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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What's in a School catchment ?

Recently I had a Point Grey listing and the number one or two question I got was " whats the school catchment?"

This interests me, that our  real estate market could be  dictated by a school catchment. 
When I think about West Vancouver where I live ,  its the same - especially for Elementary schools. We have a " choice " school system and  catchment plays a big roll when everyone wants into your school. But, SERIOUSLY, is one elementary school really that much better than another to warrant a few G's difference- or a few hundred G 's? My bet is its not just the Teachers, or the Principal, that make a certain school desireable. The school is heavily dictated by the Province with Provincial criteria. What we are really putting money on is the fellow kids our kids will go to school with and be friends with.

My parents grew up in a society where my mothers dates were asked " what does your father do?" When I was young and heard about it I  thought  that was offside and yet, now we dont ask that , but I think  people just try and put kids in an enviroment with other high achieving parents kids. It sounds offside, but I can speak from experience its been a great ride for me.

I imigrated in 1979 with a single mother. My sister and I entered a West Van High School,  living  in West Bay.
We paid a phenomenal price , at that time,  $ 148k for the cottage. I crossed catchment to go to a school of a friend who immigrated the same year and I met  and befriended alot of new friends. About a dozen  or more of those would stay my lifelong friends, I see them regularly and share a close  bond that is both frustrating and bewildering to my husband .
These friends , men and women, have all been high acheivers from early on ( ok lets eliminate a few high school years there) and have been an incredible resource for  me .  In our group of friends there is a life coach when times are tough, numerous CEO 's  of International busineses that have helped me make  decisions, VP's of marketing, and even manufacturers of goods that I have been able to buy at a great price. I know the fact that we are all still so close is very unique. But it has been a wonderful bond in both friendship and business.

 I can run marketing ideas, spending and tax thoughts, marital frustrations, ( hardly ever honey... dont worry  ) and even when I have been  asked for  speaking engagements I  have run my speech by them  first for feedback. Many of them are known enough that if I mentioned them ,you might know of whom I speak. How wonderful is that ? That I can call them anytime and ask  them what they would do in any given situation?

Nature vs Nurture aside, these friends were raised very goal oriented. My whole school community was. Is it any wonder that coincedentally I moved back here after 18 yrs of living in the  Downtown Eastside. At the time I didnt think of why, it was just that opportunity called- as I mentioned in previous blogs, but now I wonder if i innately knew this  was where my kids had the best life long opportunity.Did I want for them to have friends like I did?

Life and society are very different now. But I do see the wave of new immigrants wanting to put their  kids in" the best " schools where other high acheiving students go. Hence the pockets of Vancouver West  and the North Shore that see the rise in property value following the natural supply/demand cycle.  This is becoming a concern as people are spending above what they can afford to get their kids in these neighborhoods. We need to address this issue and offer choice programs everywhere or create more housing options to allow for people to move in.
Laneway housing might help ease some of this as the 2 bedroom models are great for young families starting out with Elementary age kids. West Vancouver sees the need as well and on November 18th will draft Policy followed by community feedback. Eventually our
 " choice" school system will spread out these pockets and we will move close to schools that carry the programs our kids need and want. Many schools have added French Immersion programs, and others now are following the IB ( International Baccalaureate) program.
 I wonder what would happen if the choice programs became available in areas that were depressed as far as real estate prices go?.  Would it make a difference?
I think I would put my money on my theory above-that Its not about the school as much as the kids that go to it.

Kim Little
604 617 4856

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 The year of Tammy

Recently  @Douglas Coupland quipped on Twitter  that 2013 was a very bad name for a year so he was going to rename it Tammy. Tammy sounds like a hurricane name to me.
But then again perhaps thats what we can expect.
Hurricanes , to me , imply  strong winds that go in circles. With regard to Real Estate how long have people been calling for a serious turndown only for us to see a mild correction and then swing  up  again- even higher.

I remember an old joke about the guy lost in a hot air balloon. He sees a fellow down below and yells "Excuse me, can you tell me where I am ? " to which the fellow below yells back " You are in the air". The balloon man shakes his head and says " Surely you are an economist !"
 " Yes " replies the fellow, " how did you know?" " Because " says the balloon man, " your answer was totally right and totally useless".

Telling me exactly why prices went crazy the last few years does not help me in figuring out where they are going to go.
Stats, smhats. We have entered unchartered waters and there are as many reasons why this can go on longer as why this can end tomorrow.

Are you going to stop buying cheap replica trinkets for a quarter of the original costs? Will enough people finally say I want to buy things that last and will pay for it? If not China will keep booming.
China is making more millionaires a year, and taken more people out of poverty in the last few years than anyone could ever fathom. This has been on the backs of some large corporate brands. 

