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?

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As it's a loft space, you look up to see air ducts and water pipes snake their way among thick wooden beams. The current owners use some of these pipes as clothes-rails to compliment the existing downstairs closet.

What I thought was an upstairs closet turned out to be-- surprise!-- a washer-dryer combo. So, for $649,000, you do get ensuite.

"Where is everybody?" I'm thinking it, he's asking it. A sunny Saturday afternoon, just after lunch. His phone whistles insistently, but it's not a prospective home-buyer.

Vancouver vs New York City

Like me, the Realtor lived in New York City before winding up in Vancouver. New Yorkers are slightly more real-estate-obsessed than are Vancouverites, but Vancouver has pulled ahead in the unaffordable-housing race.

We discuss New York's affordable-housing program for artists, and how Vancouver offers nothing comparable. Vancouver is okay at covering last-chance housing, but the Realtor wonders, "What about regular people who are working, but can't pay the rent? [...] I know people who grew up here, and got priced out of the neighbourhoods where they grew up."

It's been an hour and twenty minutes.  At this point, I have already pictured myself living here, though it's unclear what crimes I'd have had to commit in order to supplement my current income to afford this place. With 10% down and a 4% interest rate on a 25-year mortgage, I'd be on the hook for $3,096 per month. This does not include the $270 monthly maintenance fee and $2,153 in annual taxes.

We're discussing the commute from Astoria to Midtown when we're interrupted by a young couple in matching black coats. I almost ask what they're doing here. The Realtor excuses himself and approaches the couple. The girl shakes his hand, the guy hangs back, hands in pockets, hood up. he looks wary, like he suspects a trap.

They go upstairs together as the Realtor describes the building, the townhouse itself (1,049 square feet, including a 376-square-foot loft), and the live-work zoning. They're out of earshot, so I can't hear whether or not they like the sexy, sexy bathroom sink.

He leads the couple back downstairs and the guy pauses, asks, "So, is it possible to turn the downstairs into... something else?"

The Realtor asks what the guy has in mind, and I'm hoping he'll say "grow-op". Please, guy, say "grow-op". The guy only wants to use the downstairs space as a personal training studio. It's quite doable, actually. There would be enough room.

The young couple leaves. They were here for three minutes. 180 seconds. The Realtor and I have now been here for an hour and thirty-one minutes. 5,460 seconds.

Closing time

The next twenty-nine minutes pass without any new visitors, unless they're either very small or very fast. The Realtor and I talk about skiing, and the effect of this season's relative lack of snowfall on the Blackcomb Glacier.

The Realtor checks his phone, exhales and begins the process of switching off every light, making sure the townhouse is just as the owners left it. He switches off the small-yet-elegant speakers, silencing Radio 3.

A sunny Saturday, and the Realtor had to spend it here. He shaved and everything. However, the gleam in his eye does not fade, as he believes that this place will still sell sooner rather than later. Perhaps he's right. After all, "anecdote" doesn't mean the same thing as "data". Real Estate: pessimists need not apply.

He lowers the blinds, which drop with a heavy, reassuring whirr. "These are very expensive," he says, "They won't just break."

I step outside, the Realtor locks the patio door. The open house is over. The sun is still shining, but now it's windy and cold. I try to put myself in the heads of the owners, people I've never met. I don't even know what they look like, never mind how they'll take the news of today's (non-) events. Is $649,000 too much all things considered; or is property-Cupid just showing up late?

The Realtor and I shake hands and part ways. He collects the Open House sign. I had earlier asked him if he rented or owned. He used to own, but sold. Now he and his significant other are renting, "Until we figure out what to do next."


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