Every country, and every city, has them; a line in the sand (or more recently the tarmac) which divides two halves that make up the whole. In Vancouver, the line is drawn right down the middle and, although you won't find it officially drawn on any maps, locate Main Street and there you have it! Vancouver is a city of neighborhoods and while each individual neighborhood has its own distinct character the great divide between east and west is the one that matters to Vancouverites! If you're searching for a home in Vancouver, it helps to get the lowdown on the locals and finding the right neighborhood for your condo, townhouse or family home may well depend on the “flavor” of neighborhood you prefer!
What's the Difference?
The divide itself is simple, all neighborhoods west of Main form West Vancouver and those to the east form East Vancouver – the latter is fondly, and less formally, better known to residents as East Van. Homes in Vancouver are traditionally considered to be more expensive west of the line and less so to the East. The line, in this sense is certainly blurring as property prices have risen in East Van, often matching those in West Vancouver. However, the image of the West Side as the more affluent part of the city remains, while East Van still attracts a reputation for being more working/middle class in nature. East Van is also considered to be (historically at least) more culturally diverse than the western part of the city. Stereotypes stick, in many areas of life, and exactly how accurate these distinctions remain today, is certainly a topic that could be debated. Increasing “gentrification” in many East Van neighborhoods has helped boost those real estate prices and social changes have meant that demographics have altered in all of the city's neighborhoods. However, amongst many Vancouverites, whether these stereotypes are true today, both sides of the city are proud of their heritage and continue to acknowledge the culture and historical differences of their own neighborhoods – and do so with enthusiasm!
West and East Vancouver Today
East Van has certainly evolved and today it is also know for its hip, trendy atmosphere and its neighborhoods are all well known for their independent shops, bars and theaters. West Vancouver can certainly compete on shopping and entertainment experiences with a reputation for more Yuppie style culture and bars, and also for some of the highest class shopping experiences in the city, Robson Street in the West End being one particular shopping Mecca. The air of formality still pervades West Side neighborhoods, while a relaxed, chilled approach to life is more typical of East Van. Both sides of the city have an increasingly mixed range of real estate for sale; new developments, particularly luxury condos can be found across the MLS listings, while both areas still have many traditional single family homes and heritage homes. In East Van, increasing numbers of industrial buildings are also being converted into modern urban apartments and condos, adding further to the range of real estate options for Vancouver's home-searchers. One thing that stands out about Vancouver as a whole is the diversity of each community and the strong community spirit and pride to be found in many different parts of the city. Each part may make up the whole but each retains a vibrant identity of its own, making Vancouver a city in which most people should be able to find the perfect home and neighborhood in which to settle!
For those new to Vancouver, the following is a breakdown of Vancouver's neighborhoods:
West Vancouver Neighborhoods:
Downtown (including Yaletown and Gastown)
West Point Grey
East Van Neighborhoods:
Renfrew - Collingwoord
Victoria - Frasierview
Buying a condo in Vancouver means getting to grips with the concept of Strata ownership. For those new to home-ownership – or those buying a condo for the first time – understanding the complexities of strata properties is important. In this guide we look at the basic questions you need to ask when buying a condo in Vancouver.
Minutes and Reports
The Strata Council (a group made up of a number of owners within the Strata) is required to hold regular meetings and minutes for these meetings should be made available to potential buyers. The type of minutes available will include financial statements and those from annual general meetings (AGMs). Also ask to view the by-laws governing the Strata and any recent engineering reports. It's worth while asking to view all of these documents for a period of at least twelve months. In older Vancouver condo buildings consider viewing AGM minutes for a longer period.
Strata corporations governing condo developments in Vancouver and British Columbia have been required to produce “depreciation reports” since 2013. These reports should be produced every three years. For new buildings they must be produced within six months of the second AGM (so approximately within three years of the building's construction). For Strata corporations formed before December 2011 the first report was required by December 2013, with subsequent reports due every three years. Some exemptions apply and developments with four or less units are not required to produce a depreciation report.
The aim of the report is to allow the corporation to plan for upcoming repair and maintenance tasks and should cover an inventory of common property and assets, anticipated maintenance costs and financial forecasts to establish cash flow.
Maintenance and Contingency Funds
Maintenance can be approached in one of two ways – fix the problem when it occurs or by a program of preventative maintenance. The latter usually is the most cost effective solution. Check with the building manager/s as to which approach is used; the better investment in condos is usually where a sound preventative maintenance program is in place.
Strata regulations require that a proportion of the monthly strata fees are placed in a contingency fund to cover the cost of unexpected or urgent repairs. Find out how large this fund is and how it is invested. Compare this information against any details of upcoming repairs or required work covered in AGM's, financial reports, etc. If the funds cannot cover the cost of any work (planned or otherwise) you may be required to pay additional contributions to cover the costs of these extra repairs.
