Archive for March, 2004

Small is beautiful in Vancouver’s hot new housing

Saturday, March 27th, 2004

Diana McMeekin

There’s a sense that something different is coming to Vancouver‘s housing market. Skyrocketing prices in land, development charges, construction costs, etc. are leading to considerably higher consumer costs for housing.

There is nothing new in this lament, it is just a fact of life and we should get used to it because the indicators are not showing a slowdown.

The hot housing I am now hearing about is a number of very small projects that in the past might not have been viable, and although I say this is news, it is really a re-emergent housing form from long ago that is popping up in a number of locations. This kind of development is classic in-fill housing on an intimate scale of 50-foot-wide lots that are left over from the major consolidations of a decade or two ago.

You might call these lots “the holdouts,” for that is how they have escaped the consolidation of the ’70s and ’80s.

In the old days, downtown Vancouver was largely subdivided into 25-foot-wide parcels that were usually 120 feet deep, and there was a height restriction. As the City of Vancouver revisited the planning of the downtown core they revised the restrictions allowing for additional densification, and the consolidation of lots. In layman’s terms, this is how we ended up with developers purchasing a number of blocks of 25-foot lots, and adding the height together to allow for a single tower with a base podium and some air or space between towers.

During the process of buying up consolidations, a few property owners said no to offers, perhaps because they wanted more for their property and sometimes because it simply did not suit their business or personal plans.

These are what became known as “the holdouts” and they have been skipped over by developers seeking to build towers because the single or double lot is too small, and the height restriction is limited to the old 70 feet or so.

Enter the imaginative builder/developer who realizes that not everyone wants to live in a tower with 150 neighbours. Some people love the vibrant downtown location, but they would rather live in a more intimate building.

They understand that they might not get a panoramic view of the water or mountains, but they are happy to exchange this for a well proportioned, well finished boutique-sized building where they know and like their neighbours.

Wherever you look in downtown Vancouver, Gastown, Yaletown, the West End and Kitsilano, you will see these terrific additions springing up.

Richard Henry, a respected residential architect with a growing reputation, describes these sites as “the missing teeth,” and how right he is. They are the gaps in the block. Each of these buildings can provide a wonderful addition and variety, contrasting against either older highrise buildings or new, sparkling towers.

The locations of all these potential new buildings are too numerous to mention but here are a few to look for:

– On Richards Street (picture above) is a wonderful building with design concept by Richard Henry Architect for Townline Homes. This building is not yet for sale, but it will be located right opposite the splendid Emery Barnes Park. Insiders tell me that the 12 homes will range in size from 1100 to 1300 square feet.

Visit for more information and beat their door down to get on the interest list.

– When you visit the Townline website, you might want some information on several other interesting buildings in the downtown core that they have in the planning stages. Locations to look for include both rehab and new construction on Homer Street, Seymour Street and Beatty Street. This is a company to watch because they will probably do a very good job of interior design and also make a great contribution to the streetscape.

– James Schouw, the merchant developer who never rushes his buildings, is nearing completion on his 20-unit project at 499 Drake (at Richards). Rumour has it that it is sold out, but the sign says call 604-767-4501, and another phase is on the way.

– On the corner of Nicola and Comox in the West End is a small site built by Trasolini Chetner Construction. Nearing completion, it looks like four rental townhomes with good character style. Window signage says call: 604-224-6062.

– Also in the West End, I have heard of another site at the corner of Nicola and Harwood, just one short block from Pacific Avenue and English Bay. A great location and a wonderful opportunity for a small jewel-like apartment building or a limited number of townhomes. No information available yet.

– In Kitsilano, at Arbutus and York is another small development of 10 townhomes designed by Hywel Jones Architect in a great location. They are taking shape fast.

Information can be found at

– A couple of days ago I saw Hans von Tiesenhausen, the respected builder and owner of Pantheon Developments Ltd. Pantheon is constructing six townhomes at Maple and First Avenue in Kits. The sign says 1462-1628 square feet. Call Joel Chamish at 604-726-1939.

As I said, the list is considerable. Take a walk in your neighbourhood to see what is going on. This type of housing is very exciting. It adds greatly to the sense of community because it is human in scale. In recent times, Vancouver has been the poster child of the highrise “point” tower and view corridor protection.

I believe that our new calling card will be a series of attractive small buildings built to suit small sites and a discerning market. The “missing teeth” replaced. The smile to the street restored.

Diana McMeekin is President of Artemis Marketing Group Inc., a Vancouver based consulting company to both Canadian and International development companies. Diana is also a member of the Urban Development Institute and a regularly featured speaker at housing industry events. You can reach Diana via e-mail at: [email protected]

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

BC developer builds Oasis from scratch

Saturday, March 27th, 2004

David Butterfield designs $2.2-billion tourism, retirement centre in Baja, Mexico

Brian Morton


Developer David Butterfield takes in the view of Fisherman’s Wharf and Victoria’s Inner Harbour from Shoal Point.

CREDIT: Vancouver Sun Files

One of B.C.’s top developers is poised to start construction on a $2.2-billion US tourism and retirement oasis in Mexico that amounts to building from scratch a brand new environmentally sustainable town in the Baja desert.

David Butterfield, who is perhaps best known recently for Shoal Point II, a $100-million development located on Victoria‘s harbourfront, is building the community on 3,238 hectares (8,000 acres) near the sleepy seaside town of Loreto on the east coast of Mexico‘s Baja Peninsula.

