Archive for April, 2007

Saving for own homes to take a long time

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Boomerangs ‘spend too much’

Sheila Brady
Province

Adult children are returning to their parents’ homes in unprecedented numbers, with rosy dreams of saving for their own first homes — yet few are socking away enough cash for an adequate down payment, according to a recent survey.

“These kids have to get a reality check,” says Cid Palacio, vice-president, BMO Bank of Montreal, which commissioned the poll of 1,205 people, conducted by Decima Research in six Canadian cities.

“They have unrealistic ambitions and will be chasing this rainbow of homeownership without a tangible or practical plan on how to get there.”

They may be playing too much and not saving enough, says the senior banker.

The survey found almost one in three Canadians between 21 and 34 had moved back home to save for their first house.

While “boomerang kids” often come home after university or between jobs, the survey discovered a high number of Canadians between 31 and 34 are still at home, putting money aside for their own residence.

According to the survey, Toronto, Halifax and Calgary posted the highest percentage of “stay-at-homes” over 30.

Not so surprisingly, they also have some of the highest home prices in the country, says Palacio.

Twenty-two per cent of this older group live with their parents in the suburbs surrounding Toronto and 17 per cent in Halifax and Calgary.

These stay-at-homes have an average income of $43,000 and they have been stashing about 12 per cent of their pre-tax income into home-savings funds for about 18 months.

They expect to save enough for a 25-per-cent down payment within 3.8 years, according to the findings.

No way, says Palacio. “They should be saving twice as much money or realize it will take them eight years, not four.”

Young Canadians living on their own have the same homeownership ambitions and are saving only two per cent less of their income, says Palacio.

Possibly, it’s about lifestyle, too many parties and not enough savings, or the stay-at-homes entered the work force with a lot of debt from school, she says.

Most important, these young Canadians need to get informed about the home market, look at prices and likely downgrade their dream to a smaller house.

They also need a financial plan, and with rising house prices, consider that they won’t be able to save 25 per cent of a house price for a down payment, she says.

Thirty per cent of these young buyers intend to use their First Time Home Buyers RRSP plan as a major source of funding and

60 per cent intend to rely

on their savings or investments.

The survey was conducted in March and based on 1,205 young Canadians living in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.

The results are considered accurate to within 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

You’re never too young to invest

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Choose safe bets and keep your shirt

David Friend
Province

TORONTO — While it has never been clinically diagnosed, chances are you or someone you know has investment phobia, especially if you’re in the susceptible under-35 set.

Typical symptoms include a slight fever when discussing your financial future and extreme vertigo at the thought of mutual funds. Get over it.

By now you probably know that it’s never too early to start putting money aside, both for retirement and for the shorter term. Your grandma told you and so did your mother. But then the fear set in.

“A lot of people are scared of talking to a financial planner because the feeling is they don’t have enough money or it’s going to be very costly, but that’s not the case,” said Julie Sheen, vice-president of BMO Term Investments.

“In some respects your financial affairs are never as complicated as at the beginning, when you’re starting out and have all these options.”

Options range from buying a dream home and bringing up a few children to taking an extended trek across Europe with nothing but a backpack. All of them are going to cost you money that you probably don’t have today.

Sheen suggests that young investors start by putting their money in “buckets,” or separate savings, such as one for a house and another for a car.

“The one problem with having a single savings bucket is that once you get used to pulling money out for vacation it’s pretty easy to whittle down your savings relatively quickly,” she said.

Even if you have a lower-

paying starter position, which you expect will come with pay increases over time, there’s still an opportunity to invest for the short term.

In that situation “it makes sense to be building a non-registered savings because you’re in a relatively low tax bracket and can carry forward the RRSP deduction . . . and make the contribution later when your tax bracket is higher,” she said.

Mutual funds are a popular form of investment that, for young investors, must be chosen especially carefully, suggested Scott Ward of investment firm Edward Jones.

“A lot of times younger investors have the mentality, ‘I’m young and I can afford to take risks.’ If you lose your money in the market . . . you’re never going to make it back” once you factor in the time it takes to recover the full amount, he said.

