Skip to main content

The number of new condo and townhouse sales, at almost 18,000 for 2015, is double what it was for 2010.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

People wanting to buy a place to live in the increasingly pricey Lower Mainland had a safety valve the past seven years: condos and townhouses.

That's not the story any more, according to the most recent analysis from Urban Analytics, a company that collects industry data.

While prices of single-family homes have soared to levels that are prompting consternation, the prices of multifamily units have been almost flat since the 2008 recession. Sales have been steady but sedate.

But now, the number of new condo and townhouse sales, at almost 18,000 for 2015, is double what it was for 2010. And prices are going up, as people compete in a market where the supply hasn't increased.

"What we're starting to see, over the last six months of 2015 and into 2016, is that same pressure on multifamily that we've seen on single-family," said Michael Ferreira, a principal at the company.

"There seems to be an increased level of urgency with buyers because of a fear of loss" – that is, losing any chance to buy if they don't jump into the market immediately.

Unless the market takes a dive, no new condo in the downtown peninsula is likely to sell for less than $1,000 a square foot from now on, he said.

Condo prices along the Cambie corridor have increased by 7 per cent in the past six months. Townhouses in a Port Coquitlam project that the company studied increased by $15,000 to $65,000 between November, 2014 and March, 2015.

And even condos and townhouses in the Fraser Valley, which had been selling for years at the same low prices, are seeing significant price increases.

Mr. Ferreira said the problem isn't that supply has gone down. Builders are continuing to churn out condos and townhouses as fast as ever.

But demand is higher, more so among locals planning to live in units than investors, he said.

Local buyers are turning to multifamily units because they can't get single-family houses.

Parents buying for their children are deciding to get in now, before prices and interest rates increase.

As a result, there were only 4,972 new units available in the whole Lower Mainland at the end of 2015 – three of them in downtown Vancouver, 29 in the city overall and none in North Vancouver.

But more than 5,200 people bought new units in the last quarter of 2015, meaning there's only about a three-month supply of housing available if buying continues at the same pace.

Mr. Ferreira's company studies only new housing coming to the market.

But real estate agents say it's the same picture in the resale market, with some variations on what is turning into a small circus as bidders fight for units.

"It's ridiculous," said real estate agent Ian Watt, who specializes in condos, with many in the downtown market.

His agency sold a one-bedroom, 608-square-foot condo in the Scotiabank Theatre tower on downtown's Smithe Street last week for $577,000. It had been listed at $488,000 and received 34 offers. Two years ago, a similar condo a few floors down sold for $435,000, Mr. Watt said.

The problem is supply, he said. People are hanging onto their condos, reluctant to sell. Last year, there were 795 listings for the downtown condo market in February. This week, there are 379.

That's happening for two reasons. Some people are afraid that if they sell, they won't be able to buy elsewhere – the current problem afflicting the single-family market, which has inspired a bidding frenzy for any house that goes on sale.

Others with investment condos are benefiting from recent rent increases, Mr. Watt said, meaning that the rent is finally covering the cost of their mortgage and other expenses – so they're less inclined to bail.

The result is a tight market, just as demand is heating up.

"I think it's just silly. Things are out of control," Mr. Watt said. "Everyone should just take a step back."