Where to buy real estate in in 2019: Vancouver

[Money Sense – June 3, 2019]

Our No. 1 Vancouver community offers excellent value in a city where real estate prices have been grossly exaggerated.

Buying a single-family home in the City of Vancouver has felt like a bit of a pipe dream for many. But if you can get over the steep price—the average detached house in the City of Vancouver goes for north of $1.7 million—then 2019 might be the year to buy a single-family home in Vancouver.

Prices are dropping—in some areas, precipitously. Data from the Real Estate Board of Vancouver (which covers Whistler, Sunshine Coast, Squamish, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and South Delta) shows that sales dropped to a 20-year low in April 2019. This massive slowdown in sales activity, combined with the increasing inventory in the Greater Vancouver Area (GVA), means that prices for a detached home are now at the lowest they’ve been in three years (that is, since 2016, when the market is said to have peaked).

In the City of Vancouver, prices are still very much divided when you examine west versus east. The benchmark for a detached home in East Vancouver now sits at $1,357,200—down 12.1% from 2018. Compare this to the $2,948,400 benchmark for a detached home in West Vancouver—down 13.4% from last year.

If you’re keeping track, this means the price of a detached home is anywhere from $177,000 less, to just under $500,000 less than prices in 2018.

This should be great news for buyers (sorry, sellers). It also signals an even greater need for doing your due diligence as a buyer. You can start your research using this year’s ranking.

Despite the big price drops, this year’s two top-ranked neighbourhoods are exactly the same as last year’s top two. Read on to learn why.

Vancouver’s top 3 neighbourhoods to buy

1. Marpole

The big reason why this neighbourhood continues to hold the top spot is that it offers excellent value in a city where real estate prices were so grossly exaggerated by injections of foreign money and money laundering.

Marpole is still transitioning, and it may take another half-decade before the community really comes into its own, but for any buyer looking to buy into a neighbourhood with great value and higher potential for future appreciation, Marpole is the place.

Realtors don’t give this area top marks. The area lacks the personality and character that can be found in surrounding Vancouver West neighbourhoods and, for that reason, it doesn’t feel like a community and it lacks the draw of other areas.

But you’ll pay 25% less for the average priced home in Marpole than a home in surrounding Vancouver West neighbourhoods. Some buyers have already realized that the area offers value; in the last five years, prices have appreciated by 116%.

But unless you really want to be in Vancouver West, the 74% premium to buy a house here, compared to the average price of a Metro Vancouver house, or the 53% premium when compared to the average price of a Greater Vancouver house, may be hard to swallow.

2. Kitsilano

If value is still your motivation and, as a buyer, you’re stuck on the idea of living in Vancouver West, then the next best option is our No. 2 neighbourhood of Kitsilano.

But it’s not cheap. In 2018, the average price for a house was $2,615,000—about half a million more than the average price of a house in Marpole.

Thing is, Kitsilano offers a real sense of community. The neighbourhood is diverse, well-situated for commuters (for public transit, as well as for walking and biking), offers unique stores, an assortment of popular restaurants, pubs and coffee or tea houses, and exceptional access to the beach.

Better still, homeowners are proud. The houses here have mature gardens, the streets have mature trees and any new build that is approved tends to follow that boutique-y feel that Kitsilano is known for throughout the Lower Mainland.

What hasn’t changed is that the average house price Kitsilano is still 105% higher than the average in Metro Vancouver and almost 80% higher than in Greater Vancouver.

Still, Realtors who work this area believe the area still has room to grow, in terms of price appreciation, and that means it’s still considered a strong buy both for its value and its possible future price momentum.

3. Knight

The No. 3 neighbourhood in this year’s ranking is a South Vancouver ’hood that hugs the east and west streets flanking Knight Street from 16th Street in the north and either 49th or 54th Street in the south.

Like many South Vancouver neighbourhoods, Knight is considered a “blue-collar” enclave—despite the fact that now homes sell for just under $1.6 million, on average. Still, as a “better” priced neighbourhood in the City of Vancouver, Knight offers a real mix of cultures and an opportunity for buyers who are willing to watch a neighbourhood gentrify and grow.

For buyers who eschew the “Vancouver Special”—those box-like houses with second-floor balconies and a low-pitched roof built between 1965 and 1985—this may not be the neighbourhood for you. While you can find custom builds as well as newer townhouse complexes and mid-rise condo developments, this area is stocked with many iconic Vancouver Specials. These low-quality homes—originally built quickly to satisfy the demand for lower priced housing within easy commuting distance to downtown Vancouver— now require updates, but do offer a chance to buy in at a lower price point before adding a bit of sweat equity (or overseeing paid work done by professional renovators).

For families, the neighbourhood continues to offer an easy commute to downtown Vancouver and now includes local amenities that help support the family atmosphere, such as a skateboard park (built in 2010), sports fields and the Kensington Community Centre, which is rumoured to offer one of the best views of downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.

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