Squeezing In Among the Rich

 

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I wrote a story last week about collective housing, which is a growing subculture of people who form groups and rent big houses and penthouses from absentee landlords. Because there is a big group of them, the rent is cheap, and they’ve got a built-in community. As part of my story in this issue of the Globe, I asked property manager Denis Krasnogolov if he thinks foreign money is a big deal. I said the reason I’m asking is that there are many people in Vancouver who still don’t believe it is much of a problem, that it’s been overblown. “Are you kidding?” he said. He shook his head and laughed. Krasnogolov and his business partner David Blokh are from the Ukraine, they speak Ukrainian and Russian, and they deal with foreign investors all the time. A lot of them are from China, but many are coming from countries in the Eastern Bloc, where they’ve made their money in natural resources.
Krasnogolov is a licensed real estate agent. He and Blokh both have families here in Vancouver, and they are young entrepreneurs who are trying to launch a startup that makes sense in an increasingly bizarre housing market.

They formed Mansion Management in response to the near-zero vacancy rate and high price of rental housing.As I say in my story, the two men have found a niche market in connecting organized groups of renters with owners of big houses. The big houses are almost always owned by offshore investors who are parking their money in Vancouver land, which is stable, secure, and (because there are many more like them) going up in value every month. They often buy more than one property. They either sit on it or tear the existing house down and build a bigger house to boost the property value. They don’t care if the house sits empty because it’s comparatively cheap on the international market, and it’s purely a speculative investment, anyway.

“They don’t care about the house. They don’t care if it’s rented. They just want to hold land until time comes to sell,” Krasnogolov told me.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and people are getting more creative and resourceful in order to stay living in Vancouver. Planner and statistics nerd Andy Yan told me that overcrowding is always a byproduct of unaffordability. Some might view the collective housing movement as a happy return to community, like one big extended family, while others will just see a crowded house full of renters. Whatever spin we put on the phenomenon, one thing is certain: as long as they’re trying to make homes out of a distant landlord’s land bank, they’ll always be at the mercy of that investor’s whims.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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I’ve been writing about the impact of foreign money a lot in my seven and a half years as a Globe and Mail real estate columnist. Only recently has the topic reached a boiling point, which is long overdue. However, it continues to mystify me how several intelligent commentators on the Vancouver scene continue to question its relevance. The impact of foreign money on Vancouver’s property market should be a given by now, and yet there are those who insist that it’s not the true culprit behind unaffordability. It’s as if they’d rather see everything except for the elephant that is standing in front of them. Maybe it’s guilt? Maybe they’d rather not admit to themselves or anyone else that they’re benefitting from an overheated market, building equity in their homes that they could have only dreamed of a decade ago. For whatever reason, they’re not willing to state the obvious, and in terms of getting clarity on a massive problem with huge economic and social implications, their denial is only setting us back.

Let’s just get quiet and listen to Prof. Ley, shall we?

UBC geography professor David Ley, who wrote Millionaire Migrants, has supplied me and several other journos with reams of research on the impact of the transient global community, mostly people from Mainland China who’ve made Vancouver a second home.
They are wealthy people with loads of money to invest, and compared to other livable cities in the world, Vancouver is a bargain. That might be hard to believe for the average Vancouver household that brings in around $65,000, but compared to London or Palm Beach, believe me, we’re a sweet deal for a millionaire.
This isn’t exactly a revelation anymore, and it’s not rocket science to figure out how the global market has impacted the city’s affordability. If someone pays above-market value for a house on a street on the west side, that single transaction raises the values of all the houses in the area. Multiply that activity by even just 5 per cent, and the values for the entire neighbourhood go sky high. If the demand continues, which it has, it pushes prices into the stratosphere, which has obviously been the case. We don’t need U.S. based Demographia to tell us that we’re one of the priciest cities in the world. We’ve living it.

For those locals who can no longer afford the neighbourhoods on the west side, they now look to the east side, or North Van, or Burnaby. As a result, those average income earners — whose incomes are attached to the local economy, not outside wealth — push prices higher in those areas. If there’s no release valve to decrease the pressure, the market for detached houses continues to grow. High house prices radiate outward. 

This isn’t to appoint blame to the foreign market that is applying the pressure. It’s not to say that there aren’t other factors, such as locals who are throwing money at tiny bungalows to get into the market. Or baby boomer parents who are giving their kids down payments on over priced homes. Or low interest rates that are motivating those who would otherwise not even try to get into the market.

