Realtors say the small boom of sky-high prices for Vancouver west-side houses – one that provoked media around the world to claim with scant proof that mainland Chinese investors were buying up the city – is fizzling out.
Both sales and prices are down at the top end even more markedly than in the rest of the region, which has also seen a general slowdown this spring.
A house on the 3000 block of West 24th Anenue, first listed at near $4.5-million six months ago, sold on April 15 for $3.35-million.
Fresh statistics from the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board show the number of sales on the west side is down by nearly 40 per cent for the first four months of the year. Only a third of the nearly 400 homes listed in April have sold – one of the lowest rates in the region.
Realtors say the slowdown appears to have resulted from a combination of tighter lending practices by local banks, which now want proof of income to service large mortgages, more restrictions on how much capital can be taken out of China, and fewer immigrants.
"Banks are now requiring borrowers to disclose incomes and assets before mortgages are approved, as of the last six weeks," said west-side realtor Marty Pospischil, who specializes in selling single-family homes owned by long-term residents. Last year, he says 90 per cent of his 100 house sales were to "offshore buyers" – people not living here yet, who flew in to buy. This year, it's less than a tenth of that. "We're now seeing a 50-per-cent collapse rate in deals, when it's usually more like 5 per cent," he said.
He and other realtors are saying the west-side slowdown is a good thing because the short-lived boom, which prompted local owners to start listing at increasingly inflated prices, was unrealistic and unhealthy.
"I always thought that market was not sustainable. Every local person was juiced out of the market. The average household income on the west side doesn't support those prices," said Andrew Hasman, who specializes in single-family homes on the west side.
Prominent condo marketer Bob Rennie said the high-end house prices in west-side Vancouver were so out of line with the rest of the region and country that it was skewing people's perceptions of real-estate increases, not just in Metro Vancouver, but in all of Canada.
"In 2010, reports were saying real estate went up 8.9 per cent in Canada. But if you took out Vancouver, it only went up 4.3 per cent," he said.
The spike in west-side house prices the last two years has provoked intense media coverage – with one Bloomberg News story in late May headlined, Chinese Spreading Wealth Make Vancouver Homes Pricier Than NYC – and debate among residents, politicians and commentators both here and abroad.
Much of it was attributed to "mainland Chinese" buyers, although no one had hard overall numbers to support that. Nor could anyone say whether that group might be 100 or 1,000 people, or whether they were truly offshore investors or immigrants.
But that didn't stop arguments about the need to limit foreign ownership or to tax speculation to prevent the nebulous phenomenon.
A number of realtors said early signs started appearing six months ago that the market was slowing down, but the difference really appeared in early March. There is usually a surge of buying in Vancouver around Chinese New Year, as visitors from China come to see family or friends in the city and often make decisions to buy.
This year, the buying spree after Chinese New Year was much smaller, and house sales have slowed in March and April instead of the typical pattern of accelerating into spring.
Jean Zhang, with Sutton Group, said her clients, who tend to be immigrants looking to settle here permanently, are waiting longer to make offers.
"A few months ago, people were thinking, 'I have to get in right away,' " she said. "Now, they see there are lots of choices. And they are giving lowball bids. They want to have good bargains in this market."