Posts Tagged ‘real estate’

The Suburbs Downtown and Downtown in the Suburbs

May 20, 2008

Vancouver’s downtown condo development market has been very successful.  Developers sold the lifestyle and the convenience.  “Walk to work”, “It’s like the suburbs downtown” are common selling points.  The problem is, condo developers have been so successful they’ve driven up the cost of property so high it discourages commercial property development.  Office projects can’t or won’t compete for prime locations downtown, or what few locations are left.  The condos have taken over downtown.

That has created a commercial office space crunch downtown.  Office vacancies are down to just two percent, the lowest in decades.   It also creates an interesting reverse flow situation where, while people are moving downtown into their new condos, the new office developments have largely been in the suburbs.  Wouldn’t it be an interesting twist if all those people who moved downtown so they could walk to work ended up commuting out to the suburbs to get to the office?

This might be a good time for a major office tower development downtown.  A two percent vacancy rate now, combined with the added interest in Vancouver that will likely follow the Olympics in 2010 should make for good market conditions.  It would take a couple years to complete, so the timing would be right.  The slowdown in the residential real estate market should also get some developers to look to the commercial property sector.

Vancouver could use a high profile office tower downtown.  The Shangri-La, the new multi-use tallest building in the city that is nearing completion, already makes a great addition to the skyline.  A new, even taller, office tower that stands out in both scale and form would add even greater definition.  What’s missing from the skyline is an iconic building, something instantly recognizable that people around the world will see on TV and know is in Vancouver.  It would raise the profile of the city, internationally.

If Vancouver wants to remain the commercial heart of Greater Vancouver, the city should think about trying to get an office project going and zoning to make sure there will be more in the future.  Otherwise, the amusing reverse commute situation could actually happen.  Who knows?  It may seem unlikely now, but maybe even Surrey could develop a downtown commercial district on some of its less attractive land.  They are already clearing out the crackheads and removing some houses with drug connections.  Then there’s that awful junkyard sitting on prime riverfront property.  It has the growing population and land to rival Vancouver.  It will probably have more people within twenty years.

Is Vancouver going to just sit back and let it happen?

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Recent Carnivals

April 7, 2008

In addition to the European Travel Blog Carnival mentioned in my previous post, I’ve also recently had posts included in several other carnivals, including:

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

The Carnival of Observations on Life

The Carnival of Consumer Focused Real Estate

The Carnival of the Godless #87

The Carnival of Fraud

 Check them out.

Always Have a Plan B in Your Pocket

April 5, 2008

There’s been speculation in the media that the U.S. may not just be in a recession, but that this could prove to be a depression.  There are probably more Bear Stearns banks out there that are teetering on the brink and the full depth of the credit crisis is still not known.  Great – a full blown depression – and I thought the recession that started the 1990s, which was bad enough for me, was supposed to be the longest one since the great depression.  According to theories of economic cycles, the next really big one wasn’t due until about 2050, the same time global warming should have melted the polar icecaps and glaciers, and become pretty much irreversible.  Now THERE’s a party to stick around for.  Well, it may be that this will be the real big one.  Am I worried?  No.  I have a Plan B in my pocket.

A little while ago, my new passport arrived.  I now have another option.  I can now take my English teaching qualifications and experience anywhere in the world.  There’s over one and a half billion Asians who all seem to want or need to learn English.  No matter how bad things get here, I can always go to Asia and find a job waiting for me.  A job that pays well, by local standards, and usually carries a certain level of respect with it.  Best of all, I’d be taxed at Asian rates.  Asian tax systems seem to have been designed by the same people who design their electronics.  Smaller is better.

One of the places I could go to is Taiwan.  A Taiwanese woman told me once of a place on the east coast where the aboriginal women, who were there before the arrival of the Chinese, are particularly beautiful.  She went on to tell me about the working conditions, pay, etc., but she had me at the beautiful women.

Another thing I hadn’t realized about Taiwan until I recently looked at a map is that it is on the Tropic of Cancer.  Hmmm… live on a tropical island with low taxes surrounded by beautiful women…  No winter.  Sounds good, but I wonder if my lily white skin could take that sun.

