Vancouver Real Estate Mania
On January 29th, 2016, Vancouver went crazy.
The story of a humble 86-year-old home in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood was widely circulated by national media outlets and became a lightning rod for local frustration with skyrocketing property values.
The “knockdown”, with its rotting walls and $2.4 million asking price, perfectly underscored how crazy the region’s overheated housing market had gotten.
A month later, the house was sold for $80,000 above its asking price, rekindling public outrage.
How did Vancouver reach this point?
This infographic’s purpose is to connect the dots between Vancouver’s history of speculation, demographic waves, public policy, and external pressures that have all had a hand in shaping today’s hot real estate market in the city.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Chapter One: Birth of a Boomtown
In a surprise move in the late 19th century, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced that the tiny town of Granville would become the terminus of the future Trans-Canada Railway. Granville, with just 400 people, is now the nucleus of Vancouver – and the well-connected men who had conveniently purchased property in the area made a fortune as prices rocketed up.
By the close of 1888, the local newspaper was packed with property speculation ads, and Vancouver real estate companies outnumbered restaurants by a margin of over 250%.
These bets on real estate weren’t in vain. Vancouver actually outpaced all major West Coast cities in growth between 1900 and 1910. While Seattle and San Francisco grew at 194% and 22% respectively, Vancouver’s population soared by a clip of 271% over the same period.
Chapter Two: Expo 86
Hosting the 1986 World Exposition was a pivotal moment in Vancouver’s history. The legacy of Expo is far-reaching, including: rapid transit, new neighbourhoods, a connected seawall, increased investment, and a new stadium (BC Place).
The 70 hectare (173 acre) Expo site was carved out of industrial land and the former Canadian Pacific Railway yard. Once the fair ended, the provincial government looked to sell off the entire block of land for redevelopment.
In 1988, after recognizing the potential of the site, Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing formed Concord Pacific and purchased the site for $320 million.
Chapter Three: Hong Kong Loves Vancouver Real Estate
In the 1990s, there was much trepidation in Hong Kong over the looming handover of the colony to China. Many people were looking to move themselves and their money to a more stable market. Concord Pacific, and Li Ka-Shing’s name, sparked enormous interest in the Vancouver real estate market.
Other Hong Kong businessmen also got in the development game in Vancouver. Cheng Yu-tung’s company built International Village and Sun Hung Kai Properties is now well-known for being the driving force behind Coal Harbour.
Immigration from Hong Kong, coupled with an influx of Canadians from other provinces, led to drastic home price increases during the early ’90s. The fabric of the city was changing, and existing residents were vocal about it. The “Monster House” debate raged in the local media throughout the decade.
Chapter Four: The Welcome Mat
During the same year as Expo 86, the Canadian Federal government and the Quebec government wanted to use immigration to bolster their economies. They created programs such as the Immigrant Investor Program (IIP) and the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program (QIIP) to attract wealthy foreigners.
Between the two programs, there were over 110,000 approvals to come to Canada between 2002 and 2014. (Note: From 2007 to 2012, the United States only accepted 19,433 wealthy immigrants through its EB-5 program)
The Quebec Loophole
A recent study tracked the addresses of 5,120 Quebec immigrant investors who arrived from 2000 to 2008. An astonishing 94% of the newly-arrived investors eventually had an address in British Columbia and most were living in the Vancouver area.
The Quebec government now has a quota of 1,330 applications per year from China. Assuming those applicants migrate to Vancouver at similar rates as in previous years, the flow of multi-millionaire immigrants will continue for some time.
Chapter Five: Vancouver’s Housing Feeding Frenzy
Fast forward to 2016. Vancouver is seeing record-breaking prices, and the momentum for single-family homes is showing no signs of slowing down.
In April 2016, the average detached home in Greater Vancouver sold for $1.82 million, which is a 30% increase year over year. That was not a typo – the price of a detached home in Vancouver is now nearly twice that of Greater Toronto ($968k), and multiples higher than Calgary ($540k) or Montreal ($343k).
Record high prices aren’t dampening sales though. In 2016, sales have been brisk with nearly 17,000 houses sold in the first four months of the year. Many of these have sold for significant sums above their asking prices.
Chapter Six: Business is Booming
In response to skyrocketing detached home prices, Vancouverites are increasingly living in condos. Residential development construction is practically propping up British Columbia’s economy.
