Vancouver, one of the most popular and populous cities in Canada, has always attracted real estate investors. The properties in the city have been more expensive and in demand in comparison to certain other places, and thus are lucrative investments. Ten years ago, Vancouver’s real estate market went into a frenzy. It’s common for real estate markets in cities to be highly competitive. But Vancouver’s was different. Property prices soared well above normal for comparable cities around the world. Soon enough, Vancouver was in a real estate bubble. Property prices have gone up to such an unprecedented level that now economists are expecting the worst.
The Runaway Property Values
Vancouver has a lovely harbour with plenty of yachts and breathtaking views of mountains in the distance. The city attracts many skilled workers, aspiring entrepreneurs and immigrants with money. So, property prices in the city are expected to be slightly higher than in a suburb.
Sure enough, the city’s property market has been booming. But the rate of booming has posed many problems for policymakers, economists, city government, and importantly, local residents. From 2015 to 2016, the cost of a single-family home rose by an astounding 39 percent, according to market statistics. The city has assessed that more than 90 percent of single-family homes cost more than C$1 million, a 65 percent increase from previous years.
The benchmark pricing for a property in Vancouver is now C$917,800. For a detached property, this number rises to an unbelievable C$3,500,000.
Similar housing price increases are not seen in comparable cities like London, San Francisco and New York. In the past decade, Vancouver’s property prices have surged well over 100 percent. In comparison, London saw roughly a 95 percent increase, and New York, a little over 23 percent.
For all purposes, Vancouver seems to be in a housing bubble, and problems have already begun to emerge.
How It Came to This
Many economists and experts attribute Vancouver’s incredible housing bubble to Chinese billionaires. Though locals have been investing heavily in the market, the amounts offered do not compare to what China’s new upper class has been willing to offer.
How China’s wealthy spend money is unique. The Chinese billionaires and millionaires in recent years have been buying property and making investments in prosperous western countries like Canada. The reason is simple: the Chinese are deeply unsure of the local market. Rich Chinese want to move their money overseas and invest in hard assets, like property, to preserve wealth in case of a sudden domestic economic downturn.
Vancouver has been a particularly desirable destination for rich Chinese. Often, wealthy patriarchs move wives and children to Vancouver, while they continue to work in China. These so-called “astronaut” families have been the main reason for the city’s unprecedented housing bubble.
Locals Get the Short End of the Stick
Vancouver’s housing bubble has been extremely profitable for real estate investors focusing on high-end markets. However, it has been a disaster for locals who want to live affordably in the city.
Prices, as mentioned above, have risen to a point that a Canadian family can no longer afford to buy property in Vancouver. Rent has also risen to unprecedented levels posing problems for recent college graduates wanting to work in the city.
A middle-income tenant in downtown Vancouver would need 23.7 years to pay for an average property, according to Numbeo, a site that measures cost of living around the world. This is an unaffordable amount to average Canadians who want to live and work in the city. Working class Canadians often don’t qualify for mortgages that can afford a house, or even a decent apartment, in the city. Stephanie Goudriaan, a paralegal wanting to start a family in the city, found this out the hard way, according to Bloomberg. She and her husband qualified for a C$450,000 mortgage. But when she researched property prices, she couldn’t find a family home for less than C$500,000.
The often overpriced properties in Vancouver are pushing local residents deep into debt. Local residents are often forced to take out bigger mortgages than they can afford. This usually means that families have to live from paycheck to paycheck. The average worker may also be forced to take out personal loans when the mortgage bills become too much. When the credit card debts, car loans and the rest pile up, the local Vancouver resident has to resort to a home equity line of credit, abbreviated as a HELOC. HELOCs are also known as second mortgages.
Locals going into this much debt to afford a house, a basic human right, in Canada has all the markings of serious economic and social problems in the future. The population in Vancouver and the immediate surrounding area is estimated to swell by 50 percent in the next 25 years. The rising housing prices will not be able to sustain this population. The Canadian government will most likely have to increase property taxes considerably, especially for foreign owners, in order to contain the situation from spiraling out of control.