The Landing condo development is seen under construction in Langley, B.C., on Monday December 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Landing condo development is seen under construction in Langley, B.C., on Monday December 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Condominium market still ‘a lot better’ than normal in Vancouver suburbs

The Fraser Valley, east of Metro Vancouver, has long been considered a more affordable haven for first-time homebuyers.

A tempting bright-red advertisement for a new condo development in a Vancouver suburb circulated online this fall, sparking excitement from first-time homebuyers and concern among long-standing real estate observers.

The developers of The Landing, a 78-unit complex in Langley, were offering to pay the mortgages for a year of the first 20 buyers and give remaining buyers a $10,000 discount.

It looked like a sign of the times: had provincial and federal government measures to cool the market been too successful? Were developers stuck with a glut of inventory as sales and prices dropped off a cliff?

Not really, according to the marketer behind the promotion.

“The way we run our sales programs is we run basically a different promotion almost every week. I’ve been working in suburban markets for a long time and honestly, what I’m seeing right now is it’s not even at a normal market. It’s still a lot better,” said Trevor Street, CEO of the Partners Marketing Group.

“What’s normal for me is having four or five other sites that are active, that are open, that buyers can go to and shop around. I remember a time marketing developments when I ran out of registers to call in our database and started cold-calling rental buildings.”

Read more: B.C.’s skyrocketing real estate market will ‘correct’ in 2019: analyst

Read more: Dozens speak at Vancouver hearing that could see duplexes replace single homes

That was back in 2013 or 2014, he said, before Vancouver’s real estate market exploded and a ripple effect moved through its suburbs and the rest of British Columbia. By 2016, Street definitely didn’t have to run any promotions — he even told developers not to bother building sales centres.

The Fraser Valley, east of Metro Vancouver, has long been considered a more affordable haven for first-time homebuyers.

After prices and sales climbed across the Lower Mainland in 2015 and 2016, the B.C. and federal governments stepped in to attempt to cool the market. In the past nine months, sales have slowed and prices have curbed their meteoric rise. But while the market is softening, it’s not over-correcting, just returning to a more normal state after a wild few years, experts say.

Street said he realized about six months ago that suburban developers needed to bring back promotions to entice buyers. But while amateur investors are sitting out, professional investors are jumping on board, he said.

“They’re coming in right now and it’s a feeding frenzy,” he said. ”These guys know this isn’t going to last. These downturns last nine months to a year, and we’re already nine months into it.”

The average price of an apartment in the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board coverage area, which includes Surrey, White Rock, Langley and other communities, was $383,204 last month, still up from $359,053 in November 2017. In the same month in 2014, it was $200,952.

As for detached housing, the average price was $1,017,754 last month, up from $1,011,787 in November 2017 and considerably higher than $653,426 in November 2014.

The real estate board prefers to use a “benchmark” price, which adjusts for the high and low ends of the markets, and that figure was $976,200 for a detached house last month and $422,500 for an apartment.

The market started really heating up in the beginning of 2015, said board president John Barbisan.

Barbisan said he uses the sales-to-active-listings ratio, referring to the number of sales compared to active listings, as a thermometer. In a balanced market, the ratio sits around 18 per cent, meaning almost two in 10 homes are selling. The higher the ratio gets, the more advantage to the seller, and in 2016 it was 60 per cent, he said.

Things began to cool in the spring of this year, he said, and now the sales-to-active-listings ratio is 14 per cent.

“It was like a tap turned off,” he said. “It’s as if all the buyers got together in a hall one night and decided nobody’s going to make an offer anymore.”

The federal mortgage stress test initiated in January appears to be a major factor, he said. The stress test requires mortgage-seekers to prove they would be able to make payments even if interest rates rose substantially, reducing borrowing power by as much as 20 per cent.

“That has to come out somewhere. They’re either buying cheaper homes or they’re not making the offers they would be,” he said.

Provincial government measures, including a 0.5 per cent speculation tax on secondary homes left vacant and a 20 per cent foreign buyers tax, have had a “negligible” effect compared with the stress test, Barbisan said.

But he said he’s “not at all” concerned about the slowdown, noting that he has spoken with mortgage brokers who say relatively similar numbers of people are still coming to get pre-approved. People still want to buy homes, but they may not be finding what they’re looking for or are waiting for prices to decrease further, he said.

“I’m not sure what they’re waiting for, but when you want to buy a home you’re only putting it off for so long,” he said.

Barbisan added he hasn’t heard of anyone being underwater on their mortgage, as prices have still risen so much that owners have a fair bit of equity in their homes.

Steve Saretsky, a Vancouver real estate agent, said the market across the region is going through a downturn but it’s not “major,” and it’s to be expected after the run-ups of the past few years.

“Any time you have that kind of growth, eventually it’s going to swing the other way,” he said. “Has it gone too far? I think a lot of people who are complaining about housing affordability would probably tell you it hasn’t gone far enough.”

Government policies have helped move the pendulum, but it was more or less inevitable, and global housing markets are also slowing down, Saretsky said. People are quick to criticize the stress test and new provincial taxes while forgetting how easy regulators have gone on the housing market for years, he added.

“Everyone in the world talks about how indebted Canadian households are. There’s no question that it’s definitely been a pretty lenient borrowing spree over the last 15, 20 years,” he said. “Now, all of a sudden everybody’s upset because the punch bowl’s been taken away. But parties don’t go on forever.”

He acknowledged that it’s hard on real estate agents because sales volumes are down and they’re making less money.

“But, again, I think we’ve had it pretty good for a number of years.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Surrey’s Kevin McAlpin is hoping to reunite this 50-year-old wedding ring with its rightful owner. (Contributed photo)
Owner of 50-year-old wedding band found near Peace Arch Park sought

Recovered ring ‘is important to somebody,’ says finder

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey council earmarks $1.8M in grants for community groups

Councillor Laurie Guerra says it’s ‘essential’ given damage done by pandemic

Screen shot from the SOS Children’s Village BC webpage for their “Big Hearts Open Doors” fundraising appeal. SOS is also currently running a Christmas gift-card drive to help at-risk youth this Christmas. (Image via sosbc.org)
SOS Children’s Village BC launches annual Christmas gift-card drive

SOS collecting gift cards and donations for Surrey’s at-risk youth

Surrey protesters wearing their blue “bubble” suits. (Submitted photo)
OUR VIEW: Shut down strange Surrey protest

Unfortunate neighbourhood under siege for 12 weeks and counting

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Cops converge in a Marshall Road parking lot on Thursday afternoon following a reported police incident. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Federal offender escapes, gets shot at and is taken back into custody in Abbotsford

Several branches of law enforcement find escapee a short distance from where he fled

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Most Read