BC had the highest GDP growth in the country in 2015, and it’s expected to put up strong numbers in 2016 as well. Between April 2015 and April 2016, BC accounted for 110,000 of Canada’s 144,000 net new jobs with construction leading the way.
Business is so good that the value of building permits broke a new city record in 2015 with over $3 billion. There were at least 10 major construction projects – each valued at more than $50 million – approved over the course of the year.
And Vancouver realtors? They’re doing well.
With so much money to be made selling property and condos, the Vancouver real estate industry is thriving. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says licensed membership is at an all-time high.
Chapter Seven: Locals are Getting Fed Up
The dream of owning a home is getting further out of reach even for well-off Vancouverites. Surging home prices and stricter down-payment rules mean that it can take over two decades to save up a down payment for a home.
Vancouverites seeking relief from the super-heated single family home prices won’t find it elsewhere in the market. The median condo price in Vancouver is up over 40% since 2014.
Renters are not immune to price increases either, as price-to-rent ratios are way out of whack in Metro Vancouver. According to real estate website Trulia, in nearby Seattle it takes 14.5 years of rent to equal the price of a house. In Vancouver, it takes 36.9 years.
Lastly, many residents worry that this red-hot demand is obliterating Vancouver’s character. Land values are so high that viable housing is often demolished to make way for new buildings. As a result, thousands of homes are torn down each year.
Chapter Eight: Is This Growth Sustainable?
The experts are far from reaching a consensus on whether Vancouver’s market can continue on as it is now.
On one hand, experts such as Stéfane Marion (Chief Economist, National Bank) say that growth in the working age population in Vancouver is 70% higher than the national average, and it can help sustain home price inflation. Meanwhile, Thomas Davidoff, an Associate Professor of Economics at UBC, points out that if Vancouver is a magnet for China, this housing run could continue for quite a while.
Davidoff may be onto something – there were 9,000 Chinese millionaires that emigrated from Mainland China in 2015, and there are 654,000 millionaires still in China today. The latter number is expected to double by 2025. It’s also noteworthy that in a recent poll by Barclays that 47% of Chinese millionaires expressed a desire to move abroad in the “next five years”.
The contrasting view, of course, is that Vancouver is in a bubble that is overdue for popping.
Marc Cohodes, a famous Wall Street short-seller we recently profiled in another recent chart we did on Canadian housing, argues that Vancouver is a casino in which residents feel pressured to play, otherwise they miss out. Meanwhile, David Madani, the Senior Canadian Economist at Capital Economics, says that severe overvaluation, high household debt, and overbuilding is going to make the housing correction end in a way that is deeper and more prolonged than initially feared.
The Bank of Canada has sounded the alarm on household debt recently, and “unsustainable debt” per household has soared in the country. Between 2008 and 2014, the amount of Canadian households with debt-to-income ratios greater than 250% jumped from 28% to 40% of all households.
Which province is home to the highest rate of households with “unsustainable debt”? BC, of course.
Vancouver’s parabolic prices may eventually cool down, but in the near-term, Vancouver real estate mania is here to stay.
The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021
According to UBS, there are nine real estate markets that are in bubble territory with prices rising to unsustainable levels.
Ranked: The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021
Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, even though many of us “know a bubble when we see it”, we don’t have tangible proof of a bubble until it actually bursts.
And by then, it’s too late.
The map above, based on data from the Real Estate Bubble Index by UBS, serves as an early warning system, evaluating 25 global cities and scoring them based on their bubble risk.
Reading the Signs
Bubbles are hard to distinguish in real-time as investors must judge whether a market’s pricing accurately reflects what will happen in the future. Even so, there are some signs to watch out for.
As one example, a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents is a common red flag. As well, imbalances in the real economy, such as excessive construction activity and lending can signal a bubble in the making.
With this in mind, which global markets are exhibiting the most bubble risk?
The Geography of Real Estate Bubbles
Europe is home to a number of cities that have extreme bubble risk, with Frankfurt topping the list this year. Germany’s financial hub has seen real home prices rise by 10% per year on average since 2016—the highest rate of all cities evaluated.
Two Canadian cities also find themselves in bubble territory: Toronto and Vancouver. In the former, nearly 30% of purchases in 2021 went to buyers with multiple properties, showing that real estate investment is alive and well. Despite efforts to cool down these hot urban markets, Canadian markets have rebounded and continued their march upward. In fact, over the past three decades, residential home prices in Canada grew at the fastest rates in the G7.