It is considered the next major tourist destination in Mexico. The official launch was last month.

Butterfield was also behind the failed Bamberton project, a $1.1-billion mega-development on Vancouver Island that stirred up controversy in the rural Cowichan Valley more than a decade ago. The Bamberton plan — its scale was unprecedented at the time for a single developer — would have seen an abandoned cement plant site transformed into an environmentally sensitive seaside community of 12,000 residents, just 32 kilometres north of Victoria.

“We’re literally building a town. It’s shades of Bamberton,” says Butterfield, who as president of the Trust for Sustainable Development has partnered with Arizona developer James Grogan in the Mexican project, called the Villages of Loreto Bay. The Loreto Bay Company will manage the development.

“And this is going to be the biggest sustainability project on the planet,” adds Butterfield, who was reached in Mexico. “It has been designed completely around the principals of sustainable development, that is economic development, ecological protection and social responsibility. It’s very much the same planning initiative of Bamberton, although it’s evolved.”

The Trust for Sustainable Development has teamed up with Mexico‘s National Trust for Tourism Development (Fonatur) to build the Loreto Bay project. (The trust, a non-profit corporation set up by Butterfield, aims to promote sustainable development that meets “the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”)

Butterfield maintains that in Mexico he is not just creating another retirement or vacation retreat. He and his team are building what they call a thriving community of mixed Spanish-style housing, facilities and amenities for health, education, eco-tourism and the arts.

The first phase sold out in one day, he says, primarily to Californians and Albertans.

Construction of the first 100 homes is to start in late April and homes will be offered for sale in B.C. at about the same time. The first phase of housing will be ready for occupancy later this year.

The project — to be built in nine phases over 12 to 15 years — is planned to be a series of seaside villages on 1,214 hectares (3,000 acres) at the foot of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains and along five kilometres of coastline.

Prices for homes range from $160,000 to $2 million US for oceanfront houses. Changes in Mexican law mean foreigners can own beachfront property through the establishment of a real estate trust.

Butterfield says he will create a community of 5,000 homes in pedestrian-oriented, car-free neighbourhoods where village centres, shops, fresh organic produce markets, plazas, two 18-hole golf courses and the beach are all within walking distance. Models and precedents for such a plan, he says, include Nantucket Island, Key West in Florida, and European resort towns such as Portofino, Italy.

Notably, the project will not be gated, a concept that is not amenable with Butterfield’s New Urbanism and sustainability values. “No New Urbanist community is gated. And the more places are gated, the more [crime] you get.”

He also notes that the golf courses will not require pesticides or herbicides because they will use eco-focused management techniques. Grass, for example, will be a special strain that can be watered by salt water, which kills weeds naturally.

“And the homes will have courtyards, which are great for cooling. They’re designed for natural ventilation and cooling, so there’s less need for air conditioning.

“Over time, we’ll plan the growth of our town so that it grows together with Loreto.”

A 2,024-hectare (5,000-acre) nature preserve will surround the villages.

The project intends to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent through solar design and ground source heat. All reclaimed effluent water will be reused for irrigation and the community will harvest more potable water than it consumes, the developer says.

Other sustainability features include:

* 20 per cent of energy to be generated from renewable resources.

* A solid waste reduction program for recycling wherever possible and facilities for composting 100 per cent of organic waste.

* Organic farming and organic orcharding to be established as an integral part of the development.

* A community development fund to be financed by local estate transfer tax revenue to provide job training for local residents.

* Job creation programs within the community will provide 2,000 jobs during construction and 5,000 permanent jobs in hospitality, local businesses, eco-tourism, agriculture, local manufacturing, arts and artisan fields.

* Cooperation with Fonatur and federal and local governments to develop a program that provides affordable housing for workers moving to the area for employment.

There will be no highrises.

The development plans to offer amenities for permanent residents and visitors that go beyond normal resorts, such as continuing education programs focused on health and fitness, fresh organic produce markets, an artists’ village, performing arts programs and first class medical services.

“The Villages at Loreto Bay is the last of five areas identified by Mexico‘s tourist development agency as prime tourist development sites,” says Butterfield, 55. “The others are Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo and Huatulco.”

The other four sites have already become internationally recognized tourist destinations.

Sustainability issues have always been front and centre for Butterfield, who once lived as a hippie in a little house in the sleepy village of Lund, 27 kilometres north of Powell River.

Educated at Harvard and the University of Bordeaux, Butterfield came to Canada from Connecticut in the 1960s — a “refugee” of the Vietnam War.

It was during his days in Lund that Butterfield first formulated his ideas about the need for new developments to be “sustainable” — providing a higher quality of life with a smaller consumption of land and less impact on the environment. He also believed that this was possible without the need to sacrifice good design.

Besides Shoal Point and the Bamberton project, Butterfield has directed the planning and creation of a new sustainable community of 2,400 homes in Tucson, Ariz., called the Community of Civano.

Shoal Point was designed with sustainability in mind and uses about 50-per-cent less energy than a conventional building because it uses ground source heat.

Shoal Point’s energy-saving technology impressed many, including experts at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-tank on energy issues in the U.S.

For example, all the homes at Shoal Point have low-e windows (with glass coated with a very thin transparent metallic coating that greatly increases their energy efficiency) and low-water consumption fixtures.

