Archive for September, 2008

National don’t-call list goes into effect

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

System would block calls from some, but not all, telemarketers

Sun

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OTTAWA – Canadians fed up with unsolicited telemarketers will be able to register Tuesday on a national do-not-call list established by Canada‘s telecommunications regulator and operated by Bell Canada.

Residents can register their home and cellphone numbers to block unwanted telemarketers by phone or online with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The CRTC says calls will not stop immediately upon registration, as telemarketers have 31 days to update their own no-call lists.

Exceptions to the list include calls from charities, political parties, polling companies, newspapers selling subscriptions and organizations with which the consumer has an existing business relationship.

The CRTC first broached the subject of a national do-not-call list in 2004 to complement the current regulations requiring telemarketers to keep individual, company-specific lists.

The regulator set out rules for the list in July, 2007, and awarded Bell Canada a five-year contract to operate the list.

The telemarketing industry has been critical of the list, specifically the online registration. The concern is that hackers will be able to upload entire phone books to the list.

To register call 1-866-580-3625 or visit www.dncl.gc.ca. The CRTC said the website will be activated after midnight.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

New Internet tool helps track down cyber-terror

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Studies websites, forums and blogs

Frank Luba
Province

A new Internet-sleuthing tool has been developed to allow police to hunt down criminals and terrorists online.

The Dark Web Project is being used to investigate terrorists, including those in Canada, a Vancouver conference heard yesterday.

“We’re not trying to be the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet,” said Dr. Hsinchun Chen, director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Arizona.

“We’re trying to be the Dr. Watson, to create the tools that people use to find criminals . . . I’m just making their life easier,” he said in an interview after his presentation at the Policing Cyberspace international conference.

Chen said that prior to the development of his new tools it would take police three to four weeks to track down the data they needed for a criminal case.

“By using the tools, they can do it in three minutes,” he said.

The Dark Web studies websites and enters blogs and forums and creates profiles of postings, even if they’re anonymous.

Chen’s tools even look at game-playing activities like Second Life, an online community where people create computer images of themselves and lead fantasy lives.

Some of those ‘avatars’ are acting like terrorists, so Chen has developed computer tools to monitor their Second Life activities to see if they really are terrorists.

Cyberspace problems are real and affect many people according to Rob Gordon, director of Simon Fraser University‘s School of Criminology.

“It’s important to regulate and police the virtual world, which is a world that is increasingly affecting the man on the street,” said Gordon.

“There’s a colossal international network we call the web which provides numerous opportunities for individuals to rip off other individuals,” he said.

To stop cybercrime, Gordon recommends turning off your modem as well as your computer when not in use.

© The Vancouver Province 2008

 

Know risks of buying on First Nations land

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Ask lawyer to study bylaws, liability before you sign

Tony Gioventu
Province

Dear Condo Smarts:

I bought a two-bedroom condo on First Nations land a few years ago.

It was the right price, location and the management worked incredibly well. Other owners who had been there for two years happily endorsed the place. My real estate agent said it was just like any other condo except it was a lease for a long-term period.

Well, here I am four years later, and our maintenance fees have exploded to more than $650 a month, everyone is arguing over who has responsibility over different repairs, we never receive any minutes of meetings or information from our managers, and several building emergencies have been left unattended for days, resulting in serious damage.

Is there anyone we can go to for help or intervention on behalf of all of our owners?

– LM

Dear LM:

Buying or leasing property on First Nations settlements is complicated and comes with risks that each buyer must evaluate before they enter into an agreement.

An apartment or condo on a First Nations development, in most circumstances, is not like buying any other condo.

You are not buying a piece of property; you are leasing a home that is not regulated by provincial laws that apply to strata properties. The developments are often created as associations or societies or companies under the Business Corporations Act.

They are regulated by the constitutions and bylaws of that act, which is your limited protection to operations and governance.

In one particular First Nations project I recently reviewed, the annual costs of operations, management and financial planning is conducted solely by the elected board, not by the collective owners.

Owners were surprised when the board decided to hire an administrator for $90,000 a year, hiking up monthly fees by $100 a month.

You and your fellow owners need to contact a lawyer who is experienced with real estate transactions, contract relationships and the governance function of the companies or associations that were created to operate your development.