Instead, go for safer mutual funds comprised of reliable companies.

“If you’re younger . . . you want to build a foundation first. Look for something with a good long-term track record that has been around for 10 or 15 years.”

Ward said to follow major companies by reading the business section of newspapers and websites and track what you consider to be smart and reliable investments. Ignore the “hot investments of the week” and favour ones that sell everyday products.

“People are very much creatures of habit and there are a lot of companies that make money because we do these things every day. These are quality companies that are going to be around selling products and services no matter how the economy does,” he said.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

Elyse has the amenities and the location

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Main Street: With 48 different layouts on nine storeys, buyers have plenty of options to choose fro

Kerry Moore
Province

Den/enclosed balcony Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Spacious master bedroom in one layout connects with den/enclosed balcony (in next photo), a setup new parents favour as baby is right there. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Kitchen has durable, sleek glass counters, although granite is an option for those who favour it. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Living space flows into open kitchen area. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Elyse has it all: location, layouts and good looks.

What’s not to like? It has 48 different layouts over nine storeys, quality finishings, floor-to-ceiling windows, big balconies and patios, and you can walk to Canucks games, Science World, and all the boutiques and coffee shops you could ever want.

“Elyse will be built in an open V shape on a slope beside a new Mount Pleasant Community Centre,” says Vesna Troha of L & T Marketing and Dexter Associates. By the time Elyse opens in 2009, she says, “the centre will boast a daycare, library, gym, steam room, perhaps a climbing wall, and an outdoor running track. There is also talk of a car co-op there, too.”

Troha is enthusiastic about what she terms “a hot area.” Main Street is already a desirable area for its shops, art scene, restaurants and coffee shops, she notes. And stretch that scene a little further, and “imagine it in another few years: This will be the place to live,” Troha predicts.

The selling points in the units include hardwood flooring in all the living areas, in-suite storage large enough to be a spare room, and some enclosed balconies.

“There is an enclosed balcony in a one-bed unit [floor plan 321] that some buyers intend as a baby room as it connects to the master bedroom. It would also be a good solarium or a den,” she says.

This bright enclosed balcony leads directly to an outdoor balcony that’s shared with the living room. This same layout also features an eating nook as well as a formal dining area. “For a one bedroom, it’s very accommodating,” Troha says.

Buyers will find some unusual standard features including etched tempered-glass counters and backsplashes in the kitchens. Visitors to the display suite are shown how food can be cut on this surface without leaving a scratch. “It’s more durable than granite and easy to maintain.” Granite or quartz counters are options, “and, ironically, cost us less.”

As is common, there is a choice of two neutral colour schemes, one slightly lighter than the other. In this case, they can be matched to two similar choices in flooring and in cabinetry.

As part of the standard stainless GE appliance package, a retractable hood fan is included along with a refrigerator, dishwasher, gas self-cleaning oven, garburator and 24-inch microwave drawer — “a really urban-savvy feature.” An electric fireplace tucks into the living area.

Some advantages of the building will be hidden from street traffic.

“We’ll have a wellness walkway with a pond on the south-east corner, and one of our two lounges will lead off the fifth floor to a common deck with bench seating, gazebos and landscaping.”

Troha says an inaccessible green [planted] roof atop the seventh floor is intended as an environmental element.

Because the building is so close to urban biking routes, secure bicycle storage is included as well as a designated parking space per unit. An entry phone connects with video surveillance for personal security.

- – -

THE FACTS

Elyse

What: 119-condo, nine-storey development

Where: 7th and Scotia, one block east of Main Street, Vancouver

Developer: Eden Group

Sizes: 639 sq. ft. to 1,775 sq. ft. One bedroom, one bedroom and den, two bedroom and den, and on the ground floor, three-bedroom townhomes.

Prices: From $379,900

Open: Display unit, 1819 Quebec St. (Quebec and 2nd), open daily, noon to 6 p.m. Closed Fridays. Call 604-633-0922 or check elyseliving.com

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Get a Lawyer: Strata council can’t remove rental status or your tenant

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

New rules not enforceable

Tony Gioventu
Province

Dear Condo Smarts:

We bought our condo a few years ago and are planning to retire to Vancouver Island in 2010.

