Each year around this time, I am often asked what will happen to Vancouver's new-home market in the coming year. I always give the same answer: one cannot generalize about this since there are so many markets, differentiated by location, type of housing and type of buyer.
Having said that, I would like to offer a few observations and predictions of what might lie ahead.
In 2014, we can expect some locations and housing forms to be over-built, while others will not keep up with demand. Potentially controversial projects are likely to be put on hold, especially in the latter months, since this is a municipal election year.
However, alternative forms of housing common in other cities around the world are likely to become more popular in Vancouver.
For example, we can expect increased interest in individually-owned row houses that are not part of a condominium building, for the following reasons: Many people downsizing from a single-family house are not yet ready for condo living, but are seeking the outdoor spaces and other amenities that a row house can offer.
Many municipal planners consider row houses to be a higher-density form of housing that can fit nicely within single-family neighbourhoods.
By Dec. 13, most B.C. strata corporations had to prepare depreciation reports setting out how they planned to finance the repair and maintenance of their condominiums' common property. Since owners of many older projects will likely have to pay special assessment fees, there is likely to be increased interest in alternatives to condominium living.
In 2014, we may start to see more developments comprising smaller detached homes, duplexes and coach houses. The demand for this type of housing is greater than ever, as evidenced by the success of "pocket neighbourhood" developments in the Pacific Northwest and of cottage-style infill developments in and around Metro.
Since many municipal planners and politicians now seem to be more accepting of lower density alternatives to single family housing, expect more.
Next year, highrise buildings will continue to rise higher and higher, especially in urban centres and near important transit stations. However, in many neighbourhoods, community opposition will compel developers to pursue alternative forms of higher-density housing.
I anticipate more Toronto-style "stacked townhomes", especially in locations that appeal to younger buyers. While this form of housing requires many stairs, stacked towns, as they are sometimes called, can offer greater affordability. An additional attraction is that each home has its own front door to the street. Since the city of Vancouver and other municipalities are encouraging this type of housing in new neighbourhood plans, expect it to gain popularity in the coming year.
Also look out for six-storey wood-frame apartments. Although it has been four years since the B.C. Building Code was amended to allow taller wood-frame construction, the development industry has been slow to respond. However, with increasing municipal support for more intensive land use, especially along arterial roads, and strong demand for rental housing and affordable home ownership, developers are likely to embrace this building type in the new year.
In many municipalities, planners will more aggressively promote European-style mid-rise developments up to eight or 10 storeys, similar to those being built along Cambie Street. This form of housing has not generally been popular in Vancouver, due in part to higher construction costs when compared to low-rise wood-frame or highrise construction. However, as mid-rise development becomes more common, construction costs will likely come down as they have in other cities.
In some locations, expect to see highrise buildings capped at 12 storeys. This is the height limit in Kerrisdale Village, and many architects and planners believe that with good landscaping, well-designed towers at this height can fit in with townhouses, low-rise apartments and nearby single-family neighbourhoods.
In 2013, laneway housing gained in popularity along Vancouver's lanes. In the coming year, expect other municipalities to also approve coach houses and backyard cottages on single-family properties that may not have a lane. Hopefully, some municipalities will allow these smaller houses to be sold, as well as rented, especially when located on corner lots.
Last year, we saw considerable interest in container and modular housing, and this is likely to continue. However, we could also see another innovative housing form - floating homes. A new floating home community was approved in Delta in 2013 and anyone who has been to Amsterdam knows that this can be a most attractive form of housing.
Regardless of the location or form of housing, one thing we can expect in the coming year is more interesting and innovative architectural designs. Many Vancouverites have become tired of what they see as standardized plans and repetitive, boring grey and green towers. They want more interesting shapes, a greater use of colour and materials, and more landscaping on the sides and roofs of buildings. Expect developers and their architects to tempt new-home buyers with more exciting designs.
Finally, to those hoping the coming year will bring declining home prices, do not hold your breath. As our region becomes increasingly attractive and livable, expect a continued influx of immigrants from around the world and aging baby boomers from other parts of Canada.
While we would like to think that Vancouver can be both livable and affordable, the reality is that the more attractive our region becomes, the less likely it is that home prices will fall. One thing we must do is ensure new housing supply keeps up with increased demand.
One way to achieve this is by building more highrises. However, I believe a better solution is a more gentle approach to densification, one with a broader range of housing choices, especially in older single-family neighbourhoods close to transit and amenities.
Time will tell whether my predictions will be right. In the meanwhile, best wishes for a happy, healthy and livable 2014.
Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect, planner, real estate consultant and developer - and a frequent contributor to Westcoast Homes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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