The year is 2040. The schadenfreude-driven doom-and-gloom naysayers who predicted disaster with the bursting of the real estate bubble in the mid 20-teens turned out to be wrong.
From 2016 onward, the double-digit increases in house prices continued at an average annual rate of 17 per cent. A single-family home in Vancouver purchased in that year is now worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $80-million. Vancouver is now a resort city populated only by the world's wealthiest.
The good news is the city has never been more multicultural, with money launderers from all parts of the globe living here for at least one week of the calendar year in order to avoid paying the city's empty-home tax. The rotating cast of sheiks and warlords gives the city a special flair.
A few people who grew up in the city still live here, borrowing against their home equity to survive. Most are elderly and guided by the wrong-headed notion that, because they were born here, raised their children here and essentially built the city, they somehow deserve to live here.
The west end and most of Yaletown and False Creek North have been annexed by Airbnb, which now pays the city directly for services, such as water and garbage removal. Which is good, since even the wealthiest homeowners are deferring their taxes, leaving the city's coffers to run dry. No one seems to remember how things got this way. Some trace it back to 2018, when rather than simply cold-calling homeowners to offer up international buyers, real estate agents began arriving on doorsteps at dinner time with suitcases full of cash.
Also, they would let you keep their cars after you signed. This enticed many to finally sell out and move to Calgary, where homes could still be had for a relative song since the oil and gas industry never recovered. Effigies of Elon Musk were burned in the street almost daily. Which is ironic, given that many people who live in Calgary now commute to Vancouver via Hyperloop.
Those who still do live near the Lower Mainland (which now encompasses all of Vancouver Island south of Nanaimo, the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast as far north as Lund) must endure hours-long commutes in autonomous cars for which they pay by the minute. The 10-lane Todd Stone Bridge over the Fraser River is jammed beyond capacity. Many have criticized the province's lack of foresight when it decided to make the bridge just 10 lanes. Meantime, repairs to the Pattullo Bridge continue, since a plan to replace the bridge was indefinitely postponed.
The transit system, while still operational, is barely so. Rapid transit has become increasingly unreliable since maintenance was deferred between 2020 and 2031 because of budget shortfalls. No new rapid transit has been built since the opening of the Evergreen Line more than two decades ago.
The transit referendums of 2022, 2030 and 2035 all failed to secure stable long-term funding for TransLink, leading to the current state of disrepair. Now, only the poorest people ride transit, an ordeal that can often take hours when breakdowns occur.
While Vancouver did its best to create a thriving digital and tech economy through the early 2020s, major industry players could no longer attract talent because of the cost of living. Vancouver's economy is now based mostly on tourism, servicing the city's ultra rich, home staging, and tidying up Airbnb rentals. These are low-wage jobs with most workers and their families living in camps in the Fraser Valley.
Children no longer have to make the commute into the city, since the last public school in Vancouver was closed in 2032. Children are now taught in "camp schools" by willing volunteers, many of them former teachers, or through the K-12 "Just Like School" app, which the province developed with a generous grant from the Fraser Institute. Premier Melissa De Genova has said the app is every bit as good as real brick-and-mortar schools, but it does away with frills such as teachers, libraries, and seismically sound buildings, while costing a fraction of what those old schools cost. Private schools, meanwhile, continue to thrive.
There are still those who say the bubble is going to pop – they've been saying that for nearly 30 years. Fortunately, the Criminal Code has been amended to reclassify any such talk as hate speech targeting an identifiable group, namely realtors.
It's hard to believe that 24 years ago there were those who stood on the sidelines, debating whether they should get into the Vancouver real estate market.
There are still those people today, unwilling to carry $79-million mortgages, even with record low interest rates.
One thing that I know is as true now as it was then: there's never been a better time to buy a home.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.