Strata Living: Not for Everyone

Living in a strata is a fact of life for many in the Lower Mainland and especially in Vancouver if home ownership is to be achievable. There are many benefits to strata life while at the same time some perils to watch out for. Below is a list in no particular order of things to be aware of in a strata living situation:

Breaking bylaws

Strata corporations may have bylaws that lean towards fascist in some respects. Examples might be whether or not you can barbecue on “your” balcony or if pets need to be leashed in common areas. A client of mine quickly amassed fines of several hundreds of dollars when her tenants left some empty boxes in the underground parking space. In extreme cases, strata unit owners can be compelled to sell their property if they break strata rules over time without any effort to alter their rule-breaking ways.

Self-determination (or lack thereof)

Important decisions like whether or not to undertake major repairs to a strata building will be decided on through a majority vote by strata members. That is, the strata members that bother to attend the AGM or SGM either in person or by proxy. I’ve seen important votes decided by less than 10% of the owners of a particular building because so many couldn’t be bothered to show up.

Naughty Neighbors

Just because you own a strata property does not guarantee that your neighbors will be quiet and neighborly. There seems to be a misconception that only tenants tend to be noisy and difficult to live next to. I know of many stories of strata owners that are nearly as bad or worse. Also, if you own in a strata and you end up not getting along with your adjacent neighbour it’s certainly not easy or inexpensive to move away as compared to a more mobile tenant choosing to move away.

I welcome questions you have about selling or buying.
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Five reasons to get a mortgage financing pre-approval

So you think you’re ready to start shopping for a property? Whoa Nelly! While it may seem like you’re ready because you’ve done lots of online property window shopping and begun to feel confident about comparing market values, you’ve missed a crucial step in the process. Here are five reasons to get a mortgage financing pre-approval early:

checklist

Time savings

Does it make sense to look at a smorgasbord of properties that you have absolutely no chance of purchasing? Don’t you have better things to do with your free time than view half the condos in the city?

Secure a mortgage rate-hold

Once pre-approved, you will likely be guaranteed a particular mortgage rate for up to 120 days. This is can be very helpful in times when rates just happen to be on the up-swing. In the event of rates dropping, your mortgage broker will ensure you get the lowest rate possible.

Be ready to act quickly on the right property

You never know when the right property will present itself and you’ll need to act quickly. Pre-approval will put you in a position to act swiftly and from a position of strength when writing an offer.

Gain the upper hand in negotiations

If you are interested in a hot property and you find yourself pitted against a other buyers in a multiple offer situation, being pre-approved can make the difference. Imagine yourself as the seller: if you are courting several interested buyers and only one is pre-approved, which party would you sell to?

One final benefit – you may save your Realtor some aggravation (and time) if you are pre-approved before you begin viewing homes. And who wouldn’t want this?

I welcome any questions about selling or buying.
Feel free to comment here or contact me directly.

New program to encourage rental housing construction

There’s a new incentive program in Vancouver to encourage developers to build purpose-built rental housing.  There are some seemingly attractive aspects of this program but developers seem more focused on tidier short term profits and these are more quickly realized building condo towers.

Incentives under the new policy will likely be similar to those of the STIR program which included:

•  rental property assessment (on rental units only);
•  development cost levy waiver (on rental units only);
•  parking requirement reductions (on rental units only);
•  discretion on unit size;
•  increased density; and
•  expedited permit processing.

Whether this program will be enough to entice developers to build new rental units is a matter for debate. One thing is certain and that’s there is a shortage of affordable rental housing in this city.

Underground Storage Oil Tanks (UST)

Did you know owners of properties in Metro Vancouver may have a potentially costly underground storage oil tank (UST) in their backyard? Clean-up and liability issues can come into play if the oil tank leaks and contaminates your property. If the contaminant originates on your property and then seeps onto adjacent properties, you could be liable for the mess and any clean-up on those properties. Ouch! 

Underground oil tanks were commonly installed on properties beginning in the late 1950s. Oil was the primary source of heating fuel for homes until natural gas replaced it due to lower cost and ease of connecting to utility gas pipelines. The oil tanks were usually just capped and decommissioned in place at this point – some with oil remaining in the tanks!

There are many companies in Metro Vancouver that use scanning equipment to check for buried oil tanks for a nominal fee. If there is any possibility that there may be a UST, doing the scan makes sense for buyers and is almost always advisable for sellers. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) is the best policy when it comes to oil tanks and avoiding the associated risks with buying a property where one may be lurking. The cost to remove a decommissioned tank that has not leaked is much less than a major environmental clean-up of a decommissioned leaky tank. Insist on full and proper tank removal documentation in the purchase contract if you are a buyer.

To complicate matters further, different municipalities around Metro Vancouver have different requirements to follow during removal. For further reading I recommend a great article by The Spagnuolo Group of Real Estate Law Firms.

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
Feel free to comment here or contact me directly.

