$300,000, one human soul, plus tax and maintenance: Your first Vancouver apartment

It's hard out here for a real estate agent. Caught between sky-high prices and cheapo renovations, an army of Realtors are giving their souls to the game.

Vancouver apartment search: 1970s lobby
Welcome home: If you've got under $350,000 to spend, no glass tower for you in Vancouver.

She flushes, slightly, just for a moment. "You could do a lot with this kitchen."

"I'll have to," I reply. The apartment was supposedly built in 1982, but the kitchen renovation suggests an earlier era. Beige cabinets, countertops even more beige, rusty dishwasher.

Vancouver apartment search: kitchen reno waiting to happen

The liaison broker has a name suggestive of a porn star. Nice suit, and I mean that unironically. He's clearly flirting with her as I inspect the living room. The lizard part of my brain screams, "Back off, chump, she's my realtor!" If she notices his advances, she gives no indication.

She and I check out the bathroom. The light switch is crusted over with what must be years of finger-grime. The owner is doing this place no favors. My Realtor stage-whispers, "Single white guy from Quebec." She's surely right. Given enough experience in the real estate industry, you can tell a lot about who lives in an apartment, even when they're showing it in what they think is its best light.

Single White Quebecois Male had this place on the market for $299,900. He got an offer and bugged out, thinking he could get more. Now he wants $309,900. There's no gentle way of saying this: no freakin' way. This place has now been on the market for a year and a half.

My Realtor and I are on an affordable apartment safari though East Van. My criteria: under $350,000 and within fifteen minutes' public-transit commute to Downtown Vancouver.

She's driving us in her Lexus SUV through the rain-slicked streets. The Lexus has a video camera to help you with parallel parking, but she doesn't seem to need it.

She lined up four apartments, all under $350,000. The cheapest is $250,000. None of them have ensuite laundry. If you think that giving someone a third of a million dollars would get you a washer/dryer, then clearly you've never apartment-shopped in Vancouver.

Go East, Young Man/Woman/Investor

East Vancouver is heating up, because nobody who works for a living can afford to buy in the West End anymore. Rising rents make an investment property in East Van a more viable option than it once was, though proper houses remain out of reach for anyone on a Canadian wage. This keeps the pressure up in the apartment/condo market.

My Realtor says that the sales market is slower than it's been in a long time: properties will sit for an average of 70 days. Still, there are vacant units that she won't touch with a ten-foot pole: "I'm afraid to sell in Olympic Village, to be honest. I steer my clients away." Dead neighborhood, small units, renovations that "probably won't stand the test of time".

I'm checking the closet space in Single White Quebecois' condo. There's not much. The entryway closet is mostly taken up by the water heater. In the hallway, though, he has installed a European-style washer/dryer unit. So there's that. Of course, should he sell, he might just take it with him, leaving the buyer to hoard quarters for the downstairs laundry.

It's not cozy, it's small

The first apartment she showed me was New-York small. 510 square feet according to the info sheet, but it felt smaller; even though the owner makes cunning use of the space. For the $250,000 asking price, you could actually do better in Brooklyn. In Queens, you could live like a monarch.

My Realtor marveled aloud at how the current owner maximized the space. She actually used the word "small", which won me over. You'd expect a broker to euphemize with "cozy". I immediately felt better about trusting her.

Vancouver apartment hunt: close quarters

Okay, back to the apartment. Two closets. No window in the bedroom, just a translucent sliding door from the living room. This place looked like my last apartment in Brooklyn, except on the ground floor. And smaller.

Gorgeous kitchen. She told me, "Soft-close drawers are all the rage right now, but they can eliminate a good kitchen fight." True enough: you can't slam any of the drawers in a fit of drama-queen pique. They slide silently shut; you won't wake the neighbours.

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Comments

Vancouver isn't awesome

What? You mean Olympic Village isn't the amazing heaven-on-earth that Vancouver is Awesome is being paid to tell us?? I don't believe it!

