in Holland and having registered 7 patents during this period, and managed countless projects around the world, I thought I might get a part time consulting job in the industry , mainly to do smth useful and not get bored rather than to make money.
To my surprise no body recognised my credentials, I had to be registered to practice engineering there, and to do that is going back to school, pass all exams again, and once you do that you have to be coached for about 3 to 5 years by another professional engineer, almost mission impossible. I was stunned. It was the same thing for my wife, architect graduated from one of the most prestigious schools in Europe. Impossible to practice here.
Now, when you look at all the architectural junk that Vancouver is filled with, I really don’t know were they get those creative architects / designers…
I am so amused checking from time to time the blogs that helped me so much understand RE craze in vancouver and feel sorry for the people waiting on the sidelines.
I wish you good luck and hope things return to sanity sooner in the rainy city.
My advice:
Don’t let RE prices dictate your life plans, move on to where the sunshine is and life opportunities await. There are very little in Vancouver.”

[We are now satisfied that this anecdote is likely genuine, so we have headlined it. -ed.]

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9i: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9i: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

27. Make sure you’re on the same page as your partner

The renovation divorce is not urban myth — they happen. A friend of mine personally knows of two. My own feeling about renovation divorce is that the renovation is not the root cause of the divorce. Rather, a major renovation can act as a very effective stress test of a relationship, revealing any deep fissures that may exist, and splitting them wider. Or, conversely, it can serve as a grand diversion, a common purpose that occupies a couple, allowing them to avoid dealing with any issues in their relationship. A renovation, or the building of a new house, may even be undertaken as a symbolic fresh start. Once the renovation or house is complete, and the novelty wears off, the underlying issues crowd back in.

My wife and I survived our grinding, three-year renovation, and the upheaval of firing the first general contractor, battered but mostly intact. We each learned things about the other, and about ourselves. My transformation into Captain Ahab, monomaniacally pursuing his white whale, is a tendency I need to rein in. We adapted and made compromises along the way. But there were also nasty blowouts. Cooling off after these rough patches, I would reiterate to myself that the relationship was more important than the renovation. People are more important than things.

For couples considering a renovation for the first time, assume that you are not going to agree on everything. And assume that there are many renovation details that you don’t yet know about or understand that you are not going to agree on — decisions and conflict points that arise in the course of the project, once the pressure is on. In our case, one such decision was whether or not to spend an extra $15K or $20K on rainscreening and re-siding the house, once we discovered the original building envelope was beginning to fail.

As much as possible, partners should make sure they’re on the same page before embarking on the joint undertaking of a major renovation. A simple and well-known tool called ‘the project triangle’, explained in the next section, can give you an idea whether harmony or discord lie ahead, and allow you to work out differences in advance.

28. Fast, good, cheap — pick two

The project triangle illustrates the three basic characteristics of any project — speed of completion, quality of work, and cost — and suggests that realistically we can get the best of two, while the third characteristic will suffer. The overlapping areas in the diagram are the three different possibilities for any project.

For a major renovation, here’s how the project triangle can play out:

•    If it’s fast and good, like our reno once the competent general contractor took over, it won’t be cheap because you’re paying market price for a crew of true professionals. You may be willing to pay because you have a particular standard of quality in mind, and you don’t have the rest of your life to learn how to do the work well, and to do it yourself. You feel you are getting fair value. But does your partner have the same conception of ‘value’ that you have? Nothing causes more friction in couple relationships than money.

•    If it’s good and cheap, because you’re a skilled renovator and do large amounts of the work yourself, and act as the general contractor for the rest, there’s a high probability that you’ll be on the ten-year-plan, like our neighbours M and S. Some people derive a lot of satisfaction from an ongoing project that slowly comes to fruition, and may not mind living amid an ongoing renovation for years. Others may find that unacceptable. Or the demands of family life make it completely impractical.

•    If it’s cheap and fast, there’s a high likelihood that the quality is mediocre or poor, because it just isn’t feasible for one contractor or company to significantly and consistently underprice the competition, and beat them on completion dates, while maintaining comparable quality. You might get lucky from time to time, but on balance you’ll get what you pay for. And what you’re paying for, whether you understand it or not, is probably a superficial papering over of deeper problems, or something that’s going to fall apart, or look like crap in short order, or maybe even right away. Cheap and fast usually equates to quick and dirty, and there’s another little maxim about projects: long after quick is gone, dirty remains. What seemed cheap in terms of money will start to reveal itself as cheap in terms of quality. Which ultimately means it’s not cheaper in terms of money, because it will have to be replaced sooner.

The root of couple tension related to a renovation likely stems from two different renovation conceptions conflicting because they fall into different overlapping areas in the project triangle. Discovering this incompatibility before starting a renovation, and working to resolve it, can spare a couple a lot of grief. Resolving it requires that regardless of which of the project characteristics you value most highly, you have a shared definition of what you mean by each characteristic. Is $300K a reasonable amount to spend for what you want to do, or is that far beyond the bounds of what you’d ever consider? Is second-rate finish carpentry with joints that don’t always exactly meet not that big a deal, or does it make you cringe? Is three months of disruption the maximum you’re willing to put up with, or can you handle living in a renovation zone while you pick away at things for years?


Coming soon: The tenth and final sub-part –
Part 9j: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 29 & 30.
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Read them all before you call Holmes. -ed.

Cloverdale – “There are 20 houses in the development; In April the builder boasted 70% sold; In May they declared, “Only 6 left!” You do the math. Price reductions coming.”

‘A’ writes, by e-mail to VREAA, 15 May 2011 – “This tickled my funny bone and I thought you might be interested. There are 20 houses in the development [‘Highgrove at Provinceton’]. In April the builder boasted 70% sold. In May they declared, “Only 6 left!” You do the math. They’re gearing up for a late spring, early summer sellout event. I read that as price reductions coming. Sucks to be a buyer of one of the first 14.”

Wall Centre Leaking – $100K Special Assessment Per Condo

From cbc.ca 13 May 2011“Condominium owners at Vancouver’s landmark Wall Centre are in the midst of a five-year, multi-million-dollar battle with the project’s developers over problems with the windows. … The cost to repair the windows is estimated at about $7million. The strata is suing to at least get some of that hefty bill covered. … “There’s only 70 suites there … you can do the arithmetic,” said Wall Centre condo owner and strata president Bruce Gleig. “And it’s not what anybody wants to hear.” The strata has decided on a special assessment, or levy, with some owners on the hook for more than $100,000. …
Some units in the building are currently listed for sale, ranging between about $1 million and $2 million. “There are lenders out there that will not lend on something that hasn’t been remediated,” said mortgage broker Michelle Byman. “So unless the fix has been done, they just flat out say ‘no.'”

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #8 – The Okanagan Bust – ‘Tuscany Villas’, Shields Down!

Lower your shields and surrender your Deposits!
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own! Your culture will adapt to service us!

Arriving at first light,  I chanced upon ‘TuscanyVillas’ on one of those rare moments when its Shields were down!

[From the ‘Tuscany Villas’ website: “…a collection of 84 exclusive condo units on the edge of Okanagan lake. The location means unobstructed views of the specatcular [sic] landscape.”“Construction of this West Kelowna landmark is underway. Register today to become a Tuscany Villas insider.”“Now is a great time to buy; with all indicators showing an end to the recent pricing and sales reductions, this is the perfect time to buy into your future home or investment property.” – ed.]

‘Nemesis’ doesn’t know whether those concrete columns and embellishm​ents are structural – or merely ‘decorativ​e’ – but it did remind him of the Revelstoke Dam’s Hydro-Power-Generation Hardware…

Why ‘Tuscan’?.. Holy Moley! Hey! Way up there at the top… Are those miniature Etruscan Arches? Was our Developer a student of Architectural History, or did he just spontaneously decide to Embellish? … or perhaps his inspiration flowed from a stay at the Vegas ‘Venetian’?

Postscript: On retiring, a mere stones throw away from ‘TuscanyVillas’, we note something even more disturbing than the Borg Presence… this lonely, incomplete (or possibly abandoned) private home.  ‘Fortress at Monte Cassino’?…

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

Manufacturing Exclusivity – “Purchase these hot condos prior to everyone else.”

Posted by SethM at RE Talks 10 May 10:13pm, who also offers to pass the opportunity on to other readers: “If anyone wants my VIP status to buy a unit, PM me. Sounds like a good deal.”

Similarly, this on craigslist 10 May 2011 4:05pm

“There are 30 units to be released in the Compass building. They will be pre-sold prior to being made available to the public on May 28th.
Units start from $345,900.
Call Chris Kozaryn at Sutton West Coast to get the oportunity
[sic] to purchase these hot condos prior to everyone else.”

Yes, you and that small intimate band of close friends who read craigslist, can ‘purchase before everybody else’. This is the attempt at creation of a ‘virtual line-up’ for this product, in the hope that a buzz ensues. In actual fact, anybody with the money can have one, guaranteed. Or, more to the point, anybody with the loan.
There will never ever be a shortage of condos in Vancouver. Never. Ever.
Fly into Hong Kong, look out the window. Fly into Vancouver, look out the window (“I am visiting rural farmlands?”).
– vreaa

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9f: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9f: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

17. Seismic upgrading — the cheapest insurance you may ever buy

Before an earthquake, decisions about seismic upgrade requirements, including financing, are extraordinarily difficult. After the earthquake, every property owner wishes he or she had done more. — Charles Eadie, former Project Manager of the City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency Downtown Recovery Plan

I went through the Loma Prieta quake in San Francisco in ‘89. A portion of the Bay Bridge collapsed, thousands of houses were shaken off of their foundations, and 63 people were killed. I toured a lot of the damaged areas. . . . I saw dozens and dozens of houses in Oakland that were just fine in most regards, except that they had moved laterally a foot or two and fallen off of their foundations. Many of these houses still had all of their windows intact and still had dishes sitting on the shelves. — Jim Katen, Associated Master Inspectors, Portland, Oregon

Note: I wrote this section on seismic upgrading before the recent earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, and the much more massive earthquake and associated tsunami hit northeastern Japan. These recent events don’t really change anything I’ve written here, but they do suggest I may not be some kind of seismic survivalist nut. Earthquakes actually do happen, and they happen with more severity and more frequency in seismically active zones (like the one in which Vancouver is located). The results of the Christchurch earthquake do underline a couple of points I include below: unreinforced masonry buildings are often the most dangerous type of structure in an earthquake, and even if a structure doesn’t collapse in a earthquake, it may be subsequently condemned. An estimated 10,000 houses in Christchurch will have to be demolished. The earthquake in Japan provides evidence of something else: fires and tsunamis caused by earthquakes can be far more destructive than the earthquakes themselves. Seismically upgrading your house won’t do anything to help it withstand a large tsunami. Living on higher ground is the only defense. Even if a house is securely bolted to its foundation, the direct impact of a wall of water will smash the structure into kindling. However, anchor bolts and holddowns might prevent a house from being floated off its foundation if only a moderate amount of water and force were involved — say, farther away from a tsunami’s initial impact zone. Preventing fires caused by ruptured gas mains or exploding electrical transformers is beyond the control of any homeowner, but you can improve the seismic safety of gas appliances in a house by using flexible rather than rigid supply lines, and by strapping gas hot water tanks to the walls.