Potential buyers need to seek legal advice regarding the transactions, contracts and operational governance of the development before they sign on the dotted line.

It can be difficult and costly to fix a problem after you have completed the deal.

Closely review the bylaws for items that many of us take for granted. Check the procedure on financial approvals; who has the authority to change or alter the agreements; who controls the decision making; and how frequently financial information is reported to the owners.

Find out what happens when a dispute arises and how it will be settled. Don’t forget insurance issues. Clearly understand who has the insurable interest in the property and who has liability.

Not all lease agreements are created equal. Many First Nations developments function extremely well, but don’t assume they all operate under the same bylaws and regulations.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association (www.choa. bc.ca). E-mail him at tony@ choa.bc.ca.

© The Vancouver Province 2008

No compromises in hotel homes

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Rebuild in Oak Bay salvages charm, character of old

Suzanne Morphet
Sun

Water views – and location — are a certainty for the eventual Oak Bay Beach Hotel households. With the Victoria Golf Club, Oak Bay Marina and the village of Oak Bay nearby, other proximities ‘can’t be duplicated or arrived at overnight,’ the developer says.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel kitchens will have granite countertops, stainless steel sinks and traditional manor house finishes and details.

Bathrooms in the residences will cleverly include a wooden ‘window’ which can slide open to give bathers a view of the ocean. Each residence floor plan will be unique.

Buying a home always involves choices and, usually, compromises. For example, how many homes with water views are actually located on the water? How many gourmet kitchens must be stocked with ingredients that are many gourmet kitchens must be stocked with ingredients that are a 30-minute drive away from the home? What home with charm and character doesn’t come with old plumbing crying out for replacement?

The Oak Bay Beach Hotel households won’t have had to make any of those compromises.

They’ll have water views — and the Strait of Juan de Fuca a stone’s throw away.

They’ll have gourmet kitchens — and the shops of Oak Bay within walking distance.

They’ll have charm and character — and no plumbing to replace.

In fact, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Private Residences will be both old and new. Owners Kevin and Shawna Walker have taken pains to retain as much as possible of the old Tudor-style hotel that’s graced Oak Bay‘s waterfront for over 80 years, while still rebuilding from scratch.

“We have a warehouse full of beams, thousands of boar feet of original beams and boards and brick and leaded windows, that are going to be used in the new hotel,” says Kevin Walker. “People will be able to walk into a replica of the original Snug [Pub] and reach out and touch the beams that were actually there in the original Snug in the original hotel.”

Tearing down the old hotel wasn’t something the Walkers set out to do – they cared too much about the historic building that Kevin’s father and his partner, Glenn Anderson had purchased in 1973, to want to level it. Even Kevin’s grandfather worked in the hotel back in the 70′s.

But when they went to renovate the building- something they had done before – the municipality of Oak Bay warned them that any further renovations would trigger a full seismic upgrade, something that would cost $11.7 million.

“My accountant friend sat me down and said ‘you know what, you will not have a viable business if you spend that much on seismic work, you might as well stop now because it will never repay you’, ” says Walker, recalling the conversation.

Coming to that realization was very difficult.

“That might have been the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced,” he continues. “Having to come to grips with, ‘do we just sell it or, let someone else set up condos here?’ because I knew I couldn’t do that, [build condos]. I’m a hotel guy, yet that’s what the underlying zoning on the land was for.”

Fortunately for patrons of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel – and they are legion – the Walkers decided to rebuild. And it turns out Walker is a ‘condo guy’ as well as a ‘hotel guy’. He and Shawna decided they would tear down the old building and rebuild not just a hotel, but also condos on top for full ownership. Anything that could be salvaged and reused to retain the hotel’s unique character and preserve people’s memories would be.

“I had a letter from someone saying, ‘You can do anything you want, but don’t destroy that fireplace in the centre of the lobby, we have wedding photos, we come back and have our anniversaries there, and it’s very very important to us.’ ” says Kevin, remembering one of many pleas from patrons.

Salvaging bricks and boards makes for slow, costly demolition, but it was something the Walkers were determined to do.

“I remember standing and talking with the demolition contractor,” recalls Kevin, “and I said, ‘how long is it going to take to take this building down?’ And he said, ‘We could do it and have the site cleared in three days.’ In the end it took 5 1/2 months.”

