Archive for March, 2013

$380-million penthouse in Monaco is world’s most expensive condo

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Monaco could soon become home to the world’s most expensive penthouse. Spanning 33,000-square-feet and situated on the top floors of a 49-story building in Monaco, this penthouse is now the world’s most expensive, with an asking price of $380-million. It features six bedrooms and a two-story water slide that goes directly into an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Prominent names are involved in the project which was dreamed up by architect Alexander Giraldi in a style inspired by belle epoque design. The responsibility for the apartment interiors has been given to the Alberto Pinto agency, while grounds are being done by landscape architect Jean Mus.

The construction started back in 2009 and is expected to be complete by July 2014.

Soaring to 170 metres on its completion in 2014, Tour Odeon will be the tallest building in Monaco and one of the tallest residential towers in Europe.

A limited number of luxurious private residences are available for purchase within the tower benefitting from unprecedented 360-degree views over the sea and the Principality, to be enjoyed through floor-to-ceiling windows and from expansive private terraces.

Residences will feature the very highest quality finishes and fixtures, including home automation and fully-equipped kitchens and bathrooms. Alberto Pinto, one of Europe’s foremost interior designers, has been commissioned to design and decorate interiors of exceptional elegance and comfort.

Owners will benefit from a comprehensive array of on-site services and amenities including spa and leisure facilities, state-of-the-art business centre, select retail boutiques and 24-hour concierge.

• 1,001 – 7,000 sq.ft.
• Leisure Facilities
• 24-hour security
• Balcony
• New Build
• Water View
• Swimming Pool
• Terrace
• International Development
• Freehold

Source: Frank/Sky News

The reasons why Vancouver needs to know foreign ownership numbers

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Fear and resentment simmer just below the surface for most Metro Vancouverites. Yet the issue that worries so many has mostly come up against public silence. Until now.

A recent survey by the respected Vancouver Foundation found three out of four Metro Vancouver residents who had an opinion agreed with the statement: “There is too much foreign ownership of real estate here.”

And Simon Fraser University explored this hot-button issue Wednesday evening in Vancouver through a panel discussion at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre, which quickly sold out.

The speakers did what they could to respond to heated discussion of the growing housing dilemma in Vancouver, which Demographia has ranked the second most unaffordable city out of 325 around the world.

The average cost of a single-family detached home has jumped in Vancouver to $1 million. Meanwhile, median incomes have barely budged for decades. Only Hong Kong is more expensive.

“Housing affordability in B.C. remains poor and worsening,” says RBC senior economist Robert Hogue.

Vancouver’s unaffordable housing prices, he said, “depend on a constant flow of imported money.”

Young wanna-be homeowners are being frozen out of the city of Vancouver, as well as the North Shore, Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby and elsewhere.

Local businesses, hospitals, organizations and universities can’t recruit top candidates because even skilled professionals can’t afford to live here.

Like Hogue, many say the region’s stratospheric prices are being heated up by real estate investors and speculators. Many are wealthy non-Canadians simply looking for a safe place to park their money.

What to do about this affordability crisis?

It’s a complex question. But one of the strongest factors working against coming up with a working solution is there is no solid data on which to base a strategy.

Unlike most countries, cities and jurisdictions around the world, neither Metro Vancouver, British Columbia nor Canadian government agencies keep public records on foreign ownership of real estate.

For some unstated reason, B.C. public officials are unwilling to learn from what has been done for decades in diverse political places — such as Florida, Switzerland, Austria, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Alberta, Denmark, Japan, Indonesia, Bali, Thailand, Australia, Turkey, Singapore and Beijing.

Indeed, these jurisdictions do not only collect data on foreign ownership. They have brought in various taxation methods to restrict property speculation and foreign ownership, so as to reduce investor demand. That’s what specialist say drives up prices and squeezes out locals.

Sadly, when British Columbians are forced by politicians to operate in a vacuum about rates of foreign ownership, we are not able to fully back up our opinions in this debate — which often pits homeowners and the real estate industry against young people and renters.

