Archive for May, 2009

Google 411

Friday, May 29th, 2009


Here’s a number worth putting in your cell phone and your home phone speed dial: 
1-800-GOOG411. (1-800-466-4411)

This is a terrific service from Google, and it’s free.

Don’t waste your money on information calls and don’t waste your time manually dialing the number.

(Read the example below and watch the short video before you try this.)

Hit the speed dial that you have programmed in 1-800-466-4411, for information.

The voice at the other end says, “City & Province.”   
I say,
“Vancouver, B.C.He says,Business, Name or Type of Service.”  I say, “Cardero’s Restaurant.” He says, “Connecting” and Carderos answers the phone.  How great is that?  This is nationwide and Google provides the service absolutely free!

No “information charges” and NO “long distance charges.”

Click on the link below and watch the short clip for a quick demonstration. 

First-time homebuyers can get short-term loans for $8,000 tax credit

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Alan Zibel
USA Today

WASHINGTON — Thousands of first-time homebuyers will be able to get short-term loans so they can quickly make use of a new $8,000 tax credit.

The Federal Housing Administration on Friday released details of a plan in which borrowers who use FHA loans can receive the credit before they complete their taxes.

The FHA had no estimate of how many borrowers would qualify. But the agency, which backs about a quarter of new-home loans, is projected to guarantee about 2.2 million loans in the next budget year.

Borrowers can claim the credit by filing an amended 2008 tax return or can wait for their 2009 return.

The change “will present an enormous benefit for communities struggling to deal with an oversupply of housing,” Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement.

Borrowers will still have to come up with the FHA’s required 3.5% down payment, unless they work through a state or local housing program. But officials say the money can still be used for closing costs or a larger down payment.

The tax credit was included in the economic stimulus package signed by President Obama in February.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Recessionary renos

Friday, May 29th, 2009

How to spruce up your home on a budget

James Careless

A coat of paint can work wonders to revive a tired-looking room

You want to renovate, but cash is scarce? No problem. You’ve got a number of “recessionary renos” to choose from to make your living space better on a budget.

For penny-pinching results, “nothing beats plaster and paint,” says Barry Berman, owner of Berman Renovations.

“Filling in the holes and then repainting a room brings it back to life. Even if you do the same colours again, walls that were dirty now look clean and fresh. For the money, you can’t get a better recessionary reno value.”

The next-best way to renovate on a budget is to change the details within a room, to make it look different than before.

“For instance, people can revamp their kitchens by putting up a backsplash using peel-and-stick tiles or small ceramic tiles,” says Anne Legault, Home Depot Quebec‘s merchandising manager. “They can also update their faucets, change the handles on their doors, and replace their lighting fixtures — perhaps adding dimmers to create a little ambience. There’s a lot you can do without spending much money.”

The same logic works in other areas of the home. In the bathroom, for instance, new paint and matching towels can revitalize an old space. If you have the money, change the faucets and mirrors, too.

When possible, upgrade a feature within a living space to impart more class.

“Home Depot has painted crown moulding that can dress up any room,” Legault said.

“We’ve got textured wallpaper that you can paint to enhance a den, or wallpaper with realistic-looking brick for adding an urban touch to a rec room.”

Besides these details, a lot can be achieved by simply tidying up your home, both inside and out. Keeping the lawn weeded, cut and watered will make your house look better, even though the only real cost is your time.

Inside, take time to “edit” your space, getting rid of items you no longer use or have kept stored for years.

Remember, some of this stuff can be sold to other people at garage sales. The cash you make can be used to further fix up your home.

“Whatever your plan, do things that are pleasing to the eye,” said Bruce Vineberg, president of Vicon Construction.

“In the basement, put in drywall and carpet rather than leaving concrete and painted floors; put in light fixtures instead of light bulbs. Little things can do a lot to make a space feel better.”

In general, recessionary renos preclude hiring someone to do the work for you. After all, you’re trying to save money by doing it yourself.

But don’t be unwisely thrifty; there are some jobs, such as plumbing, wiring and complicated carpentry, that are best done by professionals.

“It’s not cost-effective to do renovation work yourself if you are not up to the task,” Berman said. “Quality counts inside a home. You don’t want to live with ceilings covered in paint splotches, simply because you don’t have the experience to paint lines cleanly.

“The same is true for kitchen cabinetry, flooring, drywall borders, and anything else that catches people’s eyes.

