Are Vancouver's sky-high rents finally falling?

The answer is lurking in the data and it might be good news for renters, says analyst Louie Dinh.

Data analyst Louie Dinh's latest report might be good news for renters

Rents in Vancouver might be dropping, according to one blogger's analysis. (CBC)

First it was real estate sales numbers dropping. Then it was the prices.

Now signs are emerging that Vancouver's sky-high rents could be trending downward, according one local data analyst.

Since 2016, UBC-trained data scientist Louie Dinh has been somewhat obsessively tracking the rents for Vancouver homes in his spare time and posting the findings on his blog, Quantitative Rhetoric. 

He uses data from Craigslist, Vancouver's most popular site for rental listings, and is careful to screen it so factors like overpriced units don't skew the trends.

Blogger and data analyst Louie Dinh says he spends about one day a month crunching the numbers for his rental report, Quantitative Rhetoric. (Louie Dinh)

Now, for the first time since he started, "it does seem like the rents are coming down a little bit," he says cautiously.

In fact, his latest analysis of thousands of listings shows: 

  • One-bedroom units have dropped 2.7 per cent since last month.
  • Two-bedroom units have dropped 3.2 per cent.
  • Three-bedroom units have dropped 5.3 per cent.

"This is the first time we have actually seen a price drop in a long time, so hopefully [it] continues."

Not yet a trend

Dinh is quick to point out it's too early to call it a trend, but he notes the dip follows an increase in the listings on Craigslist this year.

Last year there were about 4,500 units listed each month, but that's risen to over 5,500 units lately, his figures show.

The price of rental apartments and homes in Vancouver advertised on Craigslist may be dropping, according to one local blogger. (Craigslist)

"Volumes had been increasing for quite a few months, but prices were really sticky," he says.

"Now we are starting to see landlords are pulling back a little bit and saying, 'Hey, I gotta drop my prices so I can move my unit."

Links to real estate slump

With all the new taxes and regulations introduced recently to calm the overheated real estate market, Dinh admits it's difficult to draw conclusions about causes.

But he's willing to suggest that declining property sales could be leading many real estate speculators to rent their properties out rather than put them up for sale.

"Last month, condo sales dropped 30 per cent to match 2012 lows, and detached homes haven't seen this sort of sales drought since 1991," he writes in his July blog post, which he planned to post Saturday morning. 

"Recent buyers will likely sit back and rent for the next few years of zero per cent growth rather than sell at a loss."

Many investors may be renting out their condos rather than flipping them because of stalled prices in the real estate market. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Is there noise in the data?

UBC Professor Tom Davidoff, who also closely tracks Vancouver's real estate market, says Dinh's findings are "broadly consistent" with his own.

But he's reluctant to say there is a trend, yet.

"You want to be careful about short-run analysis, but I can believe that rents have been flat in the last couple of months. I'd want to see a few more months before I say he is right."

UBC Professor Tom Davidoff said he's also noticed rents in Vancouver have flat-lined in recent months. (CBC)

Nevertheless Davidoff said Dinh's methods of analysis are legitimate.

"He is a smart guy. He is careful with the data."

Vancouver-specific trend

As for causes, Davidoff is also reluctant to speculate, but he notes that something unique seems to be happening in Vancouver, compared to the rest of the region.

"If it was the speculation tax you'd expect to see the same pattern in Richmond and Burnaby because it also applies there, but I'm not seeing the same trend there, so it could be something Vancouver specific."

The City of Vancouver has brought in new rules that could eliminate many of the 6,000 short-term rentals operating illegally on sites like Airbnb. (Airbnb)

That something could be Vancouver's new Airbnb restrictions or the empty homes tax, which the city says have been effective at putting hundreds of units back on the rental market.

 But he cautions it could all just be "noise in the data" or even seasonal trends.

"Sometimes things are up and down for random reasons."

Most households now renting

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation analyst Eric Bond also tracks rents in Vancouver. 

He notes this year about 3,000 units of purpose-built rental housing are expected to come on the market.

But he cautions that could actually drive the average rents up in the short term because new units tend to cost more to rent.

About 3,000 new purpose-built rental units are expected to come on the market in Vancouver in 2018, but that could actually drive average rents up, warns CMHC analyst Eric Bond. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

And he notes that because of high real estate prices and rising migration, more households are renting instead of buying, especially in Vancouver.

"Renter households accounted for 36 per cent of all households in Metro Vancouver," he says. "In the City of Vancouver, they accounted for 53 per cent."

Staying put

As for Dinh, crunching the numbers remains a passion project that takes about one afternoon per month.

He doesn't get paid for his efforts, although a recent crowdfunding push did cover his computer server costs for a couple months.

Dinh said one of the things he learned studying Vancouver's rental market is he's better off not looking for a new place. (Louie Dinh)

Instead, what he's gained is plenty of insight into the local real estate market.

"I think for myself and a few friends who have been in a unit a little bit longer, we've kind of realized we shouldn't move."

At least not yet.

About the Author

Mike Laanela

Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.