Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year from the Queen Mary

In 1952 my family came to Canada via New York on the Queen Mary. So I was delighted to learn that the ship hosts a very large New Year's Eve party every year. This year is special since 2014 is the 80th anniversary of the ship's first sailing. You can read all the details here http://www.queenmary.com/events/new-years-eve.php

So we're now heading off to the Long Beach waterfront to celebrate with thousands of people we don't know!  But I know it will be a memorable event.  More to come in 2014. Happy New Year

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vancouver Sun: Going Home in the New Year

I was pleased to once again be invited to share some predictions re: the Vancouver housing market in the coming year. I think this is about the fourth time I've done this, and one of these years I may get something right!  Read on.

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 geller@sfu.ca.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Saturday, December 21, 2013

25 Christmas Quotations: some sweet, some irreverent, some in-between

This year I was once again delighted to be invited to perform at the Roundtable Christmas Luncheon, along with Bard on the Beach's Christopher Gaze and author and CEO Ann Giardini. Last year I recited a politically correct version of T'was the Night Before Christmas; this year I offered the following quotations:

 1.    There are four stages to a man’s life – when he believes in Santa Claus – when he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus – when he is Santa Claus – when he looks like Santa Claus.

2.    There is a remarkable breakdown of taste and intelligence at Christmas time. Mature, responsible grown men wear neckties made of holly leaves and santas and drink alcoholic beverages with raw egg yolks and cottage cheese in them.

3.    People say I don't write books, I make Christmas presents.

4.    Let's just say that on this day, many years ago, a dude was born who most of us think was magic. But others don't, and that's cool. But we're probably right. Amen.'  

5.  Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa. 

6.    Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.' 

7.    The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.

8.    I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.
9.    The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
10.    I once had a boss who reminded me of Santa.  He worked one day a year and spend the other 364 days judging others.

 11.  I put so much thought into deciding what to buy you for Christmas, I was too          late to get it.

12. Office parties: I'd be much more into the office holiday party if my co-workers weren't invited.

12.Anyone who believes that men are the equal of women has never seen a man attempting to wrap a Christmas gift.

13.Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.  

14. Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.

16.The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value. 

17.This past Christmas, I told my girlfriend for months in advance that all I wanted was an Xbox. That's it. Beginning and end of list, Xbox. You know what she got me? A homemade frame with a picture of us from our first date together. Which was fine. Because I got her an Xbox. 

18. Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want - and their kids pay for it.~

19.  For a Jewish guy, I've recorded a lot of Christmas albums. 

20. What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.

 21. In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukkah' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukkah!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the lampost!”

22. I bought my brother some gift-wrap for Christmas. I took it to the Gift Wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know  when to stop unwrapping.

23. I'm flattered you actually think I can afford the things on your holiday wish list.

24. Christmas is the time of year when people of all religions come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

25. God bless us, every one! 

1.Unknown 2.PJ O'rourke  3.Bryce Courtenay  4.Homer Simpson 5.Bart Simpson         6.Washington Irving  7.Joan Rivers  8.Bernard Manning  9.George Carlin 10.Unknown 11.My daughter 12.unknown 13.unknown 14.G.K.Chesterton 15.Dave Barry  16.Charles Dudley Warner  17.Anthony Jeselnik 18.Richard Lamm 19. Barry Manilow 20.Phyllis Diller 21.Dave Barry 22.Steven Wright 23.unknown 24.Bart Simpson 25.Tiny Tim

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Condominiums and Depreciation Reports: What you need to know!

Saturday December 14th 2013 was the deadline by which about half of BC’s 28,000 Strata Corporations were required to prepare Depreciation Reports on the condition of the common areas of their condominium projects, along with a financial plan to repair and maintain the common property.
As someone who has owned and lived in condominiums, and helped purchase a condominium apartment for my daughter, http://gellersworldtravel.blogspot.ca/2011/08/buying-condo-should-you-get-inspection.html I believe this is a very significant legislative change. However, it has received little publicity and few condominium owners know very much about it.
Here is a link to the BC Government website notification: http://www.housing.gov.bc.ca/strata/regs/
Status of Changes to the Strata Property Act and Regulations
Depreciation Reports
Status: In Effect
A depreciation report helps strata corporations plan for the repair, maintenance and replacement of common property, limited common property and common assets.

Strata corporations in British Columbia need to obtain depreciation reports every three years unless they hold an annual 3/4 (three quarter) vote to exempt or have four, or fewer, strata lots. There are different timing requirements for the first depreciation report depending on when the strata corporation was formed.

  • For strata corporations formed on or before December 14, 2011, a depreciation report is required by December 13, 2013.
  • For strata corporations formed after December 14, 2011, a depreciation report is required within 6 months after their second AGM. While the requirement for new strata corporations took effect via an Order in Council dated February 28, 2013, it will take several weeks for the new changes to be reflected in the online version of the strata property regulations.

See Guide12: Depreciation Reports

Further Resources:CHOA (Condominium Home Owners Association) and VISOA (Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association).

There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding this new legislation
For one thing, the legislation allows Strata Councils to opt out of preparing a report by a ¾ vote. However, I am advised by the Condominium Homeowners Association that this may not the case…while they can delay the preparation of the report by voting annually to do so, ultimately it may have to be prepared.  This needs further clarification.
To those Strata Councils who prefer to stick their heads in the sand and not learn about their building condition, I have some more bad news. I am advised that CMHC which insures loans, and some lenders have decided they will not finance mortgages for existing owners or future buyers of condominiums in some projects that have not prepared a Depreciation Report. 
Moreover, while the Depreciation Reports will give a realistic assessment of a building’s condition, and may in some instances reduce the value of a unit, overall, units in buildings without reports will lekely be worth less than comparable units in buildings with reports on file.
A good thing
I believe this new requirement will be a good thing for both condominium owners and future buyers. However, I anticipate a lot of angst as condo owners, especially those in older buildings discover that their buildings are not in as good a condition as they thought they were, and are facing significant special assessments and increases in monthly strata fees.
So if you own a condominium, or thinking of buying a condominium, I would urge you to learn more about this legislation, and whether a project has in fact completed a Depreciation Report. In the meanwhile, my advice is to not buy in a building that is obligated to prepare a report, and hasn’t done so.
Finally, I anticipate other ramifications of this new legislation. Many buyers will chose to sell older units and move into new buildings covered by warranty. Also, many people will seek out alternatives to condominium living, such as individually owned 'fee-simple' row houses or smaller detached houses that are not part of a condominium. This will result in new development opportunities for innovative housing developers.