Once they made the decision to rebuild, the Walkers also determined to do it right, which in today’s construction world means meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines. “It’s a LEED gold criteria that we’re designing it to, which will be the first LEED Gold hotel in Canada,” says Kevin, adding “We’re three points away from Platinum, they tell me, right now, so it is absolutely world class.”

And world class carries, of course, a high price tag. To make the project financially feasible, the Walkers needed to add 20 private residences on the top two floors, above the hotel. The condos begin at $1 million for 857-square feet – not as much as a similar property in Vancouver or some other cities – but one of the highest prices per square foot in Victoria.

However, the Walkers are counting on the enduring popularity of the original Oak Bay Beach Hotel, and the decades of nostalgia associated with it, to carry over to the Residences. Given the hotel’s history, it’s probably a safe bet. “The Oak Bay Beach Hotel has been an important part of the community for a long time,” says John Herbert, an Oak Bay Councillor and member of the Oak Bay Tourism Committee. “It was the first place you thought of for your wedding reception, a Christmas party, a retirement party, a place to hear Christmas carols, a place for a nice lunch or dinner with friends. If you were organizing a community event that needed some financial assistance, it was never refused. It was like community living room where people felt very comfortable.”

And residents won’t just own a piece of the prestigious new building, but they’ll also enjoy all the amenities that come with a five star hotel. “We have 24-hour butler service, so if you’re going travelling they’ll water your plants, make sure your place gets dusted. There’s a valet at the front door who will park the car for you. If you want to call a chef up to cook dinner for your friends that you’re entertaining on Friday night, that can be arranged. And of course [there's] the mineral pool down by the sea, and the spa and fitness centre,” says Kevin, rhyming off the services included with a monthly strata fee.

In addition to the building and the amenities, the hotel’s prime location is also of note, directly on the waterfront, across from the Victoria Golf Club, and close to the Oak Bay Marina and the village of Oak Bay . “There’s a culture here, a neighbourhood that we fit into very nicely, which can’t be duplicated or arrived at overnight,” says Kevin, summing up the selling points of his project.

While residents of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel may not have to make compromises, they’ll still have to make choices. Life’s just like that. But instead of ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight?’ they’ll be asking instead, ‘should we cook, call up the chef from downstairs or simply eat out?”

Suzanne Morphet is a photojournalist in Victoria and contributor to a new book, The Vancouver Island Book of Everything.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Polygon’s North Vancouver return a come back invitation to young”

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Barbara Gunn
Sun

Artists rendering of the Branches development

VANCOUVER - The Polygon new-home developer has come back to North Vancouver, and its Branches apartment project is giving many folks a chance to get back to their roots – and also establish new ones.

So reports Polygon’s Ralph Archibald, who notes that the company’s North Shore venture – 134 residences housed in two four-storey buildings located just off Lynn Valley Road – marks the first time the 28-year-old builder has inserted residences in North Vancouver in about eight years. The 50 homes in the first building went to market in mid-June, and some 38 have been snapped up, many by people who used to live in North Vancouver, and have decided the time is right to return.

“We’ve done a lot of business with kids who grew up here, moved across the water into a smaller home over in Yaletown or Kits,” says Archibald, Polygon’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing.

“They might have bought a one-bedroom or a one-and-den. And they’ve now said, wow, that was fun for a while, but now I want to get my roots going, I want to establish myself, where do I really want to raise my family to do those things?

“They’re coming back here. We’ve done a lot of deals at Branches that way.”

A week from today, approximately 45 of the 84 two-and three-bedroom apartments in the second Branches building will be offered for sale. (Polygon is also erecting a third building on the Branches site, comprised of 31 rental suites.) As Archibald sees it, it’s not surprising that “a lot of people” expressed interest in the lead-up to next Saturday’s release.

Branches is currently one of just two for-purchase apartment buildings in North Vancouver, and the only one in the immediate Lynn Valley neighbourhood, he says. As well, Archibald adds, the pricing of the homes means many established homeowners now have an opportunity to increase their living space, without digging deeper into their pocket books.

One of those individuals, says Archibald, is herself a Polygon employee.