Shoal Point was awarded best multi-family project in Canada by the national division of the Canadian Home Builders Association, at the 2002 National SAM Awards.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo Torres said at the contract signing ceremony that the Loreto project would “without a doubt be fruitful for national tourism, particularly for Baja California Sur.

Fonatur director John McCarthy also said that the project is “excellent news for Mexico and for the state of Baja California Sur, and in particular for the townspeople of Loreto.”

Mexico‘s president, Vicente Fox, has also visited the Loreto site and participated in meetings with developers and state and local officials.

Last year, Mexico placed in the top 10 in the world for overall tourism revenues.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


Mortgage rates tumble

Friday, March 26th, 2004

Buyers can get deals as low as 4.30 per cent

Michael Kane


Jasmine Foreman and fiance Chris McCreath in front of their house that has a mortgage rate of only 3.25 per cent.

CREDIT: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

Five-year mortgage rates have hit a new low of 4.30 per cent for buyers who use a mortgage broker or can negotiate the best possible deal with their bank or credit union.

Only buyers with good credit and good financial prospects are likely to qualify for the fixed-term 4.30-per-cent rate, now on offer from Vancouver-based HSBC Bank Canada.

Those of modest means can do even better, however, if they are prepared to take a variable rate mortgage with a view to locking in when interest rates start to nudge upwards.

Either way, home buyers can cut mortgage payments by hundreds of dollars if they push for a better deal than Thursday’s typical five-year posted rate of 5.70 per cent.

For example, a $200,000 mortgage at 5.70 per cent would require monthly payments of $1,244. At 4.30 per cent, a borrower would pay $1,084 — for a monthly saving of $160.

With a variable rate mortgage at 3.75 per cent, they would pay $974 — a saving of $270, monthly, on the five-year posted rate.

“Unfortunately, some buyers are still paying the posted rate,” says Kris Budisa, a mortgage broker with The Mortgage Group in Vancouver. “They are passing up substantial savings.”

Budisa says HSBC’s 4.30-per-cent rate is the lowest five-year rate in living memory. Even today’s average five-year posted rate of 5.70 per cent hasn’t been seen since the spring of 1952, according to records kept by Canada Housing and Mortgage Corp.

Proud home buyers Chris McCreath and Jasmine Foreman are paying just 3.25 per cent — the best-available variable rate — for the mortgage on their $293,000 home in North Surrey. Interest charges on variable rate mortgages go up and down in line with bank prime, which is currently 4.0 per cent.

McCreath and Foreman closed their deal with Scotiabank through The Mortgage Group on Wednesday and even collected a $200 bonus from Budisa on a promotional coupon he gave out at a wedding show. The couple take possession in May and are due to wed in September.

“I am comfortable with the mortgage we got because the rate only adjusts every six months, regardless of what happens to the prime rate,” said McCreath, a 26-year-old civil engineering technologist with Richmond‘s A&B Rail Services.

“There are no sudden surprises and another attractive thing is that we can convert to a fixed term at any time without penalties.”

The couple made a down payment of about eight per cent of their purchase price by borrowing from their registered retirement savings plans under the RRSP Home Buyers Plan.

Although they face monthly payments of $1,365, up from their current rent of $860, McCreath says the amount they were contributing to their RRSPs for the past three years will almost make up the difference.

First-time buyers can each borrow up to $20,000 from their RRSPs without tax consequences, provided the money is repaid to the plans over a 15-year period.

McCreath does not anticipate any problem with the RRSP repayments. Foreman, 26, is a child and youth care counsellor for the Richmond School Board.

With mortgage rates at historic lows, he says he may well switch to fixed-term rate if they fall again.

“I can’t see rates going much lower.”

HSBC was tight-lipped Thursday about the terms of its 4.3-per-cent five-year mortgage, which is being promoted by mortgage brokers. That’s because the bank doesn’t want to offend customers who may be charged more at its branches.

HSBC’s posted rate for a five-year closed mortgage is 5.70 per cent,” the bank’s Sharon Wilks said Thursday. “Branch staff have discretion to offer a lower rate.

“As at most financial institutions in Canada, the depth of a client’s relationship with the bank is taken into consideration, along with a number of other factors when determining the rate.”

Budisa said HSBC “has nothing set in stone, but they are looking for strong clients — professionals with good credit and good future business potential.”

Most buyers can get better than posted rates. They can use a broker or challenge their financial institution to beat the no-dicker rates offering by the electronic banks. Those rates are typically better than one per cent below the posted rates of the big banks.

On Thursday, ING Direct announced the lowest mortgage rates in its history, ranging from 3.10 per cent for a one-year fixed term to 4.39 per cent for a five-year fixed mortgage, and 5.24 per cent for a 10-year term.

“Customers are talking to their banks and then coming to us because they are not getting the kind of rates offered by ING Direct,” president and CEO Johanne Brossard said in a release.

Historically, most buyers have chased the lowest long-term rate available, but increasingly they are opting for shorter term rates and variable products, said Craig Morrison, Scotiabank’s director of mortgage sales for B.C.

“As consumers are educating themselves, they are taking advantage of today’s greater choice and selection.”

He added that borrowers need to assess their long-term goals and objectives and recognize that the best rate isn’t everything. The mortgage has to be suitable to their ultimate goals and needs.