One side in the dispute doesn’t want to discourage foreign investment, admitting they like the out-of-country real estate profits. Some of them add that condos not filled by offshore owners can be rented out.

The other camp talks about how hard-working people deserve the chance to own a home. And they lament that untold Metro Vancouver homes sit largely empty, without residents who would be contributing more strongly to the neighbourhood, the wider economy and the tax base.

If we are to have an authentic dialogue about these competing arguments, we need to press governments to start gathering the facts. Fast.

So far B.C. politicians have shown no willingness to gather accurate data. As elected officials who are supposed to answer to voters, their inaction seems irresponsible.

Perhaps they fear being labelled racist. But that doesn’t make sense, for many reasons.

The foreign investor debate is not about immigrants to Canada buying homes for themselves. And it should make no difference to government officials collecting property data whether non-Canadian investors come from Seattle or Dubai, Paris or Singapore.

In addition, concern about foreign ownership clearly cuts across Metro’s ethnic spectrum. The Vancouver Foundation survey, for instance, found residents who speak Chinese in their homes, by a margin of almost three to one, also agree “there is too much foreign ownership of property here.”

So far there have been only a handful of public figures willing to openly air this burning issue. They include Peter Ladner, former Non-Partisan Association councillor and a current fellow of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue.

“Because our housing prices are around 10 times median income – with five times being ‘severely unaffordable’ — potential newcomers to the region stay away and the valuable workers move away,” writes Ladner.

“If we are really serious about affordability in Vancouver, we would be looking at more homes for more people and fewer homes for investors and speculators.”

Ladner is supported by Sandy Garossino, a prominent businesswoman and arts philanthropist. Andy Yan is another weighing in, trying to figure out the extent of foreign investment, and empty dwellings, in Metro Vancouver.

But Yan, who spoke at the forum sponsored by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and the SFU City Program, would be the first to admit he has had to use desperate measures to try to collect any sort of information on foreign ownership.

Random stories, from neighbours or realtors, are not enough, suggests Yan, who has been consulting for Bing Thom Architects and a committee of the city of Vancouver.

Wittily, Yan explains the research challenge: “The plural of anecdote is not ‘data.’”

To determine the extent of foreign ownership, Yan also admits it’s not entirely reliable to track the addresses to which B.C. property assessment reports are sent. Nor is it really dependable to determine if condos are vacant by measuring how much electricity they use. Which he has tried.

What’s stopping politicians from collecting proper data?

If scores of jurisdictions around the world, including in struggling developing countries, are able to collect solid information about foreign ownership of real estate, why can’t it to be done in our rich, technologically sophisticated province?

Hong Kong is just one of many places getting serious about the problem of foreign ownership. As Ladner has pointed out, Hong Kong officials have discovered that, since 2009, “half of new luxury apartments purchased are never occupied. Is this where Vancouver is heading?”

Foreign ownership of residential property is a divisive issue, which cuts to the heart of the hopes and dreams of most Canadians. Politicians, at the municipal, provincial and federal level, need to respond to it in the way of scientists.

Faced with important questions, good scientists and academics don’t just cast aspersions about someone else’s character. They get serious about collecting evidence. Then they move to solutions.

Only by checking the facts can our society creatively move forward for the benefit of as many Canadian residents as possible.

Source: Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun

How many Vancouver homes are owned by investors?

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Nearly a quarter of condos in Vancouver are empty or occupied by non-residents in some dense areas of downtown, a signal that investors play a significant role in the city’s housing market.

And the city overall has a much higher rate of empty apartments and houses than other Canadian cities, with a rate closer to places like New York and San Francisco at the height of their mortgage crisis in 2010.

Downtown, the rate is so high that it’s as though there were 35 towers at 20 storeys apiece – empty.

That’s the latest discovery that adjunct UBC planning professor Andrew Yan made when he analyzed 2011 census numbers to try to add more information to the contentious debate over whether Vancouver is turning into a high-end resort or offshore investors’ holding tank.

He revealed those numbers Wednesday night, as a capacity crowd turned out to listen to speakers on a panel at SFU Woodward’s talk about “foreign investment in Vancouver real estate.”

