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Real estate rule applies to prices: location, location, location

The Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board described November sales and listing activity as typical. If you've lived in Vancouver for a while, that might have you scratching your head, especially when it's followed by news that November sales were 5.8 per cent below the 10-year average. Now that's the Vancouver real estate market I know.

Nothing here is typical. Except that the sky is always falling and examples of real estate tanking in other locations are constantly being bandied about as evidence that our market is about to crash.

This week, a couple of readers sent me a link to the following comment on tippett.org, a blog by Michael Tippet, Emmy-nominated entrepreneur, visionary and columnist.

"Housing prices in Vancouver are the second most expensive in the world (second only to Hong Kong, relative to income). The market is driven almost entirely by speculative buying by mainland Chinese buyers who see the city as a safe place to park their money. So it is not insignificant that the housing market in China is crashing."

I think the point Tippett is making is that a weak Chinese real estate market may be an indicator of mainland Chinese real estate investors' waning interest in real estate elsewhere as well e.g. Vancouver. It's a valid point. International demand for property in Vancouver will always wax and wane. We are not immune to price corrections.

But the comment was followed by a video news clip about the "ghost city" of Kangbashi in Inner Mongolia. Kangbashi is one of China's new cities, part of the 20-year-plan to build 20 cities a year. They built it and nobody came. Since 2006, prices there have fallen from $1,100 per square foot to $470 per square foot.

Try as I might, I can't for the life of me discern the connection between real estate prices in an instant concrete city in Inner Mongolia and real estate prices in Vancouver. In Vancouver, the median price of a condo, which I presume is the comparison, was $595 per square foot in October. The median price of a townhouse was $577 per square foot. Those prices are a far cry from the top of the market in Kangbashi.

Vancouver's growth, on the other hand, has been driven almost entirely by market demand, whether from mainland China, Alberta or Spuzzum. That's because market entrants have followed the three basic rules of successful real estate investment: location, location, location. I've said it before. Vancouver is one of the most liveable and sustainable cities on the planet and we've got location nailed.

CMHC's Housing Market Outlook predicts that approximately 40,000 new residents will settle in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area in each of the next two years. That's 20,000 new residences each year.

Half of Canada's highincome investor class immigrants chose Vancouver as their destination in 2010. Their economic status meant they could afford to buy a home rather than rent like previous generations of new immigrants. That's created a lot of activity in the Vancouver real estate market.

Single-family detached housing prices on the West Side went crazy last year and anyone who isn't independently wealthy or was not in that market has been priced out for the time being. But condo and townhouse prices missed the party so there are still opportunities for first time and move-up home buyers. In the past few years, the price gap between singlefamily houses and condos and townhouses has grown wider than it's been in decades. There are some bargains out there and you don't have to go to Inner Mongolia to find them.

On another note, I've talked to a lot of people who've been discouraged by the number of Vancouver properties passing into the hands of foreign "speculators." The numbers tell a different story. The statistics show that in the past 12 months, only four per cent of homes that sold were flipped or re-sold. This round of buyers are not speculators. They're home owners and investors and they're part of the reason that CMHC is forecasting that the B.C. economy will expand at a moderate pace in 2012 with growth fuelled by economic activity in the Greater Vancouver area.


BY DEB ABBEY, VANCOUVER COURIER

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