For the price of a granite countertop, some relatively simple seismic upgrades can save a wood-frame house from tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage in the event of an earthquake. The upgrades might even save the occupants from serious injury or death, although in big earthquakes wood-frame structures don’t usually collapse completely, unlike old brick or unreinforced masonry buildings, which can. For the owners of houses along the seismically active west coast of North America, the issue is more one of establishing at least a basic line of defense against the potential for massive property damage, and increasing the chances that a house will remain habitable, as opposed to being condemned, in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

The bad news, in Vancouver, is that the City only incorporated the seismic requirements of the National Building Code in 1967 — well after much of the housing stock was built — and one- and two-family dwellings were, and still are, exempt from the seismic requirements in the code. For new home construction, the City passes the responsibility to the structural engineer, who must attest to the seismic adequacy of a design. There is no requirement for houses undergoing renovation to be seismically retrofitted, and the current requirements with seismic implications that do exist for new houses are fewer than those in west coast American cities.

The typical risk factors for an older Vancouver house — all of them present in our own house prior to the seismic upgrading we performed — are a house frame that’s not anchor bolted to the concrete foundation walls, corners of the frame that are not secured with holddowns, and cripple walls (the short walls extending from the foundation to the first floor) that lack shear resistance (resistance to lateral forces). The shaking of even a moderate earthquake can cause an unbolted frame to vibrate off its foundation. A larger earthquake can cause a frame that lacks holddowns to tip up as a unit, or the entire structure to slump to the ground in one direction as all the studs in the cripple walls go over like dominoes, imperiling any occupants on the lower level, such as tenants in basement suites. Cripple wall failure is what caused the partial collapse of this house in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (the one that disrupted the World Series in San Francisco). The cripple walls were probably vulnerable because not reinforced against lateral forces, and were further weakened by large openings for two garages, creating what is known as a ‘soft storey’. With the weight of the house above, there’s just too little material in this wall to resist the side-to-side shaking of an earthquake.

Cripple wall failure during Loma Prieta earthquake

The good news is that significantly improving the seismic resistance of a typical Vancouver house isn’t that technically challenging or costly, depending on when you do the work, and assuming there are no problems with the concrete foundation. Incorporating seismic upgrading with a more general renovation is the most cost-effective and least disruptive approach. Anyone considering a major renovation, especially one that includes the lower level of a house, should take the opportunity to seismically upgrade while other renovation activities are ongoing. Unfinished or gutted basements or lower levels are ideal, because the frame is exposed, and installing anchor bolts, holddowns, various other structural connectors, and plywood shear panels is relatively quick, easy, and inexpensive. Five thousand dollars should cover it if a contractor is doing the work, and perhaps two thousand dollars if you do the work yourself. Two or three percent of the cost of a major reno. If the lower level is finished, seismic upgrading will require removing and later replacing at least some of the drywall, which increases the expense and effort somewhat, but not excessively.

Most advanced do-it-yourselfers can perform the work themselves, working from a ‘prescriptive plan set’ — structural engineering drawings that can be adapted to a wide range of houses. I’ve included a link to a City of Seattle web page below that includes a downloadable plan and other guides, and similar plan sets are available for free download from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, and the Association of Bay Area Governments web sites. The City of Vancouver seems to be lagging in this regard, with nothing similar available, that I could find. As the Seattle site states, “These plans help homeowners with qualifying structures obtain the necessary building permit(s) more quickly and easily and eliminate the need to hire a design professional to develop drawings.”

Consulting a structural engineer may still be advisable, especially for houses with anything other than the basic rectangular footprint, or with large openings in the lower level, such as a garage door, double front doors or patio doors, or numerous large windows. The larger and more numerous the openings, the less the lateral resistance. Involving an engineer is also a good idea if you plan to remove interior walls to create larger rooms or an open concept layout — a popular approach to the renovation of older houses, with their numerous small rooms, but one that can reduce the overall seismic resistance of a structure.

Here’s a quick list of the six most basic seismic upgrades for wood-frame houses:
• Anchor bolts
• Holddowns
• Other structural connectors
• Plywood shear walls
• Reinforcing or removing masonry chimneys
• Restraints on hot water tanks
And here’s a picture of the cripple walls in one corner of our house, with various structural connectors in place prior to installing the plywood shear panels.

Cripple walls with seismic upgrading

In the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake, a dramatic and accidental case history emerged from Santa Cruz, a city close to the earthquake’s epicenter south of San Francisco. Architect Michael O’Hearn was in the process of seismically upgrading two identical Victorian houses built side by side. He’d finished upgrading one house, and had just begun on the second when the earthquake hit. The upgraded house was virtually undamaged, and cost only $5000 to repair. The second house “came apart in four sections,” came off its foundation, and cost $260,000 to repair. (APA Homeowner’s Guide: Earthquake Safeguards).

One thing I wonder about with Vancouver Specials is how well they’d do in an earthquake. The partially collapsed house in the picture from the Loma Prieta earthquake is very like a Vancouver Special in its design, but with the addition of the under-house double garage, a feature most Specials luckily don’t have — garages or carports are typically located beneath a rear deck — although some do.

Vancouver Specials with under-house garages

Vancouver Specials gained additional headroom on their lower levels by extending their cripple walls to full height. My lay person understanding is that the taller a cripple wall, the more vulnerable it is to the lateral forces of an earthquake, although I haven’t had that particular point confirmed by a structural engineer. A crucial additional factor is the nature of the sheathing on the exterior of a house. Traditional 1×8 shiplap fixed horizontally to cripple wall studs (see the picture of our walls above) provides very little lateral resistance. And an outer layer of stucco or wood siding adds only a negligible amount more. Contrary to some popular opinion I’ve heard, stucco won’t ‘hold everything together’. By contrast, plywood sheathing provides eight times the lateral resistance of horizontally oriented shiplap (Residential Guide to Earthquake Resistance, page 109). It would be interesting to know how 1960s and 1970s Vancouver Specials were sheathed. If it was with plywood, or shiplap oriented diagonally, which provides six times the resistance of horizontal orientation, there’s probably less reason for concern.

One final note. Vancouver homeowners interested in seismic upgrading may find local builders and general contractors reluctant to incorporate the work in a more general renovation. The reluctance could be based on a lack of familiarity with some of the techniques, and anxiety about what this unfamiliar work will do to carefully calibrated schedules, in which all elements and effort requirements are well understood based on numerous previous projects. Homeowner concerns may be pooh-poohed, with terms like ‘overkill’ being tossed out. The homeowner may be required to stand firm.

I read somewhere that competent house builders understand gravity, and the physics of vertical load-bearing, very well, but they may be less well versed with the physics of lateral forces. In the Lower Mainland, the reason for this lack of familiarity is probably that the current building code governing single family houses don’t require much in the way of seismic provisions — exterior panel sheathing and anchor bolts look to be about it, from my observations, a structural engineer’s stamp notwithstanding. I’d suggest that the building codes don’t require much because unlike Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Vancouver has yet to experience an earthquake of any significance. From the research I’ve done over the past few years, I’d say that Vancouver lags those other cities in addressing seismic deficiencies. As one example, Seattle has almost finished seismically upgrading its schools, whereas Vancouver has only recently begun. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to discount the seriousness of a risk if there is no antecedent event in their personal history upon which to draw. The politicians and staff at city halls around the Lower Mainland, and the citizenry they represent and serve, are perhaps a little like homeowners who’ve never experienced a serious real estate downturn or frighteningly high interest rates. Until it happens to you, you can remain in optimistic denial.

[Further resources/reading, general]

APA Homeowner’s Guide: Earthquake Safeguards. Tacoma, WA: APA, The Engineered Wood Association, 1997. (Requires free registration).

Bay Area Seismic Retrofit. Includes a short video with a good visual demonstration of cripple wall vulnerability and seismic retrofit at 4:50 of “Dangers of the Hayward Fault”.

Residential Earthquake Retrofits. Good information posted by Bay Area structural engineer, Thor Matteson. Matteson has also written a book about shear wall construction.

“Vancouver’s Real Earthquake Risk: Fire”, Canadian Underwriter, Apr, 2001. Good general article that discusses more than just post-earthquake fire risk.

“School earthquake-proofing too slow: VSB”, CBC News, 27 Jan, 2011.

“B.C. vulnerable in giant quake: experts”, CBC News, 11 Mar, 2011.

“8,000 Vancouver buildings vulnerable to quakes”, CBC News, 17 Mar, 2011.

“Quakes can rock building standards; how will Vancouver fare?”, The Vancouver Sun, 20 Mar, 2011.

[Further resources/reading, advanced]

Residential Guide to Earthquake Resistance. Ottawa: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 1998.

Homebuilders’ Guide to Earthquake-Resistant Design and Construction. Washington: Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2006. (Free download).

Standard Earthquake Home Retrofit Plan Set. Seattle Department of Planning and Development, 2008. (Free download of plan set and various retrofit guides).


Coming soon: Part 9g: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 18 – 22.
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Read them all before you call for the ‘dozer. -ed.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #7 – The Okanagan Bust – The AtlantisVernon! – AddamsFamilyValues or Keeping Up With The Munsters?

Remember them? Well, GuessWhat!
One StunninglySpooky! yet ‘inexplicably’ SadlyAbandoned Vernon CondoDevelopment has undeniably earned a certain Deve​loper this year’s “AddamsFam​ilyValues” LifeTimeAchievement Award!
As you will shortly see, when it comes to ‘Keeping Up With the Munsters!’, a crucial and heretofore​ neglected OkanaganNicheMarket has – FINALLY! – in a single stroke of PureMarketingGenius!, been ‘redoubtably’ facilitated.
Pity it didn’t ‘quite’ work out quite as planned… Let’s have a look, shall we!?

Well… First things first. ‘Nemesis’ cannot tell a lie (at least not convincingly). Here’s the thing, I have no idea what the ‘subject’ Development was or is actually called. And it’s certainly not for lack of trying. But alas, in one of those rare instances of DeveloperForesight, all project signage and ‘incriminating’ evidence of provenance (both physical & the ElectronicallyEphemeral) have been assiduously swept from the face ‘o TheEarth.
Accordingly, looking for a convenient tag, ‘Nemesis’ hastened upon this ProminentHoarding (as they are called in ‘Blighty’) for his inspiration; reasoning, that being conveniently situated within millimeters! YesMillimeters! of the SpookyCondoSiteBoundary it was ‘fair game’.
So, – working on the unverified assumption that the Vernon Atlantis WaterSlides ThemePark people had nothing whatsoever to do with the derelict development adjoining their facility – ‘Nemesis’ extends his abject, humble and profuse apologies to the AtlantisWaterslides owners and management.
There. Done.

Yikes! DoubleYike​s!!
Let’s see now, how did that jingle go?… Ah yes!
Here it is!
DearReaders, click on that for a little SitComNostalgia/‘MoodMusic’, start snapping your fingers and try substituting Nem’s lyric instead (with apologies to Will Van Dyke)…
They’​re creepy and they’re kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They’re all together ooky, The ‘Lantis ‘Condomies’. T​he Site’s a mausoleum… Where people come to see ’em… They really are a scream… The ‘Lantis Travesty. Neat. Sweet. Petite! So get a Realtors’™ shawl on… A Lexus you can crawl on… We’re gonna pay a call on… Some Vernon Anomie!

Well now – no mistaking that message! Let’s try another avenue of approach…

OOOPS! Maybe not this way either. Hmmm… I’ve GotIt! Let’s ‘sneak’ around the back!

Yikes, again! There’s more of them! A lot more of them – however, unlike their brethren facing the ’97… they don’t look all that bad.
Quite salvageable, really – wouldn’t you agree?
But do let’s CarryOn – with our site circumnavigation…

And there it is!
In the parlance of PropertyPimps everywhere, ‘that’ would be TheView.
Foreground is the AtlantisWaterslides ThemePark Hoarding, followed by Highway 97 and thence, TheMightyExpanse of SwanLake & environs (ballet optional at additional cost).

