September 2006: Listings up, sales down

September is the fourth month in a row that real estate listings have gone up while sales have gone down according to this brief story in the vancouver sun.

The number of sales in the greater vancouver area are down almost 25% from september one year ago, while the number of listings are up 11.4%. Fraser Valley saw similar numbers with a 23% drop in sales and a 19% increase in listings.

“Rick Valouche, Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver president, said the figures show the region is “moving towards a balanced market.”

Does anybody know what a balanced market is? What years would the real estate market have been considered ‘balanced’ in Vancouver? What effect does ‘balance’ have on prices?

Rob Chipmans real estate numbers

I’ve only recently discovered Rob Chipmans real estate investment blog – it’s an interesting site which offers something that can be hard to find anywhere else: constantly updated current numbers of property listings and sales in the vancouver area. I don’t think that any one days numbers are useful by themselves to give insight into whats happening in the vancouver market, but as a rolling snapshot its a great resource.

Robs commentary is also very informative – He maintains a balanced perspective on the market and understands that there are oppourtunities to be found in both up and down markets. If you’re interested in the minutae of the vancouver real estate market and you like numbers its definately worth checking out his blog.

factoid: Spellchecker replaces ‘chipman’ with ‘chipmunk’.
conspiracy theory: Rob Chipman is related to VHB.

Should I buy a leaky condo?

Lately I’ve been recieving a lot of mail asking for advice on specific issues.. I’d like to take this time to proclaim my non-expert status. I have no way of foretelling the future, if I had that ability I’d be too busy swimming around in my money bin to post here.

The most recent question to come in is from someone considering the purchase of a previously leaky condo unit that has been repaired and has the standard warranty. Here’s the concern:

“The development is in Coquitlam and was repaired last year to a level that it has the 2-5-10 warranty. My concern is in the design of the building which doesn’t have overhangs in some areas and has a flat roof in some areas. Should I be concerned with this?”

Most conventional wisdom I’ve heard says to stay away from buildings like this, but I have a feeling that some of the people reading here might know more about this subject than I do, so therefore I submit this topic for discussion – Are flat roofs and lack of overhangs on a repaired leaky condo a dangerzone? Or are previously leaky condos a good way to get into an overpriced market?

How will a US slowdown effect Vancouver?

There are a couple of articles in today’s Globe and Mail that are interesting.. The first is about a report from National Bank Financial that says US house prices could drop another 10%. This report disagrees with the National Realtors Associations chief economist David Lereahs claims that “This is the price correction we’ve been expecting – with sales stabilizing, we should go back to positive price growth early next year”.

Stéfane Marion, an economist at National Bank, disagrees with the NAR’s statement that the faltering U.S. housing market has hit a trough and prices will start climbing again. “In our opinion, this forecast is way too optimistic.”

“…rising interest rates, higher house prices and surging costs for heating homes have triggered a severe slowdown. In recent weeks, the housing correction has become the dominant topic of conversation, fuelling talk about a possible U.S. recession.”

The second article examines what impact a U.S. recession would have on Canada:

“Canada sits ominously at the top of a list compiled by Merrill Lynch economists of countries that are most dangerously exposed to the slowing U.S. economy. After Venezuela, this country leads the world as most dependent on the U.S. economy for its well-being. And the United States, as becomes more evident with every new economic report, is in trouble.

Over at HSBC PLC, economists have gone through a similar list-making exercise, and they, too, found that “Canada is at the top of the tree” in terms of exposure to the weakening U.S. economy, surpassing Mexico and Latin America.

Merrill Lynch believes the rest of the world has enough momentum to pick up some of the slack left behind by the United States, while HSBC believes the U.S. will drag down most of the world with it. But they agree that Canada — with its open economy, its proximity to the U.S., and its dependence on trade — is more vulnerable than pretty well any other country to a U.S.-led global slowdown.”

It’s not all gloom and doom though – both reports suggest that even if the US economy tanks the Canadian economy may be able to get through with just a few “bumps and bruises”.

“..consumer demand and business investment are expected to remain strong, fuelling the Canadian economy from the inside, instead of relying on the global economy for strength.

The U.S. slowdown could change that momentum, but it will take years to slow down domestic demand, said Merrill Lynch’s chief economist in Canada, David Wolf.”

But what impact would this scenario have on the Vancouver housing market? How much are we counting on property values to be driven by future demand from outside Vancouver?

To buy or not to buy.

The financial facelift in today’s Globe and Mail focuses on a vancouver couple that would really like to buy a house, but are priced out of the market. Or are they?

“George and Colleen have a sympathetic banker. He has offered to finance the purchase of a house with the understanding that there would be no payments until George has finished his training. That’s very accommodating, but five years of compound interest would be a huge sum to pay, the planner adds.”

Their situation is looked at by a financial planner from Kelowna, Derek Moran who points out that they could stretch to buy a condo, but doesn’t recommend it right now:

“George and Colleen could downsize their plans. A condo for $400,000 would be an alternative to a house. Some banks will lend up to the full value of a home. Without any down payment, a mortgage at 5.3 per cent with a 25-year amortization would cost $2,395 a month, not including property purchase tax, GST and mortgage insurance costs. It would be paid off by the time George is 57 and Colleen 59.

Is it worthwhile to take on a $400,000 debt to buy accommodations similar to those they already rent for $1,200 a month? In spite of the advantages of ownership, it makes sense to continue renting, Mr. Moran insists. Buying would cost twice as much each month in mortgage charges as current rent and would expose the couple to the risk of a housing collapse as well as property tax increases and rising interest rates.”

It’s interesting that they bring up the possibility of a housing collapse, and even put some potential numbers on that situation:

“If George and Colleen find that real estate prices soften, they could save as much as $100,000 on a $400,000 condo. With the financing costs added in, that saving would actually be $296,368 by the time the mortgage is paid off.”

Isn’t it amazing how $100,000 becomes almost $300,000?