Archive for July, 2008

Sexy? You must live in Yaletown

July 31, 2008

A professor once told me that most newspapers are only good for lining bird cages and wrapping fish heads. It’s pretty cynical thinking but when a paper runs a story about “neighbourhood sexiness research,” I’m eager to find the nearest available salmon.

My rage today is all the result of the media’s fascination with a non-story conjured up by some speed-dating website you’ve never heard of. As reported in the Province and on News 1130, says Yaletown is “Canada’s sexiest neighbourhood.” Fast Life came up with this dubious fact by looking at the postal codes of its members and packaging the data as news.

As real estate coverage has shown us, no news story is complete without “expert” commentary. Without hesitation, the press checks in with a Fast Life spokesman to shower us with talking points about the “youth” and “affluence” of the Yaletown population. You know, because that’s what sexy’s all about.

Got a birthday in the 1990s and a trust fund from your parents? Congratulations, you automatically acquire the hotness of Monica Bellucci.

It’s enough to make you want to drown yourself in a Bellini.

New condo comes with market value guarantee

July 27, 2008

If 20,000 listings, near-zero sales and word-on-the-street consensus isn’t enough to convince you that Vancouver real estate is in the thralls of meltdown, maybe this will turn your opinion: A local developer is now offering a “market value guarantee” to all buyers of the “European-inspired” Surrey condo, Morgan Crossing.

Details of this so-called guarantee are contained in a comic-book style speech bubble in the Morgan Crossing ad. Here’s how it reads:

Morgan Crossing. A community, so different, so right that its value is here to stay. And to prove it, Larco Investments Ltd, the same people who brought you The Village at Park Royal, will confidently guarantee the market value of your home by up to 10%*. So if there are any downward value fluctuations, you’ve covered by a healthy margin.

Even if you read the fine print after the asterisk, it’s difficult to say how much protection this actually provides. I’d ask the marketer for the specifics, but I suspect an email from me would go unanswered. (If you have a copy of the guarantee details, please feel free to send them my way.) Update: Additional information about the guarantee has been provided by the marketer and can be read in the comments.

As for 10% being a “healthy margin” against depreciation, I guess it depends on your definition of healthy. In China, Olympic officials define the air over Beijing as “good.” Meanwhile, Ozzie Jurock hints at the possibility of a 17% drop based on historical patterns.

But really, who cares about percentages at this stage of the game? The party’s over. Those who bought to make a quick buck are going to lose, and lose big. The Vancouver real estate elevator, once ascending to such great heights, is now on the verge of a furious free-fall.

Have a good day.

An exchange of ideas

July 23, 2008

In the current scenario of “changing market conditions” the Westcoast Homes section isn’t reading like it used to. I find it pales in comparison to its former self, kinda like how A&B Sound used to be awesome but is now such a total embarrassment you almost feel bad for making fun of it.

Fortunately, there’s still the New Home Buyers Guide. The Guide is pretty much the Swank to Westcoast Homes’ Playboy: more explicit and more intense and without any notion of prestige. It’s hardcore condo pornography without pretense. Ads and content fit together seamlessly because they are one and the same.

Take this excerpt from the Guide’s write-up on Exchange, a “boutique” heritage conversion condo in Southeast False Creek:

Speechless, as my friends will zealously attest to, is not a word that’s often attributed to me. But when I catch my first glimpse of the Exchange display suite, I find myself succumbing to an unanticipated loss of words. Sure, the usual cliches come to mind — unique, exciting, even awesome. But Exchange is clearly something more, something utterly captivating and yes, utterly unique — really.

[Read the full article here.]

On its own, there’s nothing terribly wrong with this introduction, save for the author’s overuse of adverbs. (They are really, clearly, utterly unnecessary.) Where it falls apart is in how the rest of the article fails to live up to the intro. The beginning sets up the expectation that the condo is comparable to a religious epiphany of the highest order. As you read along you become more and more underwhelmed. The details that inspired the author’s “speechlessness” are a parade of disappointments: polished concrete, soft-closing drawers, and — wait for it — golden yellow cabinets.

You don’t have to be a discerning reader to know this article is one big pile of suck. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. I like the flow of the text and the structure of the sentences — the writer is a good writer. The problem, like most advertorial copy, is the content doesn’t match the argument. What we get is mindless, forgettable hyperbole. It doesn’t work.

Is it possible to market a condo without positioning it as the best thing in the history of humankind? Is there a way to be promotional and modest? I think so, and Vancouver condo marketing needs to figure it out.

