How to Win the Vancouver Real Estate Game (According to the Man Who Invented It)

At his annual state-of-the-industry address, real estate savant Bob Rennie unveiled the future

May 22, 2015

At his annual presentation today to the Urban Development Institute, marketer Bob Rennie reaffirmed themes that have powered his talks over the last several years.

Addressing the afternoon’s topic — “Can we solve affordability without density?” — he was adamant in his answer: “There is no affordability without density,” he told the room of 1,047 guests — a record number for a UDI keynote address. Going further, he noted that “If we do not allow density, we’re asking our seniors and our millennials to move out of the city.” At its worst, he said, if we pursue this path of focusing on selling and reselling single-family detached houses on the most expensive land in Canada — if we neglect the supply side of the equation — “We could end up with our worst nightmare: Vancouver as a resort city.” He acknowledged critics will read these thoughts as self-serving, coming from the city’s highest-profile marketer of residential condos.

As he has for the last 12 (or maybe 13 — he’s lost track) years, Rennie came armed with statistics, mainly generated by his own firm. He began his talk (to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”) by pointing out a discrepancy between baby boomers and millennials: where the former are somewhat pleased (62%) with the direction the city of Vancouver is taking, millennials are extremely pleased: 81 percent of those polled (absolute polling figures were not included) reported they are satisfied with the direction of the city. How does this square with the oft-lamented lack of affordable housing, especially for those at the bottom of the earning-power ladder? (See recent media coverage stemming from a CBC interview with Rick Cluff, in which he urged Vancouverites to abandon their picket-fence dreams, here.) Equity from parents and grandparents goes a long way to explaining how the market can continue, Rennie argued. His data suggests homeowners in Metro Vancouver are holding $311 billion in home equity. Among boomers, 48 percent report they are willing to help youth buy into the market; the number rises to 61% for Asian boomers.

At points in the talk, Rennie shared sales figures with various developments he’s recently helped sell: The Independent, Brentwood, Wall Centre Central Park, Strathcona Village. According to their own reporting, buyers in those towers are mainly from within 10 kilometres of their new home; only two or three percent are offshore Asian purchasers. “I’ve had enough of this argument,” Rennie told the room, referring to the effect offshore ownership is said to have on local housing prices. “It’s racist.”

His talk ended with several recommendations: all levels of government (the province seemed not to be in the room) must work together to solve affordability, which is a regional conundrum; neighbourhood groups opposing developments should put forward a diversity of representatives — youth, seniors, immigrants, etc — in forming community-impact panels; taxation should not be against foreign investment; “It is speculation we should be concerned about.” Looking ahead to next year, he urged listeners to pay special attention to the new Emily Carr, which will transform the so-called Flats district; the new St. Paul’s, where we might see the same 99-year-lease system UBC put in place for its Endowment Lands (founder Bob Lee sits on the St. Paul’s board); the removal of the Georgia Viaduct and revamping of the Canada Post sorting centre, which may move the gravity of downtown east; and the Jericho Lands, whose development ought to be accompanied by a substantial investment in transit. He repeated what has become a mantra since Rize Alliance’s The Independent at Broadway and Kingsway sprouted the slogan, “The centre of the city just shifted”: “Main is the new Granville Street, Fraser is the new Oak, and Kingsway is the new Cambie.”

We have 365 days to wait until the prophet speaks once again.

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