Despite civil unrest and unease over new policies, Hong Kong still has the second highest score in this index. Meanwhile, Dubai is listed as “undervalued” and is the only city in the index with a negative score. Residential prices have trended down for the past six years and are now down nearly 40% from 2014 levels.
Note: The Real Estate Bubble Index does not currently include cities in Mainland China.
Trending Ever Upward
Overheated markets are nothing new, though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of real estate markets.
For years, house price appreciation in city centers was all but guaranteed as construction boomed and people were eager to live an urban lifestyle. Remote work options and office downsizing is changing the value equation for many, and as a result, housing prices in non-urban areas increased faster than in cities for the first time since the 1990s.
Even so, these changing priorities haven’t deflated the real estate market in the world’s global cities. Below are growth rates for 2021 so far, and how that compares to the last five years.
Overall, prices have been trending upward almost everywhere. All but four of the cities above—Milan, Paris, New York, and San Francisco—have had positive growth year-on-year.
Even as real estate bubbles continue to grow, there is an element of uncertainty. Debt-to-income ratios continue to rise, and lending standards, which were relaxed during the pandemic, are tightening once again. Add in the societal shifts occurring right now, and predicting the future of these markets becomes more difficult.
In the short term, we may see what UBS calls “the era of urban outperformance” come to an end.
Mapped: Distribution of Global GDP by Region
Where does the world’s economic activity take place? This cartogram shows the $94 trillion global economy divided into 1,000 hexagons.
Mapped: The Distribution of Global GDP by Region
Gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of goods and services that an economy produces in a given year, but in a global context, it is typically shown using country-level data.
As a result, we don’t often get to see the nuances of the global economy, such as how much specific regions and metro areas contribute to global GDP.
In these cartograms, global GDP has been normalized to a base number of 1,000 in order to show a more regional breakdown of economic activity. Created by Reddit user /BerryBlue_Blueberry, the two maps show the distribution in different ways: by nominal GDP and by GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP).
Before diving in, let us give you some context on how these maps were designed. Each hexagon on the two maps represents 0.1% of the world’s overall GDP.
The number below each region, country or metropolitan area represents the number of hexagons covered by that entity. So in the nominal GDP map, the state of New York represents 20 hexagons (i.e. 2.0% of global GDP), while Munich’s metro area is 3 hexagons (0.3%).
Countries are further broken down based on size. Countries that make up more than 0.95% of global GDP are broken down into subdivisions, while countries that are smaller than 0.1% of GDP are grouped together. Metro areas that account for over 0.25% of global GDP are featured.
Finally, it should be noted that to account for some outdated subdivision participation data, the map creator calculated 2021 estimates for this using the formula: national GDP (2021) x % of subdivision participation (2017-2020).
Nominal vs. PPP
The above map is using nominal data, while the below map accounts for differences in purchasing power (PPP).
Adjusting for PPP takes into account the relative value of currencies and purchasing power in countries around the world. For example, $100 (or its exchange equivalent in Indian rupees) is generally going to be able to buy more in India than it is in the United States.
This is because goods and services are cheaper in India, meaning you can actually purchase more there for the same amount of money.
Anomalies in Global GDP Distribution
Breaking down global GDP distribution into cartograms highlights some interesting anomalies worth considering:
- North America, Europe, and East Asia, with a combined GDP of nearly $75 trillion, make up 80% of the world’s GDP in nominal terms.
- The U.S. State of California accounts for 3.7% of the world’s GDP by itself, which ranks higher than the United Kingdom’s total contribution of 3.3%.
- Canada as a country accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP, which is comparable to the GDP contribution of the Greater Tokyo Area at 2.2%.
- With a GDP of $3 trillion, India’s contribution overshadows the GDP of the whole African continent ($2.6 trillion).
- This visualization highlights the economic might of cities better than a conventional map. One standout example of this is in Ontario, Canada. The Greater Toronto Area completely eclipses the economy of the rest of the province.
Inequality of GDP Distribution
The fact that certain countries generate most of the world’s economic output is reflected in the above cartograms, which resize countries or regions accordingly.
Compared to wealthier nations, emerging economies still account for just a tiny sliver of the pie.
India, for example, accounts for 3.2% of global GDP in nominal terms, even though it contains 17.8% of the world’s population.
That’s why on the nominal map, India is about the same size as France, the United Kingdom, or Japan’s two largest metro areas (Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe)—but of course, these wealthier places have a far higher GDP per capita.
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