In all, the city of Vancouver appears to have about 7,500 more vacant housing units than what would be expected in most other Canadian cities. For Metro Vancouver, there are around 15,000 to 20,000 more.

That sign of high vacancies and non-resident-owned units, which contradict some other studies and assurances that Vancouver is not being flooded with investors, should give the city pause, analysts say.

“What kind of community are you living in if there are that many empty? For a city to have that kind of vacancy, it’s like cancer,” said Richard Wozny, a real estate consultant, during an interview Wednesday. “It distorts density and it’s delaying the impact. It raises the question ‘Are we over-building?’”

Mr. Yan, who specified that it’s not possible to know exactly why so many apartments were empty, said data indicates Vancouver is creating neighbourhoods that appear to be very dense, but actually don’t have an active full-time population.

That gives a skewed picture of, for example, the amount of commercial activity they can support.

In Coal Harbour, where up to one in four condos is empty in the tower-dominated waterfront neighbourhood between Stanley Park and the downtown convention centre, the scattered shops in the area often struggle to stay in business. By contrast, the West End, which has a low rate of empty residential units, is bounded by three streets – Davie, Denman, and Robson – that are packed with busy small shops and restaurants.

Mr. Yan said that the high numbers of empty apartments don’t prove there’s a problem with foreign investors, but they do indicate that Vancouver has a large proportion of general investor buyers, be they offshore or Canadian.

Housing analyst Tsur Somerville, director of UBC’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said the data he has seen also indicates that Vancouver built more housing in the 2006-2011 period than the number of new households that were added to the city’s ranks.

That means investors. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as those units are occupied, said Mr. Somerville, also on the panel.

“The problem is vacant units since that’s demand for real estate without housing people.”

Mr. Yan’s analysis entailed isolating the census data on dwellings that showed up as either “unoccupied” or occupied “by a foreign resident and/or by temporarily present persons” on Census Day 2011, which was May 10.

“These units could be non-resident occupied because their occupants were just away for the Census Day, between rental tenants, or moving in a just-opened building, but there is also a chance that they are someone’s pied-à-terre, vacation home or empty investment holding,” observed Mr. Yan.

In the city of Vancouver, the rate of those kinds of dwellings stood at 7.7 per cent overall, with some parts of the downtown as high as 23 per cent. In the city of Toronto, the rate was 5.4 per cent; in Calgary, 5 per cent.

If Vancouver’s “non-resident” category had the same rate as Calgary’s, it would have had only about 16,500 empty units on Census Day – the level to be expected in a regular city, where some part of the housing stock is always going to be empty for one reason or another. Instead, more than 22,000 units showed up in that category. An analysis for the whole Lower Mainland shows that it has between 15,000 and 20,000 more empty units, proportionally, than the Calgary or Toronto metropolitan regions.

Source: Frances Bula, Globe and Mail

Will Canada’s housing market crash? Unlikely says new report

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

A slowdown in Canada’s housing market will continue through 2013 and years of stagnation may follow, but no crash is likely because demographic trends will support demand in the medium term, a report by Scotiabank said on Monday.

The report by Canada’s third-largest bank said that home sales have already dropped more than 10% from spring 2012, with prices leveling off but not yet falling except in particularly hard-hit markets.

Housing, which slowed but did not crash as a result of the global financial crisis, helped sustain Canada’s economy through much of 2010 to 2012 but is now starting to slide just as the U.S. housing sector has begun a clear recovery.

Scotiabank said the housing slowdown will trim a quarter of a percentage point from Canada’s economic growth in 2013 and 2014, while the U.S. housing recovery is adding half a percentage point to annual growth rates there.

While Canadian home sales may continue to slump, the report said, prices will likely remain above year-ago levels until at least the second half of 2013, and will not drop as dramatically as they did in the United States.

Scotiabank senior economist Adrienne Warren said she expects a decline in prices of around 5% but that the drop will likely play out over the next couple of years rather than happen quickly.

She also said demographics, including steady immigration and the preference of baby boomers to remain in their homes, will support housing demand.

