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The Real Estate Market Even luxury listings don’t last in Vancouver’s hot housing market

A sold house located at 4650 Granville Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver region's real estate market is so hot that even luxury properties that would usually take at least four months to find a buyer are selling at a faster clip and being snapped up for millions of dollars above their assessed value.

The elite-end transactions contributed to the highest number of sales ever recorded for any month in Greater Vancouver. A total of 5,173 properties changed hands in March. That number – for sales of single-family detached homes, condos and townhouses – was 27.4-per-cent higher than the figure for March, 2015, and 56-per-cent above the 10-year average for that month.

In addition to Greater Vancouver's hectic activity, the Fraser Valley, which includes the sprawling and less expensive suburb of Surrey, had a record 3,006 sales last month. That smashed the previous high of 2,720 set in March, 1991.

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One Vancouver property sold 20 days after being listed for $31.1-million, which was $5.51-million above its assessed value for July 1, 2015. The sellers of the mansion on prestigious Belmont Avenue in the city's Point Grey neighbourhood are Peter and Joanne Brown. Mr. Brown, the founder of investment dealer Canaccord Genuity Group Inc., and his wife are philanthropists through their charity, the Peter and Joanne Brown Foundation.

A property in Vancouver's Shaughnessy area neighbourhood fetched $27-million in March after 52 days on the market, going for $6.34-million over its assessed value. Another Shaughnessy mansion sold for $22.3-million after a 38-day marketing period, attracting $4.8-million over its assessed value.

The benchmark price in Greater Vancouver for detached houses reached a new high last month of $1.34-million, or a gain of 27.4 per cent from a year earlier. The board said the benchmark price is a representation of the typical house in an area, providing a better barometer of real estate trends than average resale prices.

Dan Morrison, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said on Monday that a combination of factors has led to the housing rally that began in mid-2013. He said sales activity is being driven by population growth, low mortgage rates, limited housing supply and a buoyant economy. "Listings are selling so fast that there isn't time for the inventory to build up," Mr. Morrison said. "For high-end homes to be selling in weeks instead of months is a bit unusual. In a normal market, 30 to 90 days would be normal for typical homes. Now, many are selling within two weeks."

Josh Gordon, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Public Policy, said there has been a ripple effect as buyers from China put upward pressure on prices for detached houses on Vancouver's west side. "Essentially, the main culprit is foreign demand, and secondarily, you have low interest rates, which are helping to fuel the bubble," he said. "People get pushed out to Vancouver's east side and then to Burnaby and Coquitlam."

A key factor in rising prices for detached homes has been limited supply in a region boxed in by the mountains, the ocean, the Canada-U.S. border and agricultural land, Dr. Gordon said.

The benchmark price last month for detached homes sold on Vancouver's west side hit $3.07-million, up 25.5 per cent from March, 2015. The median price for detached properties on the west side reached $3.52-million, up 29.5 per cent from a year earlier.

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Ken Wong, an agent with Royal Pacific Realty Group, said that in a slower market, a luxury listing would generally take about four months to secure a buyer. Listings on the extreme high end usually sell for less than the asking price because they tend not to draw multiple bidders. The Browns were asking for $35-million.

"Not that many people have that kind of money lying around," Mr. Wong said. He pointed to reduced supply as an important part of the picture. Greater Vancouver had a total of 7,358 listings of all residential housing types last month, down 40.5 per cent from a year earlier.

The Fraser Valley board's total number of March listings fell 33 per cent to 5,485. The benchmark price in the Fraser Valley for detached houses sold was $741,000, up 25.9 per cent from a year earlier.

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