I recently sold my condo in Vancouver and moved to Courtenay on Vancouver Island during COVID19. It was a long and tedious process, partly due to COVID19 and partly due to my own fault (imagine that!). I am sharing my experiences in case others are trying to move in this difficult time. There is a lot of online chat about people moving out of urban areas to less COVID-dense areas. Even the Maritimes are having a moment in the sun.
Selling my condo in Vancouver
Picking a real estate agent
Selling and buying real estate is a complicated and tedious process and you may want to delegate as much of the scut work as possible. It is a lot more complicated that it used to be due to more documentation required. Lots of paper work to be signed electronically. Do not pick your real estate agent randomly or based on good personal chemistry. All real estate agents are charming to a large degree. There are websites that rank agents by their sales in the last year. Try to find out how many units they have sold, the average price of their sale and their ranking for sales in your area. Don’t pick the top agents.. you are just a regular joe and don’t need a high powered agent who will be too busy and will not give you respect or the time of day.
My agent generated a list of comparable listings and sales. I spent a lot of time tracking condo sales in Vancouver. I learned that the sale price and assessed value were often different. Units were selling for on average less than 10% of the assessed value in early 2019 and were down 10% between 2018 and 2019. My source for the price data was Open Housing but they stopped reporting in Dec 2019. There are big differences in prices among comparable units. Some of the reasons for higher vs lower prices were not obvious but I speculate age and condition play a role. Although there were many views of my unit, offers were scarce. My real estate agent made suggestions about lowering the price twice. It wasn’t until the unit next to mine sold that I got an offer on my unit for less than the assessed value but close to the price of the neighbouring unit. Clearly my unit was overpriced for what people considered the value. Although the media suggests there is shortage of affordable housing in Vancouver, the price of my property was manageable for a double income couple or as a rental. So despite being in good condition, in a good location, at a good price, it did not generate a lot of offers. My property was listed in July 2019 while rented. Bad idea. Wait until tenants move out so it is clean and tidy. I should have accepted an earlier offer that was higher than the offer I accepted.
Figure 1 Average condo prices and units sold, Vancouver 2019-2020
If you have a lawyer you have used before, use them if possible even if they are in another city, if they have gone virtual. The lawyers I used had gone virtual and this made everything so easy. Line them up at the beginning of the process so you are not doing it in a rush at the end of the process. I used the same lawyer for all my real estate transactions.
I discovered that the condo I owned did not permit real estate signs because they had put down some landscaping material which they believed would be damaged by a sign. I appealed but to no avail. My research found that there is a small monetary value of about 9% in having a sign. I also discovered the strata council banned specific types of pets e.g. pit bulls, based on regulations passed by the City of Vancouver that were subsequently overturned by the City. One prospective buyer could not put in an offer due to this restriction.
Buying another place
My favourite places to go house shopping are ZOLO and REW. You can sort for different criteria and they also have information about previous sales. BC Assessment authority also publishes sales prices of neighbouring properties. This is highly informative. You can calculate price per square foot from the data available, but it is a tedious job to copy all the data. Would be handy if you could download a file.
You must view the unit even if it is to be a rental. You can wear a mask and social distance as long as you are ok with travelling on a boat or plane if needed. If you can’t see it, get reports from a real estate agent who is not the listing agent and get an inspection before you make an offer. Inspections will uncover things you don’t typically know about like wiring, plumbing, roofs etc. However neither of these people typically report on some important factors which I will discuss further.
Temperature Take an indoor thermometer with you when you visit the unit at the peak of the heat of the day in the middle of the summer. Are there screens? Can you open the windows? Is there a breeze? What is the orientation of the suite? It will make a difference with sun exposure with the time of day. A west facing 4th floor unit will be hot in the evening. Can the heat be mitigated? Portable AC?
Noise Noise is a subjective thing. If you are used to urban living you noise tolerance might be high. If you are used to living in a quiet building in a quiet neighbourhood, even in an urban area, you might not be used to a lot of noise. If you are a light sleeper this could be a deal breaker. There are apps you can download to record the decibels. Rain on the windows. Who would have guessed this would keep you awake at night. It is a bit like rain on a tin roof. There is no way to know until you live there or unless you view the unit when it is raining. Can noise be mitigated? Sound proofing foam? A cheap option. Better windows? An expensive option not usually allowed in condos.
