Archive for April, 2008

On media, myths and realities

April 28, 2008

15 Real Estate Myths and Realities

This post is probably the most academic I’ve ever attempted so apologies in advance — there will be no laughs. (Well, unless you find my attempt at theory-based argument laughable. You might. Again, apologies.)

Up until now, I’ve kept my hype attacks limited to specific condo, townhouse and real estate ads. Today, I examine an equally important component of the condo hype machine: The media.

I bring up the media, aka MSM, because over the weekend the Vancouver Sun served up 15 Real Estate Myths and Realities as its top story. The piece is essentially a Q&A on how to maximize opportunities in the market.  Overall, it is positive in tone.  Already, the local blogosphere is buzzing with reaction. Over at the lively Vancouver Condo blog, some commenters are so furious they are demanding the article be attributed as a paid advertisement by Rennie Marketing Systems.

Among the bearish, this article is yet another example of media bias. To me, allegations of bias miss the larger point — that the media is structurally determined to provide favourable coverage. The Sun, like all commercial media, is a business whose job is to deliver audiences to advertisers within confines of journalism. This means that coverage is approached with a certain kind of audience in mind. When it comes to real estate, the assumption is that the reader is in the market and is looking to invest. If you consider this kind of reader to be the average reader, then the Sun article can be seen as existing within a realm of objectivity. After all, Rennie isn’t buying $7-million worth of ads in the Sun annually so he can reach the wrong kind of reader.

And therein lies the power of the MSM. It is not through direct bias — there is no conspiracy, no reporter changing facts due to a heart full of malice — but through a frame that positions a certain kind of reader as legitimate and natural.

Now think about what kinds of sources the “average reader” will consider valid. In the competition of credibility, said reader will naturally value “official” sources. Of course, the only official sources are those with a formal role in the real estate industry. Thus the media is obliged to act as stenographers for the likes of Rennie and Muir.  Is this bias or the fact that the dissenting voices don’t maintain similar positions of status and authority?

If there is anything remarkable about the Sun article, it is in how representative it is of the paper’s overall approach to real estate coverage.  The examination of issues is not only consistent with past reporting, it is entirely in line with the expectations and interests of the paper’s target audience.

Broken wind at Windsor Gate

April 24, 2008

Windsor Gate

Pity poor Bank of Canada. Cutting the interest rate and signaling an economic slowdown — what are they thinking? Don’t they realize that this time it’s different?

If only the central bank knew the limitless potential of Metro Vancouver real estate. The people obviously get it and that’s why they respond to ads like this one for Windsor Gate. I mean, we’re talking about a masterplanned community in Coquitlam whose mascot is the ass of a headless bellhop — this place only knows how to make money. Cash out your GICs and call your agent now. Quit your job too. You have so much money to make in real estate, you might as well stop working. Not like anyone in Vancouver makes a living off working anyway. The bellhop in this ad, he owns sixteen Surrey condos and only does the servant thing for the fun of it.

Kudos to Polygon for going outside of their template comfort zone.

Diamond in the rough

April 21, 2008


Marketing has never been a business with a firm grip on reality. So housing sales can tumble and the number of listings can be the highest on record and still the condo hucksters promote their product as if it’s as rare as gold from the moon.

But never mind the market evidence. Jewel, a 134-unit “exclusive residence” project in the Burnaby Metrotown area is “a rare find” according to its slogan. The project is marketed by an invisible outfit called Domicile that apparently specializes in condo marketing but doesn’t seem to have a website.

Nothing surprisingly, the ad copy for this “diamond” in the rough is rough. It reads as if it was written on the back of a two-zone transfer by a loiterer at the Metrotown bus loop:

From the sweeping panoramic vistas to the 200 acres of Central Park, Jewel is set in a unique natural environment. An oasis of exclusive tranquility yet close to the action of nearby Metrotown. Each home at Jewel combines contemporary design with refined comfort. Spacious open plans with outdoor terraces for gracious living. Premium finishes and amenities including concierge services catering to discriminating residents. Experience cosmopolitan living at Jewel. A rare find.