It is a vicious cycle. Our companies are tightening spending so we are working more and maybe getting paid less so we are buying cheaper stuff. That stuff is predominantly made in China. So the Chinese people are making more money and wanting to invest in less volatile regions. Welcome to Canada. Hurricane Tammy strikes again.

Here is an interesting graph showing the psychology of investing. This was done by Dr Rodrigues of Hofstra University.

Let me follow that with a graph of Real Estate trends since 1977.

If you look to the right, you see the similar double peaks. Scary isn't it? 
BUT, I don't predict the massive drop with rates still so low. If I can borrow at 3%  interest , eventually a significant drop in prices will mean I can rent cash positive and I would do that over paper stocks anyday. In some less desireable areas, yes i think prices will go down. But if we treat Real Estate investing as an emotional, confidence based type of investing ( isn't all investing that way?) then I would proceed with caution.As always, get very good advice before any major purchase.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Back in time for a quarter

I recently wrote an article on alternate housing options for the Vancouver Observer. The idea of taking a home, putting in a suite and a laneway and dividing it between 3 parties who are listed as tenants in common on title. The division would be covered by contract. I used an example of a house that could be bought for $1.6m.
 It would cost each buyer $700 to get in to that 1/3 section( after renos, costs etc..). I thought I would look back and see how long ago you would have had to buy in to the Real Estate market to get that whole house for $700k.
 One example stood out. This put the whole idea that the " price of housing has gone up" into context

A quaint little Dunbar house on W 22 nd  sold this month for $1.605m
It had sold in 2005 for $830,000
It had sold in 2002 for $448,000
It had sold in 2000 for $398,000
11 years ago I could have bought 4 of these house for what 1 will cost me today.
 My husband works for our National Airline, He makes LESS today then he did 11 years ago. I am sure a huge percentage of our workers are in this same boat. Who says we have little inflation?

This November I have been asked to speak at an alternative housing forum put on by the Real Estate Board's North Shore Division. I really hope that by then, 11 months from now. We have created viable options for people. Going back 11 years isnt going to happen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Divide and Conquer

It all started innocently enough. We had a family of five and our house was effectively a 3 bedroom home and we get heaps of visitors- as I have most of my family and friends living abroad. So a kid sleeping on the couch became tedious. We needed more space
. Our cottage of 1300 sq ft sits on a huge 14,000 sq ft lot. We could add on. We hired a popular designer who dealt with bespoke developement- meaning tailored to meet individual needs. Off we went.
Rather than being constrained with a budget, we told him "design what we need and want and we will do it when we have the funds to do so". Current zoning stipulated that if we wanted 4 bedrooms upstairs than the main floor had to increase and go out into the yard as a terrace effect- you could not have a 2 or 3 story box. This also meant that the basement had to go out into the yard considerably to accommodate the larger living area above. We briefly looked at a bridge type structure as we didnt need a big basement but the engineering of that would take most of building budget!
So, as the design was gorgeous and totally maximized the view and had everything we wanted we put it through permits. $30,000 in design , permits and engineering were paid and the plans were ready to pick up and start.
The night sweats started.
Irritability set in, and neither my husband nor I picked up the permits. No one wanted to discuss the elephant in the room.
Finally one night I said " I dont need a huge home,I dont think we can afford to build this, I dont want a massive basement, and I dont want to clean that many bathrooms!!"
My husband agreed.
We looked at the plan, there was very little yard left as the building had to go so far out on ground level. The beautiful granite wall was about 2 feet in the wrong place and would have to come down and we were staring at a 2500 sq ft basement- almost 2 times what we were living in now- of unfinished space!.
We realised we loved that granite wall, we loved the big yard and all we needed was a couple bedrooms.
So we started with the pool and built that. That way as we cleaned up the rest we had somewhere to go and relax at the end of the day. Then we looked at our existing rec room and simply divided the space up. New appliances, fancy faucetts and fresh paint, and we had a house  we could live in.

The rooms are adequate, not large. But this means the kids tend to come and do their work on the dining room table and discuss stuff with us. It also means we have to all decide what we want to watch on TV and negotiate because the 2 TV's are in public places. The hallway connecting the kids rooms is extra wide with a couch recessed in on one side and flat screen on the other-so it can be an emergency rec room if we have friends over and our son wants to play WII with police siren soundtracks. We dont have a lot of parties in the winter but we have a neighborhood full of families over in the summer. The 20 by 40 pool brings them all over! and we set up an outdoor BBQ and dining area so many stay for dinner after sunset.
In the winter we get invited to those families that came over in the summer. It works. This is how I became so convinced that we can live smaller. As a Real Estate agent I knew all about maximizing the property and thats what everyone has been programmed into thinking. As a mother I knew smaller more intimate spaces keep our kids closer and part of the family. I have seen kids that have a whole recroom to themselves with TV, computer  and  sometimes even a drink fridge - they dont surface till they are hungry. Its not the kind of family I wanted.
 I hope that soon we will allow 2 small homes to be built on some of these lots that now allow for only 1 6000 sq ft house. Maybe more people can experience this freedom.... and togetherness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If i had $100,000.