It’s a simple acknowledgement that interest rates, or boomer equity, or domestic buyer behaviour alone could not have the same impact on house prices. After all, the interest rate here is the same as the interest rate in Winnipeg, and you don’t see that city’s house prices making top 10 lists. And how could domestic buyers drive a market into a frenzy like this one when their relatively low salaries could never afford the average $2.23 million house? Clearly, there is an outside force at play.

To quote Prof. Ley, “you’re either misleading or you’re mislead” if you don’t acknowledge the tremendous pressure of new global money. Iain Reeve of the Squeeze Generation counted all the applicants to the immigrant investor programs that came to BC and told an Australian publication this:

“Vancouver has seen more millionaires immigrate to the city than all of America in the past 15 to 20 years.”

How could our real estate market not be directly impacted? To those who continue to resist the evidence, I say, let’s stop the wilful blindness.

Global investment is driving our market, the same way it’s driving markets in London, Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. It is the biggest driver of the market in Vancouver, and it continues unabated, with no government regulation or intervention.

To me, that is a problem. It’s also a problem to millennial housing activist Eveline Xia, who started the #donthave1million social media campaign, and to the guy who started the petition for government intervention (who doesn’t want to be named), and to Saeid Fard, who wrote the blog called the Decline of Vancouver that went viral. These are young, worldly, educated, highly employable people who are trying to carve out a life in Vancouver but are feeling the squeeze of unaffordability. They’ve got their eyes wide open. They see the situation. They’re not denying the existence of the elephant in the room.
And yet, what baffles me, is the flip flopping among politicians and reluctance among my journalism colleagues to acknowledge that foreign money is the major issue. For example, the premier admits that foreign investment is a key part of the economy — while also claiming that she can’t address it because she doesn’t have data to proves it. That’s a bit of double speak for you.

To illustrate the failure of local media to get real on the topic, I give you this, an excerpt from one of Vancouver’s long-time local columnists:

“First, there’s little evidence of speculation-driven price increases in the market for condos and townhouses, which constitute the main options for entry-level buyers. Second, foreign ownership is not great enough to be driving up prices except in the market for homes and properties at the highest end. Third, prices for detached single-family homes are being driven upward by two factors that have little to do with real estate speculation and/or foreign ownership. Rather, it is because they aren’t building them any more in Vancouver and the existing stock is shrinking, owing to the trend toward densification, when detached homes are torn down and replaced with multiple dwellings. The supply is shrinking and everyone wants one? Of course prices are soaring.”

Evidently the culprit is a shortage of detached houses. It’s supply, not demand. Who knew? Does it matter that the houses are being paid for with foreign money? And the buyers are insanely rich? Apparently not.

Is this a case of someone who is mislead, or is misleading? I can only assume they are mislead, which is hugely disappointing. Because until we acknowledge the problem — with or without data — we’re just going to keep going in circles until there’s nobody left living in the city who’ll actually care anymore.

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How Rentals Have Become Commodities

For the last several years I’ve been writing about the commodification of houses — as in, houses as pure assets as opposed to the old-fashioned use of a house as a home, a place to lay down roots and get to know the neighbours.

When houses become commodities, as they have in Vancouver, the whole tone of the city shifts. My own neighbours are a classic case. They’ve recently retired and have realized that their home of 28 years can buy them a bigger house and quieter lifestyle on the Sunshine Coast, with leftover money in the bank. And so, they’re selling. There was a time when I’d have looked forward to getting to know a new neighbour. But in today’s climate, I almost dread what’s going to happen once they sell. The 1911 house is zoned for duplex. Will a builder buy and scrape the house of all character inside and out, so he can maximize his investment with something cheaply renovated but updated? Will the big apple tree come down, as well as the scotch pine that’s now a giant and home to several bird nests? Will I be living next to a construction zone for the next year?

Will investors buy the duplexes and rent them out short term instead of to full-time residents of the city? Yes, that’s another component of our city’s unaffordability predicament — short term rentals. My story in the June 27 issue of the Globe looks at this hidden but seemingly huge market for homes that can operate as lucrative businesses for out-of-town visitors. Urban planner Andy Yan put me in touch with SFU master’s student Karen Sawatzky, who released a blog post filled with her latest findings on Airbnb. It turns out that Vancouver home owners are the most likely to rent out their entire homes. About 71 per cent of Airbnb listings in Vancouver are for apartments or houses in their entirety. Most Airbnb listings here are downtown. Add to that set of circumstances that 50 to 60 per cent of downtown condos are investor owned.

