A new project mapped house-flipping in Vancouver. Here’s what it found

VANCOUVER—A Vancouver housing activist has put together a map highlighting homes in the city that have been flipped for big profits within one year after they were purchased — a visual that he says showcases the extent of a practice he calls a “cancer.”

Rohana Rezel says the project shows how fast people are buying homes to quickly resell them and pocket profits and, in turn, spotlights the ineffectiveness of government in quelling the market.

“The biggest problem we’re having right now is the rampant speculation in the housing market,” Rezel said. “You can create all the supply you want but, if you have the speculators gobbling up supply, it’s not going to help.”

The “Live Flip Map” is part of Rezel’s Open Housing project. Rezel has made news before with his battle over a freedom-of-information request to the City of Vancouver regarding short-term rentals. He ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2018.

Housing, he argues, is not the same as regular commodities, it’s a necessity and is becoming harder for Canadians to afford. Data from his project shows some speculators have flipped homes for as much as a 50 per cent profit in less than one year.

The map shows homes that are up for sale now (taken from realtors’ listings) after being purchased and relisted within a year. Users can zoom in on the map of Greater Vancouver to see location as well as current asking price, how long ago it was last sold, what it sold for then (according to the BC Assessment provincial website) and the percentage of markup sought.

Rezel said he’s already had people ask him to construct a similar map for Toronto, but that he doesn’t have the capacity to build one now.

Exploring the map, the Star found many homes’ asking price was 50 per cent more than their purchase price less than a year earlier. One home had a 78 percent markup. Its asking price was $3,488,000, representing a desired profit of more than $1.5 million for the property first listed just eight months previous.

The realtor’s listing for the home, in south Burnaby, only provided one photo, revealing the exterior of the 4,700-square-foot single detached house. It appeared unfinished, listed as being built in 2021, with apparently recently installed windows with purchase stickers still on them.

The front yard was an unfinished dirt patch with a walk through the middle and buckets, a broom and other construction materials strewn about it.

Another property on the map in West Vancouver purchased last July for $2.8 million was listed for $4.8 million, a markup of 71 per cent. The property’s listing reveals it’s a vacant lot.

The smallest percentage increase found was a two per cent markup, but almost all properties were asking more than 30 per cent over their recent sold-for price.

Often, Rezel said, the homes appear to be purchased by investors who hold them and then simply sell them after a couple of months for a profit.

The continued flipping of homes “like casino chips” is driving up rents, displacing people and making it impossible for wage-earning Vancouverites to afford a home, he said.

According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, the benchmark price for all residential properties in metro Vancouver increased 18.5 per cent from January 2021 to January 2022.

Meanwhile, according to figures from property rental portal, Rentals.ca, rents for a one-bedroom unit in Vancouver have increased more than 17 per cent year over year.

“The entire market is no longer about providing housing; it’s about trying to make a buck,” Rezel said.

Part of the lack of action, he said, stems from politicians, real-estate agents and others in the industry holding investment properties themselves. The vested interests result in little interest to act on the problem, Rezel alleged.

In last year’s federal election platform, the Liberal party promised an “anti-flipping tax on residential properties,” claiming the tax would reduce demand and cool the market. The tax would apply to homes held fewer than 12 months before being sold again.

So far, no action has been taken. The Department of Finance said it would not comment on whether such a tax is in the works due to the upcoming federal budget, which will be released April 7.

Rezel said that with no action from the federal government on flipping despite the promise, he fears the trend will only continue. He’s already seen signs of it in smaller communities in BC

“It’s spreading like a cancer and it’s now taking hold in places that you wouldn’t think you’d see speculation,” he said.

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