On Investing in Vancouver

Everyone has life goals – aspirations, dreams, things to have or to experience during their short time on this world. Notably, these goals tend to be different from person to person – they are part of what makes us unique individuals and a key part of how we identify ourselves to each other. Some people have goals to start a family, or travel the world, or to prove their worth in a competitive field. When people ask me about my goals, I typically give this unorthodox answer:

I want a condo in Vancouver.

The first impression is that this seems to be quite a materialistic goal – and that’s fair. To most reasonable people, the thought of a foreign investor buying up property in a city with a large income gap is the epitome of greed and capitalism’s damaging effects. But I’d like a chance to explain myself, and why this goal actually has much more meaning for me.

It’s a statement

I talk a lot about how much I love Vancouver as one of the world’s great cities, but it’s not enough for me to just be an occasional tourist. By putting my money where my mouth is and investing at a substantial level, I’m saying that I believe in this city for the long-term. I want to help this city keep growing and I want to be a part of it as its identity evolves, because I am a fan of the direction it’s been heading. This is a testament to all the citizens of the city (especially the city planners) for making Vancouver what it is today, and what it will become going forward.

It’s a base

I’ve been floating between cities on multiple continents for a while now, and what I’ve realised is that I will eventually need a “base” for myself. Not really a “home” so much – rather, a base of operations that’s easy to get to and has space to put all these memories (some in the form of souvenirs) that I’ve been collecting. Of all the cities on the planet that I’ve been to, Vancouver best fit the bill as a base. It’s well connected by flight routes, super easy to get in and out of, and has proximity to everything and everyone I hold dear on the West Coast while also being a shorter flight to destinations in the East Coast and Asia due to Earth’s roundedness.

It’s a future

For now it only makes financial sense to operate any property as rentals, but I have a general policy to only make a purchase if I can easily see myself living in the unit. This is especially true for Vancouver, where (despite my #neversettle mentality) I would particularly enjoy spending prolonged time. As they say, it’s always a good idea to retire in Canada. 🙂

With all that in mind, I recently took the plunge during one week in September:

  • Landed on a Wednesday night
  • Set up appointments for showings throughout Thursday and Friday
  • Opened a bank account and recalibrated my queries over the weekend
  • Took a tour of a few more properties with an agent on Monday
  • Made an offer on Tuesday
  • Got accepted by Wednesday and began paperwork
  • Transferred (and converted) funds on Thursday

Funny enough, I converted on the day where the US Federal Reserve announced they were not increasing interest rates, which caused the Canadian dollar to spike and affected the exchange rate enough to hurt me significantly.

Sold at the drop
Worst timing ever

From there, the process has been mostly on auto-pilot, with a ton of paperwork to review and sign. The result – I am fortunate enough to have won this condo!

Condo in Vancouver
Life goal accomplished

I’m fully aware that I have become “one of those people” in the eyes of local Vancouver citizens by executing this transaction. The situation in Vancouver has parallels to what is happening in San Francisco – locals who have lived in the city all their lives (full disclosure: I grew up in San Francisco) have a tendency to resent all the transplants who have moved into their world and are changing the character of their home city that they’re rightly proud of. In San Francisco, tech is the force that drives this (with genuinely destructive results); in Vancouver, it is foreign investment – so yes, I am officially part of this problem now.

I can only respond to locals with a few points:

  • I’m not from Asia. Though I understand how people wouldn’t be able to tell just by seeing me on the SkyTrain. But we shouldn’t be singling out race in any case…
  • Your government and fiscal policies actively encourage foreign investment. The only real burden on me by being foreign is that I had to make a 35% minimum down payment. Opening a bank account, getting a mortgage, etc. were all extremely easy and there were processes in place to cater for foreigners.
  • I’m not here to make a quick buck – I’m investing for the long term. I’m not in the business of flipping properties, nor am I interested in “parking” my money here while leaving the unit empty and reducing housing stock. The unit will be rented at market rates, if not lower.
  • My interest in your city is a testament to how attractive it is to live in. You should be rightfully proud that you’ve achieved such high livability that people from all over the world want to call your city home – and I hope to find my own ways to continue that trend to make Vancouver an even more attractive place to live.

My answers won’t satisfy everyone – I know, because as a San Francisco native, I still feel a nagging tension with transplants even as I get to know more and more of them and can call them my friends. It is inherent in human nature to feel defensive if your home seems threatened, but I hope that this experience can help broaden my own perspective as I start to play both sides of the coin. That can be my next life goal – to bridge the divide between locals and transplants within a community.

Vancouver, I hope you’ll accept me and I hope to be able to spend more time up there soon!

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