Sometimes, the best recessionary-reno strategy is to save up until you can afford to have the renovation done right.”

The moral here is that tight times don’t have to mean an end to home renovation. Rather, a recession means approaching projects more carefully — sometimes by doing a whole lot of little projects you can afford, as opposed to one big one you can’t.

Whatever you do, don’t let the economy stop you from revitalizing a living space. For $50, a gallon of paint, a roller and a brush can do wonders in any room.


Good news: The federal Home Renovation Tax Credit will apply to renovations (and new construction) from Jan. 27, 2009, to Feb. 1, 2010. “You just keep your receipts, then use them to file for the tax credit next year,” said Home Depot’s Anne Legault. “The credit applies to work done inside and outside, including decks . . . and other items that improve your property.” The credit, which is worth 15 per cent of eligible expenses on your 2009 tax return, applies to total expenditures not less than $1,000, but no more than $10,000, with a top credit limit of $1,350. Find out more at

Also: Retailers such as Rona are offering incentives to lower material costs for credit-eligible projects. Before buying your renovation supplies, be sure to ask your local retailer if they have such a program.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Google’s “Wave” and Microsoft’s “Bing” are 2 new competing search engines

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Software giant’s product is a challenge to Google’s popular search engine

Gillian Shaw

Bing is causing a buzz as software giant Microsoft takes on the Google Goliath with a new decision search engine that promises to make online searches faster and more intuitive.

The announcement Thursday came not long after Google unveiled its own new e-mail and collaboration initiative “Google Wave” which takes a new approach to online communications.

Bing, currently in preview mode, will launch to the public in Canada and the U.S. on June 3, and will roll out in other countries around the globe during the next 12 to 18 months.

“We have focused on listening to consumers and going through and really trying to understand what consumers are doing online,” said Stacey Jarvis, search lead for Microsoft Canada. “Over the past 12 years, search hasn’t evolved to meet consumer needs.”

Jarvis said as the Internet has expanded and there are increased multi-media offerings with everything from images to audio and video, consumers are finding their searches are becoming less successful.

“Consumers aren’t necessarily satisfied with their search results,” she said. “Only one in four queries currently delivers a successful result” — defined as finding what you want on the first page of the search results.

Jarvis said search queries are becoming more decision-oriented as consumers go online for everything from buying choices to health research. Jarvis said 42 per cent of all searches require some refinement.

Jarvis said that Bing is designed to anticipate user intent, a feature that allows surfers to zoom in more efficiently on the information they are seeking. Canadians are among the search gurus of the world — coming second only to Finland with an average of 124 searches per month per user.

Bing has a number of tools from autosuggest, which suggests similar or related terms to the one you are searching, best match to cut the number of click-throughs to find the subsection of a website you need — such as customer service numbers — and document preview that lets a user hover over a search result to preview the site’s content.

I tried Bing s preview, typing in “Vancouver“.

On the left-hand side, an explore pane offers filtered results. In this case: weather, airport, hotels, map, real estate, and images.

The search results themselves are grouped under those headings on the page, and then a few general entries that included such links as a Wikipedia listing, the City of Vancouver‘s website, Tourism Vancouver, and Discover Vancouver.

There are still sponsored ads on the search site, but Jarvis said the search results are based on query intent and are not ads.

For related searches, a “Vancouver” Bing search turned up Craigslist-Vancouver, The Vancouver Sun, The Province, Vancouver BC, Vancouver Giants, and Vancouver Canada.

There is also a session history feature which tracks your searches so you can return to those results without having to type in a new query.

Google had its own announcement in San Francisco this week, where it previewed Google Wave — which is being made available to a small number of developers before it is launched to the public.

Wave will let multiple users exchange real-time dialogue, photos, videos, maps, documents and other information forms within a single, shared space — a wave — with contributors able to add replies, edit the wave, or see what others are typing.

As for Bing, Google said it welcomes the competition.

“We welcome competition that helps deliver useful information to users and expands user choice,” Google Canada spokeswoman Tamara Micner said in an e-mail. “Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space. It makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Microsoft lifts lid on search engine

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Glenn Chapman

Microsoft yesterday unveiled a new search engine, Bing, designed to intuitively understand what people are searching for on the Internet and challenge online king Google.

The U.S. software colossus refers to Bing as a “Decision Engine” and said it will have it deployed worldwide at by Wednesday.

“Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the web and find information, but they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Bing search employs semantic technology intended to help it recognize not just key words but what is intended by phrases typed in as online queries, according to Microsoft.

Internet search engines have traditionally relied on matching key words to words found at websites. Bing is built to “go beyond today’s search experience” by recognizing content and adapting to query types, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

Bing takes aim at Microsoft arch-rival Google, which dominates the online search market.

Bing will replace MSN Live search, which has languished in a distant third place behind Google and Yahoo!

“Microsoft’s Bing will change the face of search,” Forrester analyst Shar VanBoskirk proclaimed in a blog post at the technology-tracking firm’s website.

“Bing focuses on delivering answers, not web pages.”

Bing gives Microsoft “a leg up” on competitors but is more likely to lure users from Yahoo! than Google because “Google is too much of a habit for everyone,” according to VanBoskirk.

The search engine is aimed at online shoppers and will initially focus on helping people make buying decisions, plan trips, research health matters, or find local businesses.

Microsoft cited study results indicating that an estimated 30 per cent of online searches are abandoned out of frustration and that searchers often fail to get what they seek on a first try.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Condo market fights to recover as prices remain down

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Julie Schmit
USA Today

Manhattan West, a stalled condominium project, stands unfinished in Las Vegas, not an uncommon sight across the USA. By Jae C. Hong, AP

Paul Herstein is in a good spot.

The Seattle oncologist has shopped condominiums in eight cities — including San Diego, Miami and Chicago— for the past year. He wants a top floor on a building with a water view. He can pay cash. And he’s in no rush to buy.

“Time is probably on my side,” he says. “Sellers will have to become more realistic over the next year or so.”

The most recent housing figures indicate Herstein may be right, at least in some markets and in some price ranges.

While evidence mounts that the single-family-home market is stabilizing, the condominium market remains “substantially weaker,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

In April, resale condo and co-op sales nationwide were down 9.4% from a year ago vs. a 2.8% drop for single-family homes, the association said Wednesday. Median prices fared worse, too, with condo prices down 18.5% year-over-year vs. 15% for single-family homes.

More distress is likely for the condo market, says Bradley Hunter, chief economist for market researcher Metrostudy. He says some markets could see condo prices drop 60% from their peak in 2005 or 2006. While some single-family-home markets will hit bottom next year, Hunter doesn’t see that for the condo market until 2011. That’s because it typically takes years to construct condo projects so new units have continued to come on line despite the real estate downturn.

“It is absolutely a buyer’s market,” says Paul Berg, 73, a forensic psychologist who, with his wife, recently paid $1.4 million for a new, 2,000-square-foot condo in downtown San Diego. A year ago, the price was twice as high, Berg says.

For those on the selling side of the market, the downturn has been intense.

•Prices for condos in South Florida have plunged 40% to 50%, or more in some buildings, from original prices in 2004, 2005 and 2006, Metrostudy says. Recovery is far off. In Miami-Dade County, which includes downtown Miami, condo inventories are at a 41.5-month supply at the current sales rate, Hunter says. “That’s a mammoth number.”

•In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the average sales price per square foot for a condo is about 16% less than it was three years ago, says the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. Recent sales activity “has come to a grinding halt,” says downtown condo expert Kristen DuLac of Edina Realty.

•In Austin, buyers at a recent auction got condos for 15% to 20% less than similar units that sold in late 2008, says Rhett Winchell, president of California-based Kennedy Wilson Auction Group. His company has done almost three dozen condo auctions for builders in the last two years.

Additional challenges

The same factors dogging single-family-home sales have hurt the condo market, including rising unemployment, stock portfolio losses and tightening credit. The condo market faces additional challenges. For one, single-family-home prices in some markets have dropped so much they’re attracting what would have been condo buyers, Winchell says. Condo loans are also tougher to get now than single-family-home loans.

“Lenders have greatly tightened restrictions because they see condo properties as a little more risky,” Yun says, in part because occupancy rates in buildings can vary a lot.

To woo buyers, condo developers have been “aggressive with incentives,” says Wendy Leung, condo expert at John L. Scott Real Estate in Seattle. A new condo development there, Gallery, is offering buyers incentives such as a credit of 3% of the purchase price toward closing costs, or no homeowner dues until 2011.