The developer told us we were a rental condo and that we would never be affected by strata bylaws.

Now, the strata have adopted both an age restriction bylaw that owners must be 55 and over and that rentals are prohibited.

We received a rather nasty letter from our strata council advising that if our 42-year-old tenant of four years was not evicted immediately we would be fined $500 a week and would lose our home through a court-ordered sale.

There have never been any complaints with our tenant and we’re seriously concerned about our investment.

As we live in the east, it’s rather tough to defend ourselves from a long distance. Is there anything we can do?

– Bill & Doreen Edgecomb, Oakville, Ont.

Dear Bill & Doreen:

When someone purchases directly from the developer, they may be exempted for a specific period of time from rental bylaws, depending on the terms of the rental disclosure filed by the developer.

In your case, the developer exempted you from rental bylaws until June 1, 2025.

This only applies to the first owner.

Even if the rental bylaw did apply — which it does not — the status of your tenant would still be exempt.

Your tenant resided in the strata lot before the bylaw was adopted, and the bylaw will only apply to your strata lot one year after your tenant ceases to occupy the lot.

Age restriction bylaws can still apply, but this particular age bylaw is unenforceable.

The strata corporation cannot adopt a bylaw that prohibits or restricts the rights of owners to sell, lease, mortgage or otherwise dispose of their interest.

This bylaw limits the age of owners, and age restriction bylaws apply to those who reside in strata lots.

Likewise, age restriction bylaws do not apply to those persons living in a strata lot at the time the bylaw is passed.

Finally, a lien cannot be filed against a strata lot for bylaw fines.

The strata corporation must give you written notice of the particulars of the bylaw complaint and an opportunity for a hearing if it is requested.

You need a lawyer to provide advice and representation on your behalf at the strata meetings.

As well, the Condominium Home Owners Association provides a number of information bulletins on bylaws and enforcement that are available on request.

Tony Gioventu is the executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association (CHOA). Contact CHOA at 604-584-2462 or toll-free at 1-877-353-2462, or go to www.choa.bc.ca, or fax 604-515-9643, or e-mail [email protected]

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Digicam offers 18x optical zoom

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

OLYMPUS SP-550 UZ: Point-and-shoot with many features of an SLR camera

Jim Jamieson
Province

What is it? Olympus SP-550 UZ digital camera

Price: $599.99

Why you need it: You want to increase your capabilities as a photographer but you still want to have the ease of a point-and-shoot.

Why you don’t: You want your digicam to be small enough to slip into your shirt pocket.

Our rating: 3 mice

Anyone who’s taken a point-and-shoot to get an action shot of his or her kid’s soccer game knows that can be a hit-and-miss proposition. In fact, it’s usually more miss than hit.

For those of us who aren’t quite ready to take the leap into the interchangeable- lens world of SLR cameras, Olympus has just released a new ubercamera that offers many of the features you would expect from a more complex package.

The 7.1-megapixel SP-550 has some features that jump right out at you, the most gaudy being its 18x optical-zoom lens. This basically allows the user to shoot telephoto, wide-angle and macro shots, all with one lens. The range, in 35-mm language, is from 28 to 504 mm — the largest among consumer-level digital cameras.

The second part of the package that jumps out at you is the shutter speed — two high-speed shooting modes and a burst rate of 15 frames per second.

The specs are impressive, but reviewers have quibbled with image-quality issues at the highest speeds — no surprise, considering it still requires an SLR to capture a professional-quality action shot.

Still, the SP-550 is an impressive package. Part of the high-speed feature is something called Pre-Capture, which enables the user to capture the action before fully pressing the shutter button. As well, it offers 30 shooting modes and high-quality audio and video.

Power usage is good, with an estimated 500 shots on four rechargeable AA nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

Available at London Drugs, Future Shop, Lens & Shutter and Kerrisdale Cameras.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

City may nix requirement for parking spots at new condos

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

VANCOUVER: New plan aims to cut car use, promote public transit

John Bermingham
Province

Wave a long goodbye to the condo parking stall.

