A Critique of Vancouver’s ‘Downtown Plan’

This long but well written critique of Vancouver’s Downtown Planning in Canadian Architect is well worth the read. Writer Trevor Boddy comments on Vancouvers habit of replacing office space in the downtown core with condo’s and mentions the alarming fact that one third of Vancouver’s head-office jobs have left Vancouver in the last six years while Calgary has seen an increase of 64 percent. Are we forgetting about jobs in the midst of our condo mania?

“A revealing example is the fate of Rhone and Iredale’s 1969 West Coast Transmission Tower on Georgia Street, recipient of many engineering awards for its Bogue Babicki and Associates-designed cable-hung forms, converted recently into condos and renamed “The Qube.” Many more of downtown’s dwindling stock of towers would have met the same fate, had City Council not slapped a moratorium on such conversions last year. Although hard to grasp for many planners–especially Americans or Canadians in slow-growth cities–too much housing may be killing peninsular downtown Vancouver, especially the mono-form, mono-class, crank-the-handle towers of recent years.”

and what article mentioning condos in Vancouver would be complete without Bob Rennie?

“..Leading this trend is the extremely influential and political condo super-marketer Bob Rennie-topping Vancouver magazine’s 2005 list of most influential Vancouverites. As a society we may come to regret a scene in which 15 percent of the cost of new housing goes to marketing, but only five percent goes to all design fees. With the exception of a token condo tower by Arthur Erickson for Concord Pacific, Vancouver’s finest architects are largely conspicuous by their absence in the downtown boom.”

Boddy has lots of not-so-nice things to say about the state of architecture and design in Vancouver. He refers to the corner of Richards and Nelson streets as “a particularly bleak concentration of the Beasley-era architecture of Vancouverism”, but wraps his critique up with a postive note, well.. positive other than the ‘sharp recession’ bit.

“Vancouver will succeed–despite its resolutely lame mass media, the rewarding of its architectural bottom-feeders, its unsettling convergence of developers’ and planners’ pretensions–because of the depth of passion many of us invest in it. We have let the rhetoric of real estate supplant the craft and consciousness of city building, and a sharp recession is what will soon set things right. The bones of a great city are coming into place, and now we need time and public wisdom to put some flesh on it. Love-hate relationships are always signs of a love frustrated, and Vancouver is now ours to make or break.”

There are a lot of good points in this critique from an architectural point of view, ranging from design to planning to jobs – definately worth the read if you have the time.

Vancouver Housing Market – is the psychology shifting?

Earlier this summer it seems like everyone I talked to about real estate thought there was only one direction prices would ever go – Up. Several co-workers we looking for places to buy before they were ‘priced out’ of the market, and everybody knew somebody who’s condo had gone way up in value and of course no one wanted to miss out of the money train. But lately things seemed to have changed.

Yesterday the topic came up at work and the majority of coworkers are now expecting a crash or ‘correction’ – this is a dramatic shift from just 5 months ago, within the same group of people. A few people who were home shopping in my office bought this summer, and the one that hasn’t has an ‘absolute top price’ for a condo that is more than $100k less than todays prices – he’s interested in buying, but at todays prices he’d prefer to rent and be able to take time off to travel and snowboard. Everybody else either already owns or isn’t interested in looking to buy.

I would have taken this discussion as an isolated incident, but then I saw bc_cele’s comment over at the Vancouver Housing Blog mentioning a very similar experience from the very same day, and more and more I’m running into people with negative opinions on real estate in vancouver – from dissapointment at being priced out to downright ridicule of the market. With dissapointing sales numbers in July have we seen the peak of the market, or will the August numbers jump right back and start climbing again?

House Prices: Sydney Australia vs. Vancouver BC

A lot has been made recently of this article in the australian press reporting on a house in Sydney selling for 42 percent less than it sold for three years ago. Housing market bears are quick to point to this article as evidence that “yes, actually real estate prices DO go down, sometimes drastically”, while people more bullish on the Vancouver market point to the fact that “this is only one house out of many and the real decline in house values overall has been closer to 15 percent or so, besides vancouver is different because the olympics are coming and I’ll sell just before the crash anyways”.

But I say you’re BOTH wrong, and you’re not looking at the big picture. You’re forgetting one very important fact, and that is that Syndey Australia is on the other side of the world from us. This point is illustrated above and is the cause of a common but major misunderstanding regarding australian housing market data. First off lets look at a graph of that house price:

Looks bad doesn’t it? You might look at that price drop and get a bit freaked out about the possibility of prices dropping in Vancouver just after you buy that shiny new $400k condo right? But that feeling is caused by one common amateur mistake- you are failing to make hemispere adjustments to that data. Australia is on the other side of the earth, which is why we refer to it as ‘down under’. Before you attempt to interpret any Australian real estate market data you need to make one major adjustment, like this:

There! That looks a lot better doesn’t it? Look at that rise- It’s bold, steady and strong. Just like the Vancouver market!

US home sales dropping.

This article in today’s vancouver sun says that home sales in the US this July were the lowest they’ve been since January 2004. Dropping home sales across the US have pushed the inventory of unsold homes to a record high:

“The latest snapshot of housing activity was weaker than analysts anticipated. Economists were forecasting the pace of sales to fall to 6.55 million.

“The housing sector is fragile,” said David Lereah, the association’s chief economist.

The median price of a home sold last month was $230,000 US. That was up just 0.9 per cent from the same month last year and marked the smallest year-over-year increase since May 1995. The median price is the middle point, where half sell for more and half sell for less.

The inventory of unsold homes in July rose to a record high of 3.86 million. That represents a supply of homes still available for 7.3 per cent of a month. That is the longest period to exhaust the supply of home since the spring of 1993.”

contrary to the opinion that housing exists only in local markets, these drops happened across the US – In the northeast sales dropped by 5.4 per cent, the Midwest saw a drop of 5.9 per cent while the West dropped by 6.4 percent. The South held out the strongest with a sales drop of 1.2 percent.

The concern in the US is how the housing market slowdown will effect the economy overall:

“One of the things that Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues are watching closely is the housing slowdown. If home prices and sales were to crash, that could spell big trouble for the overall economy. Thus far, Bernanke has said the market’s slowdown has been fairly orderly and smooth.

Lereah said he still expects a “soft landing” for the once high-flying housing sector. But he urged the Fed to leave interest rates alone and refrain from bumping them up again – as some analysts have said is a possibility.”

Will we be able to make enough money off of the olympics to keep a frail US economy from effecting Vancouver?