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Vancouver house prices break down Main Street’s dividing line

Pedestrians walk past a townhome for sale in east Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 3, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

For many years, Vancouver's Main Street was an invisible divider in the city's real estate market: To the west were the opulent homes of neighbourhoods like Shaughnessy and Point Grey; to the east were the more affordable abodes of the working-class families such as the boxy Vancouver Specials.

But new data show that the once-clear line has since been wiped out as more and more single-family properties in what was once a large swath of relatively affordable housing creep past the $1-million mark.

Andy Yan, a researcher and senior urban planner with Bing Thom Architects who has compiled and studied the City of Vancouver data since 2011, had pondered the "freezing" of the million-dollar line – technically Ontario Street, a residential route two streets west of Main – last year, but said he did not anticipate such a pronounced and sudden tipping point.

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"They are remarkable changes," Mr. Yan said in an interview on Tuesday. "People who were buying [in East Vancouver] back then, they were struggling, but they were still able to buy. They were garment-industry workers, restaurant workers, those working in the fishing industry. Where do those people buy now? Or can they?"

Two-thirds of all single-family properties in the city are now assessed at more than $1-million, according to the data. In 2010, when adjusted for inflation, only one-third were.

Jacky Levi, a Realtor with Re/Max who specializes in East Vancouver real estate, said the rigidity of the Main Street million-dollar line has been softening for some time, but its disappearance has been most pronounced in the past couple of years.

"Five, six years ago, the east and west addresses meant differences in price and popularity," he said. "Now, we see it sliding toward Fraser Street: the east side is catching up in prices.

"In the detached category, we've seen extreme price increases in property value. A Vancouver Special that used to trade in and around the $800,000 [range] a couple years ago now exceeds $1-million – and they aren't renovated. It's just a base, standard lot."

Among other observations: 99 per cent of single-family properties west of Ontario Street were assessed at more than $1-million in 2015, compared to 44 per cent east of Ontario Street; luxury properties (defined as those assessed at more than $5-million) nearly tripled to 1,282 in 2015 from 2010; and there are no longer single-family properties in Vancouver assessed at less than $500,000 in 2015.

The only value category Mr. Yan found to decline was single-family properties assessed at less than $1-million – a figure that fell by 45 per cent in the past five years.

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These findings might signal, among other things, a shift toward denser homes such as duplexes and condos, Mr. Yan said. He added that there is a tendency to focus on solutions without fully understanding the problems and stressed the need for a "considered, thoughtful directive" on what cities are trying to accomplish.

"These maps and analyses are not meant to fan the flames of moral panic, but rather inform a civic resolve and dialogue to deal with housing affordability in the City of Vancouver," Mr. Yan said. "We are still missing this level of data on other parts of the region."

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About the Author
News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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