Archive for September, 2015

First Shaughnessy becomes Vancouver’s first Heritage Conservation Area

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Naoibh O’Connor
Van. Courier

The vote to designate First Shaughnessy as a Heritage Conservation Area was unanimous. The decision came following three days of public hearings, which were held in August and earlier this month. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Vancouver city council designated First Shaughnessy as the city’s first-ever Heritage Conservation Area Tuesday morning.

Vision Coun. Heather Deal said she was strongly in favour of the motion.

“I think this will be a neighbourhood that we’ll look back on decades from now and say ‘thank God we did this when we did.’ If we waited another couple of years, we could have seen another dozen or two dozen homes destroyed,” she said.

The vote was unanimous. The decision came following three days of public hearings, which were held in August and earlier this month.

First Shaughnessy sits between 16th and 25th and Oak and East Boulevard. It’s Vancouver’s first CPR-developed subdivision.

In 1982, due to its historical importance, the First Shaughnessy Official Development Plan was enacted to preserve the area’s “pre-1940 estate image and single-family character while allowing change.”

In recent years, heritage activists and the city became concerned about the number of homes being demolished and replaced with modern builds.

In June of 2014, council approved a temporary prohibition on demolishing pre-1940 homes in the First Shaughnessy district so the city could review the area’s official development plan and determine what steps could be taken to conserve heritage property.

In the 18 months leading up to the temporary protection order, the number of inquiries proposing to demolish pre-1940 buildings in First Shaughnessy rose from an average of 0.4 per cent per year to 5 per cent per year, with 19 inquiries active at that time.

During the public hearings, 26 people spoke in favour of First Shaughnessy being designated a Heritage Conservation Area, while 10 spoke in favour but with some concerns such as the proposed blanket moratorium on pre-1940s homes and the impacts to property owners who had existing development permit applications pending. Forty-six people spoke against the HCA designation. Many of those speakers objected to the inclusion of all pre-1940s buildings and requested that their property be exempted, according to the city minutes on the hearings. Others raised concerns about the economic impact the designation would have on their property values. In all, council received 316 letters and emails in support, 372 letters and emails against and five emails dealing with other aspects in relation to the application.

Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs said before the council vote that it’s important to take steps to protect the character and history of Vancouver, and that the motion had broad support in Shaughnessy and the city.

“We heard a lot from people who were opposed to it, but we heard a lot as well from people who worked very, very hard in this process and said this is what they thought would be good for the community and what would be good for heritage protection and acknowledgment in this city. I think it will provide a direction and pattern for how we may want to proceed in other neighbourhoods, although it wouldn’t be a cookie cutter approach because there is only one First Shaughnessy,” he said.

“I think it strikes a balance but it won’t cast the neighbourhood in amber. It won’t freeze life in one spot because there are measures there for people who have very significant heritage values in their homes to do certain kinds of densification — put in laneway houses or separate coach houses or something of that sort. That’s been going on for some time. And, as Coun. Deal has pointed out, where people have no heritage value or it’s been substantially destroyed by previously thoughtless development, then that would be acknowledged and owners can go forward in that regard.”

© 2015 Vancouver Courier

Chinese-only signs cause furor in community

Monday, September 28th, 2015

John Tenpenny

Locals in Richmond, B.C., are pointing out the lack of municipal action the issue of Chinese-only signs in the community, many of which are real estate-related.

Community activist Karen Starchuck and business consultant Rupert Whiting, say the city is, once again, ignoring the issue.

“I’m frustrated at the lack of leadership from the city. It seems people are doing what they want within whatever bylaws exist, even if those bylaws are not fit for purpose,” Whiting told the Richmond News.

The pair took media to a construction site of a new home, which featured a Chinese-only sign, another example, Starchuk says of the city dragging its feet on education after Richmond city council chose not to implement a more stringent bylaw to make English mandatory on business signs.

“This (house) isn’t going to get sold to a non-Mainland Chinese person. They’re not even trying to sell it to a non-Mainland Chinese person. That, to me, is a problem,” said Whiting.

“They got off easy. They said they were going to address it, and get on it right away, but basically they’ve done nothing,” said Starchuk.

The city maintains that, using auxiliary staff, it spoke to 2,000 businesses to “encourage” English on all signs. It’s also reminding businesses as they apply for business licenses.

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said a new bylaw on clutter is in the works and the process of education is one that takes time.

Townsend said the clutter bylaw, expected to come to council in early 2016, is intended to clear up additional, unregulated signage on street fronts, regardless of language.