Inspections, Warranties and Reputations.
A home inspector is a must when buying any property and can be essential for condo buyers, in particular, and most lenders will require a home inspection report. Be sure to hire a fully accredited inspector and check that they are able to provide “error and omission” insurance. This will ensure you are covered for any issues which surface after you've bought the property, which should have been highlighted by the inspector. The report should cover the unit itself, common areas and the building structure. Your Realtor should be able to provide information on warranties covering the building and, importantly, may also be able to provide you with information about the developer of the building, including past projects and reputations! This information can be invaluable when making the final decision.
Strata ownership is increasingly popular in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, with a range of developments offering diverse options for those looking for condos in Vancouver. From units designed for individuals and couples to full-size family units new developments are likely to make this form of ownership extremely common. For more detailed information on buying condos in Vancouver the Real Estate Board of Great Vancouver (REBGV) offers an excellent set of guides and consumer information.
Richmond is an expanding city in Greater Vancouver situated on a grouping of small islands in the estuary of the Fraser river and connected to the mainland by a series of bridges. Whether you are searching to buy a traditional home or condo in Vancouver the area has a lot to offer, with an increasingly diverse range of housing. This is supported by the local planning and development plan which aims to provide a wide range of housing to suit the widest range of age, income and families. A large amount of the developments recently completed and in progress include a significant amount of multi-family units close to the city center. With development being a key priority for the city, high quality condos and other housing will continue to be widely available and the city is expected to continue to grow rapidly in terms of population, facilities and services in the coming decade.
Lying only 20 minutes by car from the business center of Vancouver, Richmond is an increasingly popular location for both young professionals seeking condo accommodation and also for working families. Two major freeways and railway lines link Richmond with the neighboring cities on the mainland by a series of bridges and a tunnel. The US border is also within around 20 minutes drive and Vancouver International Airport is only 10 minutes away, located on Sea Island, making Richmond one of the best connected districts within Vancouver. Translink offer a full timetable of buses offering easy links both within the city and the wider area, with new high speed links to downtown Vancouver planned to begin operating in the near future.
Schools and Universities
The city is served by School District 38 which operates a large number of schools and a significant amount of additional educational programs. Kwantlen University College also has one of its four campuses located in Richmond and other further education institutions in Vancouver are easily accessible from the city.
Recreation and Facilities
As you would expect from a city located on an island, many of the recreational opportunities in the area are of an aquatic or maritime nature. In addition, the island is also partly rural, which offers further outdoor activities, including walking, exploring natural wetlands or cycling the accessible dyke trails. In total, there are also over 1200 acres of parks and a number of sporting facilities, health clubs and community centers. The city has two indoor and outdoor aquatic centers, three public piers and a launching site, while there are numerous picnic areas, several golf courses and playing fields. The small historic village of Steveston and the Minoru Chapel in Minoru Park are popular attractions for both residents and visitors alike. In addition, Richmond is well known as a major attraction for its shops. There are six large malls, several warehouse outlets and a popular and well known Auto Mall. Specialists Asian outlets add even further to the attraction and diversity of the shopping experience and, with a wide range of pubs and restaurants, Richmond will not disappoint food lovers. In addition to Minoru Chapel Heritage Site other cultural attractions include a theater, art gallery and museums. Richmond combines all the advantages of city living with the a relaxed style of life and easy access to recreational facilities.
Some homes have seen better days than others and one of their big advantages is that in the Vancouver homes market (perpetually buoyant it seems) they offer a great (low) price and potential investment for hard pressed buyers in the sellers' market. If you're looking to buy homes in the Vancouver area, you may well be tempted by the prospect of a project. But before you sign the contracts here are a few guidelines that will help you to achieve success with renovation.
“Heritage” is a word that is often used to describe older buildings – in some cases “old wreck” works too. Designated homes in the greater Vancouver area are subject to strict, or at least some, regulations when it comes to making changes to them. However, heritage is used by many sellers to attract buyers. If the home is not yet listed it may prove a better prospect (with less bureaucracy to work your way through) than if it is. A big plus is that you can potentially have it listed (and further increase the value) once you're done. For more information on heritage homes visit the local municipalities website – a list can be found on the BC Government site.
Research, Research, Research
Research is key to a successful renovation project. Visit any renovated properties you can; friends, family, colleagues or simply homes in Vancouver that you've seen under renovation. In the latter case the exhausted, prematurely gray-haired owners will be glad to share their experience with you! Also consider your lifestyle and possible future changes in order to choose the right home for now and for the coming years. The Renovation Council of Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association (GVHBA) can offer advice on the feasibility of a project and contractors who have experience of similar projects.
