Archive for August, 2008

Live the subsidized lifestyle

August 27, 2008

Isn’t it fun to watch what happens in a sinking condo market? Aside from rampant use of awkward expressions — “less upward pressure” is my favourite — we’re seeing a trend toward the special purchase incentive. A few weeks back Morgan Crossing introduced a market value guarantee to help reassure buyers that there’s nothing to fear about buying a condo. Now Tamarind Westside, the “orgasm-in-an-open-field” condo, is offering two years of mortgage payment subsidies.

The promotion is not tied to any lending institution. Basically, a buyer takes out a mortgage based on the full purchase price and the developer provides 24 months of cash subsidies. In an email, Quantum Properties president Diane Delves explains it this way:

On one of our one bedroom units at $189,900, adding in GST and CMHC fees and assuming a 5% down payment, with a variable rate mortgage amortized over 35 years, the mortgage payment would be about $879 per month. We will provide cash at closing which will enable the buyer of this unit to subsidize the payment by $237 per month for two years. This would reduce the monthly payment to $642. Similar units in our last building are renting for $900 per month so it makes a lot of sense to own, rather than rent. Even with property taxes and strata fees, total monthly costs would be under $900.

Because the promotion involves an eventual upsizing of the buyer’s mortgage payment, one can’t help but compare this incentive to a subprime loan. On closer inspection, the promo differs from subprime in that the mortgage rate does not reset — it’s the monthly credits that expire. (The lender will have approved the mortgage based on the buyer making full payments from the start.)

What’s your take? Is this a marketing gimmick or a real incentive? What kind of special offer would motivate you to buy a condo?

Westcoast Homes shocked by price drops, trauma counselors called in

August 24, 2008

It’s unlikely any reasonable person has ever confused the Sun’s Westcoast Homes as anything other than a shameless advertorial for developers. Still, one can’t help but be shocked when its editors admit they’ve never observed a fall in real estate prices. Here’s the bomb they dropped in the Saturday edition:

Prices for the residences at Enclave at Morgan Heights, a townhouse project under construction in south Surrey, have been significantly reduced — something not before observed on the pages of Westcoast Homes. In June, the two-bedroom Enclave townhomes were advertised as starting at $359,900, but in July the starting price was dropped by $35,000 to $324,900.

[The Vancouver Sun, “Builder drops townhouse prices by as much as 10 per cent,” August 23 2008]

If there was ever any debate as to the quality of information in Westcoast Homes, this excerpt settles it. It makes you wonder if the W.H. editors read their own paper. In the same section, Sophia is advertising a “court-ordered” 10 per cent price cut, and on another page, a Richmond townhouse boasts of “fire sale” prices.

I wonder how much longer than Sun is going to keep Westcoast Homes alive in its current form. I imagine things will have to change once the market really starts to tank. There comes a point where descriptions of Kohler faucets and wood-like cabinets aren’t satisfying.

Hiccup, the new slang for correction

August 21, 2008

One of my favourite movies is Owning Mahowny. It’s a Canadian movie starring the fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman as a banker with a gambling problem. The best line is when he tells his girlfriend, “I don’t have a gambling problem.” His denial is as outrageous as it is sad.

I’m sure an equally good movie could be made about a realtor with a sales problem. If you’re a screenwriter, I encourage you to run with it. I even recommend taking quotes from this North Shore News article where a 20 per cent correction is referred to as a “hiccup.”

There’s roughly a half-dozen classic quotes littered across the story. My fave is from “Special Agent Skinner” (an X-Files joke, not the realtor’s actual name). This is what the real guy has to say:

“We’re not into a tragic situation where people shouldn’t have bought last year. The North Shore is kind of a microcosm in Greater Vancouver that is extremely special… We’re really bulletproof for our lifetimes and beyond.”

Considering where we are in the market cycle, this quote is almost impossible to believe. I’m left to wonder whether the speaker had a mishap with a time machine and thinks the year is 2006. Seriously though, how is this comment supposed to be interpreted by a rational person? We’re not talking about an everyday optimistic opinion. Look at the words. Bulletproof for our lifetimes and beyond.

So much for the hype being dead. The spin is alive and foaming at the mouth.

Photo credit: ThinkPanama

I’m back from a coffee break

August 19, 2008

Just when you thought it was over, here I am again. You have nobody to blame but yourselves. You, with all your words of praise and appreciation! So much for foreclosing on this blog! Thanks to your kindness, I’m inspired to keep the party going. (The party being the snarky copy I write here, not the overall run-up in Vancouver real estate prices since 2001.)

So what does a real estate marketing critic do when mainstream opinion mirrors his own? I say it’s a good time to expand focus. No longer is my sole mandate to wax sarcastic about Vancouver’s condo marketing crap-o-rama. I hope to broaden my focus to examine ad strategy in the context of a declining market. How will the hucksters fan the flames now that real estate has lost its fire?

Will Vancouver condo marketing’s trademark coffee cups and yoga poses be replaced with floor plans and mail-in rebates? What does the future hold for Rennie and Co.?

