Thursday, 26 April 2012

don't forget to cash in your "lottery ticket"

The Huffington Post Canada  |  By  Posted: 04/26/2012 3:26 pm Updated: 04/26/2012 3:33 pm
If you haven’t heard yet that Canada’s housing market is facing potentially serious problems, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock, but a recent study and comments from Canada’s top banker are bringing the point home once again.
A report from RBC released Thursday says Vancouver’s housing market is “vulnerable to a marked correction.” For a market analysis from a major bank, those are pretty strong words.
“Typical Vancouver-area homebuyers would need to allocate 92 per cent of their income to carry the costs of a two-storey home (based on market price) and almost 45 per cent for a condominium apartment,” the report stated.
It said Vancouver’s housing market is already facing a slowdown, with sales peaking in early 2011. (A Teranet report from Wednesday said Vancouver's house prices have been falling for five months straight.)
“Home resales dropped nearly 20 per cent between the first and fourth quarter of 2011, to levels below the 10-year average,” RBC noted.
The report did note one area of Vancouver’s housing market that’s holding up nicely: the high-end market.
“Averages last year were skewed by unusually strong increases in the sales and prices of highly sought-after properties in upscale neighborhood,” RBC stated, noting that vancouver’s three most expensive areas accounted for most of the 16 per cent price increase seen in 2011; other neighbourhoods saw two per cent house price growth.
The bank expects house prices in Vancouver to fall between 7 and 12 per cent.
But that number is very conservative compared to what Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney hinted Wednesday might be the actual scale of a Canadian housing correction.
In comments to the House of Commons finance committee, Carney said Canada’s housing market is overvalued by 35 per cent. While house prices historically in Canada have hovered around 3.5 times average income, they are now at 4.75 times average income.
In some markets that ratio. Vancouver housing is estimated to cost 9.2 times the average income.
The tension between Canada’s booming housing market and the weakness in the global economy is at the heart of Carney’s dilemma: Whether to raise interest rates to halt a growing real estate bubble, risking an economic slowdown, or to keep them low, and risk blowing up even larger bubbles in Canada’s economy.
Carney has hinted in recent interest rate decisions that the day is nearing when Canadians will no longer be able to count on historically low interest rates.
The RBC report notes that interest rates will be a major factor in determining the dierction of house prices in the months to come, but highlights a wild card in the equation: Foreign real estate investors who have been snapping up residential properties and driving up house prices.
“Risks will be further heightened by Vancouver-area valuation’s dependence on a strong and steady flow of wealthy foreign buyers and recent immigrants — a phenomenon that is both poorly documented and potentially vulnerable to adverse external shocks,” the report said.

Monday, 16 April 2012

the truth is leaking out

Chinese investors shutter Vancouver neighbourhood while apologists cry 'racism'


Real estate elite profit, politicians ignore middle class

Premier Christy Clark won’t restrict foreign ownership in British Columbia.

Premier Christy Clark won’t restrict foreign ownership in British Columbia.

Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet , Vancouver Courier

Trafalgar, they used to call it. A patch of urban plain between West 16th Avenue and King Edward in Arbutus Ridge on Vancouver’s West Side. Prime real estate in a beautiful city. And ground zero of the investor invasion.
A stroll through Trafalgar begins innocently. Rows of parallel streets. White sidewalks. Green lawns. Blue sky, if you’re lucky. Far enough from downtown, the neighbourhood rests in quiet. Too quiet. You soon notice you’re alone among rows of big-box homes, all peaks and eaves, with ornamental hedges stirring in the wind. It’s like a giant film set for a Hollywood blockbuster about a deadly strain of bacteria. Only the goldfish survived.
According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, last year the average price of a detached home on the West Side rose 20.7 per cent to $1.99 million, continuing a trend of yearly spikes.
Several factors contribute to the boom including foreign investment from China. Unlike other precincts around the world, British Columbia has no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate. Anyone from anywhere can buy on your street and mothball their investment in perpetuity.
Look no further than the Trafalgar area, perhaps the most striking example of investor decay in the city. It’s no longer a community, it’s a commodity. A pocket of land bought and tilled by speculators. Down went the old stucco bungalows, once the neighbourhood’s signature home, up went dozens of “developer specials”—two and three-storey monstrosities that often sit empty, windows shuttered, for months. Sometimes years.
It didn’t used to be this way.
Colin grew up in the neighbourhood, at Trafalgar elementary and Prince of Wales secondary. He remembers streets bustling with life. Kids on bikes. Barbecues and burning leaves. Now a 38-year-old investment adviser, he lives in a rented bungalow not far from his childhood home. While the street names remain the same, the neighbourhood is unrecognizable. “It’s really unbelievable. It’s eerie, I just shake my head.”
Last Friday, Colin took me on a Trafalgar tour. Street after street with many vacant homes. He pointed as we walked. “That’s empty. That one. That one. The whole side of this street almost.”
Colin, not his real name, wishes to remain anonymous, fearing backlash and smears.
You see, as illustrated two weeks ago in the Courier, if you dare note the ethnicity intrinsic to foreign real estate investment in Vancouver, you court charges of bigotry from industry benefactors.
Of course, local realtors and developers have no problem racially profiling potential buyers. For example. Sutton West Coast Realty orchestrates Vancouver home auctions in Shanghai and West Side bus tours for Chinese investors.
Yet Larry Beasley, retired Vancouver city planner and former vice-president of Aquilini Developments, a major industry player, says it’s “racist” to suggest Chinese foreign buyers drive up prices. Politically correct moralizing from Beasley, who also served as “special planning adviser” for royal dictators in the United Arab Emirates, a country that jails homosexuals for being gay.
Back in Trafalgar, bilingual “For Sale” signs in English and Mandarin dot front lawns. During our afternoon stroll, we happened upon a grey, two-storey with white-trimmed peaks. The front door was wide open. A young Asian man appeared in the foyer.
“Is this an open house?”
“No,” he said, in limited English. “We show to private buyers.”
“How much? What’s the price?”
“Three point eight nine million.”
That’s typical of Trafalgar and other sections of Arbutus Ridge, probably the most overpriced neighbourhood in the city. It’s a market within a market with baffling trends. According to Colin, several Trafalgar homes seem to exist solely for “sale” yet never get occupied. “These three places in a row,” he says, near West 21st and Yew. “No one’s ever lived there but [For Sale] signs go up for a few weeks then go away for few weeks. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s a murky Monopoly game. Thanks to strict regulation in China, Chinese real estate investors look off-shore for capital gains. Our wild open market attracts investors from everywhere, warping the local supply and demand equation, helping push middle class residents out to the suburbs or into crushing debt.
Christy “Families First” Clark, a committed globalist, won’t restrict foreign ownership in B.C. Mayor Gregor Robertson, who slobbered over Beijing during a 2010 “trade mission” to China, won’t reform the tax code to accommodate the new normal. Which means foreign real estate investors pay the same rate (4.2 per cent) as local homeowners, not the business rate (18 per cent) they should.
Two weeks ago, Eugen Klein, president of the Vancouver Real Estate Board, told the Courier that off-shore buyers account for only three per cent of house sales. Rubbish. Because foreigners often use local addresses (their lawyer’s office, for example) when registering with the provincial land title office, no one knows how many off-shore investors own homes in Vancouver. Yet Klein’s “three per cent” defence raises questions he’d likely rather avoid.
What percentage. Mr. Klein, of foreign investment is acceptable in Vancouver’s real estate market? Ten per cent? Twenty per cent? If 50 per cent of Vancouver was owned by foreigners, would that be OK with you? Where do the interests of your global industry and our city diverge? How deep doth thy zeal for globalization run?
No, they want this conversation to go away. Shut it up before folks get wise. If you’re troubled by dead neighbourhoods shuttered by foreign investment, you’re a racist dog stuck in 1923. Get back to your rented bungalow. You’ll be hearing from us soon.
Twitter: @MarkHasiuk

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