“Contrary to some dire predictions, population aging will not fuel a demographically induced sell-off in Canadian real estate. However, an aging population does point to a lower level of housing turnover, sales and listings,” Warren said in the report, the bank’s annual real estate outlook.

The report said today’s seniors are healthier, wealthier and living longer than previous generations, and attached to their homes, making them less likely to sell in a down market since many will not need to tap into their principal residence to finance retirement.

Warren said immigration, which adds some 250,000-300,000 people to Canada’s population every year, will increasingly be the dominant source of new household formation. And while immigrants typically rent on arrival in Canada, they seek home ownership after about five years and their rates of homeownership approach the 70% rate of native-born Canadians after 10 years.

Immigration is most likely to support house prices in big cities, Warren said. That should help put a floor under the market in Toronto and Vancouver, which had the hottest markets prior to the slowdown.

“Relative to their Canadian-born counterparts, immigrant households are more likely to reside in large and mid-sized urban centers, which could fuel relatively stronger housing demand and prices in those areas,” Warren said.

Source: Andrea Hopkins, Reuters

Which are the world’s most expensive real estate markets?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

New York is the lone U.S. city to land in the top 10 most expensive residential real estate markets in the world, according to a new report from Knight Frank.

But with luxury homes in New York costing anywhere from $2,030 to $2,240 per square foot, it’s only about half as expensive as the most expensive housing market in the world: Monaco. There, luxury homes can cost $5,350 to $5,920 per square foot. Monaco, which does not charge a personal income tax, was particularly popular with Russian buyers over French markets, according to the report.

Luxury real estate prices there increased 2 percent year over year. Prices in 2012 jumped the most in Indonesia, where they increased 38 percent in Jakarta and 20 percent in Bali.

The number of wealthy people in the world is also growing, and set to increase quickly in the next decade, according to the report.

The number of people worldwide worth $30 million or more increased by almost 8,700, or 5 percent, in 2012, and their number is set to increase 50 percent in the next 10 years, according to Knight Frank’s forecasts.

The following are the top 10 priciest housing markets in the world and the average cost per square foot in U.S. dollars, according to the report:

Monaco: $5,350 to $5,920
Hong Kong: $4,570 to $5,050
London: $3,890 to $4,300
Geneva: $2,720 to $3,010
Paris: $2,350 to $2,600
Singapore: $2,340 to $2,580
Moscow: $2,040 to $2,260
New York: $2,030 to $2,240
Sydney: $2,020 to $2,230
Shanghai: $1,820 to 2,020

Other U.S. cities rounding out the top 20 list were Miami at number 13 (priced between $1,300 to $1,440 per square foot) and Los Angeles at number 15 (priced between $1,210 to $1,340 per square foot).

Source: Realtor Mag/Business Insider

Does Vancouver’s real estate market mirror the Chinese economy?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Vancouver’s housing market fortunes closely mirror trends in the Chinese economy, according to an analysis by an economist with the Conference Board of Canada.

Robin Wiebe says his number crunching has found that there are strong links between home sales, price growth and housing starts in Vancouver and the overall health of the economy in China.

Wiebe made the same comparison with the Toronto housing market and found that Chinese gross domestic product figures were linked to growth in that city’s housing sales, but not to price or starts. GDP is the market value of all goods and services produced in a country.

All aspects of the Vancouver housing market and economic growth in China move together and are statistically significant, Wiebe said.

“It’s another piece in a puzzle,” he said by phone from Ottawa on Monday. “It’s evidence that the Chinese economy moves with various Vancouver real estate variables. It’s another piece of evidence that supports the link between Vancouver and China.”

In the Hot Topics in Economics blog on the Conference Board of Canada website, Wiebe wrote that the effect of China’s economic growth on the Vancouver real estate market rivals the effects of three domestic factors: Vancouver’s population growth, changes in employment, and mortgage interest rates.

“The chief implication is that observers need to pay attention to China’s economic health when assessing the outlook for Vancouver’s housing market,” said Wiebe, a senior economist at the Conference Board’s centre for municipal studies.