As land values go skyward, the City of Vancouver is putting a slow squeeze on parking spots around the city.

On Thursday, council will consider lowering the requirement for parking stalls in new condo and townhouse projects in most of Vancouver.

It means the city would no longer expect a new one-bedroom condo to automatically come with a full parking stall.

The city will require 0.9 parking spaces for a 70 square-metre one-bedroom, 0.5 parking spaces per bachelor-sized condo, and 1.5 spaces for a two-bedroom condo or larger.

“We are going to see more and more projects with less than one space per unit,” said Paul Pinsker, who is reviewing off-street parking for the city.

Homeowners own fewer cars, said Pinsker, and use their parking stalls less.

“People are using transit more, they’re biking more, they’re walking more,” he told The Province.

“And cars are getting expensive.

“How low should we go? We’re saying it’s pretty safe to go about nine per cent below the observed demand.”

The changes won’t apply to downtown, False Creek or the Downtown Eastside.

City Coun. Suzanne Anton said the EcoDensity plan will try to reduce the use of cars and getting people on to transit.

“This is a subtle way of discouraging automobile use,” said Anton.

“You could have a unit with no parking spaces. But if your unit only has one space, that is slightly discouraging to owning a second car.”

Realtor Bob Rennie, who was the first to market downtown condos without parking stalls, said it can knock $55,000 off the basic cost, which translates to $300 a month off a mortgage.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

Housing prices ‘will continue to edge up’

Friday, April 27th, 2007

A report says high prices will continue to push buyers out

Derrick Penner
Sun

High real estate prices will continue to push people out of the market through this year and next, although a still-expanding provincial economy will keep market values high, according to a new report released Thursday.

The number of real estate sales recorded through the Multiple Listings Service will drop three per cent this year and a further four per cent in 2008, according to the first semi-annual housing forecast from the B.C. Real Estate Association.

The forecast also estimates that housing starts will decline — by seven per cent this year and 5.5 per cent in 2008 — as physical limits on the ability of contractors to build new homes and the so-called “affordability squeeze” add to construction pressures.

Prices, however, will edge upward — by eight per cent this year and seven per cent in 2008 — as growth in the job market continues and shortages of skilled workers push wages up faster than inflation.

“[The forecast] really points to what has been going on in the housing market for the last seven or eight months,” Cameron Muir, B.C. Real Estate Association chief economist, said in an interview.

The number of sales have retreated from record highs, as surveys that track the sentiments of first-time buyers have found that more of them are sitting on the sidelines.

“One of the reasons we see sales waning is that some first-time, or low-equity buyers are finding that home prices are such that they simply can’t get into home ownership, or are choosing not to,” Muir added.

However, Muir added that his forecast for 93,600 real estate sales across the province this year is still well above the 10-year average of 77,800 transactions per year. While that is lower than 2006, it “is not a signal that sales are falling through the floor.”

Tsur Somerville, director of the centre for urban land economics and real estate at the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C., said it is consistent for prices to keep climbing while sales are falling “if sales are declining from a very high point, and there are still indicators of a strong market.”

Carol Frketich, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s regional economist for B.C., said recent economic data, such as Statistic Canada’s labour market survey and measures of economic output and disposable income, are stronger than she anticipated in her own forecast.

“Those things are still, I think, a fairly solid footing for the housing sector,” Frketich said.

Frketich’s own revised forecast, which she will release in mid-May, holds to expectations that housing markets will moderate.

Muir expects stronger performances from some areas than others, such as Northern B.C. where he expects prices to climb 14 per cent to an average $189,000 this year.

Kamloops has also seen strong sales, and is expected to experience price growth of 15 per cent this year with the average reaching $255,000, although recent census data shows its population growing more slowly than the provincial average.

Muir noted Kamloops benefits from strong retirement and recreational property markets. So does Chilliwack, he added, where buyers can find property bargains relative to towns closer to Vancouver.

Chilliwack is expected to see 13-per-cent growth in its house prices this year, with a $305,000 average according to Muir’s forecast.

The forecast for Greater Vancouver, however, is expected to see price increases of seven per cent with the average to hit $545,000 this year.