‘Tropic of Cancer’ is a novel by Henry Miller.  It’s a first person account of his life, observations, sexual exploits, opinions, and any thoughts that may have run through his head, no matter how dark.  It was controversial at the time.  Aside from the prejudices of his time, it’s still a good book and I liked it.  Much of it takes place in Paris, where he’d gone to write.  I could write in Taiwan.  I could spend more time on my writing because I wouldn’t speak Chinese well.  I’d have nothing to do but sit in the brilliant sun writing brilliant words while the beautiful women frolicked around me.  Well, after I’d put in my Asian hours at work, of course.

As I mentioned elsewhere, someone in Taiwan has been reading me in Chinese.  They were reading one of my posts about Vancouver real estate.  This was just after I’d seen a news story about the election in Taiwan.  Apparently, people were so sick of corruption that they elected a new government that would be a little friendlier to China and is even willing to discuss the possibility of re-unification.  I guess not everyone is on board with that, though.  It looks like someone may be considering buying in Vancouver, just in case.

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course.  People from Hong Kong moved to Vancouver in droves in the run up to its return to China.  Many of them returned when it was apparent Hong Kong would continue to prosper.  Many Taiwanese came here in the past, when China started rattling sabres and staging naval exercises near its “rogue province”.  This election could spark another wave.  Just in time to offset the doubts Vancouverites are starting to have about the real estate market and the way the business works.

As enticing and romantic as going abroad sounds, I’m in no rush yet.  Besides, I’ve lived overseas before.  But, it’s good to know you always have a Plan B in your pocket.

Vancouver’s Other Dirty Little Secret

March 7, 2008

I’ve been looking for another revenue stream to supplement my self employment.  There just isn’t enough coming in yet, so I need a daytime job.  I’ve been trying to focus on established companies and the ones whose websites and job ads state that they are one of the fifty best companies to work for in Canada or BC.  Money, benefits, work conditions.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of luck with these organizations.  I don’t know what they’re looking for, but it doesn’t seem to be me.  My resume usually provokes a phone call and an interview.  But when I send it to one of these companies, nothing.  This is despite the fact that I easily meet the criteria.  You’d think large, established companies, some with international operations, would most value something like international sales experience involving talking to senior executives of multinationals.  Nope.  I guess it’s not useful here because, for all its apparent world class reputation and its multicultural population, Vancouver is rather parochial.  It is a branch office market, not a head office location.  Talking to the CEO isn’t something that people relate to or need.

There are some employers who would value it, though.  They could use someone who isn’t afraid to talk to a high net worth individual and ask for the money.  They aren’t well known companies and they’re not on the list of the fifty best companies to work for in Canada, BC, or anywhere.  They are Vancouver’s other dirty little secret, along with the downtown east side.

When most people think of Vancouver, they think of a beautiful city by the ocean set against a backdrop of mountains.  As they say in the real estate world – location, location, location.  No wonder I can’t afford real estate.  I’m not likely to either, unless I can find a legitimate way to make some decent money.  I say legitimate because what most people don’t know is that beautiful Vancouver is a centre for fraud.

Many of the telesales jobs here are actually fraud related, one way or another.  They sell lottery tickets, vacations, medications, or investments.  They focus on high net worth individuals or pensioners, usually in the U.S.  That’s not unusual.  Telesales fraud is usually done across borders to get around the law, no matter where in the world it happens.

These operations aren’t too difficult to spot, once you get a look at them.  I went to an interview years ago and checked out a company.  The only piece of office equipment in the phone room, other than the very basic phones, was a paper shredder at one end of the room.  There were no computers.  The staff had printed lists of leads in front of them on their cheap, table style desks.  The whole thing had an air of impermanence.

Recently, I saw an ad that seemed too good to be true.  Sixteen dollars an hour plus commission.  There was no company name, but there was a number to call.  I did some high tech sleuthing and searched the number on the web.  A number of articles came up.  One headline link was about a stock worth $0.001.  When I clicked on it, I found the page no longer existed.  Hmmm…

Another headline took me to a company website.  The phone number matched.  Apparently, they have an incredible new technology that will drastically reduce carbon emissions from cars.  Well, it is incredible that no one has heard of it yet, considering the fact that greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are in the news daily.  You’d think the news networks would be tripping over each other to do a story on it.  The section that explains how it all works was a pretty slick presentation accompanied by techno music (coz it’s the technology, get it?) that made no sense to me.

The most striking thing about this company, though, was it’s name.  Their product was an environmental solution for automobiles, but the name had no indication of environmental or automotive industry affiliation.  It included the word ‘capital’, however.  They’re in the capital raising business.

