Affordability key to downtown

Apartment prices plunge, but realtors confident of bounce back

Andrew Van Woerden (left) and Donovan Booth work on Reflections On The River

Andrew Van Woerden (left) and Donovan Booth work on Reflections On The River

The year 2008 was busy for apartment developers in Maple Ridge, but the people who bought those units will be lamenting their investment if they’re looking to sell.

There were 438 units under construction in 2008 – one of the busiest years ever.

But in the past five years, the benchmark price of apartments in Maple Ridge has dropped 11.4 per cent. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver now pegs the price of an apartment here at $166,000 – the most affordable housing in the region.

The laws of supply and demand are suppressing the price, local realtors say, and there are almost 500 new units either built or coming on stream in the downtown under a city incentive plan.

The price dropped 9.4 per cent in the past year alone.

The $166,000 cost compares with a benchmark of $260,000 in Coquitlam, $334,000 in Port Moody and $344,000 in the Lower Mainland overall. Langley also has large inventory of unsold units, and the median price there sits at $200,000.

But the people building and selling the units are confident that the large inventory will be taken up.

Ron Antalek, a realtor with Re/Max for 25 years, said the supply is high, but contends that there is good demand.

There were 197 new and used apartments sold in the city in 2014. Those were recorded by MLS, but there will have been more sales that were not part of the listing service.

What’s more, Antalek said the quality of apartments in the city is improving, with more granite countertops, maple kitchens, under-mounted sinks, and the kinds of amenities that impress buyers.

“Our fit and finish has risen in the last number of years.”

Add a sharp price compared with neighbouring communities, and apartment buildings in Maple Ridge catch a buyer’s eye, he said.

“In Maple Ridge, affordability is always a big attraction,” said Antalek.

Stacy Deakin, at the sales office for The Edge development, located at 12075 Edge Street, said of the 77 units available, just 12 on the third floor remain unsold. Those units are priced at $200,000 for a one-bedroom with a den, and $260,000 for a two bedroom. It was done by MacLean Homes of West Vancouver.

“We’ve done pretty good,” said Deakin, noting buyers have been equal thirds of first-time buyers, elderly people wanting to be near the downtown, and people looking to downsize. She said more of the latest buyers have come from the south side of the river.

“People are finally figuring the bridge out – it’s not that far, and you can get brand new.”

The same dollar would only afford them a used apartment in most other Greater Vancouver communities.

Thanks to the city incentive plan, these downtown buyers aren’t paying municipal taxes for two years – those who bought in the early stages of the development got three years.

“That was especially important to the young, first-time buyers, because it’s so hard for them to come up with ten grand,” said Deakin. “It’s a nice break.”

That break was provided by city incentive programs that offered tax breaks on new construction for three years. Builders also received refunded development cost charges and breaks on their building permits, which could amount to up to $80,000 in reduced costs.

The result was that eight projects and 495 units were built or started over the three years of the incentive program, between 2011 and 2013.

Antalek praised city hall’s efforts to try and revitalize the downtown with more apartment dwellers.

“The incentive program was a positive effect. It did inspire some projects that might not have been done otherwise,” he said. “I totally endorse it. In the long term, the district will get it all back.”

Cheap housing isn’t the goal of all developers.

Fred Formosa of Falcon Homes has build the first phase of Signature, at 11822 – 226th St., and is starting a second phase of that project. He also has Reflections on the River, on River Road next to the Billy Miner Pub. Reflections has 40 suites, most facing the river. Formosa built five penthouse suites with huge decks overlooking the Fraser. They sell for more than $600,000. Three have already sold.

He admits that price is “really high for Maple Ridge” apartments, but it shows a confidence in the community as a good place to live.

Similarly, a buyer took three suits in Signature and combined them into one 2,100-square-foot apartment.

“There’s a lot of people who want something different and special.”

The second phase of Signature will feature bigger suites, because he sees a market for more upscale apartments.

Formosa said Maple Ridge will grow in the same way the Tri-Cities area has in the past 15 years.

“It’s the newest growth area in the Lower Mainland.”

Antalek said there are continued positive changes that will attract more people to living downtown. B-line transit, the West Coast Express and the construction of the evergreen line will all help.

“People want to see improvements in commercial and shopping locally.”

He added that buyers are confident that is coming.

Property shoppers find the city has great schools, parks, sports opportunities and outdoor recreation. The mayor and council need to foster better transportation and shopping options to create a vibrant downtown, said Antalek.

He said the loss of the SmartCentres deal for the Albion flats, announced Tuesday, was unfortunate.

“We can’t abandon that – we have to work toward making that happen.”

 

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