The forecast noted that in 2006, Vancouver homebuyers “began to show some resistance to rapidly escalating home prices,” for the first time in four years.

In the Fraser Valley, Muir forecasts that prices will rise nine per cent this year hitting $428,000.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Bid to freeze rental stock will backfire

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Builders need incentives, not ham-fisted regulations

Sun

A recommendation by Vancouver city staff that council block the conversion of a rental building in Kitsilano to strata units highlights a difficult issue that faces most major metropolitan regions. The supply of rental accommodation is tight with few new units being built, while demand for affordable housing is increasing. Vancouver city council is scheduled to debate and vote on the issue May 17.

To staunch the loss of affordable rental housing stock, city planners have proposed what amounts to a moratorium on demolition or conversion to strata of any rental apartments. Many local governments impose limits on the conversion of rental housing to condominiums based on the vacancy rate as determined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which they are empowered to do under the Strata Property Act.

Concern about the loss of rental accommodation is understandable. After all, renters represent 56 per cent of the city’s population, predominantly lower-income earners, the young and the elderly. The city’s housing centre, using CMHC figures, calculates that only 29,000 new market multiple dwellings were added between 1996 and 2005; over the same time, Vancouver’s population grew by 46,680.

It is clear that Vancouver needs more rental housing, but making the market even more inhospitable to development might produce the opposite of the desired outcome. A paper prepared for the Greater Vancouver Regional District last year illustrated why more rental units are not being built. On a pro-forma comparison, the rate of return on equity for apartment condo construction was 57 per cent; for rental apartments 1.7 per cent.

If an apartment building owner is denied the right to maximize the value of the asset, there will be little incentive to invest in maintenance. The rental housing might be preserved in the short term, but its quality will decline to the point where the only option will be eventual demolition. This is a recipe for slums.

Rather than force an unwilling landlord to operate an unprofitable rental business, perhaps it makes more sense to shift the responsibility to the strata corporation to ensure that owners of units can rent them out. Many strata corporations limit rentals to no more than 15 per cent of the units in a building, some allow no rentals at all. Owners should be free to rent their properties as long as they remain responsible for the actions of their tenants.

Besides, the vacancy rate is highly misleading. CMHC excludes from its calculations suites in private homes, which account for as much as 20 per cent of rental accommodation. Local government could encourage this type of accommodation by abandoning the notion of an “authorized” suite and the requirements that designation imposes on owners.

There is considerable churn in the rental market, with an average length of tenancy of two years. Tenants move up to ownership when their financial position improves, leaving their apartments to others starting out on the same path.

In any case, preserving existing rentals is only a stop-gap measure. In order to stimulate more rental accommodation, governments have to make it a better business proposition.

The federal government could have taken a major step in that direction in the last budget had it heeded the advice from business groups urging a capital gains tax rollover for small investment property owners. Furthermore, the income of owners of rental apartments is taxed as investment income, like stocks and bonds, rather than at the preferential small business rate and, unlike other businesses, they get no break on the goods and services tax. These are disincentives that discourage development and push investors out of the rental business.

As for the Kitsilano building, where rents range from $1,300 to $2,900 a month, two-thirds of the tenants favour the strata conversion. They don’t need council’s protection.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

By 2031, half of the region’s residents will be immigrants

Friday, April 27th, 2007

People born elsewhere account for 75 per cent of Canada’s growth, StatsCan says

Doug Ward
Sun

“Canada is seen as a neutral country that is friendly to immigrants. Canada is a country of immigrants and it projects an image that makes immigrants feel very comfortable,” Eleanor Yuen, Head of Asian Library at the University of B.C. Vancouver Sun files

If you think Greater Vancouver is ethnically diverse now, wait until 2031, when about one out of two people in the region will have been born outside of Canada.

This is the region’s demographic future if current trends — strong immigration flows from Asia and a low Canadian birth rate — continue over the next two decades, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

“In 2031, about 50 per cent of the population in the census area of Vancouver will be immigrants,” said Eric Caron Malenfant, one of the authors of the Statistics Canada report, called Demographic Changes in Canada from 1971 to 2001 Across an Urban-to-Rural Gradient.

