British Columbia

Would-be homebuyers shocked at Vancouver prices

The realities of jumping into first-time home-ownership for people who want to live in Vancouver can be hard to accept, as the CBC's Kirk Williams has found in the first report of the three-part news series, "Priced Out."

First-timers' first look at the market a dismaying experience

It’s been a Canadian real estate maxim for years that even entry-level housing prices in Vancouver are high — for many, prohibitively high.

So, what are the challenges, obstacles and options facing people with a decent salary who want to buy their first home?

Reporter Kirk Williams tells us in the first in our CBC News series, "Priced Out", that there are lessons to be learned and realities to be faced by today's first-time buyers.

Freelance journalist and CBC News contributor Luke Brocki and his artist girlfriend, Melissa, rent the top floor of a house in East Vancouver.

For $1,600 a month, they have plenty of room, but they might want to start a family one day and that has the couple looking at home ownership.

"I'm currently in a lifestyle, you know, as if I had a single family home, except it’s not a single family home of my own," Brocki said.

Brocki makes about $50,000 a year and found he can’t get much of a family home for that.

Sticker shock

Luke Brocki and girlfriend Melissa hope to own a Vancouver home, but are finding the cost shocking. (CBC)

For instance, he could afford a newly-renovated $315,000 suite in a 31-year-old building on a busy West End street, but near Vancouver's beaches.

But it’s just 508 sq. ft., with one bedroom.

Brocki was in sticker shock.

"The biggest shock is that I couldn't get a two-bedroom for 300-odd grand, at least not in Vancouver," said Brocki.

It’s a learning process many first-time home buyers have to go through, according to Macdonald Realty agent Jay McInnes.

"Expectations are high and usually once you get to the bank and you talk to the realtor and you look at the market on what you want and what money you are dealing with, expectations have to be brought to reality," McInnes said.

That search took Luke to the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, where he looked at a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium in a newer building.

The list price was $349,900 for a unit that was twice the size of the West End condo for $35,000 more. But as he looks around the historic little city on the Fraser River, he's worried about leaving his friends and convenient lifestyle back in Vancouver.

"I would like to be able to have this in East Van? Is that too much to ask?"

Luke has to shift his thinking, another agent said.

"The suburbs are not a wasteland. There are restaurants, there are coffee shops, there are cool people who live in the suburbs," said Rebecca Permack, of Royal LePage. "Not all the cool people live in East Vancouver."

Luke acknowledges that, but isn’t sure if he's up for the daily commute.

"Is it right that, you know, I’m making something close to a medium income and I can't afford a house in the city I live in?" said Brocki.

He’s still looking.

Source: RBC Economics Housing Trends and Affordability, March 2012; Statistics Canada. Assumes std. condo is 900 sq.ft., bungalow is 1200 sq.ft., two-storey house is 1500 sq.ft. (CBC)

With files from the CBC's Kirk Williams and Lisa Johnson