Wait! There’s more!
Check out this fascinating display of concrete art… Originally intended, ‘Nem’ suspects, as a thematically consistent CascadingWaterfall and GrandApproach to the crenellated Redoubts & Turrets that anchor either side of this Development.
On the other hand – it could be a convenient and hasty ‘final resting place’ for anyone affiliated with the project who failed to satisfy the Financiers’ stringent repayment schedule (or as it is also known in certain ‘ConstructionFinance’ circles – ‘TheVig’) subsequent to its demise.

And as we step back to, “take it all in”… and prior to waving goodbye…
Wait!!! Wait just one darn minute!!! What’s that???
The music??? The laughter??? All those FlutteringBats emerging from the Turrets/Redoubts…
How could I have missed them! Yes!

Go on then, DearReaders! – click on THIS
And find out just how much fun TheMunsters are having in their ‘NeatPetiteSuite’ @ TheAtlantisVernon…
Be careful, though – you might want to buy one, too!!!

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9e: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9e: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

14. Scrutinize

Even with the best people working for you, you still need to inspect the work closely, and regularly — ideally daily, so you catch any problems or issues before they magnify, or before they get covered over with subsequent work. Nipping problems in the bud is typically a lot less expensive and less time consuming than trying to fix them retroactively. And requiring that contractors or tradespeople fix deficiencies while they’re still working on your job, and before they’ve been paid — in other words, while you still have direct, face-to-face communication, and some leverage — is much more effective than attempting to call people back. Of course, some problems emerge only after the fact. Reputable contractors and trades will come back and fix problems promptly, and usually graciously. But even the best may need some nudging. In which case, persistence and psychological tactics may be required. After a year and a half of sporadically trying to get a tiling company to return to fix a problem, dealing primarily with the sales guy, I eventually phoned the owner and told him I was “frustrated and disappointed.” Translation: We’re no longer talking about the relatively minor fix. We’re now talking about your company’s reputation and what I may say to other people. That worked. Because they are in fact a reputable operator.

Scrutiny will also reveal, relatively quickly, when you don’t have the best people working for you. If you let people know, early on, that you won’t put up with second-rate work, you may see significant improvement. However, in the case of truly incompetent workers, you won’t, because they’re incapable of improvement, at least in the short term. In the case of unethical workers, you won’t, because they have no interest in improving. It’s not about the work, it’s about the money, and how quickly they can make it. In both cases you need to recognize you hired badly and act decisively. If you allow things to continue, and make excuses to yourself about why you shouldn’t fire someone, because you lack the courage to fire someone, the grief and the stomach full of bile will be all yours. Don’t do it to yourself. We learned the hard way that some people don’t deserve a second chance.

A major renovation contains hundreds of details. The average homeowner is unlikely to be knowledgeable about all of them, or even most of them. But if you look closely at things, from a variety of angles if possible, you really increase your chances of catching things, and progressively improving your eye. Something that doesn’t look right probably isn’t. Ask the question, diplomatically, and listen closely to the answer. It will typically be one of three types of response. Yes, you’re right, and we’ll fix it. No, even though it may not look right it is in fact right, and here’s the very specific reason why. No, even though it may not look right it is in fact right, and waffle, waffle, waffle. In the case of this third type of response you need to ask specific follow-on questions, again, diplomatically if possible, with the subtext being that you will no more put up with bullshit than you will second-rate work. If the waffling and lousy work continue, then it’s time to act decisively.

It is possible to be too picky. Our second general contractor, the competent, ethical one, told us about a former client who asked him if the crew would be vacuuming out the stud bays of newly framed walls prior to installing insulation. A certain amount of sawdust and wood chips, a known byproduct of cutting and drilling wood, typically collects in stud bays — that is, the spaces between the vertical 2×4 or 2×6 studs in a framed wall. A quick sweep to remove any significant accumulations is normal, but an archival level of dust removal is not. The sawdust and wood chips are harmless and are hidden forever beneath the insulation and drywall. However, the former client, even while admitting the request was probably unreasonable, couldn’t stand the idea of even the spaces behind the walls not being immaculate. The dust and chips might be hidden, but she would know. Our contractor explained that the project budget and schedule didn’t really allow for this level of obsessiveness. (He probably used a different word.) The client agreed, and spent the weekend vacuuming all the new framing herself.

15. Communicate

Asking questions, and listening carefully to answers, falls into the larger realm of communicating. Successfully conducting a major renovation, whether you’re acting as the general contractor, or whether you’ve hired a general contractor, requires a steady exchange of detailed information among a number of parties: homeowners, spouses or partners, families, neighbours if they might be impacted by certain activities, general contractor, trades, suppliers, architect, structural engineer, and inspectors. The general contractor is the communications hub, which is why they live on their cell phones and their pickup trucks are mobile offices. If you’re acting as the general contractor, that becomes your role, and a cell phone, something I didn’t have during our reno, is going to be very useful. There are going to be plenty of real-time decisions that need to be made, and if you’re unreachable, the decisions will often be made for you, sometimes not to your liking.

But communicating isn’t fundamentally about communications tools. It’s about ensuring, on a daily basis, that timely, complete, and accurate information is transmitted and received. And the basis for that requirement comes back to being informed. The homeowner is the decision maker, and good decisions require good information. So don’t be shy about asking lots of questions, well in advance of critical decisions, and asking that unfamiliar construction terminology be explained. Once you understand the terms, you’ll be able to use them yourself, realize the usefulness of a specific and succinct way of referring to a particular construction component or detail or process, and communication, especially over the phone, when you can’t point to things, will be much easier and more reliable.

Don’t assume your wishes will be known. You need to make them known, in concrete terms. Contractors and tradespeople have to keep moving. It’s how they make money. If the marching orders are vague or non-existent, they’ll take their best guess at what they think you want, or what, in their experience, makes the most sense. Better that they know exactly what you want based on detailed prior discussion.

Spouses or partners also need to communicate on an ongoing basis throughout a reno. You’re not going to agree on everything, but those disagreements need to be reconciled before you start issuing directives to a general contractor, or an architect, or tradespeople. Mixed messages from twin decision makers can be problematic.

16. Document everything as you go

Keep a good record of all renovation work. Save all plans, permits, invoices, and any other associated paperwork. Take before, during, and after photographs. Take photographs of walls after all systems work is complete, prior to drywalling.

A good record of a renovation serves several purposes. There’s nothing like a photograph of wiring or plumbing or gas lines to assist with subsequent maintenance, repair, or alteration, or to reduce the chances of hitting something vital when drilling into walls or ceilings to attach things. If you’re planning a phased renovation, photographs of underlying framing and systems can be very helpful to an architect, structural engineer, or general contractor working on subsequent phases, or to you, if you’re doing future work yourself. Old invoices serve as a good benchmark when assessing quotes for new work, or the cost of materials. If you resell your renovated house at some point, you can package everything in a renovation binder that illustrates and documents exactly what work has been done and at what cost — evidence to back up your claims about the house, and increase the confidence of prospective buyers. The package will also be very useful to new owners as they become familiar with the house. And before and after shots can be interesting and enjoyable to look at, a gallery of the possible, of dramatic alteration.

Coming soon: Part 9f: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestion 17. Seismic upgrading — the cheapest insurance you may ever buy
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Read them before you try to bolt your own foundations. -ed.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #6 – The Okanagan Bust – “WhaddoWeCall It?… ‘Indigo’!”

Have you ever wondered just how it is that the ‘Creatives’ (or in ‘budget’ cases, the Developer’s SiliconeAugmented BFF) choose a ProjectMoniker? ‘Nemesis’ certainly has. My favourite working theory is that somewhere, buried deep within their Id (or, if you prefer, their repressed/unrecovered childhood memories) lurks a Movie!… A GrandMetaNarrative of such NaughtyPossibilities that it’s synaptic persistence is eternally assured – and unpredictable as to exactly how and/or when it ‘surfaces’. For example, once upon a time in the HollyWood of ‘yore’ – a rather taboo subject was addressed… and, appropriately enough, entitled – Mandingo!
Now, it’s certainly catchy! Let’s see, three syllables – easy on the ears, not too difficult to pronounce…
The screenwriter’s teaser for the production: “Expect the savage. The sensual. The shocking. The sad. The powerful. The shameful. Expect all that the motion picture screen has never dared to show before. Expect the truth. Now you are ready for ‘Mandingo’.”
Hmm? Bit racy though, eh what!?? And a questionable array of Subtext… Bondage! Slavery! Infidelity! UnBRidledNakedPassion!!! So maybe, ‘Mandingo’ isn’t quite what we’re looking for …

Bingo!!!! We call it, “Indigo!!!” Doesn’t mean a damn thing – won’t offend anyone and sounds OhSoAuCurrent!!!!… DoneDeal!!!!

And so it was, ‘Done’ – or at least the FlutteringPennants! Now here’s a Ontological Conundrum to tease your InnerExistentialist!:
“In the absence of human observation/cognition do a development’s LonelyFlutteringPennants signify ‘actual’ existence or merely an illusion of actuality?”

Well, I tell a lie… The Developer of this Osoyoos project did actually put together a presentation centre, of sorts…

Indeed – no expense was spared as regards signage/typographical branding! Just check out that ‘g’!!!!

Unfortunately, signage & a shack or two, here and there… is as far as ‘Indigo’ ever got. Indeed, the PresentationCentre has sadly become yet another case of abandonment. And now – all that remains are the memories… and fluttering, tattered awnings and plywood decking strewn with shattered glass.

OHyES!!! And these two, lonely, abandoned ATCO trailers… which Nemesis presumes were intended to create the illusion of ACTIVITY… or at least, imminent construction!

Which, considering the shoreline, pastoral views, and beautiful ‘shrubbery’/foliage… bulldozing the site and pouring concrete would have been a genuine shame/spoiler (if handled indelicately – as these things so often are). So, perhaps ‘failure to proceed’ isn’t such a great loss/shame, after all…

Well, There it is! The only thing built on the site. This is the obverse view of the ProudProject Signage. DearReaders will note the presence of secondary signage courtesy of CBRE notifying other, more adventurous Developers of a ‘NewOpportunity’ to acquire same… With, best ‘o all!, a ‘NewPrice!’…

And this is what that sign must have looked like as it beckoned the WineBesotted, GoldChain wearing Throngs to the GrandOpening CockTailSoiree..

Meanwhile – back at the ‘site’ perimeter, we see yet more signage… advertising the availability of a pristine and ready to go Waterfront acreage just BEGGING for some entrepreneurial genius to resurrect TheDream!… And you will note that this particular Terrifying&Pityless ProtoRealtor of OgoPogo’s name is…: ‘Hack’…? Sometimes, MotherNatu​re can be cruelly funny. At least ‘Hack’ is not a scribbler/journo!

So, next time out.. Nem suggests they go with Racy! With Taboo! With Controversial!!!! What if they had called it “Mandingo!”… and what a TagLine, eh? “The Primeval Rhythm of Life!”
I suppose we’ll never know. 😉

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]


[Advisory: Readers who don’t ‘get’ Nem or are perturbed by his riffs should simply skip these posts. Having said that, Nothing that Nem says should disturb one more than a glance at the market. – vreaa]

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9d: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9d: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

10. Look for the big picture

The mistake I made with our renovation was to leap in, rather than step back, take pause, and consider as many options as possible before making any major decisions. I recommended an initial job to my wife — redoing the drainage — that although reasonable enough in itself, was a decision made in isolation that closed the door on other options later. My wife and I should have talked to more people up front, especially construction industry professionals. I didn’t foresee the extent to which the renovation would evolve, and I didn’t have much of a plan. In short, I didn’t look for the big picture.

