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Condo-buying activity returns to Vancouver's downtown core

Demand increases as more people re-prioritize working and living in the city
The opportunity to live close to the office is driving increased condo-buying activity in Vancouver's downtown core | Rob Kruyt

Downtown Vancouver’s residential real estate market is seeing some renewed interest from lifestyle-driven buyers who can afford to “live and play” close to where they work.

Demand for units downtown is “somewhat strong,” according to those who spoke to Glacier Media. The area has been returning to balanced conditions, with buyer activity picking up in the last three to six months, according to Danny Chow, a real estate agent and adviser with Rennie and Associates Realty Ltd.

“I feel like a lot of people are slowly coming back to downtown,” Chow said. “A lot of companies are now wanting their employees to work in the office more than they were and downtown has always been about lifestyle. So now, living and working downtown is coming back as a lifestyle.”

Homebuyers are trickling back into Vancouver’s downtown core following an exodus from the area in search of larger spaces, as was seen earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though homebuying in the downtown core is seeing some renewal, activity is not as strong as it was a year ago, said Jay McInnes, director of Sharp Real Estate Group and a real estate agent with Oakwyn Realty Ltd.

In February, there were 714 condo listings downtown, which was 1.3 per cent higher than January’s total, and eight per cent higher than in February 2022, according to Rennie. Sales, meanwhile, have fallen dramatically year over year but risen notably on a monthly basis: There were 111 sales in February, down 60 per cent from the same time last year, and up 29 per cent from January.

Downtown inventory is still low and “not outside of the norm” compared to the rest of the city, said Jason Dolker, senior vice-president of developer services at Rennie.

This is especially true for new builds, he said. Across the downtown core, there were roughly 90 units available at the time of publication, according to Dolker.

Of the newly completed residential developments downtown, Dolker says the most attractive to buyers are: The Pacific by Grosvenor, Mirabel by Marcon, 1335 Howe by Onni Group and 8X On The Park by Brenhill Developments Ltd.

“If you’re downtown and you’re saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to get a new home, I want to buy brand new,’ those are really your main options, which is pretty limited,” Dolker said.

Certain parts of the city that were popular pre-pandemic have become less attractive to buyers, said McInnes.

“The east side of downtown – Gastown, Crosstown and Chinatown – which was very popular before the pandemic, a lot of people now are shying away from, just due to what’s gotten worse down there on the street level,” he said.

Yaletown and Coal Harbour have been the most resilient downtown neighbourhoods for real estate and are still seeing the most interest from buyers, according to McInnes.

A notable transaction in Coal Harbour was the record-breaking sale of a $19.3 million condo, sold within the last month. It was the highest price recorded on MLS for a Vancouver condo in roughly a decade, according to Chow.

Of the 111 properties sold downtown in February, 77 – or 69.4 per cent – were sold for a price between $400,000 and $1 million, Chow said.

The median price for a condo downtown was $767,500 in February, a three-per-cent decrease from January and a nine-per-cent decrease over February 2022.

The sale price per square foot increased by five per cent between January and February to $1,141. Throughout Greater Vancouver, the average price per square foot was $913.

Year to date, most of the sales in downtown Vancouver have been for one-bedroom or studio units, according to McInnes. A one-bedroom unit that includes parking and in-suite laundry is typically priced within the range of $630,000 to $675,000, he said.

Many entry-level or young buyers are choosing to be conservative if they are buying downtown, he said.

“They’re definitely keeping their purchases on the conservative side, and they’re not overborrowing, they’re not overbuying. If someone isn’t having a kid in the next two years, they’re still looking at that one bedroom, not necessarily two.”

In February, 32.2 per cent of the total inventory downtown had fewer than two bedrooms, but these units accounted for 60.3 per cent of total sales, according to Rennie. By contrast, condos with two bedrooms accounted for 53 per cent of all inventory and 34.2 per cent of total sales.

In addition to prioritizing price attainability, entry-level and young buyers are looking for space that can be used for a variety of functions, according to Dolker.

For example, younger generations may look for a unit with eat-in kitchens and larger living rooms, while older buyers tend to prefer separate dining areas in order to entertain guests, Dolker said.

For those with bigger budgets, it’s about unique experiences and convenience, he added.

Across all buyer profiles, air conditioning has become one of the most-sought amenities, according to Chow. 

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