The B.C. that housing built
In 1999, my wife and I bought our first house, a fixer-upper off Main Street in Vancouver. Like the young couples in Frances Bula's “Property Lines” (p.30), we had a toddler; for us, home ownership felt like the next step toward becoming grownups. The price of admission: $252,000, a fortune for two working people with less than $20,000 to put down. The day we got the keys to what would become the home reno version of The Blair Witch Project, we promptly fled to a bar to drown our buyers' remorse.
How silly that regret seems now—and how grateful we are for dumb luck. Thanks to an accident of birth, we've climbed the Vancouver real estate escalator as prices surged beyond the reach of doctors, lawyers and executives, let alone teachers and firefighters. (If there is a crash, no one should feel sorry for us.) Meanwhile, renters have become nomads, living under constant threat of eviction in a region where the benchmark price of a detached home is almost $1.5 million, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. This situation isn't just unfair; it could gore the economy by driving young people away from the Lower Mainland. No wonder affordable housing was a hot topic in the recent provincial election campaign, where the B.C. Liberals appeared to side with first-time buyers while the NDP and the Green Party championed renters.
In our cover story, Bula tackles one of her favourite subjects, personal finance, by looking at how the property market has divided British Columbians. The split between real estate haves and have-nots has left the first group with what might be an exaggerated sense of net worth—and those in the second feeling hard done by, even if they make a good living. This dynamic is especially noticeable in the Vancouver area, but the so-called wealth effect is playing out across the province as people spend more than they probably should. We couldn't have done this piece without research partner Environics Analytics, whose trove of data on Canadians' finances shows that B.C. beats the rest of the country for household wealth but falls short in pension assets.
On a brighter note, “Taking On the World” (p.38) previews #Tradetalks, a new event presented by the BC Chamber of Commerce. For this feature, I interviewed two 18-yearold entrepreneurs with big plans to go international, plus five B.C. companies that are exporting their products or are about to take the plunge. It also marks the launch of what I hope will be a long and productive partnership with the BC Chamber. Together, we will deliver stories that hit home for you.