Vancouver’s West End seems to be getting a lot of praise. The area was recently named the best neighbourhood in the country by the Canadian Institute of Planning’s Great Places in Canada contest. Stanley Park also took the top spot on Trip Advisor’s list of best parks in the entire world, edging out Central Park and Luxembourg Gardens. What makes this neighbourhood so special?
It’s at once family-oriented and LGBTQ-friendly, ultra-urban and tree-lined traditional, and a beach town as well as a downtown. The West End boasts some of the city’s liveliest beaches, and is home to Robson Street, Vancouver’s famous shopping area! Here’s a tour of the neighbourhood.
The West End was first conceived as the proposed city of New Liverpool. Too remote at that time, the land remained an unrealized real estate dream. Eventually, it was incorporated into the city of Vancouver. The arrival of the railway several years later provided incentive for development and the area around West Georgia Street became Vancouver’s first upscale neighbourhood. The West End’s skyline began to take shape in the 60’s and early 70’s when 220 high-rise apartments were built within a 13-year period. To date, there are 112 blocks in Vancouver’s West End.
Fun Fact! Vancouver’s West End is the most densely populated area in Canada.
- Stanley Park (west)
- W Georgia Street (north)
- Burrard Street (east)
- Pacific Avenue (south)
- Population: 44.543
- Average Household Income: $38,581 (lower than the city’s overall average $47,299)
- Average Household Size: 1.5
- Population Density: 4th most densely populated neighbourhood in Vancouver (217 persons per hectare)
- Language: Lower proportion of residents whose mother tongue is Chinese (5%) compared to city (25%)
Diversity in the West End extends the borders of the densely populated neighbourhood, The West End is home to a mixed population, old and young, of Canadians, immigrants and international transient residents.
Davie Village: predominantly young, trendy, LGBTQ community
Denman Street: residence to the older generation and families
Bute Street: divided between the quiet residence on the west side and the bustle and noise of Downtown’s business and shopping district on the east
Kids of the West End
- Population: 1,745 (ages 0-14)
- Proportion: West End (3.9%) compared to Vancouver (11.8%)
- Density: 4th highest density of children (8.8 children per hectare)
- Schools: Lord Roberts Elementary, Lord Roberts Annex, and King George Secondary
Popularity combined with a shortage of new construction means demand usually outweighs supply. A vacancy rate below 1% indicates that households have greater difficulty finding a place to rent on the West End.
Bachelor Suite/1-Bedroom, $1,200-$2,500+
Bachelor Suite/1-Bedroom, $200,000-$600,000+
BONUS – Setting Purchase Expectations
There is no end of headlines citing reports by economists, think tanks, etc., quoting statistics galore about what is happening and will happen with Real Estate values. All of the endless speculation does little to quell the fears of first-time homebuyers, or in many cases, current home-owners.
It is worth keeping in mind that the best predictor of what will happen tomorrow is often what happened yesterday. Certainly, the Real Estate market movements tend to be far less erratic than the stock market. Although Real Estate transactions are also driven on emotion, the ability for the real estate market to react to short-term emotional swings does not exist in comparison to the stock market.
The process of selling a home is tedious, taking days or weeks to get to market from the time a decision is made to sell. The process of selling shares on the stock market takes seconds and thus market sentiment, rumour and whim play a much larger role in valuations.
A recent story in the Globe and Mail traces back the story of a local Vancouver buyer currently shopping for a $3M home. There is a valuable lesson in this story. More than once the message conveyed by the subject, Patricia Houlihan, is “buy as soon as you can buy, and buy whatever you can afford to buy.”
Sage advice that just about any current homeowner would echo, along with the comment that they wish they had bought sooner.
It should be noted that it is her eighth home over a span of decades, not her very first purchase. Although many buyers historically bought one house, maybe moving once, and then stayed put for decades, today’s urban buyers, since the 1990s onward, have often started out with something smaller, older or perhaps even a condo and made the best of it.
As Ms. Houlihan points out, for the past few decades the typical homebuyer’s ability to save has not kept pace with property appreciation. Here’s some numbers:
5% down on a $200,000 purchase requires $10,000.00. Even a 1% annual appreciation on the property ($2,000.00) represents an effective 20% gain on the cash invested. Factor in current mortgage reduction (~50% of the monthly payment) and you have another $450.00 per month building in equity. Based on today’s 5 yr fixed rate of ~2.64%, an income of ~$36,000.00 per year qualifies a buyer in the above scenario. It is unlikely this person will be able to save ~$$7,500.00 per year while paying rent as well. A toehold in the market is how many of us began since the 1990s if not the 1980s. It is not about buying your “forever home” the first time around, it is about getting a start. Few who bought in the 80s and 90s expected granite counters and stainless appliances. It was carpet and linoleum, hardwood and tile.
The expectations of today’s first-time buyers have shifted and that has played a role in increasing prices as well. The bottom line is that you have to start somewhere, and you have to live somewhere while working towards the dream home. Buying less-than-desirable homes to start with, as Ms. Houlihan did, is work to be sure. That is OK, as few of us will ever save our way to our dream home. But we can work our way there.
The West End is home to some of Vancouver’s best cheap and delicious eateries. On Denman and Davie Streets, you’ll find restaurants from all over the world, including a large number of Japanese (be sure to visit “ramen row”), Korean and Mexican restaurants. There’s also plenty of beaches as well as a seawall with unmatched views, making it a great place to spend some time with family and friends.
Don’t miss out on the Celebration of Lights competition, an amazing fireworks show that happens over three nights in late July and early August. Plus, there’s also “movies in the park” every Tuesday throughout the summer.