Grab a java. Condohype is back.

This is the way the world ends

August 6, 2008

Sorry for being late to the party, friends. It’s old hat now, this news about the “levelling off” and “cycle change” now underway in Vancouver real estate. Since this broke I’ve been wrestling with the uncertainty of my fate, and reading lots of Nietzsche. This is the headline we’ve been waiting for. It’s the headline I’ve been writing towards. Now that it’s here, what does it mean for this blog? Is it time for me to bid farewell?

Dreams of green

August 6, 2008

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a popular proverb that I’ve never been able to get behind. It’s a reckless concept, never mind an insult to those who make good covers. A cover, like an ad, is an invitation to make an investment. How is it a good idea to invest in something without considering the available information about it?

I bring this up to discuss a mysterious Coal Harbour condo dubbed Three Harbour Green. I know nothing about it beyond its amateur ad, a blue-and-purple monstrosity depicting a mask and a passion for centre justification. Apparently the mask represents the “front-row seats to the good life” but all I see a prop from the set of Eyes Wide Shut.

The copy is by-the-numbers condo hype, prestigious address and all:

Coal Harbour’s last, true waterfront development. Vancouver’s most prestigious waterfront address. House-size floor plans, unobstructed 10-foot floor-to-ceiling harbour views, and award-winning Italian style by Snaidero, MOVE, L’O di Giotto and others.

Let us put you in front-row seats. Then, let us put you on a plane to Italy.

What’s with the last line? Is that some sort of a new amenity? Condo, now with flex room and deportation.

No prices are listed in the ad but it’s obvious these are a multi-million dollar homes. Why such a lame ad? If the developer can afford to throw in tickets to Rome, why is the ad made so cheap?

Oh wait. This is Vancouver condo marketing. Right.

Vote for Vancouver’s best local blog

August 4, 2008

Wanna confirm your status as a sexy urban professional? You should cast a vote for Best Local Blog in the Georgia Straight’s Best of Vancouver survey.

Sorry for the self-promotion but if Bob Rennie’s taught me anything, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with blowing your own horn. You need be loud and proud, willing to use cuss words on a whim, and have some sort of respectable hobby (like art collecting) as a motivator for your hubris.

Well, I have no hard motive for writing other than it makes me feel good and people to seem to have fun reading it. So here’s my shameless appeal: If you like this blog, vote for it.

Or if you like it but not as much as Vancouver Condo, Financial Planning and Personal Sanity, Vancouver (Un)real Estate, Paul Boenisch’s North Vancouver Homes or any of the other great local real estate blogs, vote for them.

You’ll need to vote in 24 other categories in order for your ballot to count. If you’re like me, you’ll take special pleasure in nominating Bob Rennie as best used-car dealer.

Pleasure seekers with no articulated philosophy

August 1, 2008

“Were Eli content to let his 10-inch-when-erect “gift from God” merely lie in the sunshine at Wreck Beach, Judy Williams could relax.” –Pieta Woolley, “Wreck Beach under siege,” Georgia Straight, July 31 2008

I’ll tell you right now, no article in the history of the Georgia Straight will ever open with a more entertaining line. It’s sensational. On its strength alone, I was compelled to the read the entirety of Pieta Woolley’s 2,800-word feature on the politics of Wreck Beach. Even better, the article, which explores the future of Vancouver’s nude beach in the face of shifting values, talks about the emergence of a new city culture. In detailing the clash of Vancouver’s civilizations, Woolley writes:

“[N]ew Vancouver” — prestige, frenzied condo development, individualism, and youth — is butting up against Wreck, one of the last vestiges of the “old Vancouver” as imagined by the 1960s’ and 1970s’ egalitarians, idealists, feminists, and peaceniks: the hippies.

I can’t help but think that “new Vancouver” represents the rise of the condo class. Sadly, it seems the cultural narrative told in the condo ads — the lifestyle of narcissistic, anti-family indulgence where happiness is made of laminate and access to doggie daycare — is not simply a marketer’s fantasy but an actual cultural force.

As the allegedly well-endowed Eli explains, new Vancouver is the culture of “young, Internet-savvy pleasure seekers with no articulated philosophy backing up their behaviour.”

Yes, you heard right. Pleasure seekers with no articulated philosophy. It’s so disturbing and yet so perfect.

It’s what we’ve become, isn’t it? It’s the reason why we live the way we live, dress the way we dress, ignore the way we ignore. It’s not that we’re rude or vain so much as we have no ethos other than apathetic self-fulfillment. It’s why we make a point to look good when we go out but then do everything in our power not to talk to strangers.

It’s an indifference to conviction that let’s anything go — the environmentalist with a taste for coffee in a take-out cup, the home owner who supports social housing but not in his neighbourhood. Indulgence is accepted and encouraged because we are “saved” by what we believe. This is the Vancouver I see all around me. This is who we are.

All the best for B.C. Day everybody. I need to go cry. Maybe read some Susan Sontag or Herbert Marcuse. They make me feel better about everything.