Determining the extent of foreign ownership of real estate is impossible in Canada. No level of government keeps track of the country of origin of purchasers who often use local buyers as proxies. Wiebe said that in the 1990s, Vancouver’s housing market was relatively sluggish, despite what he called a decent economy and favourable demographics. Annual employment increases averaged 2.3 per cent while population grew at 2.5 per cent. During that same time, average resale prices rose less than three per cent per year, and ended the decade up 24 per cent.

“The market performed much better during the following 10 years,” he said. “Annual sales of existing homes exceeded 36,000 units, a previously unheard-of volume, for five straight years between 2003 and 2007. The average transaction price doubled between 2000 and 2009, with a 20-per-cent spurt in 2006 alone.”

A big contributing factor, he said, was a substantial drop in mortgage interest costs, which helped people buy homes. A five-year-term mortgage, for example, dropped from 13.2 per cent in 1990 to below seven per cent in 1998, before increasing in 1999. By 2009, the five-year rate fell to an average of 5.1 per cent.

Wiebe wrote that China’s economy grew by only 3.8 per cent in 1990, following a 4.1-per-cent increase in 1989. That compares to the previous five years where GDP growth averaged roughly 7.8 per cent.

The 1990s “ended on a weak note with an annual GDP growth of 7.8 per cent in 1998 and 7.6 per cent in 1999. The 2000s were significantly better — annual Chinese GDP growth never dipped below eight per cent.

“Now the pendulum has swung again,” he wrote. “Despite slightly faster growth in employment (2.1 per cent on average in 2010-12) and population (1.6 per cent), along with even lower mortgage interest rates, Vancouver resale volumes fell 23 per cent in 2012 and average resale price dropped 6.4 per cent. One clue to this tepid performance is that China’s real GDP growth fell to a 12-year-low, estimated at only 7.8 per cent, in 2012.

“Statistical analysis confirms the importance of China’s economic health to Vancouver’s housing markets,” he wrote in the blog.

He said his analysis shows that local employment growth is not significantly related to existing home sales, price growth or housing starts.

“This could mean that a substantial proportion of Vancouver real estate purchases do not need local jobs to buy any home (new or existing) and that many do not need a mortgage to buy a new home,” he said. “On the other hand, better economic health in China gives its residents wealth to spend on Vancouver housing.”

Tsur Somerville, a professor at the University of B.C. and director of the Center for Urban Economics and Real Estate at the Sauder School of Business, said a correlation between the Vancouver real estate market and GDP growth in China is not causation.

“It implies that our housing market is driven by what is going on in China,” he said on Monday. “I think there is an element to the fact that changes in world commodity prices are affected by industrial output in China. That certainly affects all of us.”

Somerville said there is no doubt that the Chinese economy and the rest of the world are linked. But he believes bigger factors at play may be the internal market and total immigration from Asia, not just China.

“The house price growth has been stunning in Vancouver since the year 2000,” Somerville said. “I would argue that a decline in interest rates has had a much bigger effect than the growth in Chinese GDP.”

Source: Kevin Griffin, Vancouver Sun

See how Canada’s condo market will benefit from China’s housing crackdown

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The bad news for China’s real estate market could be good news for Canada’s condominium market.

A crackdown on real estate ownership in the world’s most populous county might translate into Chinese citizens looking to move more of their money abroad, with Canada a leading destination.

“Absolutely it will have a positive impact [on the condo sector],” said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist with CIBC World Markets. “If it’s softening now, it will soften less rapidly than otherwise. This is a positive move because some of the money will find its way to Canada.”

The Shanghai Stock Exchange Property Index was off as much as 9.3% following news of the crackdown Monday, which will include increasing down payment requirements on second-home mortgages and tougher implementation of a 20% capital gains tax on property sales.

Cabada’s two largest condo markets — Vancouver and Toronto — can probably use a boost. RealNet Canada Inc. reported last month that new home high-rise sales across the Greater Toronto Area dropped to 686 in January from 744 a year earlier and 1099 in 2011. There has been less pressure on values with the group’s index showing only a 2% increases in condo prices from a year ago on a square foot basis.

