Real Estate Lessons from Bob Rennie

(February 17, 2014 , posted in Vancouver Real Estate)

Art savant and real estate mogul Bob Rennie is a regional brand name with the notoriety of a Canuck.  nown for his winning marketing strategies, influence on Vancouver’s urban development and unadulterated faith in statistics, Rennie offers a wealth of information to anyone willing to pay attention beyond a catchy headline.

Books will be written about Rennie’s influence on the city of Vancouver, so it is difficult to choose just a few points for a short article. But as Vancouverites, there are a some important lessons we must learn about where we live and how we plan to continue developing the city.

1. Population Growth Will Continue in a Big Way

Perhaps the first lesson is for us to better understand whom we are building communities for. In his 2013 UDI (Urban Development Institute) speech Rennie discusses this in exacting detail. Vancouver’s over-confident and historically blind approach to the real estate market is a thing of the past, argues Rennie. “When one of us has a problem, we all have a problem”. Undoubtedly, Vancouver in 2013 is faced with many problems in growth and development, but none that can’t be overcome if we are strategic and mindful in our progress.

Rennie goes on to remind us that “when one person moves here, seven other people think about moving here”. In the next 15 years Vancouver’s population will increase by 23.88%. In practical terms this means Greater Vancouver’s population will go from 2.3 million to approximately 3.06 million residents and downtown Vancouver – “the Franchise” as Rennie calls it – will absorb close to 100,000 of these newcomers… meaning that at least 53,000 new homes will be required to accommodate this influx of residents.

So as Greater Vancouver prepares to absorb another entire Vancouver city into itself, one must ask: how can we support that change?

2. We Must Reconsider How We Develop Land

Rennie is famous for saying many things, but one of them is that “there will never be another single-family lot created in Vancouver (unless a double lot is divided)”, which is just another more locally-relevant way of saying Trump’s famous quip that, “they’re not making any more land”.

No, they’re not making any more land but we are making more people and everybody needs a home. It seems obvious that what Greater Vancouver requires is new, high-density affordable housing along public transit routes. Thankfully, we are starting to see this kind of development from False Creek to Metrotown and everywhere in between, but, argues Rennie, this growth must be conscious and needs to address the many and not just the few.

3. Gentrification Hurts Communities

Being conscious means that we cannot aggressively grow while trying to stay the same. We need to create functional neighbourhoods that have commercial space that supports local residential in a congruent manner. Rather than gentrifying, or building a single, wealthy, model way of life into our city, we need to adapt to who we have become so that we can progress into who we want to be. At great cost to the community, gentrification causes harsh divides between neighbourhoods and risks, amongst many other things, a great loss in culture. It only makes sense that developers and city officials come together to ensure that Vancouver as a whole is offering enough diversity in housing that is affordable and representative of the local residents.

4. Vancouver’s Demographics are Changing

We can no longer build and grow with only an immediate dollar value reward in mind. The consumer is not only more demanding but more frugal, environmentally aware and diverse. The Baby Boomers will represent 33% of B.C.’s buyer’s market and unlike the past, they are not leveraging their equity to buy bigger and better, but rather they are relying on what equity they have left to down-size into something that allows them to age in place within their community while perhaps helping their children buy into their first home. Is there enough being offered to this changing demographic of our city, which is growing in influence by 100% over the next 10 years?… Not at the moment. Are they looking for the same thing as first-time buyers, passive investors or newcomers to the city? Not at all. Clearly a conscious, more comprehensive approach is required to support this massive, forthcoming change to our housing market.

5. We Must Manage Vancouver’s Brand

Which leads me to the brand that is Vancouver… a brand that is still in its relative infancy when compared to other metropolitan cities around the world, but a brand that is rapidly growing. Vancouver is known for many things, not the least of which is its plethora of expensive cars and luxury real estate, but Vancouver is a brand that does not benefit by only focusing on the popular, wealthy residents of the city. Though this approach will make the wealthy look good, it does a dis-service to our city’s name. By including the more “unpopular” segments of society, the 65% making around $50,000/year, and servicing their housing needs along with those requiring government subsidies so that we can create integrated living spaces representative of a proper city, we are not only enhancing Vancouver’s brand name, but we are turning Vancouver into city where people don’t just live, they belong.

6. Home Offerings Must Reflect Demand

A rumour repeated does not a fact make. Therefore, when you read the next headline that beats the drum of the dreaded housing market doom in B.C., consider these aforementioned facts. If Vancouver is growing at a such a steady pace, where will we live if not in homes that we can afford and in neighbourhoods where we belong? Lifestyle is important to anyone with a modicum of disposable income and whether you are a young couple buying your first home willing to sacrifice space for the accessibility of living the heart of downtown or you are retired and looking to downsize without leaving your neighbourhood, the influences that affect our buying decisions are to be carefully considered as they will always be changing and therefore, so must our cities.

Conscious change is not the same thing as blind ambition. As we continue to grow and obsess over our city’s real estate market, we need to keep asking ourselves, “who do we want to be?” It is a question asked throughout millenia by great artists that is repeatedly emulated in modern marketing and just as important to the whole of Vancouver as it is to any one of its unique residents. And perhaps the biggest lesson offered by Bob Rennie is in the answer to this timeless question.. after all, how can we know who we want to be if we don’t fully understand who we are now?

Note: All stats referenced in this article were taken from Bob Rennie’s 2013 UDI Speech, which can be found here.