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Houses at 3463 W. 38th Ave. (top) and Quebec & 35th Ave (bottom) in Vancouver are prepared for demolition. While equity has risen in some neighbourhoods, construction has diminished livability.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

This month someone stuck handmade signs around the west side of Vancouver offering to buy old houses on 33-foot lots for $2-million. The signs went viral.

Judging by the comments on social media, many residents found the signs a tasteless money grab at the expense of the city's history. They illustrated the new commodification of houses: Money trumps all the things that used to make a house a home. An old house had been deemed so inherently worthless in today's turbo-charged market that it could be purchased sight unseen, like an old wedding band to be melted for its gold.

The real estate agent behind the signs, Tony Savino, said they were all removed by the city, but because they went viral they proved highly effective. He got calls from around the Lower Mainland from people who were interested in his offer, which he made on behalf of the numerous builders and developers he represents.

"I decided to kick it up a notch," Mr. Savino says. "It might be unusual, but it's effective. I call it guerrilla marketing."

The signs were a desperate measure to find houses in a market with low inventory. The $2-million price tag suited the average lot value of a 33-foot west-side property. He wanted old houses around Dunbar and Kerrisdale because they are the perfect targets for redevelopment.

"I thought it would be a good thing to do because it's a hot market, with a lot of money coming in from offshore, and a lot of speculation. People are investing. There's a lot of Asian inflow, from China, Korea."

Not everybody who phoned Mr. Savino was looking to sell.

"I did have one fellow call me a parasite and say I'm ruining the neighbourhood, and he hung up on me," Mr. Savino says. "But it's not me that's doing it. It's the buyers that are doing it. I'm sorry that people who have lived here all their lives can't buy a home in that neighbourhood. But I'm just facilitating the sale. … I'm just trying to make a living."

When the market is hot, the houses come down. They've been coming down by the thousands. Since 2010, there have been 5,297 dwellings demolished, not counting the ones that have been razed in the past couple of months. Those are the city's most recent numbers. Vancouver's averaging about three residential demolitions a day.

In July, 2014, the city brought in requirements to deter homeowners from demolishing old houses. They implemented a rule that a pre-1940 house could be demolished only if it was 75-per-cent recycled. And if it was deemed a character house, as in having historical value, it had to be 90-per-cent recycled – extra work and cost to a builder.

It wasn't much of an obstacle. Demolition permits for dwellings have increased 17 per cent in the past year.

I asked Anita Molaro, an assistant director of planning for the city, if the scheme had deterred the demolition of houses.

"I would say no," she said.

Since the rule came into effect, permit applications were made on 60 pre-1940 character houses deemed of value by the city. All but four were to be demolished – and that's just in a nine-month period.

You don't have to look far to find a house that's about to be demolished in Vancouver. On W. 35th Avenue near Quebec, an entire row of cute old houses awaits demolition.

And not all the houses coming down are old. A big 11-year-old house at 2991 W. 27th Avenue was torn down in June. Olga Betts, a neighbour, remembers when the house was built.

"I was totally amazed when they tore it down," Ms. Betts says. "I think something should be done about giving a demo permit for a new house."

She has lived in Mackenzie Heights for 28 years, and today her formerly quiet neighbourhood feels more like a construction zone. She's seen newly remodelled houses with granite kitchen countertops get demolished. One house near hers has been empty for 12 years.

"They could have been raising children in that house all this time," she says.

Ms. Betts says she and her husband have been tempted to sell, only because their neighbourhood has become less livable.

"We decided at our age it wouldn't be wise to move, because we have all our medical care here, and all those things. But if we were 20 years younger, we probably would."

Former librarian Janice Kreider documents demolitions in her Dunbar neighbourhood on a blog called Disappearing Dunbar. At first, she covered most of the area, but she couldn't keep up, so now she only records the demolitions within a few blocks. She's still busy.

And she is shocked at the number of demolitions of high-quality houses that had been maintained and remodelled.

"Every time one comes down I cringe," Ms. Kreider says. "I like my house and garden, so we are hanging on," she says.

Ms. Kreider has lived in her house for 40 years, which means she paid a fraction of what it's currently worth. I ask her if she'd be willing to lose some of the equity in her house if its price dropped.

"I'm all for community," she says. "And even if it goes down by half, we didn't put a million into it. We've been here so long that the equity just came on by surprise. …

"We got lucky."

Equity has grown, but the livability of the old neighbourhood has declined. And there's the sense that government has no incentive to intervene.

"People are unhappily resigned," Ms. Kreider says. "They're powerless. The new property development brings more income to the city in terms of property taxes."

The ongoing demolition season is also astonishingly wasteful – a blight on a city that aims to be one of the world's greenest. Tearing down a house to build a bigger one, without adding density, is the opposite of sustainable.

"I wish that they would rezone instead of building these huge Craftsman-style houses," Ms. Kreider says. "They could put up townhouses on the lot, so that a family could live in it. People could afford it more, and it densifies the area, and it doesn't wreck the street."

Clearly, rezoning is a tool that the city could better use to affect change, and Ms. Molaro says that it's being looked at over the coming months.

On the bright side, the recycling program has been a success. Doug Smith, the city's assistant director of sustainability, estimates that the demolished pre-1940 houses alone account for 10,000 to 12,000 tons of recycled wood each year. Most of the old lumber from the houses gets turned into "hog fuel," used for burning. A small portion becomes paper.

Mr. Smith agrees that the ideal scenario is to leave a house standing, and renovate it and bring it up to code. It takes far more energy to tear a house down, recycle it and build a new one than it does to renovate. "That's kind of the ultimate as far as environmental housing goes – not tearing it down, not using all that energy, but making sure you have upgraded the energy efficiency of that house. We definitely want to save them. They are beautiful."

He says the city will soon introduce an incentive program to help pay for the cost of a new hot-water tank, insulation or furnace in an old house. But it probably won't be incentive enough to stop the demolition craze.

"It is frustrating, and it seems quite wasteful," he says. "The modern house is good and safe, and built to be efficient, but it isn't the same level of craftsmanship as the old house."