“She bought a home from us in downtown Yaletown and has outgrown it now,” he says. “She’s a very active person; she’s on her mountain bike, she’s a kayaker, a rock-climber, and she bought a home from us here, a two-bedroom home.

“At the end of the day, she’ll be able to dispose of her smaller unit downtown and move across here for relatively the same money, and get herself some more space . . . That’s exactly who these type of people are.”

The project’s name is a clear nod to its natural setting – Branches is bordered, on one side, by the towering trees in a stretch of protected green space, and is just down the road from Lynn Canyon Park and Mount Seymour Provincial Park - and Polygon has used the metaphor liberally. “Take root on the North Shore” is the mantra of the Branches advertising campaign, and the floor plans are named, not surprisingly, for trees: birch, cedar, dogwood and fir.

Additionally, says Archibald, the Branches moniker speaks to the building’s architectural style, something Polygon calls contemporary Pacific Northwest.

“It’s a wood-framed building and there’s a lot of wood trim on it, especially at the entry,” he says. “We knew what Pacific Northwest was going to feel like – exposed timbers and all those things – so the name kind of flowed from both the architecture and the natural setting.”

The homes’ exteriors will incorporate natural finishes, including brick and timber brackets, but so, too, will the interiors of the Branches’ homes. Kitchens will be fitted with maple cabinets, electric fireplaces with limestone tile inserts, and lobbies with slate flooring.

But it’s the oversized windows that are among the features Archibald seems most eager to showcase. The glazing is expansive, especially in the fourth-floor homes, where the standard nine-foot ceilings rise up to 15 feet in the living and dining areas along with the windows. Those homes proved particularly popular in the initial offering, as did the ground-level residences, which have patio access to large private yards.

Those apartments, says Archibald, have appealed largely to what he calls “move-down buyers,” individuals relocating into an apartment from a townhome or single-family residence.

“In a lot of circumstances, [we] give ground-floor yards to people that rival some single-family homes,” says Archibald. “These are probably some of the largest ground-floor apartment yards that we’ve done, I think.”

Polygon, which has become somewhat recognized for the upscale amenity centres it inserts into its residential projects, will incorporate a relatively small such facility at Branches, one comprised of an exercise area and guest suite.

“The real amenity here is Lynn Valley,” points out Archibald. “It’s the shops and services that are here.”

The Karen Magnussen Recreation Centre, with its wave pool, ice rink and tennis courts, is a short stroll in one direction, and the Lynn Valley Shopping Centre, home to a Save-on Foods, Winners, Zellers and neighbourhood pub, is a quick walk in the other.

Also nearby is the new Lynn Valley Library and Town Centre, where funky shops – including a yoga centre, gift gallery, coffee shop and infant-oriented “Baby Eats” restaurant – surround a 12,000-square-foot public plaza.

It’s a community with much to offer, says Archibald, adding that Polygon is delighted to be returning to North Vancouver.

“It’s great,” he says. “You know, North Van is an area that appeals to a lot of different people . . .

“And as I said before, that is what’s unique about this; it gives the opportunity for a lot of young people who have moved away to come back and to put down roots and re-establish their own roots where they first grew up . . .

“We knew it would be popular, and it’s proven to be that.”

Luxury-home market defies residential trend

Friday, September 26th, 2008

High-end residences are still selling more briskly than average houses

Fiona Anderson
Sun

The market for high-end homes continues to be robust in most parts of British Columbia at a time when the housing market in general is slowing down. But that may end soon, according to a report by Re/Max released Thursday.

In Greater Vancouver, sales of homes with price tags of more than $2 million were up five per cent for the first seven months of 2008, while overall residential sales dropped 24 per cent during the same period, the report said.

Victoria also saw sales of high-end homes — valued at $1 million or more in that market — rise four per cent, compared to a drop of 18 per cent in home sales generally.

In Kelowna however, sales of luxury homes — $1 million or more — dropped 11 per cent year over year, still better than the 30-per-cent fall felt across the board.

South Surrey-White Rock was the hardest hit of B.C. cities reviewed, with a 28-per-cent drop in sales of homes costing more than $1.2 million so far this year. Numbers for the residential market as a whole for the area were not included in the report.

The market for luxury homes “is a separate market with its own factors,” Re/Max’s regional executive vice-president Elton Ash said in an interview.