Developers are also relying more on rentals. In Las Vegas, the number of rentals in some luxury high-rise condo buildings on or near the Strip has doubled in recent years, says Bruce Hiatt, owner of Luxury Realty Group. “Owners or developers are buying time,” he says.

In San Diego, Mark Mills, Realtor and condo expert for Re/Max Real Estate Consultants, estimates that 50% of the units in his San Diego condo building are owner occupied, down from 75% in 2004.

Despite the prospect of more distress ahead for the condo market, some markets show signs of improvement, Realtors say.

In April, Seattle had 13% fewer condos for sale than the same month a year earlier. Pending sales were up 1% year over year, Leung says.

Las Vegas‘ Hiatt says prices have dropped so much that multiple offers are now common. He says he’s lost seven deals in recent weeks to multiple offers. “People didn’t expect this to happen until next year,” he says. “We are firming in price as well as demand.”

In San Diego County, resale condo prices in April were down 55% from their peak three years earlier, says market researcher MDA DataQuick.

That big plunge — and recent rise in sales activity — is encouraging, says San Diego condo developer Nat Bosa of Bosa Development. In July, it’ll reopen sales of the Bayside at Embarcadero condo project after a year of inactivity. “There are many more buyers out there now,” Bosa says.

Some buyers aren’t waiting for anyone to call an official bottom. Marianne Rose and her husband bought a Seattle condo in April. They paid $213,500 for a 568-square-foot unit near downtown. A year ago, similar units were selling for at least $240,000, says Rose, a therapist.

The condo gives the family, which includes four daughters ages 11, 15, 18 and 21, an alternative to commuting from their home on nearby Vashon Island. Rose’s husband, who works in network communications, works a block from the condo and one daughter attends a nearby high school. The couple expect to own the condo for decades.

“We’re probably crazy, taking a risk in this economy,” she says. “But you only know where the bottom is when you look back.”

A unique dining experience

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Shuraku provides a little more polish than the typical izakaya-style of many Japanese restaurants

Mia Stainsby

Chef Masahiro Omori of Shuraku Sake Bar and Bistro holds a tempting tray.


833 Granville St., 604-687-6622.

Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone.

– – –

‘I feel like Survivorman,” my partner said. I rolled my eyes.

My brave he-man had just eaten a fried prawn head. We’d ordered some spot prawn nigiri at Shuraku Sake Bar and Bistro.

They arrived achingly fresh with the heads sitting neatly beside the nigiri. “We can fry them for you,” our server said. “Okay,” we trilled.

Upon their return, I lost my trill, nibbling only the tickle-me tentacles. My partner dug in, though. Not quite Survivorman-like, he took mouse-sized bites and stopped at the accusing little black eyeballs.

(For those out of the loop, Survivorman is a TV show where this guy is dumped in the wilderness and films himself surviving without food or shelter or tools for seven days in each episode.)

Be it the 25 premium sakes by the glass, the twinklingly fresh sushi, the stand-out tempura or the lure of fried spot prawn heads, you’re in for a unique dining experience at Shuraku.

You might think it’s an izakaya, the plot in many of the newer Japanese restaurants. Although Vancouver izakayas have migrated upward from the beer-plus-eats version in Japan, Shuraku is much too polished to count as one. It does offer small plates and sharing plates, but it also offers sushi and sashimi, not common in izakayas. Instead of beer, or wine, they really make a big deal of sake, a tribute to owner Iori Kataoka’s grandfather, who was a sake maker. (The “shu” in Shuraku means sake.)

Kataoka also owns Zest restaurant at Dunbar and 16th, a really polished Japanese restaurant which I recommend.

She bought out Kitto, which she operated in this same spot for 10 years. Shuraku is its transformation.

A prawn head or two, incidentally, is not adventurous dining for the Japanese.

“The Japanese would not miss it,” Kataoka says.

The chef, Masahiro Omori, worked in high-end hotels in Tokyo but also wanted to learn izakaya cooking so after his high-end shifts, he worked in an izakaya. Shuraku blends the two styles. Omori is the one with the black plastic hair band holding back his hair, girlie-style. “It’s supposed to be trendy,” Kataoka says, sounding like she needs more convincing.

The sushi we tried were top- notch; there are the classics as well as “Innovative Rolls” which I often find go over the top with sauces and extreme size.

His are more refined; however, one exception, called Pink Igloo (deep-fried salmon, scallions, radish, sushi rice wrapped in pink soybean paper and sitting on drizzles of cream cheese mayo) was bland in spite of all that was going on. I liked the Renkon Hasami Age (a lightly deep-fried sushi roll with shrimp and lotus root).