Parking spots I discovered after buying my 2nd unit that that the parking spot is the smallest one in the parkade and it was too narrow for my vehicle without turning in the side view mirrors when parking.
Light Will it be dark enough for sleeping? Can this be mitigated with blinds or drapes?
Rentals Most real estate listings are very lax about reporting rental restrictions. This is a large gap in disclosure of information. You have to ask the agent and get some documentation from the strata council about the rental restrictions.
There is a disclosure statement that is supposed to be completed before an offer is accepted and this is supposed to give you details about issues like maintenance fees and work that needs to be done. In one case this was not completed on an offer I made.
Banking and financing
Selling was pretty straight forward as the money just gets transferred from the lawyer to your account. I did have to go to the lawyer’s office in person to sign documents behind plexiglass. A little overzealous in COVID 19 protection.
I next decided to turn the first condo I bought into a rental and buy another condo. I initially tried to get a line of credit on the new property. Bank # 1 would not give me the line of credit approval until I had an accepted offer. Bank # 2 gave me a verbal approval for a line of credit on the property I had just bought within 24 hrs. However, they then wanted a list of documents about my finances delivered to the local branch. Three weeks later I discovered the local branch of Bank # 2 did not have staff qualified to do lines of credit. After multiple phone calls I was transferred to a loans officer at a branch an hour away. In the meantime, I approached bank # 3 who offered me a line of credit within 24 hours but only for 50% of what I was looking for. Finally, after about 6 weeks of phone calls and emails I got approval for the line of credit with bank #2. Branch# 2 was able to make all the transactions electronically including the down payment and final payment to the lawyer who also did the final document signing on Zoom.
- Use a real estate agent. It will reduce the amount of stress.
- If you are not ready to move next month, hold off listing until you are ready.
- Be willing to accept a lower offer than the listed price.
- Do not pay much attention to the assessed value right now. Sales of other units in the building are probably the most practical comparison.
- Use a real estate agent
- Do a through inspection in person of the properties you intend to purchase, in the peak heat and noise of the day. Open the windows.
- Check the size of the parking spot.
- Review the documents about rental restrictions.
- If the seller is going to make any modifications between the time you view the property and the time you take possession, ensure you have veto power or have the right to approve/change renos. Include this in the list of conditions.
- If you want financing, there are lots of banks out there. They all want your business. Just because they are a big bank does not mean they are operating at full capacity. It is not like last year. Shop around. Don’t take the first offer you get if it is not what you want. If you have a “maybe”, keep them alive until you have a “yes” for sure. Don’t disclose they are a plan B. Keep your options open.
- Go to the bank in person to make your first application and try to meet with the manager.
- Have a list of deal breakers: noise, heat, rental restrictions, pets, location, walkability, parking etc. Write it out so you are clear about what is important to you and give it to your agent.
- COVID19 is the least of your concerns in this process.
- There is a lot of unpredictability in the way things work these days. Some is good (e-transfers, virtual meetings) and some is bad (staffing).
- When you identify a weak link in the chain, be persistent in looking for other options, either a different staff person, a different location or a different agency. Do not let more than a week pass with no progress on your file. This is a different time, with varying levels of staffing everywhere.
- Non-urban areas have fewer options for service delivery
- Book appointments with banks if possible, either virtual or in person.
- There are a lot of unexpected and unpredictable twists and turns. It’s different from buying and selling 5 years ago.
Real Estate Agent Faith Wilson Realty Group | Christie’s International Real Estate1838 West 1st Avenue Vancouver, BC V6J 1G5 C: 604-813-3656 T: 604-224-5277 ext. 301 firstname.lastname@example.org
Legal Grace Kung Natalie Khan | Conveyancer Bell Alliance LLP 201 – 1367 W. Broadway, Vancouver, B.C. V6H 4A7 T 604.873.8723 ext 132 F 604.873.8785 email@example.com | bellalliance.ca
Inspector. Pam BeynonBrown – Mindful Inspections – Office:Text 250.218.3201
Bank Olatunde Olaleye, MSc, MBA Financial Service Manager Dickinson Crossing Branch BMO Bank of Montreal 1-6908 North Island Highway | Nanaimo, BC, V9V 1P6