Hot ’Hoods for the First-Time Buyer

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House prices may be at their highest ever, but those stats hide where the best-value neighbourhoods lie. Here are the hottest areas for first-time buyers

It’s official. The Metro Vancouver housing market is hot and getting hotter. Last month was the strongest April for home sales in a decade, according to the BC Real Estate Association – and prices are at record highs. The BCREA anticipates this spring’s elevated level of buying activity will push 2015 home sales to their highest level since 2007.

But not all neighbourhoods are equal, which makes deciding where to purchase a daunting task – especially for first-time buyers. Here, local experts offer some of their top picks for neighbourhoods on the up and up, where you can still get great value and get your foot on the property ladder.

Heading East

Coquitlam and Maple Ridge are high on Michael Ferreira’s list as managing partner at housing research company Urban Analytics Inc. “Maple Ridge is still predominately a single-family destination, and you have to be willing to drive,” he says. “But for people who want to escape into a natural, quiet setting at the end of the day, it’s extremely appealing and affordable.”

On the multi-family side, Ferreira says Coquitlam Centre – whether new or resale – currently represents one of the best values in Metro Vancouver. Hard hit in the 2008/9 downturn, he notes this area’s supply is beginning to dwindle, meaning prices may soon rise – good news for people who are able to purchase now. And don’t forget, the Evergreen Line is arriving soon…

Life on the River

Many industry watchers are keeping a close eye on Wesgroup’s newly developed River District in south Vancouver, along the Fraser River towards Boundary Road. According to Urban Analytics’ research, prices for these riverside homes are averaging in the mid to high $500s/square foot range, a significant difference from the $700/square foot commanded just west at Cambie and Marine. However, buyers will need to consider commute time since River District isn’t yet on a rapid transit route.

Fraser Valley Still Strong

In the Fraser Valley, Scott Brown, president of Fifth Avenue Real Estate Marketing, says he’s seeing unrelenting demand for townhouses in the Willoughby/Yorkson neighbourhood. “Every project we’re marketing here has sold so rapidly we’ve had to accelerate construction,” he says, adding he sees little indication this will change in the foreseeable future.

Booming Burnaby

“Still a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor,” is how Barrett Sprowson, Intracorp’s director of sales, describes the residential evolution Shape Properties is bringing to Brentwood Town Centre.

And although it’s a number of years out, Shape will ultimately bring a similar multi-tower redevelopment to Lougheed Town Center on the border of Burnaby and Coquitlam. “Lougheed is a great opportunity because it’s still a Burnaby address, new transit is well underway, but prices haven’t exploded yet,” says Bill Szeto, president of Otezs Project Marketing. “In 10 years, I think this area will see the same kind of appreciation we saw first at Metrotown and now on other significant transit nodes.”

Cambie and its Eastern Neighbours

Cambie Corridor is steadfastly maintaining its rank as a white-hot opportunity to own prestige homes with a Westside Vancouver address. But it’s the neighbourhoods like Hillcrest, Fraser and Little Mountain located just east of the main corridor that are attracting new attention with more affordable pricing and still easy access to transit and the Cambie Corridor’s other amenities.

Upscaling North Vancouver

Still appealing to active outdoor enthusiasts, North Vancouver is poised to see two large-scale master planned developments bring a new village-style development. Harbourside by Concert Properties is in advanced planning for an eight-acre, mixed-use community located just blocks from Capilano Mall. Plans include an innovative partnership with Hawkers Market to create Hawkers Wharf – a foodie destination for events and new food industries.

Still discussion is an ambitious plan to transform the aging motels and retail at Marine Drive and Capilano into an urban hub with the proposed name of Marine Drive Village.

Don’t Dismiss Downtown

Although he acknowledges it’s an “unobvious” choice, Sprowson is still a fan of downtown Vancouver. “It’s one of the unsung options. People will always want to live downtown, and with so few sites available for development it will always be on the right side of the supply and demand curve.”

Burrard Gateway will relieve some of the dearth in new supply and several other smaller infill/mid-rise projects are anticipated. “And you can find projects like Addition that used creative design to bring prices into the $700 per square foot range – lower than many parts of the Cambie Corridor.”

What About that Down Payment?

Of course, once you’ve discovered the neighbourhood that’s best for you, you’ll still have the thorny issue of raising a down payment to put on your first home. Here’s where mortgage programs specifically designed for first-time buyers come in – like the Vancity Down Payment Helper Bundle – to help you raise that all-important lump sum.

The Down Payment Helper Bundle enhances the amount you’ve already saved for your down payment with an ultra-low interest personal loan of 0.01 per cent, up to a maximum of $12,500, so you can get into your home faster. Visit the website for more details and to hold the offer and mortgage rate risk-free for 90 days while you find the perfect property.


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