When we had the drainage redone, the drainage company, quite rightly, installed the perforated drainage pipe just below the level of the original basement slab, near the base of the foundation walls. The problem, I later realized, was that this initial decision married us to those foundation walls. And, as it later turned out, the walls have no footing beneath them, a footing being a horizontal expanse of concrete designed to displace the weight of vertical foundation walls (imagine an inverted concrete ‘T’), and a house above. No footing — common for houses in Vancouver of a particular age — means that adding additional weight, such as a second storey addition, is risky because it can cause a house to sink, or go off kilter, and therefore it’s not something a structural engineer is likely to approve. In our case, the problem was further compounded by the fact that the foundation walls don’t extend down to the hardpan, the hard-packed clay layer about two-and-a-half feet down in our part of Vancouver. The walls rest on material in the layer above — softer, more compressible, more water permeable brown soil.

The foundation walls also extended only an additional six or eight inches below the level of the original basement slab. What this situation meant when replacing the slab was that we couldn’t excavate very much soil beneath the house, and the new basement slab, although constructed to modern standards, is no lower than the old basement slab — and it couldn’t be any lower anyway, because of the height of the drainage pipe — leaving the headroom in the rental suite at around seven feet, a foot less than the standard eight.

A much better approach than the ass-backwards one I instigated would have been to jack up the house and support it on blocks, completely demolish the old foundation (slab and foundation walls), excavate down to the hardpan, pour a new foundation to modern standards, and redo the drainage at the same time. We would have had a full-height rental suite, and the option of a second storey addition at some future date. Despite that initial, fateful drainage decision, we could have gone this route, but it would have meant sacrificing a one-year-old, $11,000 drainage job, which wasn’t something we could stomach.

Prior to making any major, house-related decisions, even a casual chat with a competent construction industry professional could have alerted us to the issues.

Here are some similar ass-backward scenarios to avoid:

• Re-roofing a house to which you subsequently add a second storey.

• Painting a house that you subsequently re-side. (We caught ourselves out on this one as well.)

• Replacing windows and doors in a house that is then redesigned by an architect, which often involves changing the size and/or position of windows and doors.

• Replumbing a house and then later renovating kitchen and bathrooms, including moving fixtures.

• Finishing a basement and then discovering the foundation should have been moisture proofed.

• Drywalling a basement ceiling as part of installing a rental suite, and then discovering you should have installed soundproofing in the joist spaces above the drywalled ceiling.

• Doing some quick, cheap, do-it-yourself redecorating or light renovation upon first moving in — vinyl flooring or peel ’n’ stick tiles, cheap light fixtures, cheap kitchen cabinets, amateurish tiling and wood trim, and so on — which then looks tawdry in comparison to better quality work done later by professionals.

• Leaving an unused chimney or masonry flue in place, which sabotages floor plans and gobbles up precious square footage while you renovate around it. (This one we did get right, removing our unused masonry flue as part of our renovation, but we vacillated a lot over whether to take on the extra cost and mess.)

• Not doing any seismic upgrading while a house frame is exposed after gutting. (This one we also got right, at least to some extent. I discuss seismic upgrading in a separate section below.)

• Re-sodding a lawn, or doing other landscaping or making garden improvements, prior to exterior renovation work that involves large stacks of lumber sitting on lawns for weeks, and big, size-12 work boots tromping through flowerbeds. (Us again.)

Most of these mistakes would seem easy to avoid, but only if you are truly able to see the big picture from the start. In an unfamiliar realm, many of us can’t, not without first gaining some experience. In general, we tend to get embroiled in our lives, staring out at time horizons that vary from a couple of days to a few weeks. We often don’t know what’s really possible, or preferable, or what constitutes the most efficient use of time and money. We make decisions based on incomplete information, or an incomplete vision.

If my wife and I had made our initial job the search for a really good general contractor, and perhaps an architect, our renovation from earliest planning to final completion would probably have taken a year, instead of dragging out for three, would have been much less stressful, and would have added future possibilities rather than taking them away. All for about the same money, especially if you factor in the two additional years of rent we would have collected.

11. Find a really good general contractor, one you can trust

When it comes to general contractors, take what I’ve said about the importance of finding a good home inspector, and multiply it by ten. In Make it Right, Mike Holmes states, “next to you, the most important person in your renovation is the general contractor.” And he is right. If you do nothing else, do this one thing correctly and it likely won’t matter. Because you’ll have hired a really experienced person to do all the worrying.

We made what turned out to be a disastrous decision with the first general contractor we hired — and subsequently fired. We figured out fairly quickly how badly we’d gotten it wrong, and acted relatively decisively to remedy the situation, but not before we’d wasted $25K on poor quality work that had to be redone. We also lost $15K in rent we weren’t able to collect on the unfinished rental suite because getting rid of the first general contractor, and finding and waiting for a new one during the height of the construction boom, stretched out the renovation by an additional year. Dollars aside, our poor hiring decision added a huge amount of additional stress to an already stressful situation.

Conversely, when we found an ethical, competent general contractor, and he and his crew eventually went to work, nine-tenths of the problems just melted away.

How can a general contractor help?

• A general contractor will have a master plan in mind, and can see all the moving pieces and how they fit together: organization, scheduling, daily supervision and management, why it makes more sense, and is more cost effective, to do one thing before another or to do certain things together (sequencing). Based on plenty of past experience, a good general contractor can see three steps ahead, whereas a relatively inexperienced do-it-yourselfer, or first-time renovator, generally cannot. It’s the difference between driving a treacherous stretch of mountain highway the first time, versus the one hundredth.

• A general contractor is connected to a network of people in the building trades and larger construction industry. Our good, second general contractor told us that it had taken him twenty years to assemble his group of trades — framers, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, finish carpenters, painters, spray foam insulators, even the guy who specialized in laying vinyl on outside decks. He’d gone through a lot of unsatisfactory people to arrive at the solid group he can now call on. He also had connections to good structural engineers, and probably architects as well. As a homeowner trying to act as your own general contractor, you might have two or three word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family — whose standards and requirements may differ from your own — but for many aspects of a large renovation project you may have to resort to the Yellow Pages, and perhaps querying companies on the Better Business Bureau’s web site. Not a very reliable method for finding good people. (The trustworthiness of the Vancouver BBB has been called into question. See the CBC link at the end of this section.) If you’ve encountered some of the mediocre tradespeople who are out there and operating, you’ll understand the trepidation I felt, the acid in my stomach, every time I had to open the Yellow Pages and roll the dice. And during a boom, it’s very hard to get any tradespeople, good or mediocre, to show up or take interest in your one-off job. Why? Because the general contractors and larger construction companies with whom the tradespeople have a longstanding business relationship are their first priority. And you can’t really blame them. In a notoriously cyclical industry, that’s where the best chance of steady work lies, or at least some work in the lean times.

• A good general contractor knows the local building code, and the inspectors. The inspectors know the general contractors, and the quality of their work. Good general contractors are going to have far fewer failed items on inspections, and far fewer challenges from inspectors over construction details that may be open to interpretation. Inspectors know good general contractors aren’t trying to evade building code requirements, and therefore the whole inspection process — which on a larger project involves multiple inspectors and multiple inspections — goes much more smoothly. There’s much less chance something will have to be ripped apart and redone.

• A general contractor has access to a greater range of building supplies, some supplies of better quality, and commercial supplies, not generally or easily available to the homeowner. Typically, general contractors deal with building supply companies and lumber yards, not with the neighbourhood Rona or Home Depot, although they may deal with the consumer-oriented, big box stores for certain items, or on an occasional basis for time savings.

• A general contractor gets building supplies, bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets, flooring, even appliances, at the contractor’s price, which can be anywhere from 10% to 40% below the regular retail price. Suppliers give this discount, again, because of a business relationship, one that equates to an ongoing volume of sales, and also because much of the time and hassle, the overhead, of dealing with the homeowner inexperienced in construction matters is absorbed by the general contractor, not the supplier. This discount is not going to be passed directly to you, but some of it can be, depending on the type of contract you have with the general contractor and whether or not the person is ethical. If a renovation contract stipulates cost of labour and materials plus a 15% contractor’s fee, a 20% contractor’s discount on materials still leaves you ahead ($100 x 0.8 x 1.15 = $92). What you have to watch out for is double dipping. The unethical contractor who gets a discount, charges you full retail price, and then adds the 15% contractor’s fee. Seeing the actual invoice from the supplier can help in this regard.

• A general contractor knows what constitutes a reasonable price, or at least the current market price, for subtrades like plumbers and electricians. This knowledge protects you from gouging — the inflated prices that some subtrades charge when dealing directly with homeowners.

• A general contractor knows what constitutes a reasonable standard of quality. With certain general contractors — the ones you want — the trades know they’ll be called on sloppy work, and may be risking future work if they let standards slip. Some tradespeople may be tempted to cut corners when working directly for homeowners, under the assumption the homeowner won’t know the difference.

If you really know what you’re doing, and you have the necessary time and energy, you can act as your own general contractor and probably save some money. For the other 99% of people embarking on a major renovation, finding a competent, trustworthy general contractor is absolutely the way to go.

[Further resources/reading]

Inspecting a House: A Guide for Buyers, Owners, and Renovators, by Alan Carson and Robert Dunlop. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999. Part Two provides a good overview of home renovation, and includes a section on the pros and cons of hiring a general contractor versus going it alone.

“Better Business Bureau accused of biased ratings”, CBC News, 23 Nov, 2010.

12. Consider hiring an architect and a structural engineer

Depending on the size or complexity of a renovation, or the existence of any special requirements, in addition to a general contractor, it may be advisable to engage a couple of other construction industry professionals: an architect and a structural engineer.

A good architect understands possibilities. He or she can look at an existing structure and see how it can evolve into something more usable, better suited to the occupants’ particular lifestyle, and more attractive to look at, both inside and out. Better traffic flow, rooms better sized for their purpose, more efficient use of space, better noise control and privacy, smarter storage solutions, better light (natural and artificial), better integration with the outdoors, exciting and interesting use of finishing materials and finishing details, and an overall harmonious feel, are all qualities that an architect can bring to a renovation. Attempting a second storey addition, or a rear extension, without using an architect or a designer, is risking joining the legions of the lumpy and the visually unappealing. Without an architect, your new layout may be less than optimal — or you may not even realize that moving a wall or two can make dramatic improvements.

We didn’t use an architect when we redid the layout of the rental suite, and we really struggled with the size and placement of the two bedrooms, and the bedroom closets. Partly owing to the City’s refusal to let us alter the size and position of two side windows, we were stuck with either one inappropriately large bedroom, or two small bedrooms. We eventually decided on two small bedrooms as the better choice from a rental return standpoint, and the result is reasonable, but not ideal. Once beds are in place, moving around the rooms is pretty tight. We also changed aspects of the overall suite layout several times, some of the changes mid-stream. Hiring an architect probably would have helped.

An architect, or the City, may require that you hire a structural engineer. You may want to hire one, regardless. Details like the placement of load-bearing walls, the adequacy of foundation support, the necessary size and placement of beams, the allowable span of joists, roof design, and in a place like Vancouver, seismic considerations, are all the purview of the structural engineer. The structural engineer is concerned with the skeleton of the house, the bones, ensuring that it’s strong enough to withstand the force of gravity acting upon the overall weight of the house and its contents, and additional loads like snow, and also the lateral or shearing forces of an earthquake, or depending on where you live, a hurricane, should one occur. Competent builders understand these issues as well, but the degree of specificity required, and the need to engineer an entire structure as an integrated unit, go beyond the expertise typical for a builder — especially for structures that are more complex.