The definitive correction and other bullshit

July 18, 2008

My apologies for the obscenity in the headline but after Bob Rennie’s cussing on yesterday’s Bill Good Show, I felt I had no choice but to pay homage to King Bob’s verbal transgression. (In a response to an open-line call about pressure tactics, Bob said real estate agents should be called on their “bullshit.” Bill Good laughed and the caller hung up.)

On a normal day, this kind of event would be the sole subject of a post, but Thursday’s Bill Good was so jam-packed with quotable awesomeness, I need to move on to its other treasures.

It starts at the top of the program with CKNW money expert Michael Levy saying with certainty that he believes “we are into a DEFINITIVE correction” in the Vancouver housing market. A few minutes later, financial guru Michael Campbell shares less bearish views but concedes the high number of listings mean “we’re looking at a lid on price increases in our area.” In the middle of the mix is my idol Condo Bob. First he goes off on how “absorption is just numbers.” Later he’s mumbling mumbo-jumbo about how it always makes sense to own “the right place on the right street” but not “the wrong place on the wrong street.”

Then we hit this remarkable exchange between host and guest:

Bill Good: There are people who have felt so much pressure to buy because the market has been increasing so dramatically, they’re thinking that if I don’t buy today I can never save the $10,000 that it’s going to appreciate next month.

Bob Rennie: It’s been throughout history that you save up a down payment and you buy a starter home. You don’t buy way beyond your means — you get in. We’ve convinced you that you have to have a new granite counter with a Sub Zero in your first home. You don’t! You’re supposed to buy in and slowly move along. I think if you go to your parents and say I’m buying a house and I have no money down, your dad says you can’t afford it.

Words cannot express how devastated I am by this revelation. What do you mean, Dearest Bob, when you say we don’t need the granite countertop!?! After all these years of pumping up the virtues and luxuries of Vancouver lifestyle living, now you tell us we don’t need it! How could you?!

Bob, for all my criticism of this god-awful condo marketing business, I took comfort in your unwavering commitment to your condo product. Now you’ve confessed it’s bullshit — to use my new favourite expression — and I don’t know what to do. Once I called you on the condo hype, now you call it yourself. Bob, are you taking my job away from me?

Oh, Bob. Please, keep the hype alive. I need you to keep pumping so I can keep dumping. Without you, I am nothing. Like the Joker says to Batman, you complete me.

Bob Rennie’s subliminal sex

July 16, 2008

“As an individual becomes aware of subliminal phenomena, the shock may cause him some initial physical or emotional discomfort — possibly even concern over his sanity.”  –Wilson Bryan Key, Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America,1973

Are you being sexually aroused by this condo ad? Being the big geek that I am, I find it impossible to look at this Crossroads condo publicity shot without thinking about the work of Wilson Bryan Key. Back in the 1970s, Key was part of a rat pack of media studies professors, back when media studies was so cool it could get you a role in a Woody Allen movie.

In his time, Key made his mark as the whistle-blower on the use of subliminal messages in advertising. His book Subliminal Seduction is a manual on how to protect oneself from “media rape” (his words) by identifying the hidden sex messages in everyday ads. Despite its questionable academic merit, the book is a blast to read simply for Key’s obsessiveness in detecting naughty bits everywhere. (Is that an ice cube in the martini glass or the towering shadow of a rhinoceros penis?)

Bunk or not, Key’s techniques offer a fun way for us to look at the Crossroads ad. Consider the obsession with long bottles, both on the store shelves and in the firm grip of the man’s hand. Think too of the man’s “bottle” and its perfect alignment with the woman’s breasts. Is this a simple condo ad or is it telling us something more?

I’ll say this much: This is a Rennie condo ad and it wasn’t created on a whim. It involved time and planning. Choices were made, models were posed and a final image was selected. The people who did this were paid to do it, and probably paid pretty well. A hack job it is not. Key’s writing may be over the top, but he isn’t the only one with sex on his mind.

What a beautiful, ugly weekend

July 14, 2008

There’s enough bad news out there it’s almost easy to forget there ever was a real estate boom. Friday’s Vancouver Sun ran a negative-negative combo with the headlines “Investment in home ownership is not for everyone” and “Housing market could turn ugly: economist” duking it out for top party-pooper status.

In the same edition, on the editorial page, the paper praised the end of the 40-year mortgage. The Sun even took some credit for its demise, saying they “sounded the alarm several times over the last few years.” While it’s true that Harvey Enchin wrote a blistering column two years ago, the Sun’s editorial on the topic this past May was pretty soft… and pretty late. (The Bank of Canada and Minister of Finance had already signaled their concerns about long amortizations.)

Also, it’s quite hilarious that the Sun would congratulate itself as an advocate for the financial interests of new home buyers. If this were true, Westcoast Homes would be a chronicle of affluent renters and all the non-volatile investments they make that pay better than real estate.