I have a friend and former colleague who lives in the West End in a beautiful, large character apartment. He rents out his spare bedroom on Airbnb. I recall him complaining a few years ago that, despite his lovingly arranged decor and breakfast service, he couldn’t get above the $100 mark for a one-night stay. He said the competition from nearby condo towers was just too fierce. Why stay in someone’s guest room when you can have an entire furnished apartment to yourself for little more than $100?

Curious, I took a quick look through Airbnb’s listings, and sure enough there were dozens of condos for rent on the site. That was my first hunch that condo investors weren’t necessarily leaving their units empty, but making some serious coin off their investment. After all, the resale value of a condo these days has pretty much flat-lined. A realtor told me they’re still selling at 2006 prices. Why sell and break even when you can put that investment to work and turn it into a revenue stream?

Sawatzky’s numbers show that 381 hosts control 1,215 of the listings on Airbnb. I spoke with developer Will Lin and he told me it’s fairly typical to sell condos to investors who will use them solely for short-term rentals. I found a property manager who oversees 1,500 units, mostly downtown, for mostly three to six month rentals. This is all legal and above board, and, for an investor, a no-brainer. The short-term rental industry can earn an investor $2,800 to $4,000 a month just for a studio or one bedroom. The average resident renter, on the other hand, pays around $1,100. Despite the property management fees, taxes and maintenance, the math is sound.

I spoke with Andy Yan, author of the empty condo report, about this under-the-radar market that is directly competing with long-term housing for locals. He’d never understood the media’s infatuation with empty condos, which only account for 5 to 8 per cent of downtown according to his findings. He was always much more interested in the 50 to 60 per cent of condos that are investor owned. And if they’ve become lucrative businesses, isn’t that just another driver of unaffordability? Many of these condos were never even intended as housing stock. What does that say to the argument that if we add more condos, affordability will follow? That hasn’t been the case in the core areas of Vancouver. The vacancy rate is almost zero. Rents are rising.

How will affordability follow if condos become commodities?

I don’t blame investors for using their properties for short term rentals. This is an expensive town, and you do what you can to get by. But the city needs to take a hard look at this growing short-term rental market that is directly competing with efforts to make the city more affordable for the average person.

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Youth migrate eastward as the west side loses its cool

 

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My story on young people migrating to Vancouver’s urban east side touched a nerve. So far, the story has had 2,000 shares and counting.

I think that people are not only fed up with hearing about the crazy property prices of the west side, they’re completely turned off. Turned off enough that they don’t even care to live on the west side. I know that if someone said, “Here’s your childhood home over on W. 34th. Take it,” I’d instantly rent it out instead of living there. Why would I live there? On the east side, where I live now, I can walk to some of the city’s finest restaurants, hop on the SkyTrain within 15 minutes, and get to know my neighbours. An east side dwelling is no longer the consolation prize — it is the prize.

Of course, now that we’re all clamouring to live on the east side, property values are creeping up there, too. Someone tweeted me an east side listing for a house in Renfrew that’s got a $2.3 million asking price. Photo above. As an east side homeowner, this sort of crazed money lust doesn’t make me think, “Wow, my property prices will soar!” I just worry about losing the diversity and character that makes me want to live on the east side. I don’t want the east side to become like the west side, where everything is big, boxy, overpriced and generic.

I want my city to keep its soul. I want prices to stay at a reasonable enough level that we don’t chase away the vibrancy. Property values be damned. If you want your house to be worth millions, know that there’s a huge trade-off. And if you want to see what that trade-off looks like, just look west.

It’s an ongoing media story that homeowners don’t want heritage protection or zoning that would interfere with their property values. I’d like to put this belief to the test. I know there are a few that feel this way, but I’m guessing the majority would opt for quality of life over and above a ridiculous future resale value. I’ve also interviewed many seniors who want to sell their homes to young families, not builders. But all they get is offers from builders.

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Random acts of gluttony

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Along King Edward Street, this fine old Cape Cod style house is on the market, along with dozens of other older houses along a four block stretch. Next door to the house is the future – a duplex under construction. The street has been zoned for duplexes, and so builders are buying them up to tear them down and make a killing off multiple unit housing. Problem is, there is nothing wrong with these houses. They could add density by building infill around them instead. Perfectly good houses continue their march to the city landfill. All for the sake of a buck.