An architect and a structural engineer don’t just disappear once the plans are drawn up. The architect, especially, often continues to act as an overall project authority, working with the general contractor to ensure that the renovation yields the intended results. And the structural engineer checks back at regular intervals, performing inspections to make sure the structural elements are built as specified. These multiple layers of oversight, and complementary forms of expertise, can go a long way toward avoiding the type of renovation and construction disasters we’ve all heard about, or personally suffered through.

Again, as with a home inspector and a general contractor, if you’re going to hire these professionals, it’s crucial that you spend whatever time and energy are necessary to find good ones. Don’t rush the decision as I did when hiring the structural engineer for our reno, and then spend the next six months or a year regretting it.

13. Get permits

People who don’t get permits, and attempt to evade city inspectors, aren’t screwing the City, they’re screwing themselves. Okay, there may be some small jobs that technically require a permit, where the hassle and expense do seem unwarranted, but for renovation work of any significance, getting a permit, quite apart from being the law, makes a lot of sense.

Permits and inspectors provide an important layer of protection against substandard or even dangerous work. Is unpermitted electrical work done under the table really a deal? Or a basement reno with incorrectly installed insulation and vapour barrier that breeds mould? While there are plenty of stories about obdurate, hair-splitting inspectors, in general they’re a reasonable bunch, and a valuable resource. Having an experienced set of eyes review the work as it progresses protects against ineptitude, or shortcutting associated with greed. During the early stages of our reno, the dialogue I had with the building inspector helped expose our first general contractor for the borderline conman that he was.

If you’re doing the work yourself, an inspector can answer questions in advance, before you do the work or commit to a particular approach. A reliable method for passing an inspection is to ask the inspector how the work should be done, and then following the instructions.

Permits, inspectors, and inspections are an interface with the local building code and the building by-laws. Building codes are not random assemblages of arbitrary requirements. They’re a living body of best practices that develop over time in response to increasing knowledge and experience. They’re not perfect. As I’ve already described, the leaky condo crisis in coastal BC is perhaps as much a result of previously inadequate provisions in the building code as it is a result of sloppy, profit-driven building practices. But past failures and inadequacies lead to improvements in the code.

Many tradespeople, general contractors, and other construction industry professionals won’t work on a job without the proper permits. Contractors who actively dissuade you from getting a permit are contractors to avoid. Under the guise of saving you money, they’re probably trying to get away with something — which could come back to haunt you, not the contractor.

Permits also provide a record that work was done properly and to code. This paper trail can help with the subsequent sale of a house — especially in a down market when buyers have the upper hand.

Coming soon: Part 9e: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 14 – 16.
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Read them all before you call for the ‘dozer. -ed.

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9c: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9c: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

8. Water — the enemy

Remember this mantra: Water is a house’s worst enemy. — Tom Silva, This Old House

Vancouver was carved out of a temperate rainforest. The forest is gone, but the rain is still here. It’s what keeps everything green and allows the remaining trees to grow large, but it also represents a constant assault on the integrity of houses. The frequency and duration of rain in Vancouver is the real problem for houses and wood-frame condos, rather than the total amount of rainfall. Instead of intermittent cloudbursts that dump a lot of water in a short time before the sun reappears, drying out everything, rain in Vancouver tends to be an all-day or all-week affair. Drizzly, misty, fine rain alternating with overcast skies means that buildings can stay damp for long periods of time, which coupled with mild temperatures is exactly what promotes mould growth and rot.

One way of looking at a house is as a water-resisting structure, or perhaps more accurately, a water-management system. Most of us would think first about the roof, but in some ways roofs aren’t the main problem. They’re specifically designed to resist and shed water, and if properly built and maintained, do their job well. Problems that do arise tend to be with roof penetrations for vents, chimneys, or skylights, and improperly installed or poorly maintained flashing and caulking. But everything’s exposed, so finding and fixing problems is usually straightforward.

If you’re buying a house, one thing to be cautious about is a roof with insufficient overhang — the part of the roof that extends beyond the house wall. Overhangs are important because they prevent water from rain and roof runoff saturating house walls and potentially working its way into the house. Deep overhangs are best. Anything less than a foot won’t be that effective, and even a foot isn’t that much. A roof with little or no overhang may once have had one, but poor maintenance of the roof allowed the edges to rot, and instead of repairing the damage, someone doing a quick roofing job just buzzed away the rot with a saw and re-roofed what was left. Be cautious about buying a house with a compromised or missing roof overhang. In subsequent years water may have penetrated the walls, and rot may have spread through the sheathing and framing. At the very least, rebuilding a roof overhang should be one of the first things you do.

Less straightforward are problems associated with water penetration through walls, through concrete foundations, and around windows and doors — the elements that along with the roof make up the building envelope. One of the veteran house builders who worked on our reno maintained that flawed building envelope design was at the root of the leaky condo crisis. A number of years ago, the BC building code and the Vancouver building by-law were amended to require that all new construction incorporate a vapour barrier on the inside of exterior walls — typically a layer of heavy poly between the drywall and the studs and insulation. The idea was to improve heat retention and energy efficiency, and protect the cavities of exterior walls from condensation, by preventing water vapour from warm interiors meeting cold exterior air inside the wall. However, no change was made to the code regarding the outside of exterior walls. A typical assembly remained wood siding or stucco over a single layer of black building paper over plywood or OSB sheathing. The result was that any water that made its way into a wall from outside, because of a leak, or wind-driven rain, or was present in the wall framing materials during the construction process, now became trapped behind the vapour barrier. Walls could no longer dry to the inside, and given the Vancouver climate, drying to the outside might not happen for days at a time. The veteran builder likened the results to “leaving wet salad in a polythene bag.” It’s why the exterior walls of thirty-year-old condos might be rotting, whereas wood-frame apartment buildings built in the 1940s or 1950s, or hundred-year-old houses, with plenty of air movement through walls that can dry to both the inside and the outside, might be virtually rot-free. (Although being dry because of draftiness isn’t really a solution.)

Once government and industry realized the problem, they came up with the response: the rainscreen, the missing half of the wall assembly equation. A rainscreen is a drainage and air drying layer immediately beneath the exterior siding that cuts off the passageway for water, and drains any buildup to ground. Drainage mat against concrete foundation walls is another development that serves the same purpose — cut off the seepage of water through the foundation and move it to ground. Several other factors contributed to condos rotting in coastal BC, including California-style architecture (flat roofs, no roof overhangs, architectural adornment) inappropriate for the climate. And I’ve omitted some of the more esoteric building science details, because I don’t yet fully understand them. However, sealing up the inside of exterior walls without considering the outside was probably the most egregious of various design issues.

If you’re house hunting, be alert for signs that water is causing problems for a structure. Check the exterior closely for spongy-looking areas, flaking or bubbling paint, or crumbling stucco. Understand that vinyl siding may be have been installed over the original wood or stucco siding, covering up evidence of rot. In preparation for a sale, a house may have been freshly painted, hiding signs of water incursion. Inside, look for water staining on walls, dark, discoloured bottom corners, and tiny black dots of mould. Again, take into consideration a recent paint job. Pay special attention to the basement or lowest level of the house. Spend lots of time there. Breathe in deeply while walking throughout. Does it smell musty or damp? Trust your nose. Put your hands on the walls, especially below the foundation line, where drywall may cover concrete. Does the drywall feel firm and dry, or damp with a hint of softness? If the basement is unfinished, look for white powdery marks on the concrete. This is efflorescence, the salts left from water that has seeped through the foundation and evaporated. It’s not critical if you intend to leave a basement unfinished, but a problem if you intend to finish a basement, potentially trapping moisture that had previously been able to evaporate. If possible, tour a house during a rainy period, when any signs of water incursion are likely to be most noticeable. One of the reasons the peak house selling season is during the months of good weather is that the various symptoms associated with a leaky building envelope are going to be much less noticeable. Lastly, make sure that as part of a thorough home inspection, the inspector goes over the house with a moisture meter.

If it becomes apparent that a house has been losing the battle with water? Flee.

[Further resources/reading, general]

“Weathering the storm”, The Vancouver Courier, no date.

[Further resources/reading, advanced]

“Understanding Vapor Barriers”. Building Science Corporation, 24 Oct, 2006.

9. Find a good home inspector

While learning the basics about a house’s systems is a good idea for any home buyer or homeowner, most people don’t have the time or the inclination to truly delve into the hundreds of details that these systems represent. And even if you do learn a lot from books, or other sources, it’s not the same as years of experience gained scrutinizing the inner workings of hundreds of houses. For that kind of expertise you need a good home inspector, or some other kind of knowledgeable construction industry professional.

During the height of the bidding war frenzy that gripped the Vancouver real estate market in the mid 2000s (with sporadic outbreaks ongoing), it was common to hear of people putting in over-asking offers without any subjects. In a more normal market, a typical subject would be the requirement of passing a home inspection. Incredibly, during this abnormal market, formulating a competitive bid might require that you waive the right to look closely at the most expensive thing you were ever likely to buy. Step in to a massive financial commitment, and do it blind. Foregoing a home inspection is risky behaviour, to put it mildly. It’s rolling the dice, with ten of thousands of dollars, or more, potentially riding on the outcome. In the subsequent years, some of these buyers will have discovered they’ve been burned. Basement walls full of mould, foundations crumbling, whole sections of house frame or roofs rotted out, failing building envelopes, plumbing and wiring systems at the end of their lives, plugged or non-existent drainage, even major structural deficiencies associated with unpermitted work. Big dollars to fix, and after spending those dollars, the house still looks the same on the surface. The stove is still harvest gold, the toilet’s still blue (which may be cool, depending on your aesthetic, but doesn’t do much for resale value), and 1970s paneling still prevails. You don’t feel any closer to achieving your vision for the house, but a big chunk of your budget is already spent. A good home inspection can save you a lot of grief by alerting you to expensive liabilities in advance, allowing you to make a more informed purchase decision, or avoid some purchases altogether.

Unfortunately, the story that’s been emerging in the last couple of years is that there are a lot of incompetent or even unethical inspectors operating. In Ontario, what regulation there has been of inspectors is toothless. British Columbia has only recently started qualifying and licensing inspectors (as of 31 March 2009), which means that previously anyone could hang out their shingle and call themselves a home inspector. And the barrier to entry may still not be that high.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t use an inspector recommended by a realtor. Either the listing realtor, or the buyer’s realtor. Realtors on both ends of a sale only make money when they close a deal. Deals get closed when subjects such as home inspections are removed from offers to purchase. Home inspectors who find lots of problems with houses are themselves a problem for realtors who want to close deals and get paid their commission. As a buyer, if the problems are legitimate, those are the inspectors you want. Some realtors may be inclined to recommend a ‘realtor-friendly’ inspector with a reputation for passing houses that another inspector might fail. You need to ask yourself which inspector is likely to best serve your interests.

That said, when I asked a realtor during our house hunting in 2003 about a well-known local home inspector, he was scathing. In this realtor’s opinion, this inspector manufactured reasons for failing houses in order to generate additional business for himself. According to the realtor, he’d fail two or three houses, collecting his inspection fee on each one, before finally passing a house for a client.

As well, realtors who are interested in repeat business, good word of mouth, or surviving as realtors once a real estate boom has run its course, know better than to make a quick and easy sale by foisting a piece of junk on an unsuspecting buyer. You need to know whether the realtor you’re dealing with is ethical, or a quick-buck artist who’ll be closing up shop once the easy money is gone.

It’s hard to know where the truth lies. Do your homework. The time and effort required to find a competent, ethical home inspector is time and effort very well spent. And do it early, well in advance of any offer to purchase. Rushing to find an inspector while the clock is ticking on an offer makes it less likely you’ll find a good one.

