After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

The specter of Vancouver real estate downturn: a lonely realtor and an open house where nobody came

What does it mean when nobody shows up to an open house in Vancouver?

Exposed pipes: a hallmark of loft-style living
Loft-style living: apparently it's not for everybody.

"Well, this is a bit odd." The Realtor checks his phone again, but it's not saying anything new.

It's been an hour, and nobody has shown up to the open house. We're standing on the ground floor of a townhouse.

The Downtown East Side, but it's silent except for CBC Radio 3: classical music plays quietly from tiny, beautiful speakers that can probably only play classical music. Top-40 would cause them to implode.

The Realtor walks out the door, across the long, wide patio, to the front gate of the courtyard. He's making sure his phone number is correct on the open-house announcement. It is.

A bright, sunny Saturday in Vancouver. Just after lunch, and there's nobody here but us.

The townhouse faces the alley though a secure gate. The alley doesn't go all the way through, so there isn't much foot traffic. I only hear a few shouts throughout the day; as well as several insistent whistles, which turn out to be the Realtor's iPhone ringtone. The patio has barbecues and a long table, an urban oasis for entertaining.

Back inside, the kitchen screams "European design", with simple, functional fixtures. One of those flexible faucets that you can remove from its housing, and, should the mood strike you, spray anywhere in the room. These people own a fondue set. I've never seen one outside a restaurant or store before. Every kitchen implement is elegant and pristine. Le Creuset everything. The knives are sharp. The muddler has never been used. Why am I so determined to prove to myself that the current owners don't cook? What does it matter?

CBC Radio 3 fades to silence as I step further into the space. Past the kitchen and its sensible island is a heavy wooden table, host to a single lamp. The bookshelf belabours the point that the owners are into design. You'd never buy a place like this if design wasn't important to you. Issues of Wallpaper by the dozen. Massive tomes on art and photography. Some vintage thrift-store titles:

The Beginner's Guide to Guinea Pigs
Know Your Poodle
Persian Cats

We've now been here for an hour. Nobody has shown up to explore this temple of thoughtful living.

'It's not Fluevog!'

He exhales, says, "It's a waiting game." He's not talking about this afternoon, but the current real estate environment in Vancouver. "Buyers are sure that the bottom will drop out, so they want to wait for prices to come down."

Sellers are counting on the market staying stable long enough for them to close a deal. Only one of them can be right, but which one? You don't want to be the last one to buy just before the bubble bursts, and you also don't want to learn that the bubble isn't going to burst, just as prices hike yet again.

This townhouse has been on the market for twelve days. Within the first few days, the Realtor held an open house, and ten couples showed up. One couple put in an offer. As that offer was batted back and forth, an additional couple viewed the townhouse. Ultimately the deal fell apart. 

An apartment or house or loft or townhouse will sit there, not selling... until it sells. There's no real way of knowing when the right buyer will find the right property. That's why brokers such as the Realtor have jobs: they play matchmaker between potential buyers and, well, if not their dream homes, then at least the best properties that their money can buy.

Still, even the best broker can only do so much. Emotion may drive some of our purchases, but, when we get this far into six digits, logic must take over at some point. No matter how much you love a townhouse, there's a point at which you won't, you can't, spend more money. His eyes widen: "Come on, it's not a pair of shoes! It's not Fluevog!"

Emotion and real estate, that reminds me of the MAC Marketing Solutions scandal. I ask The Realtor his opinion. He laughs, "It's not just what they did, but that they did it so badly. They could have just found a waitress or whatever, somebody who didn't obviously work for them."

In the case of this DTES townhouse, what should we be making of the lack of foot traffic? So far, this is anecdote and not data, but we'd be crazy not to wonder: Should this silence (save for Radio 3) be written off as an anomaly, or taken as a reality check?

At the car wash

Wooden stairs lead up to the bedroom loft. Behind the bed stands what the Realtor calls the carwash shower: open on both ends, the stall features a translucent wall though which light can bathe you as the shower showers you. There is no bathtub.

More in Real Estate

Premier Christy Clark announces changes to end house flipping

B.C. premier says new rules aim to end 'pure, naked greed' in house flipping

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government says it will impose regulatory changes to end the "shady" practice of contract flipping to protect sellers and consumers in the province's hot housing...

Vancouver's empty homes not driving affordability crisis, report finds

VANCOUVER — It's a common complaint in Vancouver's real estate market: investors are buying homes and letting them sit empty, driving up housing prices and leaving some neighbourhoods nearly...

Vancouver's vacant homes in line with other cities, but condos most likely empty

Vancouver's rate of vacant homes is in line with other big cities and has been flat since 2002, but the vast majority of empty units are condominiums, a landmark study has found. City staff and...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.