All posts by jesse

Macleans: The real problem with Vancouver’s outrageous house prices

Macleans has a post up on Vancouver’s real estate:

The international media have finally clued in to the wackiness on Canada’s west coast, otherwise known as the Vancouver real estate market. Last month Bloomberg noted that when compared to median household incomes Vancouver homes are more expensive than even New York. The story linked soaring prices to the influx of wealthy buyers from mainland China. Today the Wall Street Journal retraces the exact same material. The warning in both pieces is clear: Vancouver’s housing market has become disconnected from reality and is primed to crash.

This little 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom bungalow in Vancouver is priced at $1.5 million. The listing suggests buyers just tear it down and build a new home.

This is a well worn theme for many Canadian reporters. Here at Maclean’s we’ve reached the same conclusion several times going back to 2008, and, admittedly, we’ve been proven fully and completely wrong. I still think prices here in Vancouver are nuts, but each day as I walk to work past the high-end coffee shops and panhandlers I see more “For Sale” signs going up, along with plenty of “Sold” stickers, too.

But here’s the thing. The real threat to Vancouver isn’t that the housing market might crash. That’s happened here before. It undoubtedly will happen again. Such is the boom & bust nature of real estate in Lotusland.

Far more insidious is the impact housing unaffordability is having on employers and the broader economy. You hear stories of smart, young people leaving for jobs elsewhere. At the same time smart, young people from elsewhere aren’t coming here for jobs. The price of real estate and cost of living are too high, while pay is simply too low relative to other parts of the country.

I don’t know… Granville Island was pretty busy yesterday, hardly a sign of a floundering business climate! Maybe the problem with “outrageous prices” is that the earnings stink.

The Housing Bottom is There

Bill McBride over at CalculatedRisk has a simultaneously chilling and uplifting post on the US housing market:

There have been some recent articles arguing the “housing bottom is nowhere in sight”. That isn’t my view.

First there are two bottoms for housing. The first is for new home sales, housing starts and residential investment. The second bottom is for prices. Sometimes these bottoms can happen years apart.

For the economy and jobs, the bottom for housing starts and new home sales is more important than the bottom for prices. However individual homeowners and potential home buyers are naturally more interested in prices. So when we discuss a “bottom” for housing, we need to be clear on what we mean.

For new home sales and housing starts, it appears the bottom is in, and I expect an increase in both starts and sales in 2012…

And it now appears we can look for the bottom in prices. My guess is that nominal house prices, using the national repeat sales indexes and not seasonally adjusted, will bottom in March 2012.

The problem with using the house price indexes to look for a bottom is that they are reported with a significant lag. As an example, the recently released Case-Shiller index was for November and the index is an average of September, October and November – so it is a report for several months ago. The CoreLogic index is a little more current – the recent release was for December, and CoreLogic uses a weighted average for prices (December weighted the most) – but that is still quite a lag.

Both of those indexes will bottom seasonally around March, and then start increasing again.

What planet is McBride on anyways? For many Vancouver is different because it is inconceivable that it’s the same. Inconceivable.

BC Assessments for 2012

BC Assessments are available for viewing for a limited time. These are based on sales at and around July 2011. A little bird told me a few people are getting some interesting increases in the mail. Given our collective nous, perhaps we can figure out which property types and neighbourhoods are going to see some marked increases in property tax outlays this year and give some guesses as to how much. Remember that the City of Vancouver uses 3 year averaging and that it’s the assessment value relative to all other properties, not the absolute value, that determines property tax outlay. As well there has been a shift in property taxes from businesses to households, something that is slated to end this year. One might think that a few households are going to be rather upset if redistribution were to continue.

I haven’t looked at the numbers yet but my guess is that detached houses, especially in west side neighbourhoods, are going to see the biggest tax rise this year, with condos seeing the least rise.