What’s been pushing the positive numbers in part is pent-up demand.

In 2006 and 2007, there was very little inventory as people snapped up all homes, even the higher-end ones, Ash said.

But buyers of luxury homes “are very discriminating,” he said. And those looking for a $5-million or $6-million home can afford to wait for the right house.

“So that’s one reason why general market conditions don’t affect the luxury home market as much,” Ash said.

But once they find what they’re looking for, demand is likely to level off, Ash said.

Another factor pushing sales is an influx of buyers from both Europe and mainland China, Ash said. But with the uncertain economic situation, notably the financial crisis in the United States, these buyers are likely to be more cautious about jumping into the market, which will further dampen sales.

Tsur Somerville, director of the centre for urban economics and real estate at the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C., said there is generally more variation at the upper end of the housing market than the lower end.

“The higher end of the market tends to be a more volatile market because the product is more varied and therefore search times will tend to be longer, and bid-ask spreads tend to be larger because there is less information about what a property is worth,” Somerville said.

As well, there is less pressure for sales to happen quickly, since both the buyer and seller can afford to take their time, he said.

But while the market is volatile, luxury homes don’t usually see the same price drops felt in the rest of the market, he added.

However, the Re/Max report said that in south Surrey, many high-end properties are overpriced and have been on the market for more than a year.

In that area, 14 per cent of total residential sales were high-end, whereas in all of Metro Vancouver, two per cent of house sales are for more than the $2-million high-end price tag used as a bench mark in the report.

But for a real luxury home — “properties that are truly unique” — the purchase price is more likely to be at least $4 million, said Karin Smith, a realtor with Re/Max Select Properties. Homes in that price range make up a very small part of the market, she said.

Elsewhere in the country, sales of high-end homes in Edmonton – valued at more than $850,000 — dropped 64 per cent. But in Regina, the number of luxury home sales, with prices of more than $500,000, jumped from 17 to 69, or 306 per cent.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Luxury market still hot – In Canada

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Bidding war pushed $9-million tag to $11 million

Derek Abma
Province

Prices for this sort of upper-end home in Winnipeg have risen by 89 per cent this year

OTTAWA – Luxury-home sales in Canada have been surprisingly strong given the uncertain economic climate and growing weakness in the general housing market, says a report released yesterday.

Real-estate group Re/Max said sales of “upper-end” homes — defined as roughly the top five per cent of homes in terms of price in their respective markets — were up during the first seven months of this year in 10 of the 15 major Canadian markets tracked.

It said in all but two markets, luxury homes were the best-performing category in terms of sales performance compared to last year.

However, the real-estate organization said strength in this market segment is not expected to last.

“The market for luxury homes is usually the first to show pressure cracks, but the reverse is actually true this year, with pent-up demand [due to trade-up activity], less speculation and job transfers all factors contributing to stability in this segment,” Michael Polzler, Re/Max’s executive vice-president for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, said.

But financial market conditions and more higher-end homes being put up for sale are expected to curtail both sales volumes and price levels in the coming months, Re/Max said.

Elton Ash, Re/Max’s executive vice-president for Western Canada, said in a statement that “we are seeing a return to more balanced conditions.

“This situation is expected to have an impact on high-end values in coming months, especially in areas that have experienced consistent double-digit growth.”

In terms of growth in upper-end homes sales, Regina saw the most proportionally this year at 306 per cent. Winnipeg was next at 89 per cent, followed by St. John’s, N.L., at 78 per cent.

The minority group of cities that saw sales declines among their most expensive homes group included Toronto, Hamilton, Calgary, Edmonton and Kelowna.

Each market has a different price point that marks what Re/Max defined as the start of the luxury-home category.

It ranged from about $2 million in Greater Vancouver to $1 million in Calgary to $750,000 in Ottawa, and $400,000 in St. John’s and Halifax.

Re/Max said the most expensive MLS residential sale this year was for $11.5 million in the Vancouver area.

It also noted that a property in Toronto was listed at $9 million but a bidding war pushed the sale price to more than $11 million.

The most expensive condominium in Canada is currently listed for sale at $14.8 million in Vancouver, reduced from $18 million earlier this year, it said.