“I love parking my cash in high-interest savings accounts,” says Ravi, 40, a financial planner. “Why own condos when GICs pay better than a tenant!” The article proceeds to showcase his well-decorated apartment and his outstanding collection of mid-century antiques. “I bought that chair in Milan. I don’t have a mortgage so I travel quite often.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we read stuff like this in the local papers? Maybe when the bust hits, we will.

Zero down means zero house

July 11, 2008
Credit squeeze hits 40-year mortgages

Unless you’ve been sequestered in your condo’s windowless “flex room” for the last 48 hours doing nothing but basking in the glow of your own self-appreciation, you’re well aware that the feds popped a cap in the ass of the 40-year amortization and the zero-down loan.  With this decision carried out by the government to minimize the risk of a “U.S.-style housing bubble” happening in Canada, the threshold to borrow moves higher.  And as such, the pool of potential home buyers grows smaller.  Could this be the bullet that kills B.C.’s real estate bull for good?  

While the media and the experts are far from waving the white flag, it’s impossible to interpret their analysis as positive in tone.  In fact, the Sun’s sensational front-page story about the new mortgage rules is probably the most negatively toned story related to B.C. real estate since the leaky condo crisis of the 1990s.  What’s sad is that the current story isn’t actually very negative — it only appears so in comparison to the euphoric “Vancouver real estate is hotter than sex with Angelina Jolie” coverage of the past five years.

The disconnect between public opinion and media opinion on the B.C. real estate issue is growing.   When Cameron Muir took questions on Thursday’s Bill Good Show, many callers expressed serious concerns about mortgage lending and approval practices.  I was struck by the technical nature of the questions.  They seemed to catch Muir a little off-guard, forcing him to fall back to broad key messages about the “strength” of the Canadian banking system as a safeguard against bad lending.

Like everyone, I watch and wait with great anticipation.  We have the makings of a meltdown.  The heat is on.

Sophia’s back and she’s having a party

July 9, 2008

When things get tough, I count on friends to help me through the days. One of my best buds in East Van is Sophia. I haven’t heard from her much in the last six months; she skipped town last February after having a falling out with this guy Eden. She took some time off to travel and ended up in Oregon doing volunteer work on the Obama campaign. Yeah, totally East Van, I know.

Last night, out of nowhere, Sophia gave me a call to say she’s back in Vancouver. Even better, all the trouble with the condo has been sorted out. She’s having a party on Saturday — something to do with a court-ordered “recievership” sale — and it’s open to anyone.

Anybody interested in going to the party with me? If you’re not exactly the party type, that’s OK. It’s pretty easy to make conversation at these things. When in doubt, just comment on any nearby piece of furniture (i.e. Is that a Poang chair?) or ask the person you’re speaking with to describe the details of their cell phone plan. Trust me, the young affluent types are all over this stuff.

Naslund saves us from the buyers’ market

July 7, 2008
Vancouver Sun
For a hockey-mad town like Vancouver, Markus Naslund signing with the Rangers is legitimate front-page news. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve been if Nazzy announced his departure a day later. Maybe then the above-the-nameplate “Buyers’ Market” story would’ve been the headline, forcing me to contemplate my retirement from blogging. (As I’ve hinted at, this blog dies when the hype is dead, and that’ll probably come when the Sun runs a headline proclaiming market doom.)

If the Buyers’ Market story is any indication, the Sun and the gang of industry experts they love to quote, are far from declaring Real Estate Judgment Day. From the article:

“When a market is in buyer’s market conditions, there is little upward pressure on home prices,” which is reflected in those May-to-June changes Cameron Muir, chief economist for the B.C. Real Estate Association said in an interview.

However, Muir doesn’t see any factors that would drive prices down.

Consumer confidence is lower than it was a year ago and Vancouver’s high prices have squeezed some buyers out of the market, Muir said, but the region’s overall economy remains strong with solid job creation and positive levels of population migration.

“There is no indication, at this point, of any kind of substantial decline in prices,” he added.

The president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver is also given air time in the article and, no surprise, says pretty much says the same thing. So to sum up, at least as far as the “experts” are concerned, more properties plus fewer buyers equals little change in the market.

Somebody get these guys a copy of The Wealth of Nations real quick. That, and just about any article on the economy printed in the National Post or Globe and Mail within the last six months.

Nuovo kids on the block

July 2, 2008

Nuovo on 68th

Found this ad in my archives under the heading “Bad Ads to Write About Later.” It’s a stinker but you’ve probably come to that conclusion already. I don’t need to tell you that the models laid out on the grass look like victims of gang violence.

Perp on this one is Fifth Avenue Real Estate Marketing.