[email protected]

– – –


Amount borrowed

Best variable rate; 3.25 per cent

Best five-year rate; 4.30 per cent

Bank posted rate; 5.70 per cent

$100,000 $487 $542 $622

$150,000 $730 $813 $933

$200,000 $974 $1,084 $1,244

Based on monthly mortgage payments

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

A voice/data balancing act

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

Mobile professional is target market for the cellphone/PDA

Jim Jamieson


Treo 600 is PalmOne’s idea of the right phone/PDA tradeoff.

CREDIT: CanWest News Service

Makers of so-called “smart phones” that combine a cellular phone and a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) have always attempted to tread a fine line between voice and data usability.

To varying degrees, most failed, getting the size or functionality skewed to favour one over the other.

You know the drill. It’s too much like a phone to support real data handling — the screen is too small or the keyboard is designed for mice to use.

Or it’s the other way around, with a nice, big screen but so wide that it feels like you’re talking into a brick when making a phone call.

Along these lines, PalmOne, the separate hardware maker that was created when Palm Inc. bought Handspring Inc. last year, is getting a lot of buzz over its first product since the merger — the Treo 600.

Palm’s reputation for an easy-to-use interface has made it the PDA market leader. PalmOne (Canada) general manager Michael Moskowitz said that was a key consideration in the design of the Treo 600.

“We’ve been trying to get a very easy user interface to balance voice and data,” he said in an interview. “They are very complicated things to get right.

“No one has really done it well. If you get smaller than this, you give up your keyboard or your screen. There’s always a tradeoff, but we think we’ve hit the right tradeoff.”

The Treo 600 features a wireless phone with a built-in QWERTY keyboard and touch-sensitive colour screen. Besides being a fully functioned PDA, with an organizer, messaging,

e-mail, and web-browsing capabilities, the Treo 600 also has plenty of value-added features.

It can play audio and video loaded on its Secure Digital memory card and it even has a built-in digital camera capable of taking and e-mailing low-resolution (0.3-megapixel) colour snapshots.

Although the QWERTY keyboard is small and might be a problem for those ham-handed of us, we found its domed-shaped keys provide enough tactile feel to make a difference. Each key also lights up when it is pressed, which is handy in dark or low-light conditions.

This Swiss-army-knife-like device also features a built-in speakerphone. But don’t think Palm’s concept is to just throw everything in but the kitchen sink. It’s all about function and usability, says Moskowitz.

“The user interface is really what drives this business,” he said. “Hardware will take you a certain point, the cool factor, the beauty, but that will only see you the first 2,000 units in this country. That’s the early adopter, but the second part is do people really like to use it?”

The target market for the Treo 600 is mobile professionals, not consumers, who wouldn’t be likely to invest $599.99 in a device that still requires a two-year voice and data service agreement. It’s available on the Rogers Wireless network.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

Firenze’s affordable luxury

Saturday, March 20th, 2004

CONDOS I Project’s grand opening next weekend is aimed at attracting discerning buyers


Firenze) CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun


Address: 600 Abbott Street, Vancouver

Project Size: 457 condominiums

Price and Size: $168,000 to $733,000; 560 square feet to 1,800 square feet

Architect: Hancock, Bruckner, Eng and Wright Architects

Developer: Henderson Development Group

Downtown Vancouver‘s condo fever may be on the verge of heating up again with the grand opening on March 27 of the Firenze project at International Village.

The project, which features 457 condominiums in two highrise towers and one lowrise tower, follows on the heels of last month’s sale of about 500 condos at the Yaletown Park project.

A condo-buying frenzy hit an unprecedented fever pitch Feb. 28 when buyers snatched up 494 suites in the two new Yaletown towers. It was the Vancouver record for one-day sales, although the project has since cooled and condominiums are still available there.

Kerry Lum, leasing manager for Henderson Development Canada Ltd., which is building Firenze, believes sales will be just as brisk there.

“We’re expecting a similar kind of response,” says Lum of Firenze, which means Florence in Italian. “We’re giving great value and are competitively priced.”

Firenze, which will be adjacent to General Motors Place and Andy Livingstone Park, is marketing itself as a “luxurious, yet affordable” home for the discerning buyer.

Homeowners will not only have quick access to professional sports venues and downtown entertainment facilities, but SkyTrain is right at their doorstep.

Amenities include a swimming pool and fitness centre, both with glass enclosures overlooking landscaped gardens.

Andy Livingstone Park provides tennis courts, a baseball diamond and a huge outdoor artificial turf for field sports.

Future plans also include an elementary school, daycare and community centre at the Firenze site, although Lum says they may not be ready for about seven years.

Condos range in size from 560 square feet to 1,800 square feet, with prices from $168,000 to $733,000. Floor plans include one, two and three bedroom units, but studio suites are not being offered.

Construction starts this summer and Firenze should be ready for occupancy in October 2006.

Lum says sales to pre-registered buyers have already been very brisk, although he declined to give actual numbers.

He says the nearby amenities include Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown, the International Village Mall and the Tinseltown Cinemas. “We’re in the middle of it all.”

The 844-square-foot display suite at the Firenze office at 197 Keefer Place is a two bedroom unit, with an enclosed solarium, an open balcony, and a home office that could also be used for storage. Granite countertops in the kitchen are standard, but are options for the bathroom. Living room and dining room flooring can also be upgraded for $1,100 plus GST in a one-bedroom unit and $2,900 plus GST in a two-bedroom unit.

