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West Vancouver real estate project closes ‘locals only’ buying period

A real estate sign is shown outside a house in Vancouver, Jan. 3, 2017.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The developer of a high-profile real estate project in Horseshoe Bay has wrapped up a "locals first" marketing period and opened the door to buyers from anywhere in the world.

But purchasers will still be required to sign an agreement stating they or a family member intend to live in the home being purchased and that – at the time of purchasing – they don't intend to resell or "flip" the unit.

That commitment is part of an agreement worked out last year between the project's developer, Westbank, and West Vancouver council following concerns the project would be unaffordable for locals.

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"Our goal with this project is to get people who are committed to the community – versus an investor-style product," Westbank marketing director Michael Braun said on Friday.

About half of the units in the Horseshoe Bay project, which includes 158 units in six buildings, have been sold, Mr. Braun said.

The project, going up on land owned by one of the community's historic businesses, Sewell's Marina, was originally scheduled to go to a public hearing last July. The developer pulled its proposal after complaints that it would be unaffordable for local residents and was being promoted to would-be purchasers abroad before it had won zoning approval.

Supporters said it would help revitalize a flagging neighbourhood and add to the housing mix in the community.

West Vancouver council finally approved the project in October, after Westbank agreed to contribute $10.7-million in public benefits, including $4-million for the district's housing fund. Westbank also agreed to sell to locals first and to require buyers to sign a statutory declaration saying that they planned to live in the unit, not flip it or leave it empty.

The "locals first" offer ran for 30 days after a disclosure statement for the project was filed Nov. 4 and restricted sales to people who lived or worked in West Vancouver. The 30-day term followed the agreement worked out between Westbank and local council. Over the next two months, sales were subsequently opened to people living or working in North Vancouver and then Metro Vancouver.

As of Feb. 4, there have been no restrictions on where prospective buyers live or work.

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Advertisements for the project have appeared on international agents' websites and Westbank held a sales event for the project in Hong Kong in April. (No units were sold at that event, the company says.)

West Van councillor Mary-Ann Booth, one of the people who drove efforts to ensure that Westbank's new project would not end up as a luxury investment vehicle, said she felt "Westbank met the terms of the agreement in form more than in substance."

Prices ended up making the project largely out of reach for locals, she said.

"When you set prices based on what the market will bear, the locals are priced out," Ms. Booth said.

She now believes the only way for West Vancouver council to provide housing that locals can afford is by focusing on purpose-built rentals – something that offshore investors likely wouldn't be interested in.

Mr. Braun, however, says Westbank more than lived up to its commitment.

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"We made the project exclusively available to locals at the beginning of the project – and we even extended that period," Mr. Braun said. "I don't think there's ever been a project in Canada that's ever been willing to do that."

He also defended the project's relative affordability, saying multiple units are available for under $1-million, making them more affordable than many single-family homes in West Vancouver, and that local buyers (people who live or work in West Vancouver) remain eligible for a 5-per-cent discount.

In July, 2016, the provincial government announced a 15-per-cent tax on purchases by foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver.

Personal finance columnist Rob Carrick shares a positive note about the rising housing market in large Canadian cities like Toronto.
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