Vancouver enjoys real estate revival

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2010, 12:00am

Since the global economic meltdown caused housing values in Vancouver to plunge by 17 per cent last year - and hit bottom last March - prices and housing transactions have dramatically bounced back.

Sales of existing homes in Vancouver, a long-time Hong Kong favourite, shot up by 25 per cent in November year on year, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Over the same period, prices for existing homes rose by 22 per cent.

The benchmark price, or average price for typical properties sold, in Metro Vancouver reached C$557,384 (HK$7.01 million) in November, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver reported.

'People took advantage of low mortgage rates. This, combined with declines in price, made home buying more affordable,' says Robyn Adamache, a senior market analyst with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

The Bank of Canada's three-year and five-year mortgage interest rates are 4.25 per cent and 5.59 per cent, respectively.

Adamache adds that mortgage rates are expected to remain low through this year.

Prices for both detached homes and condominiums are now higher than they were at their peak in February 2008. 'Single family [detached] home prices are up 4 per cent, and condos are up 2 per cent,' she says.

However, she is quick to point out that not all areas have recovered at the same pace and that some areas are below this level.

Popular neighbourhoods in which Hongkongers have settled include South Granville and Shaughnessy on the west side of Vancouver, Killarney on the east side and Richmond, which is south of the city, near Vancouver International Airport.

The sheer number of Hong Kong emigrants in the 1990s recast the ethnic composition of the city. From 1990 to 1997, arrivals from Hong Kong averaged more than 10,000 per year.

Families with children tend to prefer the west side because of its top notch schools. South Granville and Shaughnessy both consist primarily of high-end detached homes.

'The price for a new 4,000 sqft, six-bedroom house in South Granville is C$3-4 million. Shaughnessy is an even more prestigious, older area. The average price there is C$5-6 million,' says Ed Fung, vice-president of development at Royal Pacific Realty. 'People from Hong Kong like hardwood floors, high ceilings, top-quality kitchen cabinets and a grand entranceway. Many houses on the west side are built like this. At a minimum, the house would have a two-car garage.' The east side of Vancouver is more affordable, with prices averaging 20-25 per cent less than detached homes on the west, according to Teresa Chow, an independent real estate agent who specialises in Asian buyers.

'In Killarney, there are more houses that are 20 or more years old. A 2,800-3,000 sqft home would be about C$900,000 to C$1 million,' Chow says.

More than half the population in Richmond, which is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, is of Asian descent. Most come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland. The latter are the main buyers from Asia at present.

She estimates that a new 4,000 sqft house in Richmond will be priced from C$1.3-1.5 million. 'It's a newer, tidier area and the housing is affordable,' she says. 'Ten to 20 years ago, a 2,500-3,000 sqft house in Richmond with four bedrooms would have cost C$300,000 to C$400,000.'

Because of Vancouver's lack of land and urban planning philosophy of blending residential areas with commercial areas, the metropolitan area has a high proportion of condos and detached homes. According to Landcor Data Corporation, metropolitan Vancouver has 187,626 condos and 362,311 detached homes.

Affluent couples, retirees looking to downsize and young people buying their first home are among those looking for condominiums in a variety of price ranges.

Vancouver's downtown core has the densest pocket of condominiums, with starting prices for a one-bedroom unit at about C$700 per square foot, says condo marketer Bob Rennie, principal of Rennie Marketing Systems.

Luxury condos on Coal Harbour, a former industrial area converted to posh waterfront property, command prices of C$1.8 million for 1,200 sqft.

A medium-priced 600 sqft, one-bedroom unit at the newly opened 13-storey Maynards Block, a short walk south of downtown in the Olympic Village area, sells for about C$400,000, Rennie says.

Strong demand for condos, combined with the sudden slowdown in construction of new units because of the economic crisis, has led to a tight 0.9 per cent vacancy rate in the downtown core, compared with 2.1 per cent in the greater metro area.

'Prospects are good for rentals because the vacancy rate is still one of the lowest in the country,' Adamache says.

Like Toronto, Vancouver also has rent control, which limits annual rent increases, usually to between 3.5 per cent and 4 per cent.

The 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver, which will be held this month, has had little impact on housing values. 'There'll be an uptick, but we don't think it will be huge,' she says.

The overall outlook for this year is one of modest gains in prices and transactions. 'We should see a 6 per cent increase in transactions and about a 4 per cent increase in average prices by the end of 2010,' she says.

Over the past 20 years, housing prices in Vancouver have appreciated by about 7 per cent per year.

But for several years before the economic crisis, double-digit increments of 10 to 19 per cent per year were recorded.