Immigrants will also make up 50 per cent of people in Toronto by 2031, said the report. And 25 per cent of Montreal’s population will have been born abroad.

In 2001, immigrants accounted for 38 per cent of Greater Vancouver’s population and 18 per cent of Canada’s, said Malenfant in an interview.

Immigration, which has remained high since the end of the ’80s, has been the main driver of population growth in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

He said that about three-quarters of Canada’s population growth is due to immigration, with natural population increase accounting for the remaining quarter.

The fertility rate in Canada declined significantly between 1971 and 2001, dropping from slightly over 2.1 children per woman in 1971 to approximately 1.5 in the early part of 2000.

In fact, 1971 was the last year Canada’s fertility rate exceeded the replacement level, which is the fertility rate required for the population to replace itself in the long term, without migration. The replacement level is considered to be 2.1 births per woman.

And fertility rates are lowest in Canada’s three largest urban areas.

“If these trends in immigration and fertility continue,” said Malenfant, “then the increase in the diversity of Vancouver and Toronto will continue until 2031.”

Three out of four immigrants to Canada during the ’90s settled in the three cities, he added.

Malenfant said the latest projection is based on 2001 Census figures.

China is the top source country for immigration to B.C., followed by India and the Philippines.

The prediction of more diversity in the Lower Mainland isn’t surprising to Andrew Ramlo, director of the Urban Futures Institute. He noted that the former visible-minority population in Richmond has become a “visible-majority,” according to the 2001 Census figures.

Given the strong immigration flows and the low birth rate, it’s a “no-brainer” to project that immigrants will eventually make up 50 per cent of Greater Vancouver’s population, he added.

Canada’s natural population increase will decline even further over the next three to four decades as baby boomers die, he added.

Immigration accounted for 205,000 new arrivals in Canada last year.

Eleanor Yuen, head of the Asian Library at the University of B.C., said the 2031 projection makes sense given current demographic trends.

But she said there are many variables that could change the rate of immigration, including geopolitical changes in Asia. She noted that immigration from Hong Kong to Canada peaked in 1995 and tapered off in the late ’90s as the Asian city’s investment climate and job market improved.

Yuen, who came to Canada 20 years ago from Hong Kong, said Canada’s attraction for Asian immigrants is about more than economics.

“Canada is seen as a neutral country that is friendly to immigrants. Canada is a country of immigrants and it projects an image that makes immigrants feel very comfortable.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

House prices to keep rising

Friday, April 27th, 2007

But balance returning to market

Ashley Ford
Province

B.C. house prices will continue to rise and potential homeowners are finding themselves at the wrong end of an affordability squeeze, the B.C. Real Estate Association said yesterday in its first-ever housing forecast.

While it makes gloomy reading for those trying to break into the market, Cameron Muir, the association’s chief economist, said “a more balanced market is emerging in the aftermath of less frenetic buying activity and an increase in residential listings.”

Though double-digit price increases will force sales down slightly this year, there is no end in sight to rising prices.

“The shift in housing market conditions is not a signal of an impending collapse. Rather, it is a gradual return to a balanced market,” he said.

There will be little relief across the Lower Mainland, where home prices are expected to rise seven per cent this year and by the same margin in 2008.

“The Lower-Mainland economy is in the midst of a robust growth phase. More than $47-billion worth of major projects are either under construction or proposed for the region,” Muir said.

Greater Vancouver housing starts are expected to dip this year to 18,300 from last year’s 18,705 and will again fall next year to 17,900.

A bit of good news for buyers is that increases are expected to stay in single digits provincewide this year and next compared to the average 18-per-cent increase experienced last year.

This year, the average B.C. residential price is forecast to increase eight per cent to $422,000, and a further seven per cent to $450,000 in 2008 due to a “robust” labour demand.

B.C. home sales are projected to dip three per cent to 93,600 units this year and fall another four per cent to 89,500 units in 2008. Housing starts are forecast to dip seven per cent to 33,900 units this year and a further six per cent to 32,000 units in 2008.

© The Vancouver Province 2007