An analysis of vast amounts of City of Vancouver data by two Simon Fraser University researchers has found that the factors that typically prompt increases in housing prices in most cities only explain a tiny part of the picture in Vancouver.
Saeed Soltani and Bita Shadgar, students in SFU's big-data masters program, examined more than one million records from the city's open data catalogue. Records analyzed dated from 2006 onward and consisted of property tax reports, North American crude oil prices, exchange rates between U.S. and Canadian dollars and mortgage rates.
"Our main goal was to find out the correlation between main factors that impact housing prices in all parts of the world with housing prices in Vancouver," Mr. Soltani said. "The interesting thing is how little impact the main factors have on housing prices in Vancouver."
The typical factors thought to play a strong hand in changing housing costs, according to Mr. Soltani, include demographics, economy, interest rate and government policies. Of the data the researchers pulled, these main factors only appeared to play only a 25-per-cent role in increased housing costs, he said.
"There's a 75-per-cent external factor that's setting the housing price in Vancouver," he said.
Researchers found a correlation between increased housing cost and a lower Canadian dollar.
UBC professor of economics Joshua Gottlieb had not seen the data report, but agreed that usual models have a difficult time explaining rising costs in Vancouver.
"Low interest rates support higher prices and might encourage investors to anticipate further growth," he said, adding it's hard to measure the behaviour of potential home buyers. "Real estate prices can be self-fulfilling."
Thomas Davidoff, professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business, said housing prices are extremely complex, but it is generally true that low interest rates and high incomes are often associated with high housing prices.
But prices are also often determined by what people are willing to pay, a factor for which there is no perfect model of measuring.
"Right now, I think outside wealth is an important factor, and that's hard to measure," he said.
"We obviously can't measure a flow of outside capital into our market; we don't have the tools for that yet. The drivers within China, or other markets that lead to that growing demand, are not easy to characterize."
Professor Meg Holden of SFU's urban studies program said that Vancouver continues to draw in people who see the city as a safe investment and are willing to pay more.
"City of Vancouver housing plans have had some success, but we won't see the effects in the dates [of the data analysis] yet," she said, adding it can be difficult to measure for variables in big data analysis, so firm conclusions can be tricky to draw.