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Real Estate It’s Cinderella time for North Vancouver as house prices shoot up

North Vancouver has always seemed like a sanctuary for those fed up with Vancouver’s preoccupation with newer, bigger, more expensive housing.

While Vancouver seems to be on a mission to tear itself down and start over again, North Vancouver, with its ranchers and split levels, has always felt like a trip back in time. It’s the place where you can live in a small house on a big lot and not lose sleep over the size of your mortgage. And it’s within walking distance of some of the best schools, ski hills and mountain biking trails.

Of course, it was a matter of time before the lust for big new houses reached the north shore, and judging from the numbers, that time is now. The median price of a single family home in North Vancouver shot up to $1,042,600 by the end of last year. That’s almost a 10-per-cent increase in one year and a 21-per-cent increase in five years, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. And it may be January, but buyers are out in full force, looking to snap up deals priced under that amount.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” says Shelley Williams, who’s been a real estate agent on the North Shore for 14 years. “Houses are going quickly. If it is in your price range and your area, you’d better get in there because it’s all moving so quickly.”

This 8,577 sq. ft. waterfront property in Dollarton, south of Deep Cove, was assessed this year at $7.724-million - $1-million higher than its assessment just a year earlier. The three-year-old house has a private dock, boat lift, infinity pool, in-ground hot tub, outdoor living room, putting green, retractable front glass wall, media room, gym, wine room and nanny suite. It is currently listed for sale at $10,988,800. Photos by Alex Chieng

The hot spot is Lynn Valley, where old houses on big lots are being snapped up over asking. This month, a house at 3035 Chaucer Ave. was listed for $975,000 and sold for $1.06-million. The 47-year-old, 2,100-square-foot house with a gazebo, mature trees and mountain view sits on a 57-by-167-foot lot. A house at 1836 Burrill Ave. was listed at $788,000 and sold this week for $850,000. The 2,030-square-foot house sits in a quiet cul-de-sac on a 33-by-120-foot lot.

Ms. Williams has a client who has been trying to get into the market for three years. But when they arrived for the first viewing at the Burrill house, the competition was already fierce.

“You could barely get in the door because of all the shoes,” Ms. Wiliams says.

As it turned out, the floor plan wouldn’t have worked for the client anyway. But with a budget less than $800,000, she couldn’t have competed if it had been the perfect house.

“I think that what’s happened [is] there are more bidding wars because there’s a lot less at the low end of the market,” says client Laurie, who preferred not to give her last name.

Laurie is a single mom with a small daughter and a dog. She’s lived in North Vancouver for many years. When she and her husband separated three years ago, the market worked to their advantage because they sold their Lynn Valley home above asking. Now that she’s looking to buy back into the market, she’s feeling shut out. She wants to live in a house because she is a capable renovator and she could use part of the house as a revenue stream. She’s on the search for an old fixer-upper with two bedrooms up, something that has been lovingly maintained by an older couple that is looking to downsize. But those sweet old houses are now demolition bait for young families looking to upsize.

“If it is in your price range and your area, you’d better get in there because it’s all moving so quickly.”
Agent Shelley Williams

“A lot of these houses on the lower end of the market are being torn down and monsters are going up. That’s been happening a lot, especially with the houses I’ve had my eyes on. It’s gotten worse in the last year or two, and it’s frustrating. They are perfectly good houses. And this [activity] is pricing people out of the market.”

The buyers who did nab the Burrill house knew that there were eight other offers and they’d have to go in with a strong bid. They offered $850,000 and an hour later their offer had been accepted.

They, too, had missed out on several other deals after more than a year of searching.

“It’s tough on the North Shore to find a house under $1-million,” says Jenn Zacks, who sounded elated with the purchase, and relieved that the pressure was off. “It was a long time coming for us. We went in with no subjects. Knowing that so many other people wanted it, and it’s a great property, and the location is great, we gave everything we could.”

Ms. Zacks has lived on the North Shore her whole life and was determined to buy her first home there. But she and her fiancé, Pete, were getting dejected at the selection. Inventory is low in North Vancouver, which is why good houses are going for over asking.

“Everything else we looked at were tear-down dumps. People wanted close to $2-million for something that needed a complete renovation top to bottom. There’s no way we could afford that,” she says.

“Good friends of mine bought in Lynn Valley five or six years ago and the houses then were going for $500,000, on giant lots. Even in the last two years it’s gone up substantially.”

A large part of the market appears to be driven by Vancouverites who’ve been priced out of the trendy east side. The benchmark price of a Greater Vancouver house reached a record high of $1,002,200 this month, as reported by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. The benchmark price is an average that excludes the high-end luxury market. It means a shack on a lot that’s 25 feet wide on the city’s east side can command more than $1-million. Meanwhile, North Vancouver has the trees, the mountains, the trails, and the walkability and livability factor that makes great neighbourhoods. The downside for commuters is the bridge, which is often congested. But if you want a house with a yard on a quiet street, it is, for the time being, more bang for your buck.

“There are a huge number of people moving from Vancouver to North Vancouver,” says real estate agent Patricia Houlihan, who specializes in waterfront properties. “We advertise extensively in the east side for that reason. People walk into a North Van house and go, ‘Oh my God, I can get this?’”

The market, she says, has flipped around in the past several years. It used to be that North Vancouver was more expensive than the east side, so young families would go east. Parts of East Vancouver gentrified and neighbourhoods became highly attractive for people who wanted walkable urban living, with boutique shops and restaurants. Prices shot up. Now, North Vancouver is the draw.

“What I’m seeing is that people have a house in East Van and once they have kids who are about to go to school, they move to North Vancouver, because the North Shore has really good schools. In North Van, the schools are like private schools. They have a lot of resources.”

As for North Van prices, there is far more variety because unlike Vancouver, there’s a more diverse selection of house styles and lot sizes.

Certain pockets are hotter than others. For example, every other house is a new build in Edgemont Village, says agent Aaron Rossetti, whose family has been in the business for 35 years.

“It’s certainly grown with the general Vancouver market, but select areas more than others.”

In Edgemont, he’s seen a house that would have sold for more than $800,000 in 2011 go for $1.5-million or $1.6-million now. Last July, a house sold for $1.43-million and just resold for $1.67-million. Of course, the high-end market is heating up, too.

“Typically, whenever we had sales in North Vancouver over $3-million, it was for waterfront,” he says. “Now, we’re seeing the value rising quite a bit for non-waterfront. We just sold a new house for $3.055-million in Edgemont’s Sunset Gardens.”

Ms. Houlihan has listed a waterfront property in Dollarton, south of Deep Cove, for $10,988,800. The three-year-old house is 8,577 square feet on a lot that’s 86-by-168 feet, with a private dock, boat lift, infinity pool, in-ground hot tub, outdoor living room, putting green, retractable front glass wall, media room, gym, wine room and nanny suite. You’d be hard-pressed to find the equivalent in Vancouver for that price. It was assessed this year at $7.724-million, which is $1-million higher than its 2014 assessment, but even that amount is still far below the market price, says Ms. Houlihan. Assessments this year are all over the map, she adds. Some are above market while others are way below.

“We had offers close to asking because that assessment is so low even with the $1-million increase.”

Not all is yet out of reach for those buyers looking for a deal in North Vancouver.

“Deep Cove is a screaming deal,” Ms. Houlihan says. “People don’t know the values you can get there.”

Last year, there was a house on a 50-by-120-foot lot two blocks from the beach that sold for $775,000.

“It’s still the place that time forgot,” she says.

For now, anyway.

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