Remember that headline about shares worth $0.001?  They’re stock pumpers, something Vancouver has gained a bad reputation for.  Sixteen bucks an hour plus commission is pretty good, by local standards, but I don’t want to participate in fraud to make a living.

Never Pay the Dealer Up Front

February 27, 2008

A few days ago, the latest example of a Greater Vancouver property development going tits up and leaving pre-sale buyers between a rock and a hard place occurred.  Not far from where I sit, another condo project has fallen victim to cost overruns and will not be completed on time.  The original developer will have to sell the property.  When a new developer takes it over, they will put the units back on the market at current market values, not the prices buyers originally agreed to about two years ago.  Even with first dibs, the original buyers will have to pay more.

This is becoming a trend in the lower mainland real estate market.  Labour shortages and high commodity prices drive up costs and wreak havoc on schedules.  The developers can’t finish the projects on schedule, on budget, or profitably.  Drop dead clauses are invoked or the project is sold.  Buyers are left in a situation where they’ve effectively provided the developer with an interest free loan for two years.  That’s unfortunate, because they’re not in the interest free loan business.  Nobody is, because it’s not a profitable business to be in.

Now, if I were a cynic, I might think that developers deliberately pre-sell properties at values they know will not be realistic when the project is completed a couple years later, so that they can take buyers’ deposits to the bank and say, “Here’s our share, now how about financing the rest?”  I might also think they deliberately fail to complete the projects before the drop dead date so that they can then raise the price, just as the project is nearing completion.  If I was a cynic.

The problem with paying for anything upfront is that you surrender all the power to the seller.  As soon as you hand over your money, you’re at their mercy.  That’s especially true in a hot market like Vancouver area real estate, where so many people are clambering to get in because they’ve been convinced that they have to.  Once they’re hooked on the idea of buying and hand over their money, the dealer knows they really want it and toys with them for a while.  Then, one day he says, “The thing is, the price has gone up”.  Jonesin’ for their reward, the buyers cough up more money.

Any junkie can tell you that you should never pay the dealer up front.  Maybe he’ll come back, maybe he won’t.  Maybe the quality won’t be what you expected.  And, who knows if what he charges you today is what he’ll charge you tomorrow?  But they do pay up front, because they’re junkies.

This post appears in The Carnival of Consumer Focused Real Estate.

Self-Serving Faith

January 26, 2008

I was having a coffee at a sidewalk cafe on Granville Street one day, when I noticed a couple of girls a couple of tables over.  I noticed one in particular, actually.  A pretty, dark haired girl in one of those knitted jacket things.  The attraction didn’t last long, though.

She may have noticed me noticing her.  Maybe not.  Anyway, she then said to her friend, loud enough for me to hear, “You know what I pray for?  I pray that the creator gets my dad to buy me a condo.”  Sigh…  Suddenly, I didn’t feel like giving her a demonstration of just how charming I can be.

Disappointment aside, this merely demonstrated – again – that faith is often accompanied by ulterior motives.  Praying for material gain and comfort.  Nothing new there.  Mundane.  Common.

Her lack of sincerity also made me think that many of the people who had suddenly declared themselves believers after George Bush was elected weren’t genuine.  They were just going with the flow.  Taking the path of least resistance.  Following the crowd, like sheep.  You can see how they could blend in with the full-time believers so easily.  Come join our flock…

Some people are followers and others identify with and emulate authority figures.  They crave power and authority so they take on its look and stance.  When Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., my father wore cardigans.  During Lee Iaccoca’s high profile reign at Chrysler, he wore similar glasses.  If the current emperor talks of faith and god, many people will agree, to be like him.

I question the numbers of the truly faithful.  I think a lot of people hold onto half-hearted belief because thinking for themselves and taking personal responsibility is too much effort.  Either they already have enough on their plates with work and survival or they’re just too lazy.  They’ll make do with a boxed solution, even if it’s imperfect.  It’s convenience over quality.  A replacement system will probably have to be neatly packaged and easily consumable for them to go along with it.

Then there is another kind of person who holds onto what they don’t truly believe – the bet hedger.  I used to see a long-legged girl who confessed, “It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but I believe just in case I’m wrong.”  I guess the fires of hell are a powerful enough image to intimidate even sound logic and common sense.  Faith, it seems, is an investment.

Then again, maybe I’m just being stupid.  Maybe I should have shown the pretty girl at the cafe just how charming I can be, and let her father buy us a condo.  Sigh…  I’m too good for my own good.