Poignant

This article is well written and poignant. There needs to be more of these articles that reflect what is actually going on here in Metro Vancouver's RE market.

 

New West is trying to discourage stratas from disallowing rentals. What that kind of micro management creates is a bidding war amongst wealthy Canadian and offshore investors, who price young families out of the market, thereby creating MORE renters. 

 

Perhaps the real problem is that housing as a speculative for-profit investment market is an obscene conflict of interest 

Hi Zoe,Thanks for taking the

Hi Zoe,

Thanks for taking the time to comment.This isn't about VIA. It's very difficult for online media to survive, and their coverage about Olympic Village is not the issue. We set out to shine light on the difficult truth about what it's really like to find and sell real estate in Vancouver. Every city has its problems, and this is one of Vancouver's most serious and pressing. We will be covering the issue more throughout 2013. 

Vancouver realtors?

Oh how terribly sad for realtors!! Nobody willing to pay $1M for a closet? Really? And you are having a touch time of it in your profession? How tragic!!

Feel free at any time to tell your owners that they are INSANE to ask such ridiculous prices. Let these condos SIT EMPTY until developers start building RENTAL UNITS and AFFORDABLE HOUSING. If a regular blue collar family can't afford ANY unit it your building, IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE.

But hey, developers, keep paying that property tax with NOTHING coming in. Let's see how long you can keep those payments going to the city!

A very bad time to buy - Renting is way smarter

Thanks for an interesting article. Good to hear some more realistic/candid comments from the realtor and not just the usual hype.

One thing though...there's a couple lines in the article that I find somewhat misleading. They say, "Well, you could rent, but rental prices are quickly approaching monthly-mortgage-payment levels, particularly for a family-sized dwelling anywhere near a decent public transit line."

While rents may be high, if you work it out, you will always find that the price to rent any given apartment/condo/house is dramatically lower than the cost of a monthly mortgage payment. Of course it depends on how much you put down and the amortization period, but keep in mind that most first-time buyers are putting down only 5 or 10% these days.

In this bubbly, unsustainable market, renting is a far smarter financial choice, and people seem to be finally starting to recognize that. Bad news for realtors and sellers hoping to cash in, but good news for everyone else, and in the long-term for the prospects of a more sustainable local economy in the future.

 

 

 

In suite laundry bad idea

Yes it is convenient. But just talk to anyone who has lived in condos and they will tell you tales of what happens in multiple occupancy buildings when the plumbing leaks. Biggest cause of water ingress in condos - washing machines, dishwashers and garburators. If one of those on the floor above you, imagine what happens when the ceilign is full of dirty water.

Nonsense

"In this bubbly, unsustainable market, renting is a far smarter financial choice, and people seem to be finally starting to recognize that" Renting is very rarely smarter than buying, unless you will only be living there for a short period of time. Regardless if a mortgage is more expensive than renting, at least you've got something when you're done! I can't imagine paying my landlord's rent for 40 years leaving me with absolutely nothing. Similarly I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a rental apt for many years, only to receive 2 months notice that I have to move out because the landlord is renovating. And finally, who the hell wants to be paying rent when they are retired!? By the time I retire in 20 years the rents will probably be around $4,000/month. No way I would be able to afford that on a meagre pension. Nope, I'll suck it up now and get my place paid off asap. That way regardless what happens to house prices I know I will always have a place to live, and I know I won't have to pay any rent or mortgage once it's paid off. Property taxes and upkeep yes, but no rent or mortgage.

Thank you!

Finally a realistic summary of what it's like out there. Good job. And if anyone thinks buying is ALWAYS better than renting....well....my low debt, freedom, and growing stock account say otherwise.

Real Estate

The realtor sympathetic article seems to forget that realtors played a pivitol role in creating the unaffordability problem.  Cry me a river.

East Van is Where It's At

Vancouver is outrageously priced - I know, I"m searching for a place too! But there really are some steals in certain areas!