Think about, and try to acquire, funding for the project. Renovations will obviously require more cash than simply the funds to buy the property. Discuss your needs and options with lenders; many will have specialist mortgages available for renovation projects – as with any financial project, shop around as widely as possible. Additional options for funding include personal loans, equity loans or loans from relatives.
The Right Team
The GVHBA, mentioned above can provide a list of professional renovators, while others who have renovated their Vancouver home should be able to make recommendations. Make a long-list of possible contractors and then arrange to meet them. From the list, pick the three that you feel have the right experience and who you feel you can get along with (this is very important as you may have to spend a lot of time working closely together). Ask this short list to provide quotes for a full design-build service. Specialist contractors will normally be able to provide staff and expertise for both aspects of the work.
When it comes to choosing a renovator don't simply choose the cheapest; a low bid can suggest the contractor hasn't fully understood the details of the work. Misunderstandings early on in the project can turn into a much bigger bills once the work is underway and the contractor has finally grasped those details. Once you have a contractor you'll need a contract! Make sure this is as comprehensive as possible; even the smallest details, fees and timescales should be included. This means that both of you have realistic expectations and also ensures you can manage the process smoothly. Before you sign the final contract read it in detail and be sure you are fully happy with it. Ideally engage a lawyer to check the contract – if something is missed out it will be your responsibility not the contractors.
Planning ahead is essential – where and/or how will you live during the renovation? If you are living on site you'll need to discuss practicalities with your renovator. When will water and power be available, or when do you need them to be? Major work may need to be organized in stages if you intend to live on site, in order to retain some valuable space. If you're living off site where will you live? Rental accommodation adds to the cost but living with family can add to the stress! Making the right decisions from the start can help to make the process smoother.
Once the work begins try to avoid changing your plans – even small changes can mean a nightmare for the renovator and spiraling costs for you! The contract should be detailed and moving away from this can cause problems. Changes also often equal delays, which can be frustrating for both you and your renovator.
A Renovation project can allow you to create the home you truly want and, although it can be a difficult experience, it can also be a very fulfilling one. Homes in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland continue to be increasingly valuable – and a renovation project can help you to maximize your re-sale value.
It's common sense to make your home as attractive as possible when you're planning to sell but what's attractive to you and (hopefully) the hordes of home buyers about to make their way through your door may be two – or several hundred different things. So how do you find a balance that will please (just about) everyone? Here are our top tips for presenting your Vancouver home for sale.
This may seem so obvious that it's patronizing but most of us live busy lives and day-to-day living is not always possible in an impeccably clean house! Before viewings begin invest in some plastic storage boxes (they may come in useful during the move) and tidy away clutter. Store it under beds, in garages or loft spaces. If there are items you might need, keep them handy, but out of sight!
Personal and family photo's make a place feel like home – your home. Replace these with less personal images to allow viewers to feel that the place is homely, but could be their home. Too many personal images and other decor have been found to make it hard for people to envisage the house as anybody but yours!
Once you've tidied check for areas of paintwork that need touching up. If potential buyers see that they won't have to redecorate when they move in they'll most likely be more interested in buying! You can completely re-paint if you like or simply refresh tired or scuffed areas.
If you are selling a single family home with garden frontage be sure to give the exterior a tidy too. Weed drives, cut lawns, tidy flower beds or pots. Any peeling paint or exterior damage should be restored. First impressions count when it comes to buying a home and you don't want potential buyers to have given up before they walk through the door.
Light and Airy Homes
Bright, light homes decorated in neutral colors are not to everybody's taste but they make the best backdrop for imagining potential. The interior of your home should feel as bright as possible. If you already have light, bright wall colors and coverings this should be fine, if not, consider a more extensive paint-job. Fresh, muted yellows and blues work well and if you have dark curtains or blinds consider swapping them for lighter, brighter tones.
When the viewings begin try to let as much natural light into your home. Open curtains and blinds and leave doors open where they let in extra light. This adds not only light but a sense of space to the property. If you're home is blessed with good, natural light, don't forget to point it out as you show people round. If you have smaller rooms, with less light, place mirrors opposite windows to create a sense of more space and to reflect more light into the room!
Forget baking bread, freshly ground coffee or other strong smells. Although these are supposed to make your home more attractive they can distract people from the matter in hand! Use light, fresh scents such as lemon or pine, or simply place fresh flowers around your home, to add a pleasant welcoming fragrance and to ensure viewers don't suddenly realize they're hungry and need to rush off to eat!