[Further resources/reading]

Inspecting a House: A Guide for Buyers, Owners, and Renovators
, by Alan Carson and Robert Dunlop. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999.

The Holmes Inspection: Everything You Need to Know before You Buy or Sell your Home, by Mike Holmes. Toronto: Collins, 2008.

“Think you’re safe from problems when you buy a new home? Think again”, CBC Marketplace, 9 Jan, 2009
“Can you trust your home inspector?”, CBC Marketplace, 8 Jan, 2010

“Homeowners out thousands despite warranty”, CBC News, 16 Nov, 2010.

Coming soon: Part 9d: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 10 – 13.
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Read them all before you dig up the foundations. -ed.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #5 – The Okanagan Bust – CrewMan#6 – WhenTheWriterDoesn’tGiveYouAName… & “NewRules!” for ‘NowSelling’…

I’ll bet you thought Nemesis was kidding when he told you there was a development in the HillBillyRiviera that proudly boasted “Lavish” not “Luxury” ‘ResidentialCondos (is there any other kind?) in its promotional signage.  Well, “Ha! Ha! I say to to you!”  Because here it is.  Atypically, the Developer and or their marketing team neglected to ‘name’ this project – opting instead merely to refer to it by its street address.  Now, Nemesis doesn’t know much about the business of property development – but when it comes to ‘story development’???  Let’s just say that if a writer doesn’t think it’s worth assigning a name to a character; that character is normatively ‘toast’ well before the conclusion of ‘ActOne’.  As in the fabled ‘CrewMan#6‘ of any early StarTrek episode (see also Sam RockWell in GalaxyQuest!)…

In the splendid tradition of BillMaher’s, “NewRules” (and the EponymousCondoHype! of YVR BloggingHall ‘O Fame) – Nemesis proposes a ‘NewRule’ of his own for developer’s project signage…  1. When you’ve been flogging it for more than 3 months… all references to “NowSelling” must be eradicated.

Oh yes, 240 WadeWest, to the best of Nemesis’ occasionally faulty recollection, has been in ‘NowSelling!’ mode for well over 2 years…

Now, “Don’tTouchThatDial!”  DearReaders… for a VREAA/Nemesis RoyalConnubialDoubleHeader! is coming to a certain ExistentialistsEssential&Quintessential YVR RE BlogNearYou!… ThisFriday!…
FeaturePresentation: ” ‘RegalRidge’ Meets Harry&TheEricksons!”  And!  A BonusTreat (or is that TrickOrTreat?) FollowUp, Boyz ‘N Girlz with Sunday’s FeaturePresentation:  “TheAtlantisVernon! – AddamsFamilyValues or KeepingUpWithTheMunsters?”  So,StayTuned!

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

[Readers (including ‘Fred’) who are perturbed, flabberghasted, demoralized, infuriated, or overwhelmed by Nemesis’ ‘BlastRadius Series’, are, of course, welcome to simply skip these posts.
We will point out, however, that, in extraordinary times, people are driven to produce extraordinary things. And, also, that it is not unusual for that which is closest to the truth to come disguised in words of bizarre jest. – vreaa

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9b: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Part 9b: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

[30 suggestions over 10 sub parts, starting with Part 9a. -ed.]

4. Don’t mistake a tear-down for a fixer upper

As much as I dislike the notion of tearing down any house and sending its materials to a landfill, in some circumstances tearing down may make better financial sense than fixing up. Finances aside, many home buyers, with tastes and expectations formed by our culture of affluence, will judge the more mundane among older Vancouver houses completely inadequate by modern standards.

The line between a tear-down and a fixer upper is hazy, and changes with the market. In a rising market flush with ballooning home equity, speculation of various types, and large profits realized through sales, tearing down and building new becomes a more attractive and financially feasible option. In a falling market with shrinking home equity, speculation at a low ebb, people selling at a loss, and money generally tight, people are much more likely to mend and make do. But regardless of the particular market conditions, different people have different amounts of money they can bring to bear, different goals and aspirations, and different notions of what a house should be. One person’s tear-down can be another person’s fixer upper.

The key point is not to mistake what the majority of people would consider a tear-down for a fixer upper. If you plan to live in a house for twenty years, it may not matter, but resale considerations should factor in to most people’s purchase and renovation decisions. Pouring a lot of money into renovating a house of questionable value — for example, one with bad lines, a really small footprint, or small rooms that are hard to enlarge — is not a good use of renovation dollars. You may never get your money back out, or even a portion of it. And think how galling it would be to invest a lot of time, sweat, and money into renovating a place, only to have it torn down by the next buyer. I recently heard about just this scenario in a North Vancouver neighbourhood.

5. Don’t renovate

That’s right, avoid renovating or fixing up altogether, or at least keep it to a minimum. Some people enjoy renovating because they have the manual skills, the knowledge, and the time to do good quality work themselves, and they get a lot of satisfaction from the process. But for many people, renovating is a stressful, unpleasant passage they endure to get to somewhere better. Depending on the circumstances, the stress and unpleasantness can be extreme.

We bought our fixer upper in 2003 for $355K, and so far have spent another $300K renovating it. But we missed out on a well-maintained, attractive 1950s bungalow that sold in a bidding war for $402K. This bungalow is located on one of the nicest, traffic-calmed streets in the Grandview area we live in, has a big rear deck with a view of the mountains, a basement suite with a full eight-foot-high ceiling, and on the main level, well preserved oak floors, a stylish brick fireplace, and a kitchen with the original 1950s-style tiled counters. Not the ideal house for everyone, but it would have been perfect for us. And the $47K difference in purchase price now looks like a pittance compared to the amount of money we’ve spent renovating.

Of course, even a well preserved 55- or 60-year-old house is going to need some work. But I suspect the work in the case of this house would have been far less onerous, and far less expensive, than what we’ve done with our place. On the several occasions I’ve walked by this house in the intervening years, it doesn’t look like much has been changed. By all appearances, the owners just bought it, moved in, and have proceeded to live in it. Judiciously spending more up front may in fact be cheaper in the long run, and less stressful, than buying a place that seems like a deal, because the price is lower and “it only needs a bit of fixing up.”

If initially spending more isn’t an option, another way to avoid renovating is to accept less house. Instead of a detached, single family home, consider a well-built duplex, townhouse, or condo over a house, or choose a less expensive location. (For those aspiring to the West Side, know that the world doesn’t end at Main St.). You may feel that compromising in this fashion is not in the cards for you personally, but after weighing the alternatives, and costing out various scenarios, you may find that one of these compromises allows to you get into a home that doesn’t require significant work and further expense, which could be a better approach for you personally.

6. Educate yourself

So how do you know which houses warrant paying more for up front, and which are money pits masquerading as a deal? You educate yourself — before you start house hunting.

I suspect the people who won the bidding war for that 1950s bungalow had a very good idea about the relative merits of the house, and that knowledge and understanding gave them the confidence to formulate the winning bid out of nine offers. Which isn’t the same as saying that the house, in a more universal sense, was worth $402K in 2003, or is worth $800K now, in 2011. Just that the more experienced and knowledgeable you are as a buyer, the more likely you’ll be able to assess value in relation to current market conditions, and act accordingly.

Unfortunately, for first time buyers, the best teacher is experience. Having owned a house for seven years, and having gone through reno hell, we are now far more experienced and knowledgeable than we were in 2003. When Marco, the lead on the concrete crew that installed our new basement slab, was considering the house he eventually bought, he got the owner’s permission to dig a hole beside the foundation, so he could check if the foundation walls had a footing. No footing, no offer to purchase. How many first time buyers even know what a footing is, or why it’s important? How many would have the moxie to show up at someone’s house with a shovel?

What can you do to educate yourself? Talk to people who’ve bought, owned, sold, and enjoyed houses, and suffered through home ownership and renovation. Family members, friends, builders and tradespeople, architects, co-workers. Talk to landlords, and tenants in basement suites (who live closer to the heart of the matter). Most people enjoy talking about their houses, and you’ll learn a lot. Also, read. The Web has some fantastic resources, but ultimately books are a better bet. Information can be fragmented on the Web, and hard to find. Well-written, well-illustrated books about houses, renovation, and construction, are worth the money and the investment of time because they’ll be comprehensive, do a good job of explaining the technicalities, and organize the information in a logical manner.

[Further resources/reading, general]

Make It Right: Inside Home Renovation with Canada’s Most Trusted Contractor, by Mike Holmes. Toronto: Collins, 2006.

The Holmes Inspection: Everything You Need to Know before You Buy or Sell your Home, by Mike Holmes. Toronto: Collins, 2008.

I realize Holmes is a TV-star-contractor with a certain on-screen persona and shtick. White knight rides in and outs the bad guys, or at least their sorry handiwork. It makes for entertaining TV. Holmes also has his detractors and there’s some anti-Holmes backlash out there. None of that really matters when it comes to the books. I feel the books are pretty good, especially for the price, have solid information, are very well illustrated, and are written at a general level without dumbing things down too much or omitting important details. Whether Holmes wrote every word himself, or whether they were ghost written, or committee written, again doesn’t really matter. All that matters is whether or not they are good information sources for someone getting into the home-buying, home-fixing game.

[Further resources/reading, advanced]

Home Renovation, by Francis D.K. Ching and Dale E. Miller. New York: Wiley, 1983.

Canadian Wood-Frame House Construction. Ottawa: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2006.

7. Bottom up, inside out

Think about houses from the bottom up and the inside out, not from the top down and the outside in.

What you can see when you look at a house online, or tour it in person, is relatively unimportant — at least from a financial standpoint — because it’s easy to get at and easy to change or fix. You’re looking at décor and finishings, and these are not the things on which you should primarily base your purchase decision. Typically, house flippers looking for quick profit are all about décor and finishings, because they can be quick and cheap to replace, and the shiny replacements can dazzle the inexperienced or the unwary. A new IKEA kitchen, fancy-looking countertops, and lower end stainless steel appliances can probably be installed for $25K, and will look good for a couple of years. How many flippers would spend that $25K on badly needed drainage and foundation work? They’d just sell the house in the summer, when it’s dry, and the unwary buyer is unlikely to encounter problems like a damp basement.

What you can’t see is typically the important stuff, the stuff that can do your personal finances grievous harm: the foundation, the drainage, the sewer pipe, the water service, the plumbing, the wiring, the gas lines, the furnace and heating duct system, the building envelope, the insulation, the attic ventilation, the frame, the roof. In other words, all the systems that in combination make a house habitable and comfortable to live in — or, if they’re compromised, less comfortable or even miserable.

Learn the basics of these systems. A damp basement, if not dealt with at the source, will rot any framing, drywall, or flooring installed over top of the concrete substrate. Old galvanized steel water pipes will be full of corrosion on the inside, and will progressively choke off the water pressure in a plumbing system. Before we replumbed, if a tenant turned on the water in the old rental suite, our upstairs shower dropped to a trickle. Do-it-yourself modifications and extensions to the electrical system may have created a fire hazard. After we’d gutted our basement in preparation for rebuilding the rental suite, I found a scorched patch on a stud beneath a wire that had obviously been overheating. I saw the same thing in my sister and her husband’s former house.

Beware of surfaces. Look deeper. Which isn’t bad advice for life in general. Metaphorically speaking, show up with a shovel.

Coming soon: Part 9c: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 8 & 9
Part 9 subsections are posted every Tuesday and Friday.
Our advice is to leave the tools in the garage until you’ve read them all. -ed.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #4 – The Okanagan Bust – TheColossusOfWestBank & TheTerrifying&Pityless ProtoRealtors™ of OgoPogo!