Ceilings are about eight feet high and an electric fireplace is the living room’s centrepiece. Stainless steel applicances are standard.

One parking stall is included for each unit and extra parking spaces can be bought for $15,000 plus GST. Extra storage is $1,500 plus GST.

Monthly maintenance fees are about 30 cents per square foot and include heating.

Andre and Rose Wong bought a two-bedroom suite for about $400,000 this week.

“We now live in California,” says Andre Wong, “but we plan on moving back here. And we plan on living here. The fact that they’re building a school and daycare here is very attractive.”

Henderson Development Canada is an affiliate of the Henderson Group, a Hong Kong development company.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


Wealthy, single guy? Then this Residences at 1180 Homer is for you

Saturday, March 20th, 2004

Brian Morton


Developer Rick Ilich is spearheading the McMaster renovation.

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

The facade of The Residences will be in keeping with the building’s heritage status.

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

A view from the roof: Owners at The Residences will experience the daily thrill of living in the core of the city.

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

Gentlemen, start your engines. In the multimillion-dollar real estate marketing world, gobs and gobs of money are spent by developers seeking out the best target audiences for their product.

Some projects are marketed to young families; others to seniors; still others to singles or even groups of people who buy homes together to save on mortgage payments.

But how about extremely high- end bachelor pads for rich, single guys — including those recently separated or divorced — who like to boogie in the city core?

In what promises to be one of the most unique Yaletown renovations, the main target buyers for a project called Residences at 1180 Homer have been pinpointed as males with plenty of disposable income who love living in downtown Vancouver because of all the amenities at their doorstep.

“The target is men who are recently starting a new life, to be politically correct about it, or single men with a decent pot of money who want the ultimate urban lifestyle,” says marketing agent Brad Foster. “You’re right in the middle of everything here with all the entertainment facilities right in the central core. Of course, that’s not to say if a wealthy woman with 600 grand wants one, that we’d turn her away. But the swank pad is a male cultural thing.”

Townline Homes owner Rick Ilich, who is developing the project, agrees. “Clearly an urban loft setting in Yaletown is appealing to young wealthy guys who like the high-end nightlife and entertainment. It’s a fit.

“But I’ve also got two women interested and we certainly wouldn’t turn down women.”

Ilich is pulling out all the stops for his restoration of the historic McMaster building, which was originally built in 1910.

Unlike most other Yaletown renovations, the project will feature 17 large apartments — 1,200 to 1,700 square feet — with two or three bedrooms each.

Ilich says the project has already taken up six years of his life — he had two other proposals for the building, which fell by the wayside when the market declined — but he feels it’s worth it.

“It’s a hell of lot cheaper to just tear it down, but that’s not going to happen,” says Ilich. “You’re reinstating the fibre of the city. This has a role in how our city comes together. Mentally, it’s a huge challenge, but this will be unique.”

Ilich says his original proposals called for smaller apartments, but that the market has changed. “We recognize now that that market [smaller apartments] is served. Very few were doing this type of high end [development]. This is for people who don’t want to be next door to renters and not live in a 500-square-foot apartment. People need more space. We’re the next generation of product.”

The project offers a combination of heritage character details such as exposed brick walls and recycled fir floors, the open floor plan of a traditional loft space, modern finishes including an on-site gym and double-height parking.

The parking, says Ilich, is very unique, in that homeowners will literally drive their Hummer or Porsche onto an elevator, which will then move the vehicle to the assigned parking space.

Behind the brick facade will be new homes that Ilich says will set a new standard for the area.

Some of the features will include 10 to 14-foot ceilings, open concept living, dining and kitchen areas, garage-door-style windows, ivory raw silk granite floor tile, kitchens with all the modern conveniences like a five-burner stainless steel gas cooktop, a concrete fireplace surround, and exposed wood beams.

Prices will run from about $600,000 to $1.8 million and the building will be ready for occupancy in about 16 months.

As part of the renovation, an extra floor will be added for a penthouse apartment and roof deck.

At the moment, it looks like what it was — a century-old warehouse building that’s falling apart.

On the outside, there’s flaking brick, exposed wiring, chipped paint and unwashed walls — a clear contrast to other heritage buildings on the street that have already been restored.

Ilich says the building interior will be virtually dismantled and then reassembled, saving as much of the heritage detail as possible.

“There will also be substantial seismic upgrading. You have to remove everything. It will be entirely gutted and reinstated.”

Ilich says he believes some of the suites — there will be an average of two per floor — will be consolidated into a single home encompassing entire floors.

From the top of the building, the concept of urban living really hits home.

Surrounded by other apartment buildings, including heritage restorations, the views stretch to Simon Fraser University on one side and the soaring towers of Vancouver‘s urban jungle in other directions.

Ilich, recently separated, says he’s like to live there someday himself. “The market is clearly higher end user, people like myself. I’d like to live in the building. I’m the target market. But I’ve got a girlfriend.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


New, more dangerous Net Viruses unleashed

Friday, March 19th, 2004

Latest variants no longer rely on telltale attachment to suspicious e-mail

Jeff Lee

Nasty new viruses that can make computer users’ financial and personal information available to hackers and are activated simply by looking at e-mail are working their way around the world, Internet security experts said Thursday.

The new and more dangerous variations of the Bagle virus — first discovered in January — have been unleashed with a new twist: users no longer have to open an accompanying attachment to get the virus.

