By G Marion Johnson
Originally published in the Vancouver Sun, March 25, 2017

If there’s one subject that dominates local headlines in Metro Vancouver, it’s real estate. With so much happening in the market, it can be hard to make sense of it all.

That’s especially true for home buyers, who may be as overwhelmed as they are excited about making the biggest purchase of their lives.

The long-term effects of last year’s government interventions into the market won’t be fully known for some time. And despite those efforts to temper escalating prices, demand remains consistent with long-term trends while supply is limited.

In fact, February 2017 had the lowest number of homes listed for sale compared to the same month since 2003. New listings for detached, attached and apartment properties in Metro Vancouver totalled 3,666, a decrease of nearly 37 per cent compared to February 2016.

Residential home sales in the region in February 2017, meanwhile, were down by close to 42 per cent from the record-breaking activity one year earlier, but remained in line with the long-term historical average for the month.

Be prepared

To gain a competitive edge when it comes to making a successful offer, you need to be prepared going in and work with your local REALTOR®.

“You want to have your ducks lined up: be pre-approved for a mortgage so you know what price point you’re looking at and be crystal clear on financing, what’s available to you and what you can afford,” said Dan Morrison, past president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV). “The important thing for buyers is to find a Realtor who specializes in your neighbourhood and in the type of product you’re looking for. A Realtor who’s acting for you understands the nuances of your situation and will help you manage expectations and get the home you want at the price you can afford.”

Local markets

Although finding a house with a white-picket fence within a five-minute commute downtown is simply not a reality for most buyers, it’s important to understand that Metro Vancouver is not the homogenous market it’s often portrayed as being in the media.

“Every neighbourhood is different, every buyer and seller is different, every product is different,” Morrison said. “There are lots of opportunities within Metro Vancouver."

For example, the price of condominiums today ranges between $375,000 and $650,000 depending on size and location.

Townhomes range between $500,000 and $900,000 in the region.

Detached homes in the City of Vancouver are at the high end of the market. Recent activity has pushed homes on Vancouver’s Westside above $3.4 million.

It’s a different story in neighbouring communities. The benchmark price of a detached home in Maple Ridge is $710,400; in Ladner the benchmark price is $947,900; in Port Coquitlam the benchmark price is $860,000.

The region appears to be heading into a more typical spring market compared to the past two atypical years, said REBGV President Jill Oudil. However, it’s still not uncommon for buyers to find themselves up against multiple offers, particularly on condos and townhomes.

Realtor resources

Realtors are trained negotiators who can help buyers who may be swayed by the emotional aspect of purchasing a home and the intensity of bidding wars.

“Especially for the first-time buyer, it can be quite stressful,” said Oudil. “A Realtor can guide you through that process. It doesn’t always work out the way the buyer wants it to, but you’ve just got to keep plugging away at it.”

Realtors have exclusive information and resources to help buyers put together a winning offer. While the public has access to www.realtor.ca (formerly mls.ca) to view basic property information for any property listed on the Multiple Listing Service ® (MLS®), the most extensive real estate listing website in Canada, only Realtors have access to MLS® itself and the detailed historical housing information it contains.

Planning ahead helps the process tremendously. If you’re contemplating buying a home next year, now is the time to start looking.

“Start going online and dropping by open houses, so that when you’re ready to begin the process, you’re knowledgeable already,” Morrison said.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth remains a reliable way of finding a Realtor to work with. “Talk to your friends, family, neighbours and coworkers and get the names of Realtors they would recommend,” Morrison said. “Interview them; get them to give you a full presentation of how they work with their buyers and make sure they’re available when you’re available. Make sure they understand your situation, your requirements, and be totally honest with them.”

That last point is something Oudil can’t emphasize enough. As she tells her own clients, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

“I think it’s important to work with someone you’re really comfortable with, who can guide and advise you through the whole process,” Oudil said. “Realtors care about their clients and are in it with you for the long term.”