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Why the big house, Vancouver?

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Last week I wrote my Globe column about the demand, mostly in West Vancouver, for fully furnished houses. While doing the story, I was reminded of the extent of transformation that West Vancouver is currently undergoing. It’s the same phenomenon happening on Vancouver’s west side — relatively small houses sitting on large properties are getting demolished in order to build bigger houses. This is good news for the building industry, but lousy news for sustainability, and anyone who cares about the mid-century modern homes that were built throughout West Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s. No doubt, a lot of perfectly good, well-designed, stylish homes are winding up in the landfill in favour of this drive for huge housing.

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It’s also lousy news for the community. Several readers wrote to tell me that a lot of the big new houses are sitting empty.

This trend isn’t exclusive to Vancouver. In Los Angeles, I interviewed a city councilman for Bel-Air who said 20,000 sq. ft. homes are being razed to make way for 60,000 sq. ft. homes. This is a long-time L.A. councillor who’d seen wealthy excess up close for years. He’d seen it all, and even he was shocked by the newfound craze for massive housing.

In Vancouver, we haven’t seen anything yet. From my own home, I can hear the sound of hammering and sawing on a nearby new housing project. Depending on your outlook, it’s either the sound of growth or the sound of excess.

I find this trend particularly interesting since it’s in complete contradiction to the drive for more density. There are always about a dozen cranes on the horizon in the central parts of the city. The condos are relentless, and yet they’re getting smaller. We are undergoing a transformation of extremes, between micro suites and massive single family houses. Every new house built is, on average, 85 per cent bigger than the house that once stood. Big houses mean lower densities.

Family size is not growing — it’s shrinking. So why the need for a bigger house? I heard an argument from former councillor Gordon Price the other day that Vancouver has always seen housing as commodities. A hundred years ago, people crammed two houses onto one lot for economic reasons. And yes, in those days they were making the most out of every square foot of land for matters of economy. The big difference, however, is that they were housing more people per square foot. Today, square footage translates into mere dollar signs.

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The problem is, we’re too poor for this town

After listening to a group of international real estate experts chat about their respective markets, it became clear to me that in terms of house prices, Vancouver has nothing on London, New York, Moscow, Palm Beach or L.A. Compared to those cities, Vancouver real estate is the bargain bin.

Last night I attended the first REDTalk speakers event, sponsored by development company Wesgroup, and held at the Playhouse Theatre. The place was at capacity, with about 700 industry types in attendance, and the star attraction was clearly Josh Flagg, real estate agent extraordinaire, and star of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. Flagg — clearly an L.A. mover and shaker, dressed in capri pants and loafers without socks — currently has a listing with a price tag of $150 million (the former home of Sonny & Cher, among others). When the subject of Vancouver property prices was raised, Flagg couldn’t help but derisively laugh. “It’s totally under valued here,” he said. And he went on to say that we have everything that all the world-class cities have to offer, but at bargain basement prices. That would explain why so much of the Mainland Chinese market is snapping up properties around West Vancouver and the west side of the city. Those same properties would be three or four times the price in a place like London or L.A.

But here’s the thing: those other cities have a job market. We don’t. And the jobs we do have are low paying, as illustrated by statistics junkie Andy Yan, from Bing Thom Architects. Andy gave me this chart: PerCapitaIncome. It shows that Vancouverites make just a little more than $40,000 a year. It also shows we are hovering around the same incomes per capita as depressed American cities like Reno and Nashville.

It’s not about the high cost of real estate — our problem is affordability. We are being priced out of our own town. We can barely afford our $4 lattes. No wonder we gripe about the $1 million houses. Moderator Cam Good of Key Marketing did point this sad state of affairs, to which Flagg responded: “I don’t know anything about your incomes. I don’t live here.” And he couldn’t relate, either. Flagg made $200 million in sales revenue off real estate in the last year.

It was an interesting discussion, much of it about the global impact of the rich Chinese market. The other panelists included Alan Child, chair of real estate consultants Knight Frank Hong Kong, Stephen Hurford, of Hurford Salvi Carr, who has 287 projects in and around London, and Brendon Desimone, a New York real estate agent and blogger with a following of 70 million visitors a month. They echoed Flagg’s opinion of Vancouver’s cheap properties. Child said that in London, many developers sell directly overseas. It’s a practice frowned upon in Vancouver, because it’s felt that locals should get first dibs on their own market. And locals feel resentful that they’re being pushed out of the market by foreign owners who may not even occupy the houses. And it doesn’t work both ways. Canadians can’t find a sweet deal in Hong Kong’s property market. Hurford said if a Canadian were to buy a property in Hong Kong, they’d be looking at a whopping 24 per cent stamp tax. That drew a few gasps from the crowd.