Rize Alliance Development – Public Hearing for Mount Pleasant Tower Proposal

Figure A shows a rendering submitted by the developer. Figure B shows the virtual model created by the City. Figure C shows a rendering created by RAMP. Image courtesy of Openfile.ca

One of the most divisive proposed developments in Vancouver in a long time is currently being considered by Vancouver city council. The Rize Alliance Properties development at Kingsway and Broadway promises to radically change the area where Kingsway, Main and Broadway meet. An article from BC Business is in support of this development and offers some insight into the issues. The original development proposal was more aggressive at 26 stories but has since been scaled back to 19 stories following public opposition. Notice in the renderings above how the building height differs depending on which party it was created by and their particular interest. The rendering closest to reality is likely the one created by the City.

It seems to me that this location is an ideal place to increase density since it’s well-located close to public transportation along the Broadway corridor and is a walk or quick bus ride to two Skytrain lines. The anti-development types are unlikely to be satisfied with any proposal put forward but many Mount Pleasant residents are watching this one closely to see what the City will allow.

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
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Building permits way up in Vancouver

This just in: Canada-wide building permits are up but Vancouver seems to be the only bright spot for housing starts in BC. This explains why every block in this city seems to have several construction projects underway. Developers are clearly not anticipating any slowdown in the Vancouver market for new homes.

How to Improve Housing Options in Metro Vancouver

First post of 2012 so it seems fitting to start with a list of ideas on how to increase housing options. This article appeared recently in the Vancouver Sun and the writer makes a number of useful, if perhaps optimistic, suggestions on how home ownership might be made more attainable in Metro Vancouver.

The simplest suggestion mentioned to implement would be encouraging and allowing higher density (innovative design and more compact units). This would increase opportunities for people to remain in urban areas without breaking the bank. The main hurdle here seems to be nearby neighbors who fear their property values will fall as a result of additional density being built close by.

Another idea presented relates to having municipalities reduce the charges and fees (development cost charges) they assess for granting building permits as this is a major cost. One would hope that savings here would trickle down to property buyers.

Finally, higher density developments should first be considered near good public transit and the requirements for minimum number of parking spaces per property should be abandoned in some instances.

So that’s the wish list. Do I think any of these are likely to happen any time soon? No, but dreams are healthy.

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
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The Condo Walk-through – Deficiency Hunting

I recently accompanied a client on their substantially completed new construction condo walk-through. This took place about two weeks before the buyer was to take possession of the new two bedroom condo in the Fraser area of Vancouver. Now I consider attending these inspections a part of my job as a full service REALTOR® but this one was scheduled for 7AM! This is not known as peak performance timing for most REALTORS®.

Nevertheless, I made my way to the building on time to meet my client and we then proceeded to wait for the developer’s representative who ended up being about 10 minutes late. On these outings I use a detailed checklist of potential problems to look for (see image for a sample).

These usually go pretty smoothly and this one was no exception except for some minor surprises. The best part of this inspection was when the developer’s representative opened the door to the laundry area and it was empty. The washer and dryer that were to be included as per the buyer’s contract were nowhere to be found.

Make sure your REALTOR® attends the walk-through inspection with you so they can provide expertise on what to be on the lookout for and to fully protect your interests.

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
Feel free to comment here or contact me directly.

Fundraiser Garage Sale for Public Dreams – Saturday July 9th at 9AM!!!

Should be some great items available at the upcoming fundraiser Garage Sale for Public Dreams Society. I will be providing some baked goods and coffee to benefit this great cause. Here’s the write-up:
The board of directors of Public Dreams Society is hosting a multi-family garage sale with all proceeds to go to Public Dreams Society, the amazing not for profit art organization that stages the City’s best free public celebrations: Illuminares lantern festival and Parade of the Lost Souls.So many items to purchase (many of them brand new). Too many items to list but some features are refrigerators, baby furniture, baby stroller, puppy stairs, kitchen items, washer and dryer, sporting goods, mirrors, massage table, costumes, cushions, curtains, etc. See you there!

When: Saturday, July 9th from 9 am to 12pm – no early birds please
Where: 626 East 22nd (one block west of Fraser)
Weather: Rain or shine!

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
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How Affordable Housing Makes a Greener Vancouver

Interesting article from BC Business today. Gets to the heart of the problem for people who work in Vancouver and would like to live in the city but can’t afford to. Having to commute from the ‘burbs is neither green nor does it improve quality of life. 

The focus on affordable housing in this town is skewed towards people at the lowest rung of the ladder while the majority in the middle see little focus on the affordability problems they face.

More density, looking at smaller spaces (most people these days would not opt for a “monster house” even if they could afford it – see photo), alternative forms of architecture and building more rental stock are all part of the solution. Examples include infill housing like laneway housing. Zoning and existing landowner inflexibility are major impediments to greater densification. This burden rests with all three levels of government – but will any of them act?

I welcome any questions you may have about selling or buying.
Feel free to comment here or contact me directly.