“How we will deal with it in the new bylaw is something we are studying as part of drafting the bylaw,” said Townsend.

Copyright © 2015 Key Media Pty Ltd


CMHC really is working on foreign ownership data

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Steve Randall

For those who are skeptical that the federal government and its agencies are genuinely trying to calculate the level of foreign ownership of Canadian real estate and the effects that it may have on housing markets, there is some hope.

The Canadian Press has obtained documents that show that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is working to plug the gaps in data.

This action will include bi-annual meetings with industry stakeholders. The intention is to get a clearer picture of foreign ownership, including how many condos are owned by those who are not permanent residents of Canada.

In a statement, chief economist Bob Duggan said that as a result of the work that CMHC has already undertaken “we know a lot more about [foreign ownership levels] today than we did a year ago and are continuing our program of work to determine the level of foreign investment in Canadian residential real estate.”

Copyright © 2015 Key Media Pty Ltd


Brookmere 535 North Road Burnaby 216 condos in a 28-storey tower by Onni

Thursday, September 24th, 2015


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Chinese tycoon: I wouldn’t buy overseas real estate, saying it’s too expensive to buy now in Canada

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

John Tenpenny

With so much discussion about Chinese investors buying up real estate in Canada and around the world, it’s a tad surprising to hear the CEO of one of China’s larger developers encouraging her countrymen to hold on to their money.

Zhang Xin, chief executive officer of commercial property developer Soho China and a well-known entrepreneur in China, who bought a stake in the General Motors Building in New York in 2013 on behalf of her family, said she wouldn’t make that purchase today.

“I wouldn’t be making that investment today, full stop. It’s so much more expensive today than in 2010,” Zhang told The Wall Street Journal.

“Today, prices are so expensive. I wouldn’t be comfortable making any real estate investments in these major cities around the world,” she said.

Extreme swings in China’s stock markets and foreign exchange markets in recent weeks have spooked investors, and many are wondering where to park their spare cash.

In recent years, Chinese individuals and institutions have been on a shopping spree of real estate investments abroad.

Chinese outbound capital flows into global commercial real estate markets exceeded US$10 billion in 2014, according to property consultancy CBRE Group. Over the past four years, annual China-sourced outbound flows to commercial real estate experienced a compound annual growth rate of approximately 72 per cent.

Earlier this year a report from the China Institute, an Edmonton-based think tank, part of the University of Alberta, suggested that real estate investment by Chinese nationals in Canada has increased more than 200 per cent since 2008 to approximately US$33.7 billion by mid-2014.

Copyright © 2015 Key Media Pty Ltd

First Shaughnessy likely to become Heritage Conservation Area

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Allen Garr
Van. Courier

There are just a few things you should know before next Tuesday when city council moves to try and slow down the destruction of heritage homes in Vancouver’s most exclusive neighbourhood.

That would be the enclave known as “First Shaughnessy” where there is now a moratorium on demolitions while council and staff have been pondering how to save this bit of our city’s history.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the kvetching from some property owners, it turns out that designating a neighbourhood a Heritage Conservation Area doesn’t drive the prices down. According to the City of Victoria’s senior conservation planner Murray Miller, in data he’s collected from around the world, it stabilizes property values and, if anything, it drives them up beyond those without a heritage designation, particularly when housing “bubbles” burst.

Murray also says folks who speculated they could buy heritage designated homes in First Shaughnessy and tear them down were likely misled by their real estate agents and “it wouldn’t be the first time.”

Vancouver historian and author Michael Kluckner agrees, adding that the new property owners simply didn’t bother to look at existing city regulations.  

This particular area most recently the subject of three nights of public hearings is bounded north and south by 16th Avenue and King Edward and west and east by West Boulevard and Oak. It was part of a huge tract of land owned at the turn of the last century by the CPR and developed to serve the housing needs of the city’s wealthiest “racially appropriate” citizens — a term used in a city document attributed to CPR.

Many of them had originally built their mansions in the West End but decided to skedaddle up to Shaughnessy when they saw (ugh) apartments being built around their palatial dwellings on the downtown peninsula.

The design of First Shaughnessy was based on what was called a “garden city” concept of large building lots, exceptional selections of often exotic trees, roadways that followed the contours of the land (and often named after members of the CPR board of directors or their children) and, except for Granville Street, a design that discouraged through traffic.

About 80 per cent of the first 240 families were listed in the Vancouver social register.

