Winners and losers in Canada's slowing market

Money Glitz | Natalie Wong and Natalie Obiko Pearson 18 Apr 2019

Isaiah Boodhoo, 22, thought it was a "complete hoax" when he saw a rental listing on Facebook for a bedroom in a Vancouver mansion for only C$1,100 (HK$6,477) a month.

It turned out the glass chandeliers, luxurious blue drapes, steam room and billiards table were for real. The nine-bedroom home, dubbed "The Castle" by the 14 students who share the property, is apparently owned by an Afghani pop artist.

"Honestly, I would stay here for as long as I could," he said, sitting on a white couch while sipping from a Slurpee cup. "C$1,000 for all this?"

Others may also soon find themselves as lucky as more mansion owners in the city turn to renting to avoid a new tax on empty homes.

In the new world of Vancouver's housing market, where Chinese investors are decamping, students can find themselves living in the lap of luxury.

It's a far cry from the frenzy of a few years ago when the city was at the center of a global property boom. Prices more than doubled in the decade through 2016, outpacing gains in New York and London.

But government policies to tame the market - from new taxes to stricter mortgage regulations - have fueled a plunge in sales to the weakest since the global financial crisis. Prices are down 8.5 percent from their peak in June, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Here are some stories:

The lucky renters

With taxes on an empty home potentially adding up to 3 percent in annual levies, homeowners are rushing to lease their homes. That's leading to bargains in a city where the vacancy rate has been near zero percent.

"You have houses that are worthC$4 million renting for C$4,500," said realtor Steve Saretsky.

Prospective tenants are getting bold, said Kevin Wang, who runs a sales and rental real estate team with his twin brother Jerry. They've received calls from people offering to help with gardening or maintenance in exchange for free rent in a luxury home.

The Chinese seller

Lisa Sun paces around the Vancouver mansion she's been hired to sell by its wealthy Chinese-Canadian owner. The family's had it with the new taxes and what it sees as increasing hostility to Asian capital.

Sun reckons that early last year the home would have easily sold for about C$8.5 million.

Today, the realtor isn't sure she'll get a credible offer for the 8,343 square-foot mansion. These days a pool, wine cellar, and home theater on a prime lot aren't enough to clinch a deal. Sun needs a "stager" to empty the house and brighten it up with new furniture, a modern chandelier, and lick of paint. The house is listed at C$10.9 million, but after receiving mostly low-ball offers closer to its tax-assessed value of C$6.2 million, Sun is planning on dropping the asking price closer to C$8.3 million.

That's a hefty cut but holding on to the home would mean paying potentially more than C$140,000 in extra taxes annually for the Canadian owner who splits her time between Vancouver and Beijing.

The bargain hunters

Buying a house seemed an impossible dream for Brandon Chapman. The 28-year-old financial planner first started looking at one-bedroom condos in 2016, around the peak of the market.

"It was just bananas so I took a step back," he said.

He's glad he waited. He now figures he might even be able to afford a detached home and is viewing properties at around the C$1.1 million mark in East Vancouver. He's offering way under the asking price. It hasn't quite worked out yet. One offer for about C$200,000 less than the listing price was rejected.

"We haven't closed on anything but the market in my opinion is still trending down so why would I rush into buying something if I don't need it this second?"

Then there's Robin Rickards, who happened to be looking for a temporary home at a serendipitous time. The 64-year-old orthopedic surgeon needed a place to stay while his current one was being rebuilt. He ended up making an offer on three homes and got one for almost C$1 million less than the original asking price.

"It's like a candy store for buyers right now," said Clara Hartree, the realtor working with Rickards.

The Frustrated Flippers

Westbank's twisty, cantilevered glass silhouette helped its developer rapidly sell out some 400 ultra-luxe units when presales began in 2014, thanks in part to interest from Asian buyers. As it nears completion, investors are seeking to offload more than two dozenunits.

One flyer offers a 368-square-foot unit at C$515,000. "Transfer at original price," it reads in Chinese. Last year, it would've fetched as much as C$800,000, says Jerry Huang, a realtor with Nu Stream Realty. "That's an insane deal,"he said.

The broader downturn is beginning to catch some out across various developments.

Those who bought at the peak need to find a buyer fast or come up with the full amount to pay the developer. With banks in some cases assessing units lower than the contract price, buyers hoping for a loan may face a shortfall.

"There are no assurances right now," says Adil Dinani, a realtor with Royal LePage. Some sellers may be lucky just to break even.


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