Re/Max said the most expensive listing in the country is a penthouse on the 55th floor of a Four Seasons Hotel currently under construction in Toronto, with an asking price of $30 million.

© The Vancouver Province 2008

 

Canada’s housing bubble could soon burst, Merrill Lynch warns

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Prime minister dismisses report, saying market here is ‘much stronger’

Eric Beauchesne
Sun

Canadian households are nearing the financial tipping point that Americans reached two years ago, which plunged their housing market into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, a senior Bay Street economist warned Wednesday.

It may just be a matter of time before the Canadian housing market tanks like the U.S. market did, Merrill Lynch Canada economist David Wolf said, warning that Canadian households are now nearly as overextended as households in the U.S., and even more so than those in Britain, prior to the bursting of the housing market bubbles in those countries.

“What worries us is that Canadian households have been running a larger financial deficit than households in either the U.S. or the U.K.,” Wolf said in a commentary, noting that in 2007 Canadian household net borrowing amounted to 6.3 per cent of disposable income, which was higher than in Britain and not far off the seven per cent peak in the U.S. in 2005, prior to the bursting of that country’s housing bubble.

The concern of a deep housing market meltdown in Canada was dismissed as unwarranted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as overly pessimistic by another Bay Street analyst and a senior real-estate industry economist.

“We will not see such a situation here as we see in the U.S.,” Harper said, stressing that both the housing and consumer markets and financial institutions in Canada are “much stronger” than in the U.S.

Wolf conceded that the fear of a U.S.-style housing meltdown here, challenges the view that Canadian borrowers and lenders have been more conservative than those in the U.S. and that their debt load is somehow more sustainable.

“We fear, however, that it may simply be a matter of time,” he said, suggesting that the recent fall in Canadian home prices and the increase in unsold homes on the market are warning signs that are being overlooked because of continued mortgage lending here.

The underlying cause of the U.S. housing market collapse and in turn that country’s financial crisis was that U.S. banks lent people too much money, Wolf said.

“It’s horribly clear in retrospect how excessive the lending in the U.S. was,” he said.

“But it couldn’t have been clear while it was happening, because the banks kept doing it, and the market kept accommodating it,” he added, suggesting that may explain the continued strong growth in mortgage lending here.

But as is the case here now, there were danger signals there, including the growing household financial deficit, he said.

“From this perspective, the absence of a Canadian credit crunch to date may be cause for concern, not comfort,” Wolf said, questioning how can it be a good thing that mortgage debt continues to grow at a double-digit pace as housing prices decline. “We believe that markets remain overly sanguine with respect to the prospects for the Canadian housing market, the financial sector and the overall economy.”

The report is not the first to warn that Canada‘s housing market is not immune to a sharp downturn, but it is one of the most pessimistic to date.

However, BMO economist Douglas Porter said Wednesday a deep and broad-based Canadian housing market meltdown, as happened in the U.S., is unlikely.

“I’m somewhere between the meltdown camp and everything’s hunky-dory,” Porter said.

The Canadian housing boom was supported more by economic strength coming from the commodity boom than by the loose lending practices that fuelled the U.S. market, Porter said. And mortgage lending practices here were more conservative than in the U.S., with only a few lenders “dipping their toes” into subprime market.

While some further decline in Canadian housing prices is to be expected, a greater threat to the housing market here than over-extended household finances would be a serious recession in the overall U.S. economy, Canada‘s main export market, Porter said.

“There is a risk that the U.S. economy is going to go through a deeper downturn,” he added.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Luxury home sales hold steady in most major markets across the country, says RE/MAX

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Two-thirds of markets surveyed report upswing in the number of upper-end homes sold in 2008

Other

Luxury home sales have outperformed virtually all other residential price points this year, but activity in the top-end is expected to taper in most major Canadian centres in coming months, according to a report released today by RE/MAX.

The RE/MAX Upper-End Report, which highlights trends and developments in 15 housing markets across the country for the first seven months of 2008 found Vancouver, Victoria, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Halifax-Dartmouth, and St. John’s all experienced an upswing in sales activity, while declines were noted in Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton-Burlington, and Toronto. Also significant is in all but two markets, percentage increases in sales were greatest in the upper-end when compared to the overall residential marketplace in 2008.