Try this place: http://www.realtor.ca/PropertyDetails.aspx?&PropertyId=12487364&PidKey=1... This is right on the #4 bus route (as in, it's outside the door) has ensuite laundry, is fully renovated (no mysterious, unremovable grime!), is a very easy and short commute to downtown vancouver (and to Burnaby & North Van aswell - bonus!). You can also walk to the #7 (3 blocks) or the #10 (10 blocks) so transit options are great. Parking space & storage, and one of the people in the apartment building gave all the other tenants a Christmas card and a gift card for the local JJ Bean. So it's basically awesome. And only $229k. It is possible to not sell your soul, and still live happily, with clean socks!!

Doing a search of the Hastings/Sunrise area (now being rebranded as the 'East Village') will bring up many other properties like this - many with views of the water , in a neighbourhood full of parks.

 

I long for the day when housing co-ops will be seen as a viable and well-known alternative to the buying vs renting debate. Many co-ops are very well run, and since they are not-for-profit, are often much cheaper than a similar rental unit. The advantage is that you don't have to worry about your unit being sold from under you, you have security of tenure, and as a part-owner, you have a say in how the place is run. There is no us/them of owners/tenants, you are the owner. Check out CHF-Canada's website for more information, and CHF-BC's listing of housing co-operatives in Vancouver. Very interesting article, but I'll stick to my housing co-op, thank you very much.

"Vancouver is outrageously

"Vancouver is outrageously priced - I know, I"m searching for a place too! But there really are some steals in certain areas!"

 

says Naomi the realtor

 

don't get suckered in, the longer we all wait to buy the less we'll all have to pay...patience grasshoppers, a year from now we'll pay less to live downtown than we would buying right now in east van

"I long for the day when

"I long for the day when housing co-ops will be seen as a viable and well-known alternative to the buying vs renting debate."

say's TheresaVan the realtor

 

wtf? no rentals, no pets, no linsuite laundry, no parking, no kids, no one under the age of 35, no elevator, 35% down, virtually impossible to sell in anything but an unber-bull market.....nice try

Not a realtor!

Not a realtor. Perhaps the word 'steal' was stretching it, but there are plenty of decent apartments in east van for under 350k. The buildings are older, perhaps, but the suites themselves seem to be done up fairly well. 

I'm an actor & a mom, not a realtor. 

 

[quote=vangrl]

"Vancouver is outrageously priced - I know, I"m searching for a place too! But there really are some steals in certain areas!"

 

says Naomi the realtor

 

Naomi, I apologize if you're

Naomi, I apologize if you're not a realtor... but really? do you really think that place is a good deal? or even remotely nice?

you do realize that you could rent a much, much nicer place in a better area for less right?

 

again, patience is key here, if we all hold off buying we will all get much more for our money....basic math 101

 

But why rent?

I think it's a decent deal for Vancouver.. and of course we have to agree Vancouver's prices are inflated. But the author of this article has a budget of $350k, so for 125k less than that he could get a place like the one I posted, or for his budget of 300-350k, a bigger/better place in the same area. I was simply pointing out that there are some affordable options in Vancouver, if you look in the right areas (the word 'affordable', of course, is referring to 'affordable for Vancouver' - there's always that caveat.)

And yes, if you wait a few months before buying, prices will be dropping slightly so you should hold out. But I would never want to rent long term.. what's the point? I currently have a mortage payment of $535/month. Cheaper than any rental I know of that isn't a crack house, and I'm actually paying into my own pocket instead of someone else's. I totally understand why people rent, and I did rent for many years, but would not want to be doing that my entire life, because you're paying the landlord not yourself. I want to retire without having to pay rent or a mortage. But everyone's priorities are different, and for some people, renting is the only thing that makes sense.

For those people who really want to own, I'm just pointing out that there are decent neighbourhoods in Vancouver that are affordable... for Vancouver. 

vangrl wrote:

 

Naomi, I apologize if you're not a realtor... but really? do you really think that place is a good deal? or even remotely nice?

you do realize that you could rent a much, much nicer place in a better area for less right?