So, we may gripe, but in terms of high prices, we haven’t seen anything yet. Desimone pointed out that in New York, a not-so-special condo sells for around $3 million. Flagg said L.A. doesn’t have a condo market to speak of, because everybody wants a single-family house. So we’re nothing like L.A. in that regard. Desimone and Child spoke about the problem of corrupt money behind foreign real estate purchases made under the guise of numbered companies. We don’t know yet if Vancouver real estate has corruption behind it, mostly because nobody is keeping track of where the purchasers are coming from. That’s a problem.

There was a hilarious moment near the end of the talk, when the forthright Flagg was asked about his opinion of Vancouver’s new Trump Tower. He didn’t hold back. “I’m unimpressed,” he said, and went on to slag the quality of the building as “cheap.” He also said he’d never buy anything with the Trump name attached. No doubt, any Trump Tower marketers in the room were slumping in their seats at those comments. Flagg then followed with, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” Too late.

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Facadism: from San Francisco to Vancouver

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This is a shot of San Francisco workers going to the extreme bother of relocating a Victorian that was up for demolition, circa 1974. SF has a long standing tradition of heritage activism that continues today. However, the city is currently dealing with an increase in façadism, the development world compromise of maintaining a building’s facade in order to build behind or around it. It usually results in a much bigger, bulkier, or taller structure surrounding the old facade. It isn’t perfect, from a heritage perspective, because the guts of the building are torn out. As well, the mash-up of new and old doesn’t give either building its proper architectural due. Both structures end up out of context and diminished. But, for Vancouver, I would argue that it’s better than the complete loss of yet another heritage or character building. Case in point: the Period Revival apartment block at Oak and 14th (pictured here), which is slated for redevelopment. The 1928 design by Townley & Matheson (same architects who did City Hall and the Stock Exchange building) is to have its south facing and east facing walls retained and restored, with a tower going in behind. The building, called the Santa Fe, but originally named the Van Arsdel Apts, had not been well maintained over the years, according to heritage expert Patrick Gunn.

This is one of my favourite old apartment blocks in Vancouver, and I’m happy to see that its lovely exterior is being saved. I know not everybody will be pleased with the plan, but it’s better than the alternative.

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Random Acts of Gluttony

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These pics show the demolition of a house on Vancouver’s west side, at 3700 W. 37th Ave. The house, dated 1939, had been lovingly restored by its previous owners, but the new owners wanted to redevelop. It’s so outrageously wasteful and spoiled of us, to tear down a perfectly good house for no other reason than we’d want something bigger. As people who’ve studied sustainability have said before, “the most sustainable house is the existing house.” Tearing down a house, deconstructing or demolishing it, trucking away the materials, and re-building the house is a way bigger carbon load than retrofitting the existing house with energy upgrades. Wasn’t the whole idea that we were supposed to be living smaller? How is this a step toward becoming the greenest city on the planet?

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Affordability is a Relative Word

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Welcome to my new blog! 

Here’s my opportunity to discuss the stuff that I don’t get to in my job as a professional full-time journalist. For me, the biggest topic that’s emerged over the last seven years covering real estate for the Globe and Mail is how to survive in a city that makes it so difficult to do so. Vancouver’s great, obviously. That’s why the city is booming. But it can also feel like a daily grind just to make a living, find a little bit of property to call home, and pay the bills. I know we Vancouverites can seem like a whiny bunch, especially considering we’re living in a rainforest paradise. But we also worry a lot because we’ve hooked our carts to this real estate thing that can be scary. Scary if you’re not in the market, and scary if you’re in the market, and there’s talk of it heading south.

We are a weird city. Really, how is it possible that we are the lowest earners of all major Canadian cities, and yet we are somehow surviving the high cost of living here? A lot of people dismiss our situation as typical of so many other desirable cities, places like Sydney, Singapore, London, New York, San Francisco and L.A. But there’s a crucial difference between Vancouver and those metropolises: Jobs. We don’t have any. At least, we certainly don’t have much of a market for anyone who doesn’t work as a Realtor, techie or barista.