Now move forward several decades to the point where the colour of a person’s skin was no longer a factor; all that mattered was the size of their bank account when it came to residing in this posh neighbourhood.

The city, seeing the value of protecting the area, in 1982 declared it a heritage area protected under provincial legislation and aimed particularly at preserving homes built before 1940.

According to Kluckner, that worked for about 25 years. Then, most recently, this particular area of town was deluged by a massive influx of mostly offshore money focused particularly on the high-end real estate market.

Kluckner says those wealthy “demanding” new owners liked the “brand” of First Shaughnessy but not the heritage housing. They enlisted the help of “creative” architects who found “loop holes” in the existing zoning bylaws that allowed them to tear down existing buildings that were usually left vacant for years and allowed to rot beyond the point of repair. Then they would be replaced by what he calls “bloated” houses, even bigger than the mansions they would replace.

They featured underground parking and utility rooms that were apparently not considered part of the overall floor space. And the size of the homes were increased even more with multi-storey “atriums”  where only the basic floor space was added to the total size of the house in determining the floor space ratio (the area of the building compared with the lot on which it was situated) rather than the volume of space contained in the atrium.

Even the wealthy neighbours were howling in protest.

What the council is considering, and will likely pass, includes a new Minimum Standards of Maintenance bylaw targeting heritage properties. Fines of up to $10,000 per day could be levied against owners that allow either the exteriors or the interiors of their properties to deteriorate.

They will also be removing benefits those now accorded underground parking and more strictly enforcing the requirement under the provincial legislation for heritage conservation areas.

It is, says Kluckner, “the only way to protect these assets of civic importance.”

© 2015 Vancouver Courier


Newly revealed viaducts report says replacement cheaper than demolition

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Bob Mackin
Van. Courier

A 2009 report commissioned by City of Vancouver estimated the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could last until 2024 without major rehabilitation and pegged the cost of replacement at less than $100 million.

Associated Engineering noted deterioration of the concrete bridge rail, deck joints and cracking in girders, but concluded the bridges were “generally in good condition.”

“There do not appear to be any significant functional deficiencies at present that would limit the life expectancy [of the viaducts],” said the report, obtained by the Courier last December, after the civic election, in response to an October 2013 Freedom of Information request and subsequent appeal to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

However, city staff said in June of this year that they would recommend to city council in September that the viaducts be demolished and replaced with a new street network. A June 2013 report to council estimated that could cost as much as $132 million and free-up 10 acres, worth $110 million, for development. Acting city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny told the Courier Sept. 11 that findings of new reports would be presented to council in October or November.

Associated Engineering estimated the remaining service life of the structures to be 15 years before major rehabilitation or replacement is required. It estimated $43.2 million to replace the Dunsmuir viaduct and $50.29 million to replace the Georgia viaduct. The total in 2015 dollars would be $103.72 million. By comparison, the Powell Street overpass was built in 2014 for $50 million.

Dobrovolny downplayed the 2009 Associated Engineering report because it was based on visual inspection.

“In a whole number of areas we’ve done additional studies over the last two years,” Dobrovolny said in an interview. He would not provide updated cost estimates because the various in-depth reports “are still being finalized.”

The September 2011 report by Halcrow Consulting was published on the city website and it offered conclusions similar to Associated Engineering — that the majority of the structure is in reasonably good condition.

“The section that crosses Main Street requires some minor retrofits in the short term and there are some other maintenance and repairs that are required,” Halcrow said, estimating the annualized cost of bridge maintenance at $600,000 a year. “The structures meet the design and loading standards at the time of construction, but do not meet current seismic design standards. Having said that, and due to the nature of the structural system [girders built into pier caps], the structure should perform relatively well in an earthquake.”

Halcrow estimated $25,000 per year maintenance, $200,000 in short term retrofits, $1 million for barrier rehabilitation, $5 million for seismic upgrades and another $3 million for deck and joint rehabilitation. “If the viaducts were retained, it is estimated with the above maintenance they would have a remaining service life of 40-plus years,” said the Halcrow report.

There would be other costs. The Halcrow report, quoting Golder Associates, said remediation of toxic soils would likely cost $4 million to $8 million “if the full area was remediated to a residential standard.”

The city originally withheld information about the viaducts, claiming exemptions for policy advice, protection of city finances and third-party trade secrets and fear of harm to law enforcement and public security. It relented almost three months after an adjudicator ordered full disclosure in September 2014 of Burrard Bridge engineering reports, in a ruling that said the city’s claim the bridge would be at risk of a terrorist attack was mere speculation.

