British Columbia

Looking back at a decade of Vancouver real estate

Foreign buyers tax, changes to mortgage rules, and a housing affordability crisis — Simon Fraser University urban planning professor Andy Yan says the last decade in Vancouver real estate was interesting to say the least.

'It's been a long and strange trip,' says urban planning professor Andy Yan

A number of skyscrapers in downtown Vancouver are pictured during sunset.
Vancouver's real estate market soared, dipped, and was the subject of great scrutiny over the past 10 years. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The last decade was a tumultuous one for Vancouver's real estate market, according to researcher Andy Yan.

Yan, a professor in urban planning and the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, has spent a decade poring over the data of one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. 

"It's been a long and strange trip," Yan told CBC's Gloria Macarenko on On The Coast. 

He kicked off the start of the decade with a major paper that detailed the number of empty condos in the city — noting that nearly a quarter of condos in some parts of downtown Vancouver were empty.

In 2015, Yan published another study that attempted to establish if there was a link between foreign buyers and house prices on the city's tony West side neighbourhoods.

It was the beginning of a much closer look at the connections and global forces that were converging to create the massive surge in housing prices that characterized much of the decade. 

Andy Yan looks at the camera. He is wearing a pink shirt and a brown coat.
Researcher Andy Yan has studied patterns in Vancouver's real estate market and demographics. (CBC)

Yan said what he realized from his research how closely the real estate market in Vancouver is connected to what's happening elsewhere in the world. 

"It's a story of connection as opposed to isolation that I think helped symbolized the last 10 years," Yan said. "What's happening in metropolitan Vancouver, in British Columbia in general, it is connected to what's happening elsewhere, whether it's nationally or globally."

And some of the solutions had international origins. The foreign buyers tax, introduced by the provincial government in 2016 to curb the influx of foreign capital for speculative purposes, was British Columbia catching up with what other jurisdictions like Singapore, Hong Kong, and U.S. had already been doing, he said. 

But these solutions have required political courage, Yan said. 

"The fact that you are pursuing policies that weren't necessarily the most popular with some of the more powerful elements of the economy," he said. 

"[We're] really dealing with a vision that Vancouver or British Columbia [that] isn't isolated but it's part of this global economy that is increasingly seeing housing as a commodity."

With files from On The Coast


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