 

again, patience is key here, if we all hold off buying we will all get much more for our money....basic math 101

 

Naomi I understand what

Naomi I understand what you're saying, and I'm not opposed to buying real estate, I've owned many places, including a few rental properties that I sold about 18 months ago (because I could invest the money and make more in even the most conservative stocks). What I'm saying is to be patient, to wait at least a year and see how this plays out. In other parts of the world (including our bneighbours directly to the south) prices declined for up to 6 years, accelerating after the first year. We are only into our 6th month of decreases, there is a very good possibility that in the next year or two that the prices could decline a lot more, especially in Vancouver.

WE have: prices that are insanely high, Canadians maxed out with debt, an all time high (for feb) for listings, the lowest sales so far in feb than we've EVER had, interest rates that are likely to go up in the next few years, a lack of buyers confidence, and no more mainland chinese (besides fake ones)....doesn't exactlu bode well for real estate in the near future.

So, don't rent for the rest of your life, just maybe for the next year or two, you'll more than likely be very, very happy that you did!  And really right now you'll get more for your money by renting, so take advantage, rent a great place that you'd never be able to afford to buy

 

I liked this article for

I liked this article for various reasons. 1) It shows how overvalued Vancouver housing market is from a point of view of an absolute stranger. Paying $300,000 for a rabbit cage is just unbelievable. 2) There is a correct real estate agent involved, destroying the myth of people who literally prey on their clients. In my life I have met realtors who were both smart and helpful. They understand that you don´t have more money than you do. No pushing around, just take or leave attitude. 3) Life of a single in Vancouver? Well, eh, better find yourself a partner (and fast).

My guess? Since I´m following MLS monthly reports and there is still a significant downward trend in the condo market. You can´t expect the same for detached houses, but condos became too popular and now they lose their shine again. I won´t expect especially the smaller ones in older buildings to be able to hold such an exaggerated price. My advice - rent right now, sit tight, observe, stay in touch with your realtor, and buy when you have at least 20-30 % of downpayment + the price drops from $300,000 to $200,000-250,000.

Housing prices are high

Housing prices are high because developers set the starting sell price - not the market. Developers set the price based on their  desired profit margin of 35% to 45%. And because Vancouver is a destination city, developers will continue inflating condo and housing price to meet their desired profit level. They can do this because the City of Vancouver allows developers to sell FIRST to foreigners with deep pockets. Housing prices could be REDUCED if the City would enact laws that require developers to first offer homes for sale to the LOCAL population. Or the City could become a developer and thus greatly reduce the profit margin needed. But because developers fund the Vision party - this will never happen.

I think it's kind of funny when people say blame realtors for how over priced the market is.  The price a house sells for is determined by what a seller and a buyer both agree on as a price.  That's why it is called market value and not realtor value right?  A realtor could suggest to list a home for 20% above market value but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't sell.

The fact of the matter is that the housing market is over priced because people want to live here and they pay out the nose for it.  People who have made their wealth come here and buy expensive places to get away from harsher winters and to retire.  Then they buy places as investments to rent out and the rent is out of this world!  But we want to live here too so we pay it.  It's a cycle that is out of our hands as young adults.  Either we love it here and we struggle to get ahead but keep our lifestyles as Vancouverites or we say it isn't worth it and go East for higher earnings and a more affordible cost of living.  I lived in Calgary for a long time but in the end I wanted to be here so I pay for it.  I guess the reality is what it is and the choice is ours to deal with it or not.

 

I wonder where am I supposed to take out that big money? Even if I take out a loan, it is still too much for me. I wonder if my previous experience with instant advance money can somehow influence on the lender decision. I have paid everything in full, but I have heard that lenders are such  big fans of deals like that. And just for the record, I am not blaming realtors. I guess I am blaming me and the government which created this situation where people feel lost and their wallets are empty. Hopefully things will get better, thanx for the updates