We used to be able to sing..." if i had a million dollars....i'd be rich!"

Not so anymore. The Financial Post ran a story on a couple who were worth  $ 2.5 million  ( net worth) but when they looked at the numbers they couldnt retire early or cut back work to travel. The reason being the investments that made them worth 2.5 generated cash flow that they lived on. Sell the investment and although they realize a windfall- that would be burned through quickly with no income coming in and needing a place to live.
The problem was if your house is worth so much and you sell it- Where do you live? Well I have long been a fan and supporter of Smallworks Laneway housing. Some of you may have met me on the laneway tours. One thing I often heard is" I cant afford  to build one yet".Well , now they have come up with a wonderful DIY solution.
The Smallworks Builder - a starter model that you finish yourself.
If you or members of your circle have construction skills or contacts in the building trades, The Smallworks Builder is the perfect DIY project: an award-winning Smallworks-designed laneway house delivered with the essentials in place – building permit, site preparation, underground services, insulated foundation and slab, walls, doors, windows and roof. The rest – electrical wiring, plumbing and finishing – is up to you.

The starting price of The Smallworks Builder is $100,000. Smallworks performs all the heavy lifting: excavating, pouring the concrete, erecting the building, and cutting through the red tape.( yes even dealing witjh City Hall!)  Delivery – from permit to lock-up – takes only 4 to 6 weeks.

Great savings can be achieved when you have the opportunity to complete the house yourself. It also allows you to transform Smallwork’s well-crafted house into a finished home you can be proud of, on your own terms and your own budget.

So the couple that wanted to travel? they could build their home, rent out the main house and travel on the surplus....

If you have the money ,or if you have the equity- Smallworks can put you in the direction to get your financing at  100% of the laneway cost, and build the whole house to the point you walk in with groceries. But if you would rather finish it yourself overtime this is a great option to get started.
Disclosure- I have worked in sales for Smallworks in the past. Feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vancouvers money pyramid

I have been increasingly concerned with the escalating property values in very select neighborhoods.West Vancouver in particular.
 Difficult since my bread and butter comes from selling and reselling of Real estate, but my allegiance lies with the liveability, sustainablity of our neighborhood- our city. I am here for the long haul. So any fleeting financial gain in commission is wholly offset by the deterioration of what works in a neighborhood.
The current situation I find alarming.
We are pawns in very global game of chess where people with big money are coming in and buying up our property and then telling other people what a great spot this is to invest, they in turn are then selling that great property for hugely inflated prices to the next person and on it goes. The province is laughing as it reaps in the PTT over and over. But our citys , that are bearing the brunt of this localized issue are not getting any piece of the pie. It will be the City ( or in West vans case the District..) that has to deal with closed shops and bistros since many of these homes are not even lived in. Perhaps a mom and child move in, but not a whole household of contributing citizens.
here are a few examples, and this is just todays sampling.

800 block Pyrford. tax assessed at $1.982,000
sold in August 2011 for $3.288,000
Listed now at $4.180,000

1400 blk Nelson tax assessed at $1.200,000
sold in March 2010 for $1.200,000
listed  now at $2.199,000

1400 blk of Sandhust tax value$ 2.088,000
sold July 2011 for $2.088,000
listed $2.998,000

1800 blk  Queens tax assessed $1.551,000
sold May 1st 2011$ 1.728
listed now $2.398

and the best one
3100 Blk Thompson Cr
tax assessed $4.143,000
sold in 2009 for $4.142,000
listed now for $7.5 million

maybe everyone is just cashing out. maybe everyone wants to downsize. But if this keeps up where will you downsize to? When a starter home is now 1.8 million we have some serious problems. Who will live here that works here? Our nurses and firemen and teachers, and restaurantuers dont make this kind of money.Soon they will have to charge $10 for a coffee! If employees move to the suburbs,with soaring gas prices soon the commute will cost too much and we will find ourselves with a lovely area that can"t  find people to work here. Most people tend to want to live close to where they work.
It goes back to us needing a supply of smaller housing. Not more $8 million mansions on our mountains, but more small little cottages where families can start and single young people can live and enjoy our community too. This doesnt solve the problem, but perhaps it can mitigate one of its symptoms.
I am glad laneway housing and coach houses are at the forefront of this civic campaign. We have the ability to vote in people that bring this forward in a sensible way that wont overcrowd or over densify our neighborhood. But who will deal with the  Real Estate speculation?Politically, no one wants to touch it.

I dont have the answers . I just think someone has to start asking the questions.