New Westminster has the distinction of being the oldest city in western Canada. In addition, the city's name was chosen personally by Queen Victoria which has earned it the nickname of the “Royal City”. Justifiably the residents and authorities of New Westminster are proud of their heritage and history and the city is well known for its high number of heritage homes and buildings. However, in recent years a strong program of redevelopment has led to an increasing variety in the types of housing available in New Westminster. From those traditional dwellings, to modern, luxury condo developments, New Westminster has a lot to offer for those searching for homes in Vancouver. The city is located on the Fraser River and the waterfront is a particular focus for many of the innovative new residential and business developments.
New Westminster is particularly well served by local and national transport networks, another reason that it is increasingly popular for those searching for homes in Greater Vancouver. The city lies adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway, which connects it directly to Vancouver to the west and also eastwards with the rest of Canada. Commuting to Surrey, Richmond and Delta is facilitated by the Alex Fraser Bridge. The SkyTrain service operates three stops in New Westminster making Vancouver accessible via a short 25 minute commute – SkyTrain also links the city with Burnaby and Surrey and planned extension to the network will link New Westminster with Coquitlam and Lougheed by summer of 2016. For more information on transport links see the Translink and SkyTrain websites.
Schools and Universities
New Westminster is served by School District 40 which currently provides eight elementary schools, two middle schools (with an additional middle school set to open in 2016) and one secondary school. As the city is rapidly expanding an extensive program is being undertaken to increase school facilities and to replace older buildings with state of the art facilities. Further information on these improvements can be found on the District's website. Privately run educational institutions are also available in the city (see the FISA website) while post-secondary institutions operate within the city – Douglas Community College and the Justice Institute of British Columbia.
Recreation and Facilities
New Westminster offers a wide range of facilities and offers a long established, vibrant and diverse range of recreational and shopping facilities. The popular Westminster Quay Public Market offers a range of individual, unique shops and an excellent range of pubs, restaurants and food outlets. Other locations within the city also offer plenty of small shops to serve day-to-day needs while in the Uptown area, major shopping outlets can be found, including the Royal City Center Mall which offers all the services of a major city mall. There are a wide range of opportunities for leisure and entertainment within the city which is host to seven indoor recreation facilities, including two ice-rinks and the excellent Canada Games Pool. In addition, there are ten public parks plus the attractive waterfront esplanade and a number of smaller local community parks. With history and culture being a strong focus within the city, a wide program of events is held throughout the year and, in addition, the city hosts three theaters at Douglas College, the Massey Theater and the Vagabond Playhouse.
Buying your own home for the first time can an exciting step but also a daunting one. In this series of blog posts we break the process down into a simple step by step guide; in this first post we look at the factors you should consider before you make the decision to buy your first home.
Step One – Before You Buy
The decision to buy your first home is a massive financial commitment but it's also a huge emotional investment. For many people it is the culmination of a long-term dream, but before you take the leap and make those financial and emotional commitments it pays to be sure that homeownership is the right step to take and that now is the right time for you.
There's a long list of differences between owning and renting your home and pros and cons on each side. Some of the differences are general and some will be personal to you. In order to decide if it's the right time to stop renting and start owning you should consider the pros and cons in detail.
Firstly consider the following questions:
How financially stable is your life at present – and what are the likely future prospects?
Are you able to manage your own finances effectively and efficiently?
Have you considered the “hidden” costs of homeownership? These include both the cost of maintenance and the time that these can take up.
Using these questions as a framework consider the pros and cons of both renting and owning your home. List both and use the resulting lists to decide if now is the right time in your life to make the transition from rental accommodation to your own home.
Those Hidden Costs
One of the biggest factors that many people over look are the hidden costs in home-ownership. Making a sound, accurate monthly budget that accurately reflects your current situation will help to assess how much spare income is available to deal with these costs. When you have that budget consider the actual cost of owning your home. The most obvious cost involved in homeownership is the monthly mortgage payment – this may in fact be less than your current rental. However, you should also factor in utility costs and property insurance – this latter is a cost that you'll probably not encounter when renting.
Maintenance costs are also another factor to consider; while renting you may not have to consider these at all but even basic maintenance tasks will become your responsibility once you become a home-owner. If you searching for condos for sale this costs may be relatively low but if your dream home includes houses or homes with gardens or land you'll need to consider the additional cost in time, materials or labor that these will include. For this aspect of ownership you should consider not only your financial readiness but also your lifestyle – do you have the time to devote to your home that will be necessary, or can your budget stretch to pay for maintenance work?
Ready for the Real World of Home-ownership?
If you decide to take the leap into home-ownership don't be afraid to discuss the issues above with your Realtor. Top Realtors will be able to offer information and advice on many of the issues relating to ownership – including the likely level of insurance costs and the amount of time-commitment different types of property will require. This type of information can help to make the transition from renting to owning smoother and ultimately help you to find the home that is perfect for you.