So, yeah, not surprising compared to other condo ad copy, but nonetheless highly offensive to anyone who cares about meaningful communication. The copy prostitutes the English language. I mean, come on: An oasis of exclusive tranquility!! Does the writer even know what this means? If a Metrotown condo can earn such a description, how does one describe a Buddhist temple in the middle of a remote mountainous region? Hell, how would this compare to an isolated cabin on Keats Island?

Message to the copywriters and condo developers who compel them: Get some modesty, take some writing classes and spare us of the hype that brings you such ridicule.

Template at Meridian Gate

April 14, 2008

Meridian Gate

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a template!

More specifically, a Polygon template ad for Meridian Gate in Richmond. Why bother with an original concept when you can go with what always works?

Clean, inoffensive design with double-spaced type and all your favourite keywords including:

  • Exciting address!
  • Contemporary apartment residences!
  • Evolving area!
  • Village-style!

Honest to blog — yeah, I just wrote that — this kind of condo ad is like sex in a relationship that’s gone on too long. It gets the job done and you’ll take it over nothing but it’s far from exciting and new.

On coffee and affordability

April 9, 2008


Hot frothy beverages just don’t sell condos like they used to. These days, mention of affordability has replaced the stock shot of the latte as the condo marketers’ cliche of choice.

So to get to the point, please take a heavy sip of this condo copy crappucino:

Finally a place in South Surrey that offers the space and comfort of a single family home without the price tag or the maintenance. No more cutting the grass or doing those pesky home improvements. With the detached strata, you’re left with the time you deserve to spend doing the things you love. And with these incredibly stylish homes – with quality finishes like granite, hardwood and stainless steel as the standard – Skylands is a home you can afford to love.

Skylands – not only the new way to live. It’s also the smart way to live.

So, yeah, this is the “information” about the Skylands project in South Surrey. In terms of insight, you’d be better off seeking real estate advice from a barista. Heck, your average barista probably has as good a sense of the market as anyone out there, now that every owner/mortgage slave in the region considers themselves a condo mogul.

At least the coffee slinger wouldn’t insult your intelligence by calling a $679,900 home an “affordable” option for living.

Affordable? What a joke.

Coco puffs

April 4, 2008

Coco on Spruce

I’ve written before about Vancouver’s unwillingness to consider its own history when it comes to the naming of condos. With Coco on Spruce we have another great example. What the heck does Coco Chanel, a French-born fashion legend have to do with a Vancouver condo?

Nothing, though from a branding perspective I can understand why the marketer seized on her name. Chanel pioneered the notion of “expensive simplicity” in fashion. As a metaphor for a Vancouver condo, it’s as sharp and appropriate as her little black dress.

Among on her many accomplishments, Chanel is the mastermind behind the No. 5 perfume. Coco on Spruce also has a thing for smells, though the scent from the ad copy is best described as No. 2:

One of Vancouver’s most cherished neighbourhoods, South Granville is both wonderfully eclectic and refreshingly traditional. Where else can you pick up a Versace, a latte and some pate, all within a block or two?

What kind of target demographic is expected to respond to this? I’m not ultra-wealthy but I swing in many circles and I don’t know a soul in this town that would be motivated by the “Versace-latte-pate” combo.

The world of style and fashion has many capitals. Vancouver isn’t one of them, unless you consider Lululemon high fashion. If that’s the case, why not call this building Chip or The Wilson?

Quattro and the forgotten city of gold

April 1, 2008


Quattro may be the name of a razor but it’s also the brand of “affordable luxury” in North Surrey. I caught an ad for a new phase of this “starter market project” on a billboard but haven’t been able to find out much new info about it.

In an article appearing last year in the Journal of Commerce, the Quattro condo is described with the kind of enthusiasm you’d see in a press release republished as a news report. My favourite comment is that of the condo marketer who describes the “lower side of middle income earners” as an “old forgotten gold mine, where known residual ore still exists.”

In the marketer’s defence, the reporter paraphased the remark but there’s something hilarious about mining metaphors getting mixed up in real estate promotion. Sooner or later, we’ll be seeing ads for Klondike Kondos, the coolest lofts this side of Whitehorse — coming soon to Scott Road.

As for the “luxury” of Quattro living, it’s interesting that once again luxury is the packaging of stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. How original. Isn’t luxury supposed to be rare?