Greetings from Vancouver – City of Glass, Gateway to Asia, home to ocean and mountains (ski and sail on the same day!), the third-most-livable city in the world.
Unless, that is, you need a place to live.
I write to you from the Lower Mainland's middle-class real estate trenches, where a war on logic and reason is in full swing, fuelled by greed, envy and FOMO. Oh – and to be fair, a limited land mass in a highly desirable setting.
I send reports of deep distress among the masses – people who just want a refuge at the end of a long workday and potentially gruelling commute (our kingdom for adequate public transit!): a little home with maybe a yard and a basement where they can house a grow op in order to pay for it all.
I'm kidding about that last part. (Although not kidding about the desire for a basement. I do not joke about basements. I covet them.) Unless you've been living under a rock buried in the basement (sigh) of a $2.4-million Point Grey fixer-upper, you know what's going on here: Vancouver's real estate woes have become the stuff of headline news; viral, ridiculed home listings; and daily discouragement for good people just trying to eke out a living and put a (non-leaky) roof over their heads.
This is a city obsessed, where every conversation – from dinner party debates to checkout line chit-chat – seems to come around to the topic of real estate, and the unreal state of it here.
We compare notes – how much our assessments went up, how much above asking the place down the street sold for, how many people showed up for the open house, who's giving up and moving to the suburbs and who's cashing out altogether and moving to Montreal. We weigh in as bubble-bursting is predicted quarterly and naysayed perpetually. Depending on our own situation, we may appear deeply concerned about the crisis while remaining quietly smug (bought back in the eighties!), or we wash down our personal housing panic with locally brewed craft beer or a good B.C. gewurztraminer.
This past week, the conversation has been fuelled by outrage as people discuss what The Globe and Mail has dubbed "shadow flipping" – where a real estate agent resells a property multiple times with increasingly higher values before the sale closes, giving the agent multiple commissions – and maybe a profit if he or she is one of the interim buyers – and a way to avoid paying land transfer taxes.
The practice may not be illegal, but, boy, does it ever sound unethical – and greedy. I mean, how many millions do you need?
It is but one factor contributing to an untenable – let's call it ludicrous – housing situation. An online search this week for single-family homes under $1-million in East Vancouver produced a mere nine results, including a 900-square-foot 88-year-old teardown on a small lot on the eastern edge of the city – listed for $999,900. An identical search for homes on the more desirable (or at least more pricey) west side yielded zero results.
There's a duplex in my funky but still gentrifying East Van neighbourhood listed for nearly $1.4-million. For half a house. Even modest middle-class dreams are being severely tempered – okay, crushed – by Vancouver's real estate horror show. I don't need Einstein, predictor of gravitational waves, to tell me that my aspirations for that basement (not to mention a backyard) have disappeared down a black hole.
Don't get me wrong: I know how fortunate I am with my sweet little duplex.
But when you do everything by the book – work full-time (and then some), pay your taxes, sort your garbage, buy bake sale offerings you really don't need in order to support your kid's inadequately funded public school – man, can it ever be disheartening to learn that your weary attempts at good citizenship not only will never get you the little house you dreamed of, but also may be supporting a system that gives a free pass to unethical behaviour and raw, ambitious greed.
Yes, Vancouver is truly a beautiful place to live – made even prettier at this time of year with emerging crocuses and cherry blossoms. But reader, I must tell you: Nobody skis and sails on the same day.
And nobody has to stay.
So how will this all shake down? An exodus, I fear.
Young people must be tempted to leave – go somewhere they can actually buy a house and – bonus – unencumbered by an oppressive Vancouver mortgage, even afford little luxuries like an occasional dinner out and – imagine – a vacation.
At the other end of the demographic, people who got lucky and now find themselves in possession of a tidy little mortgage-free $2-million house may be tempted to cash out, go live off the proceeds in some other city and no longer worry about how they're going to pay for stuff like property tax. See ya, Lotusland.
The rest of us? Well, at least we'll have something to talk about.