And so, like most of Vancouver, I think a lot about this question of affordability. My last column for the Globe and Mail was on the recent spike in sales in North Vancouver, which may be its own city, but feels more like a rainier, woodsier extension of Vancouver by way of a couple of bridges. My father was born in North Van in a tiny three room house that looked more like a shack, so even though I’ve never lived there, I have my own homegrown perspective on the place. With its affordable walk-up apartment buildings and split-level houses, it’s always been the poor cousin of its glitzy neighbour where the celebrities go to hide, West Van.

For a long time, North Van was the place for mountain biker types to live relatively cheaply and happily, tucked away from the density and clamour of Vancouver. While Vancouver racked up spots each year on the Most Unaffordable City lists, North Van quietly minded its own business, happy to share the same geography without all the bother. Those days might be coming to an end, however, now that a lot of Vancouverites are discovering that for $800,000 you can get a solid house on a big chunk of land — well worth the trip over the bridge. The most popular areas are Lynn Valley and Edgemont, which means there are still good deals to be found in other areas of North Van. Inventory is low right now, but by spring there should be a lot more listings on the market.

Another area where I think you can still find reasonable value for single family homes is New Westminster, which I wrote a column on last year. Again, if you’re willing to look at an up-and-coming area and not something already fully established, like Queen’s Park, you’re going to find the deals. That’s single family housing. If you’re not in the market for a house, or you’re simply wondering whether you should get into the market at all, there are other options in Vancouver the Unaffordable City. You don’t have to buy property. I know that sounds counter-intuitive in a city where we’re real estate obsessed, but real estate doesn’t have to be a given. Not everybody gets married and has kids anymore. Ditto the white picket fence. And there have been many sound arguments made against it. Calculations have been done that compare the overall cost of mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities of home ownership against the return and it doesn’t necessarily add up to a lot. If you’re good at investing in other markets, it might make sense to rent and concentrate on building your portfolio. I know several people in Vancouver who do just that.

If you’re like most people, however, and do not have the time or inclination to study the markets, then home ownership does seem like a convenient way to sock your money away. Convenient because you need a place to live. That said, condos aren’t always the ideal way to go if you’re hoping for some kind of a return on your investment. Columnist Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail has made a strong case against condo ownership because of the high cost of maintenance fees, shoddy construction, and the fact that they don’t all hold their value.

In Vancouver in the last few years, condos have flatlined in price. Realtors tell me we’re stuck at 2006 prices. I’ve seen units go for well below asking, including one that I’m going to write about where the owner took a $500,000 loss. That’s unusual, but the point is, we shouldn’t think of condos as an instant moneymaker. I think that people often mistakenly assume that they are a sure thing because Vancouver real estate always seems to go up, up, up. But there are a lot of new condos coming onto the market, and that has a trickle down effect on the resale market. Maybe a condo is better thought of as a piggy bank — the place to hold your money until you sell it. If the building is solid and the location desirable, it’s probably a fairly safe, conservative investment. As to whether it’s going to earn you money, that’s another matter.

Then there are those people who think outside the box and get together with friends or like-minded investors and buy a property together. They might buy a house and split it in half or buy a small apartment block. I know of a couple of UBC professors who bought a big Kerrisdale house and divided it in half, each family taking a side. I wrote about them and others who’d split homes in one of my first pieces for the Globe’s Real Estate section, back in 2008. It’s a small trend that continues. Others buy whole buildings. Last night I attended a screening of a locally made documentary called Restoring Community, and it included an interview with a couple who purchased a heritage rental complex in Cedar Cottage, the Gow Building. They restored the entire building and made a deal with the city to add townhouse infill to the rear of the lot.

For anyone who’s interested, The Goodman Report is a fairly comprehensive source for apartment or strata buildings for sale. I’m sure the logistics would be pretty complicated (and a potential nightmare if you got the wrong investors involved), but the idea of buying a small eight-unit building or whatever, and sharing the cost among friends who would also live in it, sounds like an idea worth exploring… and one way to circumvent the high cost of real estate. If I weren’t in the market yet, and I could handle the prospect of co-ownership with a friend or trusted acquaintance, I’d probably give this model a try. Of course, if I were in my 20s, I’d most likely flee to a city with a better job market, but that’s another matter…

We’ve got to get creative as we do whatever it takes to survive Vancouver.

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