Observed from a distance… at first glance I thought – perchance – Tosh! mere EarthWorks… but upon careful reflection… I realized. Realized the astonishing Truth!… It was a BurialMound! ‘THE’ BurialMound!… of the fabled Terrifying&Pityless ProtoRealtors™ of OgoPogo!

And what!?? Yes! What?… was that strange edifice on the distant horizon????

And then… I saw them… Faded HieroGlyphs of the fearsome ProtoRealtors of OgoPogo!…
If I wasn’t worried before, I was certainly WORRIED now. What next, I speculated… what next?

Fluff! Fluff? WTF?….
Standing upon… the ThreshHold of AncientRuins? Ruins of a LostCivilization? ‘Nemesis’ momentaril​y reflected, “To what bestial purpose?” – and then.. TheGrandStartle!
Yes! Startled! by the sound of distant drums!!!
And then they came!

Chanting!​ Gyrating! Naked!
The Terrifying&Pityless ProtoRealt​ors of OgoPogo!!!​… together with their sacrificial offerings to TheGreatSerpentOfTheLake.
Untold legions of captive FTB’s! Bound&Marinaded!
How they screamed!.. Begged for mercy!…
Frantically Struggling and Straining to free themselves from the DebtBondage of onerous PSA’s & 0Down VR ClosedMortgages… With obligatory HELOCS!
But – Alas, ToNoAvail.​..
TheHorror. TheHorror. TheHorror.

A gruesome spectacle ensued… of such blood-curdling malevolent, hideous violence that even today, sometimes in the darkest recesses of night… Nemesis still awakens in a cold sweat..,
The victims’ screams echoing… echoing…
Altogether, more terrifying than ANYTHING you could possibly imagine! Anything.
TheFluff. TheFluff. TheFluff… of ‘stuff’…
Whey will they learn?

And now, a brief ‘homage’ to the RealArtistes of TheColossusOfWestBank…
‘primitiveWannabe’ Banksies…
You know who you are…
Keep Spraying. For truly, it is ‘Opus Dei’…

More seriously, all this was the prelude to a failed BluffTop housing development…. and the Ruins were apparently the ‘staging’ for what must surely have been the GrandestOfTheGrand of ExtravagantPreSales Offerings…
All Brought to you by ExciteHomes. The Principals of ExciteHomes are gone now and out of respect for their sorrow/shame, ‘Nemesis’ will not reveal (albeit he does know) their current whereabouts/circumstances… But RestAssured, VREAA readers… it is a CautionaryTale of the UtMostMagnitude!…

Ah… Some of you were wondering about Nemesis’ veracity… re: TheDrums… the ThunderousBeatingDrums of OgoPogo!
Well, here they are. And, Yes – They’re Toxic.
and, apart from the GrandStaging… these are all that remain…
‘Nemesis’, having neglected to come equipped with HAZMAT gear did NOT venture too closely…
Ergo, for the time being – at least – the contents of TheDrums of the Terrifying&PityLess ProtoRealtors of OgoPogo shall go unremarked…

And so, our tale concludes… But, TruthBeTold – TheColossus is (Sacreligiously & CockPosterously!) ACTUALLY situated adjacent to the GenuineArticle…
A real – sacred – burial ground.
Well, Boyz&Girlz…
It all ends like this. If you’re lucky, your loved ones (& others you never knew were ‘loved ones’) will remember you fondly…
So… please strive for excellence and try to FightTheGoodFight!
In between, have some Fun… and do what you can…


Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

The Froogle Scott Chronicles: Mortgaging Our Souls In Paradise – Part 9a: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Market participants, bull and bear, are all running around like chickens without heads. Folks who sold out are changing their minds and frantically buying back in. Even those taking profits are freaked out by the sums they are realizing. In this hectic environment, where do we turn for focus, for measure, for calming effect?… Who you gonna call?…
Well, he’s back: Froogle Scott has re-emerged bearing a comprehensive guide to being sensible about a vital aspect of Vancouver housing: ‘Fixing-It-Up’. Amidst the helicopters, the lawsuits, the line-ups, the panic-buying, it’s precisely what we all need to set our feet on the ground again. Those of you who don’t know Froogle, we recommend you put aside the better part of an evening and read through his Chronicles… the remarkable story of a Vancouver couple buying and renovating a Vancouver house. That’ll put the current episode into context, even though it also stands extremely well on its own. We’ll be posting ‘Part 9’ in 10 (yes, ten) sub-parts, over 5 weeks. It’ll also be available as a pdf download thereafter.

Froogle’s perspective stands in stark contrast to the prevailing fast-and-loose Vancouver RE ethos. He approaches houses as artefacts that matter to us as humans. He cares for quality, and is aware of history; he pays attention to the bones of houses and the souls of the people who use them.
We are grateful to him for sharing this all with us. We’re also very pleased that he continues to use this blog as a conduit for publishing his work. Here’s the first of the ten sub-episodes, Part 9a.
Careful with those powertools…  – vreaa

Part 9a: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival

Those fateful words . . .

My wife and I learned a lot of things the hard way during the renovation of our house. If we had to do it again, there are definitely some things we’d do differently.

Let’s assume there is a significant correction in Vancouver real estate prices over the next few years, or even a crash — similar to what’s happened in a number of American cities, and in a number of other countries. Let’s say it’s on the order of 35 to 50 percent, which would be huge, and catastrophic for a certain segment of those who currently own houses and condos. And yet, even with an event of this magnitude, the fixer uppers pictured above would still be in the $200K to $300K range. Add a 50 or 75 percent premium for a similar place on the West Side, like the Kitsilano house above — the cheapest house in Kits on the 31st of August, 2010, the day I gathered this sample of properties from RealtyLink. In other words, still expensive by national standards, assuming price deflation in Vancouver would be accompanied by some degree of price deflation in other large Canadian centers. In a comment on a local real estate bear blog, ‘Renting’ put it succinctly: “A million dollar home in Vancouver is a piece of shit. At 60% to 70% off it will still be a POS and will still be priced higher than buying a POS anywhere else in the world.” (“NYC Condos for 80% off,” Vancouver Condo Info, November 11th, 2010 at 1:57 pm. While I agree with the key point Renting is making about pricing, I don’t completely agree with his assessment of quality, and have more to say about it later.) The majority of new houses, or houses with good quality renovations, would still be in the $300K to $800K range, depending on the size and quality of the house, and the location. Still beyond the means of many people, especially if lending is tightened because of societal debt problems (Credit Crisis II), and wages stagnate because we’re in a recession. In the City of Vancouver, and the more expensive surrounding suburbs, the notion that prospective buyers currently sitting on the sidelines will just waltz into perfect houses in the aftermath of a crash probably isn’t very realistic. There would be a few, with large amounts of cash, for whom this could be the case. But for many, home ownership would still entail buying something sub-optimal and fixing it up — those fateful words…

Regardless of what happens with the local housing market, the character of Metro Vancouver’s housing stock is what it is. There are large numbers of older, smaller, tired, even dilapidated houses, with outdated décor and finishings. They were built in an era of more rudimentary building codes, in a time when basements weren’t designed to be lived in, when heating a house was relatively cheap, so building envelopes were less critical. Many of these houses have been ‘remuddled’ — made worse, and often ugly, by amateurish renovation and remodeling. Occupying the next rung up the property ladder are 1970s Vancouver Specials, but even these houses are now 30 to 40 years old, and will be starting to have the problems associated with age. Many people will find themselves considering houses that require a lot of work, not because they really want these particular houses, but because they want to own rather than rent, and it’s what they can afford.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled thirty suggestions for survival. (I wish there were fewer…) I’m not a renovation expert, but I am someone who, along with my wife, lived through a difficult renovation, and I have thought quite a bit about the process. I’m also drawing upon the experience of friends and neighbours who’ve undertaken majors renovations, and kindly shared a range of information, from practical matters to financial details.

I’m not trying to persuade people one way or another when it comes to buying or renovating a house. I’m sharing some insights that may make the process less fraught if you do embark on a renovation, or confirm you in your decision to avoid renovating, or perhaps even ownership, altogether. If you’re someone who intends to own a house eventually, in Vancouver or elsewhere, but you’re waiting until prices make more sense to you personally, you can treat the waiting period as a great time to learn at your own pace about houses and fixing them up, rather than acquiring information piecemeal in the panicky fashion I was forced into because I was doing it on the fly, mid-renovation. (Note to self: plan better next time. If there is a next time…)

First, some of the positives

When I look over the suggestions I’ve compiled here, it occurs to me that any sane person might run screaming from the prospect of undertaking a major renovation. It isn’t my purpose to scare people or turn them off. I’m trying to provide a realistic account of what it takes. And what it takes runs completely counter to the magic-wand renovations that happen in the space of a week on reality TV shows. Most of these TV projects are a combination of redecorating and light renovation, which is fine for what it is, but it distorts the true nature of major renovation — applying makeup versus major internal surgery.

My neighbour ‘M’, a renovation veteran along with his wife ‘S’, thought I should mention some of the positives, the reasons why some people are willing to undergo the difficulty of a major reno, and suggested some of these positives himself:

•    You’re preserving a piece of your city’s architectural heritage in an age of disposability, in which a knock-it-down, throw-it-up ethos, and bigger and newer, mask the often cheap and shoddy.
•    You’re preventing older and often superior materials, such as the dense, strong Douglas fir in the frames of older Vancouver houses, from being needlessly destroyed and dumped in a landfill.
•    You have the opportunity to control exactly what happens with your house, and you can ensure that everything is done to your specifications, and done right.

To which I would add:
•    Incremental renovation may allow you to afford the size and type of house you want, in the area you want. Even if house prices come down dramatically, a good quality new or fully renovated house may still be beyond your reach in the areas you favour. With a fixer upper, you may be able to at least gain entrance to specific neighbourhoods.
•    You’re going to learn a lot about houses, depending on the extent of a renovation and your involvement with it, knowledge that will serve you very well as a homeowner and home maintainer in the years ahead. If at some point you sell and buy a different house, you’ll really know what to look for the second time around.
•    You’re going to feel the satisfaction of creating something good, a feeling from which too many have become disconnected in a profit-driven world.

A word about condos and townhouses

My experience is primarily with detached houses, so that’s what I write about here. However, Vancouver is a city that has been rapidly and aggressively condo-izing — in the core, and in various pockets across the metropolitan area. For many Vancouverites, real estate prices, with or without a crash, dictate that home ownership means condo or townhouse ownership, at least as an entry point to the market, and often beyond. Although a number of my suggestions apply fairly exclusively to resale houses, some of them are also applicable to condos and townhouses.

1. Think about the renovation before you buy the house, not after

If you’re planning to buy a house, and your budget puts you solidly in fixer-up territory, prior to making an offer, you should think about the particular renovation possibilities and constraints that apply to any house you’re considering. If you’re planning a major renovation, you should find out what zoning and building code regulations apply, and how these might affect your plans. Over the years, many houses have had unpermitted extensions, additions, and large decks added, which increase the square footage of the house beyond the maximum allowable, or extend the structure too close to the property line. You don’t want to buy a house only to find out that your local building and development department requires you tear down a third of it as part of making any improvements.

Your forward thinking at this stage need only be general. Is the house easily and legally expandable? Is the interior layout reasonably close to one that suits your lifestyle, or will it require extensive, and expensive, changes? Are the house’s various systems — drainage, plumbing, electrical, heating, and so on — near the end of their life, requiring tens of thousands of dollars to bring them up to modern standards? More subtle and detailed renovation requirements will only emerge after you’ve lived in a house for a year or more, during all four seasons, and discovered the shortcomings that most affect you.