The back ribs glazed with Japanese barbecue sauce are positively yummy; the Ban Ban Gee is a tweaked Chinese-style chicken. Cold shredded chicken with sesame sauce is tamped into a puck so dense the server loosens it with a fork for you.

The eggplant poppers are cool considering most everything you do with eggplant is limp and wet. These crunch.

He inserts chicken and pork into an incision in a piece of eggplant, batters, then deep-fries it to a light crispiness.

Shuraku is easy to miss on Granville Street amid what looks like a psycho public works project. Wear sensible shoes because while Canada Line construction continues, you’ll be slip-sliding on gravel.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Women lead first-time homebuyers

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


Women led the charge of first-time buyers jumping back into British Columbia‘s real estate markets, according to a recent report from real-estate firm Royal LePage.

Royal Lepage said new buyers, spurred on by rock-bottom mortgage rates and declining prices that put home prices back in reach, have started coming back into the market, and in B.C., some 60 per cent of them are women.

“When first-time buyers stepped out of the market in the fourth quarter of 2008, at the height of the global recession, their absence was profoundly felt,” Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper said in a news release.

They are, however, “back in force,” he added, “and with them, the beginnings of a market recovery.”

Sales remain substantially below the levels markets experienced in 2008, but they have come up from extremely low levels of last fall.

Royal LePage commissioned polling firm Pollara to survey 474 adult Canadians who are contemplating a first-home purchase in the next three years.

In the survey, pollsters found affordability was the top consideration in decisions to buy.

In B.C., the survey found prospective buyers were attracted the most by falling prices, with 96 per cent of respondents reporting that as their prime motivating factor. Ninety-two per cent said low interest rates were another key motivating factor.

The survey found that most first-time buyers in Vancouver favoured condominiums as their first purchase, though an increasing number were finding suitable detached homes in the Fraser Valley.

Further, the survey found that 40 per cent of buyers were looking to purchase a “fixer-upper,” with 80 per cent of respondents saying they would take advantage of the federal government’s renovation tax credit.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Vancouver housing prices in further decline

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Metro house prices dipped 1.7 per cent in March from February on the Teranet house price index, the ninth consecutive month of decline

Derrick Penner

On the question of where house prices are going compared with where they’ve come from, the measure National Bank Financial has devised, hints at continuing declines in Metro Vancouver, at least until sales volumes climb more substantially.

Metro Vancouver house prices dipped 1.7 per cent in March from February on the Teranet-National Bank Composite House Price Index, which was released Wednesday.

Between January and March, Vancouver prices fell 6.4 per cent, and the March drop was the ninth consecutive month of decline on the financial institution’s measure.

The Teranet-National Bank index pegs Vancouver‘s market peak at June of 2008, from which it has declined almost 12 per cent.

“I’m not making a forecast,” Simon Cote, managing director of property derivatives for National Bank Financial, said in an interview. “But if we look to previous business cycles, very seldom do we see the house-price index turn around in a direct V shape.”

He looks to the volume of sales as an indicator that the decline in values is stopping, and the sales volumes that are captured in the Teranet index were still low compared with a year ago, some 40 per cent below last year in Vancouver‘s case.

“Until the year-over-year change in volume starts to pick up and be positive, even if it is low, low single-digit nationally, according to the Teranet report, home prices across the six markets it measures declined 1.27 per cent from February to March and were down 4.74 per cent from January numbers, it is going to be very difficult to see a turnaround [or stabilization] in the index,” Cote said.

Overall, Cote said the March index shows that the decline in property values that the index has seen in western cities, has spread to the east, particularly Toronto.

The Teranet-National Bank index is calculated based on repeat sales of existing homes, known as paired sales, to capture direct examples of changes in value, rather than just measuring the average value of all homes that sell in a given month.

National Bank Financial uses the index as the basis to trade housing futures, builders or lenders to make bets on whether home prices will increase or decrease and hedge against volatility in housing prices.

It tracks housing prices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

Release of the Teranet-National Bank report comes on the heels of several established forecasts released over the past couple of weeks that offer a range of opinions about what is going to happen in the market.