Anti-virus experts say five new variants of the Bagle can defeat and disable security programs and anti-virus programs, rendering the machine vulnerable to cyberspace piracy.

“This is a pretty serious new twist, in that most people have learned not to open e-mails that have attachments they aren’t expecting,” said Chris Belthoff, a senior security analyst with Sophos, an anti-virus and anti-spam company with offices in Vancouver.

“That information is now useless in light of this new method being propagated by Bagle. Now, even looking at the message in a preview window is enough to kick it off.”

Belthoff said the virus makes the computer available to hackers who can turn it into a platform from which to launch other attacks. It also allows hackers to install programs, such as keystroke-monitoring software that can harvest sensitive information.

“It can put all that into a file that someone can come back and take at their leisure,” he said. “They can look and see a 16-digit number followed by what looks like an expiry date and conclude they have credit card information. It is pretty serious what this virus will allow people to do.”

The new variants of the Bagle virus, known as Bagle-P, Q, R,- and T, exploit known flaws in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Outlook and Media Player programs to run a small hypertext language message that downloads the virus directly into the target computer.

Although Microsoft issued a patch last October to fix the flaw, it may still not be enough to prevent new variants of the Bagle virus from infecting users’ computers, according to a Korean anti-virus company.

Eric Kwon, chief executive officer of Global Hauri, which identified three of the variants shortly after they were released, said his staff discovered the virus is still triggered if users try to save the message on computers that have already been patched with the Microsoft fix.

“We found that even a patched computer is still vulnerable if someone tries to save the message,” Kwon said. “This means people are going to have to change the way they send messages to one another.”

Anti-virus companies around the world began reporting the new variants overnight as users began to open messages that did not contain attachments. Computers in Korea and Australia were first hit early Thursday, with thousands of machines being infected as people went to work. Computer users in Britain later began to experience problems.

Kwon, whose company has an office in San Jose, California, said the e-mail containing the viruses uses authentic subject lines to fool people into opening the message.

“In today’s cyber post office, it is increasingly more difficult to tell friend from foe. One now must go the extra step of identifying and never opening e-mails with the titles of known Bagle virus subject lines (see sidebar) even though there is no attachment visible,” he said.

Global Hauri’s staff also found taunts written by the viruses’ author warning people to “not even try” to build a defence. Belthoff said Sophos identified Bagle-S and T as variants of Bagle-R.

Belthoff said he can’t verify Global Hauri’s claim that the virus is still activated in patched computers.

He said the solution is to make sure computers have the latest Microsoft patches and also use anti-virus programs with up-to-date virus definitions.

Microsoft’s patch can be found at

– – –


The new variants of the Bagle virus discovered Thursday are transmitted through an e-mail message without an attachment. The variants are known as Bagle-P, Bagle-Q,, Bagle-R, Bagle-S and Bagle-T.

One anti-virus company, Sophos Inc., has found that Bagle-R avoids sending itself to addresses that include the following words: @hotmail, @msn, @microsoft, [email protected], f-secur, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], feste, gold-certs@, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], noone@, kasp, admin, icrosoft, support, ntivi, unix, linux, listserv, certific, sopho, @foo, @iana, free-av, @messagelab, winzip, google, winrar, samples, abuse, panda, cafee, spam, @avp., noreply, local, [email protected], [email protected]

Here are some of the randomly-chosen subject lines the virus selects when mailing itself to other computers:

– E-mail account security warning.

– Notify about using the e-mail account.

– Warning about your e-mail account.

– Important notify about your e-mail account.

– Email account utilization warning.

– E-mail technical support warning.

– Email report. -Important notify.

– Account notify. -E-mail warning.

– Re: Msg reply. -Re: Hello.

– Re: Yahoo! -Re: Thank you!

– Re: Thanks :). -Re: Document.

– RE: Text message.

– Incoming message.

– Encrypted document.

The viruses exploit a known flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Outlook programs.

Microsoft’s patch can be found at:

Source: Sophos Inc., Global Hauri Inc., Microsoft Inc.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Home buyers undeterred by B.C.’s high prices

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

35 per cent of residents plan purchase in next 2 years

Wyng Chow

Despite British Columbia having the most expensive housing prices in Canada, 35 per cent of residents in this province say they plan to purchase a home within the next two years — nine percentage points higher than the national average.

The RBC Royal Bank’s latest annual home-ownership survey, released Monday, shows the number of would-be purchasers in B.C. climbed a full 11 points from 24 per cent in 2003, when a record $24.2 billion worth of residential real estate was snapped up.

“The market in B.C. is definitely unique to the rest of the country, and RBC’s survey indicates that 2004 could be a year like no other,” said Kevin Lutz, Royal Bank’s mortgage manager for Vancouver.

“The low cost of borrowing, flexible payment plans, and current economic market conditions make this an opportune time for purchasing homes. What we are seeing is an overwhelming belief in the long-term value of a home.

“The housing industry is a key economic driver in Canada, with home-building, buying and renovation expenditures representing an estimated record $154 billion in 2003.

“The sale of homes is an important economic indicator and consumer confidence barometer, and the RBC survey indicates that 2004 won’t be far off last year’s record pace.”

Vancouver residents, Giuliana Bertuzzi and her husband, George Samilski, who are typical first-time purchasers, are among those who decided to quit renting largely because of record-low mortgage rates.