Thinking in vague terms about ‘fixing it up’ is risking disappointment, frustration, and expense. Much better to know in broad terms how you’re going to renovate the fixer upper you’re about to purchase, what the municipality will allow you to do, and roughly how much the renovation will cost. That kind of knowledge requires educating yourself, which you can do well in advance of entering the market, and probably getting expert help, which I discuss in more detail below.

2. Look for the lines

Houses are basically boxes, or assemblages of boxes, with roofs, if they aren’t flat, that are typically some version of a pyramid or triangular prism. Some assemblages are more pleasing to the eye than others. Learn about the most common styles of houses in Metro Vancouver — the Edwardian box, the Edwardian builder, the Craftsman, the California bungalow (Craftsman bungalow), the Voyseyesque cottage, 1920s and 30s builders specials, post-war and 1950s bungalows, 1970s Vancouver Specials, on so on. Go for walks in the neighbourhoods you’re considering and look at lots of houses — both fixer uppers and nicely renovated houses that appeal to you. Over time, your eye for the lines of a house, and for the lines of a particular style of house, will develop. You’ll be able to more easily distinguish the lumpish, the ugly, and houses with the distorted lines of poorly designed additions, from those with aesthetically pleasing lines, even if the lines have been somewhat obscured by the subsequent application of stucco, or vinyl or asphalt siding. Ideally, you want to get good at spotting the fixer upper with good lines, and good potential. This skill will allow you to quickly work your way through long lists of houses on real estate sites, and spot which houses may be modest diamonds in the rough, and which aren’t worth the bother. I say modest, because according to my architect neighbour, all the true diamonds in Vancouver have already been plucked, and fully renovated, and command full price.

An example of a modest diamond could be the builders special in the Willingdon Heights neighbourhood of Burnaby, the first house in the picture above. It holds good possibilities and would probably be a good candidate for raising, and pouring a new foundation, because in addition to creating a full-height lower level, raising would make it look more elegant, rather than top heavy. Our neighbours M and S raised their 1922 builders special, a house almost identical to the one pictured, and the result is very good. A rear addition can also be easily integrated with the existing roof lines of this style of house — as people on our block recently did with their builders special, again, with good results.

Compare these possibilities with the remuddled Lynn Valley house above, which would be hard to do much with, without significant alteration of the existing lines. Here’s a good example from another major reno that recently kicked off in our neighbourhood, a similarly proportioned house that’s hard to expand without radical alteration of the existing lines. In this case, the entire second storey had to be lopped off.

Altering a house’s lines

And then there are the outright bad lines. The East Vancouver house pictured below was listed in the fall of 2010 at $649K. The original house may have been a small cottage, forming the center portion of the current structure, with poorly integrated front and rear additions added later. The net result is a messy jumble with an unappealing roof line. Although it’s priced $50K higher than the Willingdon Heights house, it’s probably a tear-down (although the original center section may hold some heritage value), whereas the Willingdon Heights house isn’t necessarily.

Old house with additions

New houses can also have bad lines. For example, this Burnaby horror show looks like it was conceived by a first-year architecture student after a heavy night out at the campus pub.

New house, Burnaby

Paying for the gigantic twin pillars perhaps didn’t leave enough for twin stair railings. Might it be possible that, coming home drunk, one could fall from either the left or the right side of a set of stairs?

You can change the lines of a house, but it costs money — often lots of it — that could be spent on other renovation items, like systems replacement. Why not start with good lines, or easily expandable lines, to begin with?

3. Consider various styles of house

At different points growing up, I lived in a couple of hundred-year-old character houses in Victoria — one, a beautiful, half-timbered Craftsman (rented), the other Italianate. I always felt that if I eventually bought a house, it would be a character house that I’d fix up. I hated post-war bungalows, the kind that were covered with pinky-brown, beer-bottle stucco. Whenever I pictured one of these houses, it was raining, and the stucco was sodden.

Now the thought of renovating a character house, the ongoing maintenance burden, the heating bills for a large space, fills me with dread. I like looking at beautiful character renovations on the street, but I don’t want to own one. Or at least, I don’t think I do. Occasionally, when I go inside one, I’m struck by the sense of serenity and comfort.

My wife grew up in an early model Vancouver Special, probably built in the 1960s. Growing up, she hated Vancouver Specials — their depressing uniformity, their raw, immature, unadorned feel, the utilitarian approach to home ownership taken by their occupants, in her Trout Lake neighbourhood primarily other members of the Chinese community. Ironically, she felt these houses expressed a lack of community. In contrast to my feelings about stucco bungalows, my wife loved them. The Italians and Portuguese — around Trout Lake, more settled, earlier waves of immigrants — lived in the bungalows. With mature gardens, lower profiles, and less obvious uniformity, these houses felt cozy to her, more like comfortable homes.

In 2003, my wife and I bought a post-war, stucco bungalow. During our house hunting period I underwent some kind of conversion. I wanted a character house, quickly realized they were well out of our range, but also realized that I now liked 1950s bungalows. I’d come to appreciate their solidity, their low, horizontal lines, their quiet practicality. The one we bought is an early model, built immediately post-war, in 1946. I prefer the more generous, more spacious versions that evolved with increasing North American prosperity in the 1950s. However, I’m reasonably content.

The one type of house my wife and I agreed we hated, and wouldn’t consider, was a 1970s Vancouver Special, or any of the more recent variants. Now, seven years later, and in the aftermath of battling headroom issues in our basement suite during the renovation, the wheel has turned again. We might consider a Vancouver Special, were we ever to move. (I do have one reservation, which I explain in the section on seismic upgrading below.) The characteristics that originally made Vancouver Specials attractive to working class and immigrant families on the East Side, and elsewhere in the city, are still attractive today to an even more diverse demographic: maximum, or close to maximum, square footage for the lot size; open layouts; big rear decks, often covered; a full-height lower level, making installation of a rental suite, or setting up a separate area for teenagers, much easier; and a minimum of architectural adornment, which although bland, means less maintenance and upkeep. Add to these original enticements a price point that can be significantly lower than a renovated character house or a new house. For these reasons, Vancouver Specials remain popular, are shedding some of the stigma long associated with their utilitarian nature and prosaic form, and renovating them in interesting or unexpected ways has become somewhat trendy.

Lance Berelowitz, in Dream City, had this to say about Vancouver Specials:

“There is a certain irony in the fact that while the Vancouver Special has long been an affront to the Vancouver architectural establishment, that same establishment frequently finds itself designing and living in equally kitsch architectural clichés and is increasingly involved in replicating a new pseudo ‘Heritage’ aesthetic for housing. The pitched roofs, cutesy wood detailing and fake-traditional architectural geegaws are now the de rigueur language of contemporary residential design. It almost makes the Vancouver Special seem refreshingly honest in comparison.”

Classic 1970s Vancouver Special in the Renfrew neighbourhood, East Vancouver

The houses don’t change, it’s we who change. The way we see things evolves. The more you expose yourself to a full range of house styles, and analyze their benefits and drawbacks in relation to your particular situation, the more options and flexibility you’ll have. Most of us have emotional responses to different styles of houses, unanalyzed, probably rooted in childhood experience, and it’s often these emotional responses that drive our purchasing decisions, rather than a careful weighing of the appropriateness of this functional object we’re buying.

Some common Vancouver house styles, 1900 to 1980

[Further resources/reading]

To read more about Vancouver house styles throughout the 20th century, see the following:

Exploring Vancouver, by Harold Kalman (later with Ron Phillips and Robin Ward). Vancouver: UBC Press, 1974, 1978, 1993 (three editions).

British Columbia Houses: Guide to the Styles of Domestic Architecture in British Columbia, by Graeme Chalmers and Frances Moorcroft. Vancouver: UBC, 1981.

Vancouver and Its Region, edited by Graeme Wynn and Timothy Oke. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992.

Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, by Lance Berelowitz. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2005.

The Story of Dunbar: Voices of a Vancouver Neighbourhood, edited by Peggy Schofield. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2007.

“House Special”, The Vancouver Courier, 11 Sep, 2009. Story related to Vancouver Heritage Foundation 2009 tour of renovated Vancouver Specials.

“Heritage tour of Vancouver Specials shows why they are special”, The Vancouver Sun, 5 Oct, 2010. Story related to Vancouver Heritage Foundation 2010 tour of renovated Vancouver Specials.

“Your Old House Encyclopedia”, Vancouver Heritage Foundation. Once it goes live, this will be a fantastic online resource for identifying and learning about specific styles of Vancouver residential architecture. The advertised launch date of summer 2010 has obviously come and gone. I sent the Vancouver Heritage Foundation an email asking when they expected the online encyclopedia to be available, and they told me Spring 2011. Nothing yet. If you’re interested, I guess the best advice is to bookmark the link, and periodically check back.

Coming soon: Part 9b: So You Want to Buy a House and Fix It Up? Thirty Suggestions for Survival – Suggestions 4, 5, 6, & 7
Stay tuned. -ed.

PostCardsFromTheBlastRadius #3 – The Okanagan Bust – “Life Revolves Around You!”

From the WebSite:
“Welcome to Centre Point, where Life & Style are perfectly in sync.”
[NemNote: When you allow that the developer’s market timing was apparently rather less than ‘in sync’ with condo-newbie appetites – it’s just as well that they got the ‘Life&Style’ thing right. Nemesis wonders though, which elements of life are ‘synchronous/analagous’ with/to vinyl extrusions and particle board? The Coprological?]
“Located in Kelowna’s ‘picturesque’ South Glenmore, this idyllic setting means you don’t have to compromise location for convenience.”
“Only moments from everywhere you want to be, but away from what you leave behind – never before has there been an address that offers it all.” [unlike, say – Buckingham Palace?]
“A true urban [!?] retreat. Centre Point brings new, affordable and ‘luxurious’ rental apartment living to the centre of Kelowna.”
[‘Nem’Note: Do WagCondoCopyWriters/Hypers contest amongst themselves to see who can weave the most glaring oxymorons and cliche into ‘ThePitch’?]

Have a close look at that signage, Boyz ‘n Girlz – you’ll notice that the rental offer is, in fact, a recent vinyl ‘appliqué’ – the obvious intent, to camouflage (or mask, if you prefer) the development’s quasi-mystical transubstantiation from ‘ownership’ to ‘rental’. What will they think of next!?

For a development purportedly nearing completion and with a projected tenant occupancy timeline of ‘June-ish’… there was an astonishing dearth of visible activity on the CentrePoint site. But never mind, as the wind generated opening and closing of the unsecured double-glazed UPVC balcony doors more than made up for all that with some delightful – if random – melodies remniscent of the haunting Japanese ‘Shakuhachi’.

Photos and commentary for the ‘BlastRadius’ series by ‘Nemesis’.
[Images Ⓒ​2011 ‘Nemesis’ – All Rights Reserved]

Recent Arrival – “To say there is a bubble in Van city is an understatement. And condo construction material and workmanship is disgusting.”

Dclipse at greaterfool.ca 16 Apr 2011 12:15am“My wife and I just moved here from Mississauga ON. Sold our condo there and renting now in North Van. 2 year old building. Nothing is falling apart yet… but the material and workmanship is disgusting. And btw, it’s a 760 sq. ft. unit worth $450,000 according to similar ones on mls. We sold our 1015 sq.ft 2bed 2bath for $278.000. To say there is a bubble in Van city is an understatement. At least our old place [in Ontario] was excellent quality. And for 6 years we lived there it was as new. If you’re paying big money for a place you should at least have good quality (you would think). Met a guy 2 weeks ago that works for a company fixing leaky condos. Says they’re making a killing. And right now they’re working on a 3 year old building in Yaletown. Can you believe that?”