© 2015 Vancouver Courier


The Five Most Important Things You Must Do When Buying a Home

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

If you only remember five things when purchasing real estate, they should be these tips, advises Vancouver agent Alyssa Dotson

Alyssa Dotson

There’s a lot to remember when buying real estate, and much of the available advice is scattered all over the internet. So what are the most important rules to stick to? Before you decide to invest in your and your family’s future by purchasing a home, it is important to keep these key points in mind above all else.

1. Know Your Limit, Stay Within It

Getting a pre-approved mortgage should always be step one towards home ownership. Most buyers start off with searching the MLS system to see what is on the market. But, wether you are a first time home buyer or a veteran in the real estate game, although this home search is important, getting preapproved at this initial stage is more important. 

If you first identify your budget limitations, you can then sort potential properties by price and neighbourhood.  This will allow you to apply a streamline approach to house hunting enabling you to search more effectively and efficiently with realistic expectations.

Mortgage brokers and financial advisors at banks provide preapprovals that guarantee a mortgage rate hold for a specified period of time – usually between 90 and 120 days.  You will need to fill out a mortgage pre-approval application where you will be requested to provide income information and verification.  You will need to sign to give permission for your credit to be checked as well. A favorable credit report is crucial for getting a mortgage funded.  

2. Get the Undivided Loyalty of a Buyer’s Agent

Many buyers believe that if they go directly to the listing agent it will be advantageous to them, but having the undivided loyalty of your own real estate agent is extremely beneficial to a buyer. A buyer’s agent is an advisor and an advocate for their client’s primary needs and best interests. They research, educate, negotiate and protect with exclusive attention to your preferred details. 

When you approach a listing agent directly, the agent has the choice to provide you with representation or to decline it. They may enter into a limited dual agency relationship with permission from their seller. A limited dual agency occurs when the designated agent represents both the buyer and seller in the same transaction, or two buyers competing for the same property.  In this arrangement, the Realtor cannot be concerned exclusively with your interests in the transaction, since they are acting on behalf of the other party as well.  

Another option for the listing agent is to enter into a customer relationship with a buyer. In this case, you will be using their services without having any kind of agency relationship. In this situation the agent is not permitted to recommend or suggest a price or negotiate on your behalf.

3. Be Extra Careful if Making a Subject-Free Offer

In this current, somewhat exceptional, real estate market we are seeing offers being made completely void of subject clauses. Subject clauses are put in place to protect the buyer by granting the course of due diligence. When these clauses are omitted the buyer is vulnerable. Although it is necessary to remain competitive in this market, you must be aware of the potential consequences of submitting a subject-free offer. To ensure some safety, request that the seller provide your Realtor with the title, property disclosure statement and any other necessary documents that can be incorporated into the contract when drafting the offer to purchase, thus allowing it to remain subject free.

As a general rule of thumb, I insist on my buyers having a home inspection carried out. This is not a clause that I am comfortable removing. That being said, I have occasionally ventured out of my personal and professional comfort zone on the insistence of my buyer and with a signed inspection waiver. In these cases, I educated my buyer and they made an informed decision to proceed.

4. Skeletons Do Live in Closets

What you don’t see is what you get. Since walls can’t speak, let a licensed, certified home inspector speak for them.  A typical home inspection includes an assessment of: exterior features such as outside walls, the roof, gutters, eaves, fascia, balconies, decks, chimneys and drainage conditions; interior items, such as the condition of windows, doors, plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets and switches; heating and cooling systems etc.  A home inspector that also checks appliances is a bonus and in some circumstances a necessity if there is an appliance warranty clause incorporated into the contract.

5. Insure Your Home and Mortgage

All insurance is not created equal. Mortgage insurance is imperative but you do have options. Speak to a licensed insurance agent outside of your mortgage provider to learn more alternatives regarding products and pricing. In addition, content insurance is essential for complete protection.

© 2015 Real Estate Weekly

Condos Accelerating Growth in BC Home Building Investment: StatCan

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Multi-family building spend in the province catching up to detached home construction investment, reports statistics agency

Joannah Connolly

Investment in BC home building continued to climb – and increase its rate of growth – rising nearly 19 per cent year over year in July to $731 million, according to Statistics Canada data published September 22.

As has been the recent trend, apartment-condo construction led the investment growth in BC, rising 32.3 per cent compared with July 2014 to a total of $306 million – almost catching up with single-family home investment. 