On Monday, Macklem Mortgage Services, a Delta-based mortgage broker, was offering fixed five-year terms as low as 4.35 per cent, compared to the posted rate of 6.2 per cent.

“We’ve been renting for quite some time,” said Bertuzzi, 35. “We felt that with the low interest rates, you can’t beat buying.”

After months of scouring the Lower Mainland, the couple, who work in the film production industry and have a 10-year-old daughter, settled on a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot ground-floor condominium on West 10th, in Vancouver’s Fairview area, paying “under $400,000.”

They took out a two-year open variable-rate mortgage, which floats with the prime interest rate, at 3.75 per cent.

On Monday, with prime at four per cent, Invus Financial, a national mortgage brokerage firm, was offering five-year variable loans at rates as low as 3.32 per cent.

According to the RBC survey, British Columbians are the most likely in the country to have a mortgage on their home, at 64 per cent of respondents, compared to the national average of 54 per cent.

B.C. homeowners also have the highest amount left to pay at an average of $111,280, compared to the national figure of $86,175.

(RBC has the largest residential mortgage portfolio in Canada, with more than $73 billion in loans outstanding in 2003).

Of the 35 per cent of B.C. respondents who said they plan to buy within the next two years, seven per cent of them intend to purchase within the next six months.

Among the Royal Bank’s other major findings:

– Twenty-six per cent of national respondents plan to purchase a home within the next two years, up from 25 per cent in 2003.

– Albertans lead the country as the most likely to buy, at 36 per cent — edging B.C. by one percentage point. Last year, 34 per cent of Albertans planned to buy.

– Canadians aged 25 to 44 are the most likely to buy, topped by those aged 25 to 34, at 42 per cent, up three points over last year. This is followed by 33 per cent of those aged 35 to 44, up seven points from 2003. Those aged 45 to 54 held steady from last year at 22 per cent.

– Young Canadians between 18 and 24 dropped in terms of buying intention from 40 per cent in 2003, down to 27 per cent this year.

– B.C. residents are the least likely to be doing home renovations in 2004 (24 per cent of respondents), compared to the national average of 28 per cent.

– Of potential B.C. home buyers, 69 per cent prefer resale homes, while 30 per cent favour newly-built ones. Sixty-two per cent are most likely to purchase a detached home, 13 per cent a townhouse, 11 per cent an apartment or loft, seven per cent a condo, and five per cent a semi-detached home.

– Nationally, 34 per cent of renters and 21 per cent of owners say they are planning to buy in the next two years.

“Perhaps the reason for this is that 89 per cent of them expect house prices to be the same or higher next year,” noted Royal Bank national mortgage manager, Nancy Mitchell.

“We believe that for a significant majority of Canadians, their home is as much an investment as it is a place to live.”

The B.C. Real Estate Association reported Monday that a toal of 7,566 homes worth $2.14 billion sold in February on the Multiple Listing Service, representing a 30-per-cent increase in dollar volume and a 16-per-cent rise in unit sales compared to the same month last year.

The record $24.2 billion in B.C. residential sales for all of 2003 shattered the previous high of $19.7 billion set in 2002 by $4.5 billion, about 23 per cent more.

In January, the average MLS price of a home in Greater Vancouver was $348,100, the highest in Canada, followed by Toronto at $296,000.

In February, the Lower Mainland’s average price climbed 1.7 per cent to $354,100. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicts the region’s average MLS price to rise a further eight to 12 per cent this year.

The RBC’s 2004 survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid between Feb. 3 and Feb. 15, was based on random telephone interviews with 2,000 Canadian adults. A sampling this size has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 per cent, with the results considered accurate 19 times out of 20.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Eager buyers ready and waiting to snap up BC’s cabin properties

Sunday, March 14th, 2004

Four buyers waiting for every cabin owner thinking of selling

Lena Sin


Why leave home to vacation when you can go home to do the same thing?

More and more British Columbians are taking a liking to this logic and are getting into the recreational property market.

It was estimated that for every cabin owner who was planning to sell in 2003, there were four Canadians looking to buy, according to last year’s Royal LePage recreational property report.

Ownership levels have increased 80 per cent since 1977, even though the market still represents a fairly small segment (only eight per cent of Canadians own recreational property).

Still, low interest rates and tight inventory have helped spike demand and Royal LePage estimates that six per cent of Canadians are likely to buy recreational property in the next three years.

Baby boomers continue to drive the market up, but B.C. is also attracting the international jetset. While Ontario had fewer international buyers last year (likely due to SARS), B.C. by contrast gained according to Re/Max’s recreational report released last summer.

Below is a list of areas in B.C. where recreational property is heating up:

Qualicum Beach/Parksville

Thanks to WestJet launching direct flights from Calgary to Comox, Albertans are starting to colonize this little idyllic town. But what our neighbours next door are just discovering is something we’ve known for ages.

Qualicum Beach/Parksville got its start as a summer getaway in the 1930s, popular with those from elsewhere on Vancouver Island. Today, it’s a destination town attracting folks from all around B.C.

Who’s buying? Other than Calgarians, this area has always been popular with residents of Victoria and the Lower Mainland. Those on the verge of retirement have a particular penchant for property here.

Anyone famous? Jazz darling Diana Krall and figure-skating champ Victor Kratz.

What money can buy: A luxury waterfront home can fetch between $600,000 to $800,000.

Something more affordable: The average single-family home, which includes recreational property, jumped from $192,000 in Jan. 2003 to $218,000 in January 2004.

Sunshine Coast

Where did all those dot-com yuppies go? Well, they took their money and escaped up here. Roberts Creek is just as popular, though mostly with accountants, according to realtor Alan Stewart.

“There are a lot of buyers from England. But we’re also getting a lot of people just coming for the weekend because we’re only a couple of hours away from Vancouver.”

Also making a buzz is Pender Harbour. This town of 2,000 people started attracting private yacht owners in the 1920s for its seclusion and protected waterways. After the Second World War, the town expanded with numerous marinas and yacht clubs and continues to attract visitors today.

Who’s buying? Software analysts from

Vancouver, university professors close to retirement.

Anyone famous? Joni Mitchell and singer Terry Jacks, best known for Seasons in the Sun. Mideast millionaires have also been known to vacation here.

What money can buy: Anything over $500,000 is a pretty big deal, said Stewart. But luxurious waterfront homes can cost between $800,000 and $1 million.

Something more affordable: A small cabin is priced about $250,000.


Here, you’ll find the highest starting prices for oceanfront property at close to $1 million.

The big draw of this island is its laid-back attitude mixed with plenty of festivals and culture such as art galleries and theatre.

Again, it’s the baby boomers flocking here who are thinking of recreation now and retirement later, said realtor Derek Topping.

Who’s buying? Buyers are coming from Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and the U.S.

Anyone famous? Valdy, Bill Henderson, Robert Bateman, Stuart Margolin and Randy Bachman.

What money can buy: A view home will cost between $550,000 to $600,000. Waterfront property starts at $800,000 to $900,000.

Something more affordable: The average-priced home is around $300,000. Dig a little deeper and you might find some deals between $180,000 to $250,000.


From lakeside property in Kelowna to ski-hill condos in Big White, property in this part of B.C. has soared 60 per cent from 2002 to 2003.

Prudential Kelowna Properties realtor Harry Pettit says property in Big White has caught the attention of buyers from Japan, Germany, Venezuela, Singapore, Australia and Scotland. Oh, and don’t forget our neighbours down south, they’ve been snatching up ski condos, too.

Who’s buying? In addition to people from abroad, Pettit says families from the Lower Mainland have been buying as well. The big attraction? Cheaper skiing and boarding than Whistler.

Anyone famous? Local politicians such as Stockwell Day and former premier Bill Bennett.

What money can buy: A mountain-based chalet costs $600,000 and up.

Something more affordable: A three-bedroom home in Kelowna starts at $350,000. A condo in Big White averages $250,000.

Hemlock Valley

This sleepy ski hill is just beginning to wake up with a new 50-year plan recently signed with the government to expand ski lifts and runs.

Tucked away in the Coast Mountains between Mission and Agassiz, Lower Mainlanders are looking east for a cheap recreational getaway.

Who’s buying? Mostly families living in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, Surrey, Abbotsford. “It’s just a broad cross-section of people,” says realtor Stewart Green. “You’re getting doctors, lawyers, actors.”

Anyone famous? Nope, not yet. This place is for those no-fuss types who can do without shopping and dining out on caviar. The great thing about Hemlock Valley is that even your average blue-collar family can afford it, says Green.

What money can buy: The most expensive property sold in the last 12 years was a four-bedroom log cabin for $211,000.

Something more affordable: Single family building lots are going for between $89,000 to $98,000. There’s also a cabin up for grabs right now for $180,000.

Honourable Mentions

Fernie and Kimberley in the Kootenays are attracting buyers from the U.S. and Alberta. A standard condo at the mountain base in Fernie goes for $160,000 to $225,000, while a chalet ranges from $450,000 to $525,000.

The most expensive recreational property can be found on Salt Spring Island where we’re talking millions.

In Invermere, the starting price for a three-bedroom winterized waterfront home reached $600,000 last year.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

Realtor, client must work for success

Saturday, March 13th, 2004

Sherry Noik-Bent

It is a long-held adage that buying or selling a home is one of life’s biggest stressors.

“It’s one of the largest investments people ever make,” says Gerry DeClute of Re/Max Hallmark Realty in the Beach area of Toronto. “It’s got a huge impact on their family and their future. It is emotional, and emotions enter into the equation with sellers as well as buyers.”

During the process the relationship between client and agent can begin to feel friendly, even downright intimate. An agent is charged with paving a path to domestic bliss, and clients entrust them with the keys to their homes and private financial details.

Agents must strike the right balance between personal service and professional distance. “In the process of helping choose a new home, you can’t help but get involved on a more personal level,” says Forest Hill Realty’s Sharon Bobkin, an agent of 23 years.

Current clients can be very demanding, with persistent telephone calls and requests for updates, Bobkin says, adding, “They have the right to do that. I can’t tell them what not to do because this is a big investment.”

There are steps clients can take to ensure the transaction, and the relationship, go smoothly. For Bobkin, the clients’ responsibilities come down to a few things: “They should be accessible for showings and to respond to quick offers, make sure their home is always ready. It’s so simple on the client’s part.”

Elli Davis, Royal LePage’s top agent in Canada, describes her dream client as a person who is organized, has a wish list and is pre-qualified for a mortgage. She also cautions would-be browsers: “If you’re going to be ready to look, you should be ready to buy, because there’s not a lot of thinking time sometimes in this market.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004