In Vancouver, the real estate board for the metro area said last week that sales for existing apartment properties were down 25.5% in February from a year earlier. Prices were also down 3% in that asset class from a year ago.

Ben Myers, vice-president of Urbanation Inc., which does research on the condo sector in Toronto, said the impact of foreign investors remains unclear.

“A lot of foreign investment comes through a subsidiary so there is no way to figure it exactly out,” said Mr. Myers.

By his firm’s estimates, only about 10% to 15% of investors come from abroad and only about 5% of those people have their name on the direct purchase of sale.

“It’s a small amount,” said Mr. Myers about the number of people who might come from China to invest.

Even at a small amount, those people would be welcome in the condo sector, given sales are not quite as robust as past years.

Realtor and developer Brad Lamb says every time there is a crackdown abroad, it’s good for the Canadian market.

“Foreign buyers are trying to move their money to a safer spot for capital preservation. We see that a lot from more politically risky countries,” said Mr. Lamb. “They are looking for hard assets and the condo sector has a track record of increasing prices.”

While Mr. Myers speculated that tighter rules out of China could be bad for the Canadian real estate market if the Chinese government restricts money leaving the country, Mr. Lamb said that might mean foreign buyers are unlikely to sell here.

“There is no way in the world they are going to bring the money back,” said Mr. Lamb. “They’ve done that as a safe haven. You have money in Toronto, you leave it here.”

He said one of the methods of bringing cash into Canada via real estate is to have a student going to school here. Other times, the money is transferred to relatives.

“What makes it attractive is the scale here. We are talking $300,000 to $400,000 condos. There are few places in world you can buy that in that price range and have someone run it,” said Mr. Lamb. “It’s much harder to bring money into other countries. We have a very easy and open pipeline of Chinese money.”

Source: Garry Marr, Financial Post

Happy International Women’s Day!

Friday, March 8th, 2013

To celebrate International Women’s Day, here are some (perhaps) surprising facts about women in today’s world.

The best place to be a woman

It’s Iceland, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2012. The country has claimed the top spot in the report since 2009. Finland, Norway and Sweden round out the top four. (Canada fell three spots to land in 21st place out of 135 countries, one above the United States. What hurts us: the lack of female politicians. The good news: Take a look at the premiers of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut.)

Country with the smallest gender wage gap

Egypt, where the World Economic Forum says the gender wage gap is 18 cents – so women can expect to earn 82 cents for every dollar a man gets.

(Canadian women, by comparison, can expect to earn about 73 cents, placing us 35th in the ranking.)

Country with the most female politicians

Rwanda. In the African country, as of February, women held 45 of the 80 seats in Parliament. By comparison, in Canada, which ranks 45th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union study, men outnumber women in Parliament by a ratio of 3 to 1. When it comes to women in ministerial positions, that ratio also holds (27 per cent female to 73 per cent male).

Country where women live the longest

Japan, where women can expect to live 87 years, compared with 79.2 for men in the country. In Canada, the average life expectancy for women is 82.8 years – nearly five years longer than men. In Afghanistan and Lesotho, the average girl won’t live to see her 50th birthday.

Country most friendly to female billionaires

China. According to a recent Forbes study, the Asian nation has a “uniquely high” number of self-made women among its richest citizens – a trend the report credits, in part, to communism, which forced gender equality, and created an attitude shift that guides business today.

Best country to pass off the vacuuming to the man in the house

Denmark. According to a study by the OECD, women in the Scandanavian country (with the lucky female citizens of Sweden, Norway and Finland following closely) do only about 50 minutes more of unpaid labour a day than men. Compare that to women in India, who are doing five hours more a day of unpaid labour than their male counterparts. The significant gender gap is partly because Indian women have less access to paid work, but the study also noted that, “Indian men also spend considerably more time sleeping, eating, talking to friends, watching TV and relaxing.”

Country with most women in the work force

Burundi. According the World Economic Forum, 92 per cent of female citizens in Burundi have paid work – compared with 88 per cent of men. Canada ranks 20th. Pakistan scored the lowest on this measure: In that country, men in paying jobs outnumber women 4 to 1.

Top country for women in positions of power

Jamaica, where there are more women than men serving as legislators, officials or managers (59 per cent vs. 41 per cent, according to the World Economic Forum). Canadian reality check: We rank 31st, with 36 per cent women vs. 64 per cent men.

Best place to be a female engineer

Estonia. In this country, which offers significant tuition incentives to draw high-school graduates into fields such as engineering, female professional and technical workers outnumber men two to one – 68 per cent compared to 32 per cent, according to the World Economic Forum. Women make up 57 per cent of Canada’s professional and technical workers.

Safest place to have a baby

Estonia. According to country comparisons published by the CIA World Factbook, the maternal mortality rate, which includes death during pregnancy, childbirth, or 42 days after ending a pregnancy, in Estonia is two deaths for every 100,000 births. In Canada, the rate is 12 in 100,000 – the same as the U.K. and Denmark. In Chad, the most dangerous country, the rate is 1,100 in 100,000 live births.

Best place to stay at home with your kids

Germany. German mothers get 14 weeks off at 100 per cent of their wages. They collect a parental allowance of 67 per cent of their wages for 14 months, and both parents have the option of three years of parental leave in total. (In Canada, parents may take 52 weeks of maternity leave in total, receiving the equivalent of EI for that period.)

Country with the most female Nobel laureates

The United States. In related news, the U.S. can also claim to the most Miss Universe titles. Guess which achievement gets the most attention? (Also, all of Canada’s 21 Nobel prize winners have been men.)

Best place to buy your daughter a celebrity magazine

Israel. Last year, Israel banned the use of underweight models in local advertising, and passed a law requiring publications to disclose when models have been edited to appear thinner than they really are.

Country with the lowest rates of domestic violence

Georgia. According to a United Nations study in March of 2011, the lifetime prevalence of sexual or physical abuse against a woman in Georgia is 5 per cent. Canada comes second in a list of 86 countries, at 7 per cent. In Ethiopia, the rates of violence against women by a partner is horrifically high: 71 per cent of women are physically or sexually abused over the course of their lives. According to the study, in the last 12 months that the statistics were recorded, 44 per cent of Ethiopian women suffered sexual abuse. The World Bank took a closer look at reasons why women reported the abuse happened. In Niger, according to a 2006 survey, 44 per cent of women said they were beaten for burning dinner. In 2008, 41 per cent of women in Sierra Leone said they were beaten by their husbands for refusing to have sex.

The land where women stay single the longest

French Polynesia. According to data collected by the World Bank, Polynesian women don’t get married, on average, until the age of 33. There were no figures available for many countries, but in both Mali and Niger, a typical girl can expect to be married before her 18th birthday. In most industrialized nations, of course, the age of first marriage keeps going up. In Canada, the average women ties the knot at 29.

Top country to be a single mother

Norway. A Unicef study found that in the Scandanavian country, only 4.1 per cent of children in single-parent families were deprived of quality of life measures, including being able to heat their homes properly, being able to afford a meal with meat every second day, and manage unexpected expenses. The study placed Romania last.

Source: Erin Anderssen, The Globe and Mail

There are two main factors currently driving sales in Metro Vancouver’s housing market right now

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

The slowdown in the Metro Vancouver real estate market continued in February, with sales nearly one-third below the 10-year average, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver reported Monday.

Home sales in the region have been trending below historical averages for a full year now and February 2013 had the second-lowest number of sales in any February since 2001, the REBGV said. “Sales in February followed recent trends and were below seasonal averages, though our members tell us they saw more traffic at open houses last month compared to the previous six to eight months, said Eugen Klein, REBGV president.

The perception that housing is overvalued may be a factor slowing sales. Rating agency Fitch Ratings says Canadian home prices are overvalued by about 20 per cent, while prices in B.C. are overvalued by 26 per cent.

The Fitch report released Monday states that the agency does not expect prices to fall by those amounts, but rather that “if growth halted tomorrow and prices began to drop, Fitch expects that it would take several years for home prices to revert to their sustainable values. This depends on a number of factors such as government support and credit availability. With this time frame, the observed nominal decline in prices could be as low as 10 per cent.”

The report describes B.C. as being highly desirable to residents because of its climate and coastline, and benefiting from restricted land supply.

“More recently, prices have been supported by an influx of foreign buyers, particularly from Asia, who have viewed the Canadian housing market as a safe haven for investment, increasing the speculative value of these properties without altering the traditional market dynamics.”

Meanwhile, BMO lowered its five-year low-rate fixed mortgage to 2.99 per cent from 3.09 per cent to drum up business.

While sales numbers for February are down significantly from last year at this time in both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, prices are not moving much.

In Metro Vancouver, the home price index composite benchmark price is down 5.6 per cent to $590,400 from its peak in May, 2012 of $625,100 and the composite benchmark price in the Fraser Valley was $422,700 up slightly from last year at this time.

In Metro Vancouver, 1,797 properties sold in February 2013, compared to 1,351 in January and 2,545 in February 2012. In the Fraser Valley, 913 homes sold in February, compared to 617 in January and 1,269 in February 2012.

Both boards reported that realtors have said more people are visiting open houses than in recent months.

“We’re seeing signals that the standoff between buyers and sellers over the last six months is coming to an end,” said Ron Todson, president of the FVREB, which includes North Delta, Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Abbotsford and Mission. “Business has picked up in the last month with increased traffic at open houses, sellers quicker to accept offers and homes selling on average two weeks faster than they did in January.”

Klein said the REBGV does a survey of its members monthly and in February, for the first time in eight months, two-thirds of realtors reported more traffic at open houses.

Todson said different areas of the Fraser Valley were showing much different activity, with condos in Abbotsford and Central Surrey and townhome sales in North and Central Surrey and Cloverdale proving popular.

“One commonality among these areas and property types is greater affordability. What’s not doing well generally anywhere in the Fraser Valley is sales of higher-end homes unless they are priced competitively,” Todson said.

In Metro Vancouver, proximity to transit is driving sales, Klein said, noting that sales of properties near the Canada Line and the planned Evergreen Line are seeing an uptick in both development activity and home sales.

“You’re also seeing buyers going there to buy homes because those are the most affordable and have the best opportunity for appreciation and they can buy more for their buck,” Klein said. “If you bought a home near Southwest Marine (and Cambie Street) before 2012, your commute to downtown Vancouver would have been 45 minutes in rush hour. Today, it’s a different equation.”

Source: Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun

Will Canada’s mortgage rates come down even lower?

Monday, March 4th, 2013

The spring housing market is expected to bring on a new battle from mortgage lenders as they compete for what has become a shrinking pie in the form of lower real estate sales.

Bank of Montreal struck first on Friday with a five-year closed mortgage rate of 2.99% — down from 3.09% and now the lowest published rate among the big banks — with sources indicating the financial institution’s mortgage specialists are armed with discretionary power to go as low as 2.89%.

As the banks battle it out for consumers skittish about jumping into what more than one analyst sees as an inflated housing market, lenders know their costs have dropped in the past few weeks. The Bank of Canada’s five-year bond rate is in the 1.3% range after being almost at 1.6% at the end of January.

“Perhaps there is pressure to lower rates,” said Gregory Klump, chief economist with the Canadian Real Estate Association, about banks trying to capture customers in a slowing market. “It remains to be seen how much [the real estate market] is going to slow.”

While some predict a collapse in the housing market, so far prices have remained firm and sales have dipped only in the single-digit range from a year ago.

CREA said last month that January prices were up 2% year-over-year, while sales were down 5.2% during the same period. On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales actually climbed 1.3% from December to January.

It’s unclear whether a new round of mortgage rate cuts will have an impact on consumers already used to a prime rate of 3% and long-term mortgage rates even below that.

“I don’t think low rates change their mind on whether they are going to buy or not,” Mr. Klump said. “What it does change is how much property they can afford. The most important thing at this point in the cycle is how confident consumers are of economic prospects going forward.”

Source: Garry Marr, Financial Post

Real Estate Blogs