Market

Price Point

Sales/07

 Sales/08

Luxury

All Res. % +/-

% +/-

Greater Vancouver   

$2 million

370

390

5

-24

Victoria

$1 million

159

165

4

-18

Kelowna

$1 million

71

63

-11

-30

Edmonton

$850,000

110

67

-64

-23

Calgary

$1 million

312

258

-17

-30

Regina

$500,000

17

69

306

-11

Saskatoon

$500,000

11

19

72

-14

Winnipeg

$500,000

62

117

89

0.01

London

$350,000

383

435

14

-9

Kitchener-Waterloo

$500,000

128

188

47

-5

Hamilton-Burlington

$750,000

76

50

-34

-7

Greater Toronto

$1.5 million

505

487

-5

-13

Ottawa

$750,000

99

135

36

-3

Halifax-Dartmouth

$400,000

218

262

20

-7

St. John’s

$400,000

28

50

78

11

Source: RE/MAX, Local Real Estate Boards

     

                                                                                

“In two-thirds of the markets we surveyed, demand for upscale homes surpassed peak levels reported last year,” says Elton Ash, Regional Executive Vice President, RE/MAX of Western Canada.  “However, with supply edging higher in most major centres and few markets reporting tight inventory levels, we are seeing a return to more balanced conditions.  This situation is expected to have an impact on high-end values in coming months, especially in areas that have experienced consistent double-digit growth.”

Although the top-end of the market represents less than five per cent of total sales, activity is generally a gauge of overall market conditions.  Leading the country in terms of percentage increase in luxury home sales are Regina (up 306 per cent); Winnipeg (up 89 per cent); St. John’s (up 78 per cent); Saskatoon (up 72 per cent); Kitchener-Waterloo (up 47 per cent); Ottawa (up 36 per cent); Halifax-Dartmouth (up 20 per cent); London (up 14 per cent); Greater Vancouver (up five per cent); and Victoria (up four per cent). Solid performance is likely a result of consumer confidence, particularly in provinces like Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and parts of Ontario where solid economic fundamentals helped to bolster the number of homes sold in the upper-end. 

“Given the transition occurring in most residential real estate markets, upper-end sales remain exceptionally strong,” says Michael Polzler, Executive Vice President and Regional Director, RE/MAX Ontario-Atlantic Canada.  “The market for luxury homes is usually the first to show pressure cracks, but the reverse is actually true this year, with pent-up demand (due to trade-up activity), less speculation, and job transfers all factors contributing to stability in this segment.  That being said, we feel uncertainty in financial markets both here and abroad will give purchasers cause for concern in the immediate future.”

The RE/MAX Upper-End Report also notes serious appreciation in housing values in recent years has pushed upper-end price points to new levels.  This is especially so in Western Canada where $2 million is now merely a starting price in Greater Vancouver, while in the tony Westside, that figure is closer to $4 million. Calgary is steady at $1 million this year, but is pushing closer to the $1.5 million benchmark.  In Ottawa, where the upper-end price point is currently pegged at $750,000, sales are increasingly occurring over the $1 million mark.

Other highlights include:

§   The most expensive MLS sale in Canada in 2008 occurred in Greater Vancouver with a sticker price of $11.5 million.  A property priced at $9 million in Greater Toronto sold in a multiple offer situation for more than $11 million as well.

§   The priciest condominium currently listed for sale on MLS is priced at $14.8 million in Greater Vancouver – reduced from $18 million earlier this year.

§   The Four Seasons Hotel, currently under construction in Greater Toronto’s Yorkville area, has the most expensive list price in the country — $30 million for a penthouse suite on the 55th floor.

RE/MAX is Canada‘s leading real estate organization with over 18,000 sales associates situated throughout its more than 640 independently owned and operated offices across the country. The RE/MAX franchise network, now in its 34th year, is a global real estate system operating in over 65 countries.  More than 7,000 independently owned offices engage more than 100,000 member sales associates who lead the industry in professional designations, experience and production while providing real estate services in residential, commercial, referral and asset management.  For more information, visit: www.remax.ca.

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For more information:

Marie Selby                                                                  Eva Blay /Melissa Lucas

RE/MAX of Western Canada                                        Point Blank Communications

250.860.3628                                                                 416.781.3911

Canada’s Mortgage Market is Not Like The U.S.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

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