The province’s detached home construction spend also increased, although at a slower growth rate, with the $331 million of investment an 11.9 per cent rise over the same month last year.

Townhome and row home construction investment in BC continued to rise steadily, increasing 14.4 per cent year over year to $64 million in July.

Bucking the recent trend, the only properties to see a reduction in construction investment in July were duplexes, spending on which fell 6.3 per cent year over year to $29 million.

The province’s total $731 million new home construction spend was again the third highest total in the country, after Ontario and Alberta. BC’s home investment growth rate was also Canada’s third highest, after spending surges in July in the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia (up 65.9 and 27.8 per cent year over year respectively).

As with previous months, increases in new home spending nationwide were much more muted than those seen in BC. Investment in new home construction across Canada totalled $4.2 billion in July, up a meagre 0.5 per cent from the same month a year earlier.

As with BC, Statistics Canada reported that the increase came mostly from higher investment in apartment and condominium building construction, up 17.5 per cent to $1.4 billion, as well as higher spending on row house construction, up 6.3 per cent to $395 million.

Single-family home and duplex construction across Canada again both saw year-over-year declines in construction investment, falling 7.4 and 15.8 per cent respectively. However, detached homes saw the biggest total investment in July at $2.1 billion.

To see Statistics Canada’s interactive chart, click here

© 2015 Real Estate Weekly

How to… Understand Strata Minutes When Buying a Condo

Friday, September 18th, 2015

If you’re buying a condo, it’s essential that you understand the strata minutes of your new building, explains Bob de Wit of the GVHBA

Bob de Wit

Considering the purchase of a strata condo? One of the key steps to ensure you are making a sound purchase will be in reviewing the strata minutes. Not the most exciting of reading choices – however, the minutes will provide you with an in-depth look, not only to the building and operations, but also a peek into the condo culture.

How to approach minutes, in four easy steps:

#1 Read the minutes from oldest to most recent

A minimum of two years is a standard request. As you read, keep a running tally of any questions you have, removing from the list questions answered as you read forward through subsequent months. From this summary, prepare a list of any unanswered questions for the property manager or seller.

#2 Be sure to read correspondence closely

Pay attention to any records of complaints regarding a specific owner. Be sure to enquire about corresponding unit number and determine proximity to the unit you are looking to purchase. Noise/ harassment disputes are very hard to resolve and wherever possible should be avoided.

#3 Request a copy of all current bylaws and rules

Look for tenant requests and said outcomes. If a previous request has been voted down, ie access to electrical outlets for electric car charges (often not readily available in older buildings), or acceptance of a pet slightly larger than a 40 lb maximum (not easy sneaking in your Newfie), you can be sure this will not be an easy change.

#4 Request copies of reports

Always request copies of reports referenced in minutes,and if work is done based on these reports, ask for a scope of work to make sure all suggested work was completed. Reports may include:

  • Current budget and a statement of the contingency reserve fund. This will help determine if there is a sufficient budget to meet the current operations of the building, and enough contingency to cover an emergency repair or replacement. Note: The contingency and required upkeep of the building and property will directly affect monthly strata fees.
  • Insurance policy and the history of insurance claims on the strata common areas can signal potential problems.
  • A depreciation report, if available, will include a Form B, providing information on current and future costs to the strata. (Effective December 13, 2013, all strata corporations of five units or more in British Columbia, must complete a depreciation report as required by the Strata Property Act, unless they have passed a three-quarters vote each year they wish to be exempt from the requirements.)
  • A copy of the strata plan that shows what property you will be responsible for and what is common property (e.g. decks and balconies), the provision of parking and storage space or any changes that have been made to the development. Note: your home inspector may not have access to inspect common property areas, emphasizing the importance of reviewing a depreciation report.

In today’s sellers’ market, there is pressure to put in quick offers with limited subjects. Realtors can request minutes in advance before the offer is placed, thus removing the subject to review. This can place added pressure on the buyer to “scan” vs thoroughly read the minutes. Be sure to step back and take the time to read. As a prospective purchaser, you want to obtain as much information as possible regarding the strata corporation, the condition of common property and your new neighbours. It is a story you’ll be glad you gave more than a minute to read.

Bob de Wit is the CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA), the voice of the residential construction industry in Metro Vancouver. GVHBA has more than 850 members and is proudly affiliated with the provincial and national Canadian Home Builders’ Associations. You can reach Bob at [email protected]

© 2015 Real Estate Weekly