The B.C. and Canadian real estate associations came out with revised forecasts that price declines in the Vancouver market will not be as steep as their initial forecasts for this year.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s revised forecast, however, estimated that prices will fall more steeply than the initial forecast and dip slightly again in 2010.

Tsur Somerville, the director of urban economics and real estate at the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C., said Teranet, while not a forecast, does offer a more accurate measure of price changes than a straight calculation of average prices sold in a month.

However, the index is also calculated as a three-month moving average, which Somerville said won’t reflect market changes in the same way.

For example, Somerville said that while the Teranet index is still declining, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver’s housing price index shows the declines starting to flatten out.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Province’s property tax meddling yields predictable unfairness

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Don Cayo

Property tax bills have begun arriving, and in Vancouver — as I predicted in columns last winter — the amounts that businesses owe have shot way up or down for totally arbitrary reasons.

Now, I predict, the province will blame the city for this mess, and the city will blame the province. They’ll both be right.

First, let’s look at who won and who lost.

Most winners are — again, as I predicted — companies housed in downtown towers. They were looking at huge tax increases, because the city won’t rein in spending and the value of office space was holding up better than most property in the city. So it was a godsend when Victoria decreed that their 2009 bills could be based on a lower one-year-old assessment instead on market value as of July 1, 2008.

The losers own or rent more modest buildings in various neighbourhoods. Their property values had more-or-less stalled by the assessment date of July 1, 2008, so — if the provincial government hadn’t meddled — they would have had stable or lower 2009 tax bills.

Now, who’s being billed what?

First, take the example of a string of office towers on West Georgia — numbers 650, 700, 885 and 925. The tax bills for three of these buildings dropped this year by about $100,000 (three to five per cent) each. And for the fourth building, the TD Bank tower at 700 West Georgia, the decrease is closer to $500,000, or 10 per cent.

But for mom and pop in most other city neighbourhoods, the story is quite the opposite.

The tax bill for the building occupied by White Spot at 2518 West Broadway has shot up from $259,000 to $317,000. For the building occupied by Art Works at 891 Cambie, the increase is from $200,000 to almost $229,000. For the block that houses Joe’s Cafe on Commercial, it went from $31,500 to $37,500. And for the home of Goh Ballet at 2345 Main, the tax bill went from just over $30,500 to just over $33,000.

So, if you’re one of the big boys, or one of their tenants, who do you thank for this unsolicited six-figure gift? And if you own or rent a small building, who do you blame for jacking up your tax bill by as much as 15 per cent in a year when city spending has risen by just under six per cent — and when an extra one per cent of the total tax load has been shifted from business on residential properties?

I’m guessing that the province — which has never made a mistake that it won’t try to spin or deny — will point the finger at the city’s policy of land “averaging.” And, to an extent, it will have a point — although only to the extent that the land averaging policy worsens the impact of province’s ill-considered decision to meddle with the most recent property assessments.

The way it works is a little bit complex, but bear with me for a couple of paragraphs.

In recent years, until the province decided to meddle with the assessments, both downtown and neighbourhood properties were generally rising in value, often sharply. But the driving factors were different: Downtown land values weren’t increasing much, but the value of the buildings was. Thus, averaging the assessments of the last three years, which only applies to the land value and not the buildings, wasn’t much help to downtown property owners.

Meanwhile, the land component is what was driving up the value of business properties in most other parts of the city. So averaging helped them a lot.

But this year, the assessed value of most land in 2009 is unchanged from 2008. So instead of having two years with lower-value land — in many cases, much lower value — to drag down the average, now there’s only one. So the policy is providing much less relief than in past.

This explains how a businessman like Mark Greene, who thought he’d be a winner, turns out losing big.

Greene owns a warehouse near False Creek, where land values are skyrocketing. His most recent land assessment was up 51 per cent, and he would have been hammered by his property tax bill this year if not for the provincial intervention that held his assessment at the previous year’s value.

Yet, when Greene’s bill arrived on Tuesday, he was hammered anyway. It was up an astonishing 16 per cent over last year’s. This is thanks to the impact of losing one of the two low-value years that normally would cushion him from such a large increase under the land-averaging formula.

Worse for guys like Greene and those office tower owners and renters, even though the most recent assessments didn’t affect this year’s tax bills, they’ll probably be the starting point for next year’s assessments. So their 2010 tax bills may — I’d say probably will — go through the roof.

In other words, fallout from this incredibly ill-considered policy probably won’t end with this year’s tax bills.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun