Monday, June 29, 2009


Is Canada's housing market tanking or taking off?
Alia McMullen, Financial Post
Published: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Canadian housing market is beginning to look like a large jumbled puzzle. A week after a report showed the price of an average house had soared to a record high, an alternate report suggested Wednesday prices have in fact declined for five consecutive months.

Both sources are respectable, and their data accurate. But different methodology has led to a discrepancy between the figures. So where does the Canadian housing market stand?

Economists and those in the real estate industry believe conditions fall somewhere in the middle.
The price of a Canadian home was down 6.7% in April from a year earlier, the relatively new Teranet–National Bank House Price Index showed Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive month of yearly decrease and caused the index to be down 8.9% from its peak in August. Home prices in Vancouver were down 10.9% from April last year, while prices dropped 9.8% in Calgary and 7.6% in Toronto. On a positive note, prices were up 2.4% in Montreal, 0.6% in Ottawa and 0.2% in Halifax.

But the data are in strong contrast to Multiple Listing Service figures released by the Canadian Real Estate Association on Monday last week.

The MLS figures showed the average national home price for May was up a robust 16.4% from January, setting a record high of $319,757.

Other indicators have thrown a few spanners in the works. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday Canadian house prices fell 11% in the first quarter, while Statistics Canada's index on new home prices, released at the beginning of the month, showed prices in April had fallen 3.2% since hitting a record high in September 2008.

With the economy in recession and unemployment increasing, Millan Mulraine, an economics strategist at TD Securities, said it was hard to justify a rise in house prices, as suggested by the CREA survey. But he was not convinced prices had fallen as sharply as the Teranet-National Bank survey had found.

"I would suspect that somewhere in between is the true state. If anything, I think it would be more on the negative side," Mr. Mulraine said. He said the discrepancy between the two sources was likely due to sampling and methodology differences.

The Teranet-National Bank figure is calculated by using the sale prices of homes that have been sold at least once before, a method designed to smooth volatility in the reading. The CREA figure is the average sale price of all homes sold through the MLS. The figure can be skewed by the mix of homes that were sold with the location, size and type of home all impacting price.

"You can't argue with the accuracy of the number, but you can argue that the number misrepresents what's happening in the marketplace if something out of the ordinary is happening," said Phil Soper, the president and chief executive of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.

He said home prices had not changed much since January, but seasonal factors skewed the data when comparing it on a monthly basis. For instance, many of the homes sold over the winter were distressed sales as a result of the recession, which artificially lowered the average house price compared with the return to normalized activity over spring and summer. Compared with a year ago, the CREA data showed the average house price was largely flat.

Paul Ferley, an economist at RBC Capital Markets said housing start activity continued to suggest weakness in the market. However, he said the market was close to a trough and poised for improvement.

"Our view is both Canadian and U.S. economies return to positive growth in the second half of this year and with that I think it should provide some relief to housing markets in both economies," Mr. Ferley said.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Calgary growth plan showdown looming
By Jason Markusoff
Calgary Herald
June 23, 2009

CALGARY- Calgary's suburban developers are enlisting tradespeople to help them sway aldermen against the city's blueprint for a denser, more transit-focused future.
And as home builders and developers rally opposition before council's June 23 hearing on Plan It Calgary, a coalition of community activists, academics and some inner-city developers has emerged to lobby in support of the planning strategy.
It's a high-stakes struggle over a complex and sweeping plan that would limit Calgary's sprawl, boost overall population density by 35 per cent and quadruple the size of the transit system in 60 years.
Opponents and supporters expect an emotional debate among a divided city council. The city received 585 public comments aldermen will have to consider, and the hearing may drag on for days.
But the vast majority of Calgarians don't seem to be tuned in, Ald. John Mar said. At one open house for Plan It, he was initially impressed to see dozens of cars parked outside Earl Grey school.
"When I went in, it was nearly empty -- there was actually peewee football outside," Mar said.
"A couple of parents walked in afterwards."
He's heard both support and concern regarding Plan It, but also worries that some residents who back the idea of higher density in existing areas are the same ones who try blocking such developments in their own neighbourhoods.
"Given that this is a 60-70 year plan, I don't know that there's a lot of urgency to move ahead with it at the speed that we are," the inner-city alderman said.
Michael Flynn of Urban Development Institute-Calgary named Mar as one of the swing voters on a council that is largely divided among suburban aldermen who are skeptical about Plan It, and inner-city ones who have voiced favour for the blueprint.
His influential group and the local branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association ramped up advocacy against Plan It's recommendations with a recent "call to action" to get members writing to aldermen and speaking at the June 23 hearing.
The industry is not only lining up business leaders to voice concerns about Plan It's call for less suburban expansion-- a restriction on choice, his sector argues--but also subcontractors and trades workers involved in home building.
"We were helping them understand it's not only going to affect your livelihood, but also where your family might live in the future," Flynn said in an interview.
Several contractors' letters appear in the Plan It package sent to aldermen before Tuesday's hearing, some of them expressing concern of gridlock if the plan builds too much transit at the expense of roads.
Plan It calls for one-third of all new homes to be built in existing communities--not new suburbs--over the next 30 years, a target that rises to half in 60 years. It would also increase the proportion of condos and townhouses in Calgary's residential mix, which critics warn will make single-family houses more expensive.
The target is a broad aspiration and won't be used as a "hammer" to yea or nay specific developments, said David Watson, the city's general manager of planning and development. But it shouldn't be scrapped because a clear target would help give Calgary a proper roadmap to sustainability, he argued.
The pro-Plan It coalition, dubbed CivicCamp, began in April with 165 locals meeting to discuss the Calgary they want. Some have appeared in the group's blue T-shirts at City Hall meetings to support Plan It and the brief summer closure of Memorial Drive to cars.
CivicCamp member Peter Rishaug said there's a false sense that Plan It will mean 40-storey concrete towers everywhere. Much redevelopment will be low-rises or townhouses on more of a "human scale."
"I don't think that's too much of a utopian vision," he said. "I think it's realistically possible. I don't think the city as a corporation would do anything on this scale if they knew they were going to hurt the development industry."
CivicCamp also includes Ken Toews, a developer who helped create Garrison Woods, a model for Plan It-style redeveloped communities.
"We went totally against what the development industry wisdom at that time said, and it was incredibly successful," Toews said. "But I understand the industry point of view. They own a lot of farmland on Calgary outskirts and want to make as much money as they can."
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce praised Plan It's push against sprawl and car dependence in its submission to council, but urged more forewarning of where high-density redevelopment will go, and study of the infrastructure cost savings city planners say will come from building a more compact city.
One suburban developer questioned how effective it will be to lobby council.
"I think for the most part, you're converted or not, unfortunate as it is to say," said David Fishley of Dundee Developments.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I pass by Masters Gallery in Mission on my way into and out of Downtown daily and the above piece caught my eye earlier this week. The artist is David Thauberger. I can see this piece hanging in a great converted warehouse loft. Check it out live in person; the digital viewing is only a partial experience.

The following website was taken from the Masters Gallery Website

David Thauberger R.C.A.
The first thing that catches your eye in a gallery exhibiting the work of David Thauberger is the sheer colour of it. The second thing is its clearness and precision. A closer look is like zooming in to see places usually shown from farther away within the context of the prairie horizon. Thauberger gives us a new perspective of architectural subjects in small prairie towns through his own unique filter of memory and experience. The result is a powerful statement of place, culture and history that dominates not only in its execution, but also in its strength.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Housing rebounds
Sales up again

Garry Marr, Financial Post
Published: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The housing market continued to rebound in May with a fourth consecutive increase in monthly sales, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
The Ottawa-based group, which represents about 100 boards across the country, said the average sale price of a home sold through the Multiple Listing Service reached a record $319,757.
Despite the new threshhold, the May average sale price was only 0.4% ahead of last year. Nationally, prices are up 16.4% from the January low.
"Sales activity is now closer to the pre-recession peak than it is to the recent low point reached last January," said Dale Ripplinger, the Reginabased president of the association. "Strengthening consumer confidence, low interest rates and improved affordability are drawing buyers to the housing market across Canada."
CREA said transaction activity in the country's most expensive markets is leading to an overall rebound, which is helping to skew the average price upward. In the past, the reverse has happened.
There were 49,521 units sold last month, a 0.8% decline from May, 2008. CREA said monthly sales have been increasing, on a seasonally adjusted basis, since January. The association noted sales were up 43% last month from the January bottom, on a seasonally adjusted basis.
Actual sales in May were up in 14 of the 25 major markets CREA surveys. Greater Vancouver sales jumped 16.4% in May from a year earlier. Toronto sales were up 1.9%, Montreal's 8.2%, Calgary's 11.3% and Edmonton's 18.7% from a year earlier.
A Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada survey released last week showed the high-end of the market is starting to improve, too. The real estate company said Toronto set a monthly record for home sales of more than $1-million in May.
The jump in sales activity comes as supply is declining. The pace of new home construction is down close to 50% from last year while new listings in the existing homes market are also sharply declining.
CREA said new listings are at their lowest level since December, 2005. There were 49,438 new listings in the country's top markets, a 22.7% decline from a year earlier. Greater Vancouver saw new listings decline by 35% from a year ago while Toronto new listings were off 26.9%

Monday, June 15, 2009



Check out the Phonofone II by Science + Sons. Most ipod stereos tend to be boring and unimpressive so this product is not only an extremely welcome change but also something to put on display, not hidden away like my current one. Also available in black and quite a bit more expensive that your off the shelf player but in my eyes, a worthy price to pay.

Taken From Science + Sons Website:

Why-fi?Patent pending
Through passive amplification alone, These unique pieces instantly transform any personal music player + earbuds into a sculptural audio console.
Without the use of external power or batteries, the Phonofone inventively exploits the virtues of horn acoustics to boost the audio output of standard earphones to up to 55 decibles* (or roughly the maximum volume of laptop speakers)
Upon connecting active earphones to the Phonofone their trebly buzzing is instantly and profoundly transformed into a warm, rich and resonant sound.

The Phonofone is constructed entirely from ceramic. Not only environmentally low impact, ceramics are inherently rigid and resonant, lending themselves well to this application.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Loonie rises as oil climbs
Published: Thursday, June 11, 2009

TORONTO -- The Canadian dollar rose against the U.S. dollar on Thursday morning, lifted in part by firmer equities and oil prices, but the market was awaiting any commentary by the Bank of Canada on the currency's recent rally.
At 10:43 a.m. EDT, the Canadian dollar was at C$1.1000 to the U.S. dollar, or 90.91 U.S. cents, up from Wednesday's finish at C$1.1080 to the U.S. dollar, or 90.25 U.S. cents.
A speech by Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney on Thursday and a subsequent news conference would be "watched keenly" for any commentary on the Canadian dollar's recent rise, said Derek Holt, an economist at Scotia Capital.
"Is its rise sustainable; how much of it is driven by fundamentals versus overshooting; how long do they think it'll stick going on into next year; and what are the updated estimates on its impact on the Canadian economy?" said Holt.
"There's a tremendous scope for market impact on any comments from that."
North American stocks were firmer on Thursday, helped by higher oil prices and U.S. economic data that showed a rise in retail sales and a slight decline in first-time jobless claims.
Oil rose to US$72 a barrel after the International Energy Agency raised its estimate for 2009 demand, adding to signs the decline in consumption may have bottomed out.
Also on Thursday, the Canadian government will provide its scheduled fiscal update, but that event will likely have a negligible effect on the currency, said George Davis, chief technical strategist at RBC Capital Markets.
"Unless we get a shocking about-face in terms of any type of indication that the deficit it is going to be a lot less than what's been projected of about C$50-billion ... I don't think that's going to have much of an impact," he said.
Canadian bond prices were mostly lower across the curve ahead of the government's fiscal update, said Scotia Capital's Holt.
"You might get firmer deficit numbers and a stronger understanding of the financing flows and some comment about how quickly they expect to rein this back in over the next few years that could affect the bond market," he said.
The benchmark two-year government bond was down 9 Canadian cents at C$99.55 to yield 1.486%, while the 10-year bond fell 8 Canadian cents to C$100.75 to yield 3.659%.
The 30-year bond rose 30 Canadian cents to C$115.05 to yield 4.091%. The comparable U.S. Treasury issue yielded 4.7903%.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Canadian housing starts perk up Canadian housing starts showed welcome signs of improvement in May, rising to 128,400 annualized from April’s 117,600. The increase was broadly based across building types. Both urban singles starts and urban multiples starts rose 11.1% to 60.900 annualized and 46,900, respectively. Rural starts remained unchanged at 20,600 annualized units.
The improvement was reasonably broad-based, with all regions posting gains except British Columbia. Ontario enjoyed the largest percentage gain, up 22%, with gains in the Prairies posting a 16.8% increase. Quebec and Atlantic Canada enjoyed more muted gains of 3.3% and 7.3%, respectively. British Columbia suffered a 5% decline in urban starts during May.
The pick-up in starts is broadly in line with our forecast of an improvement during the latter half of the year relative to the weakness in the first half. We expect Canadian housing starts to average 141,000 in 2009 overall. As growth in the economy picks up in 2010, starts should improve modestly to 173,000, although this represents activity well below levels seen earlier this decade.

Josh Heller


RBC Economics Research


First-time homebuyers spark resale resurgence
By Marty Hope
Calgary HeraldJune 6, 2009

They're ba-a-a-ck!
The president of the Calgary Real Estate Board has laid much of the explanation for a resurgence in resale activity at the feet of house-buying novices.
"The spring market has received an added boost from a growing number of first-time buyers entering the market," says Bonnie Wegerich after releasing the board's activity report for May.
During the month, 1,584 single-family homes and 653 condominiums changed hands--triple the number sold in January.
For the fifth straight month, the average price of single-family homes increased, finishing May at $436,427--about $24,000 higher than in January.
On the condo side, the average price has declined for the second straight month, closing May at $275,212 after a peak of $284,056 in March.
Wegerich also noted that May brought with it the first year-over-year gain in single-family housing sales since last September.
"A pent-up demand has been building, with many first-time home buyers now taking advantage of affordable prices, record low interest rates and federal government housing incentives," she says.
While sales and prices are climbing in the detached home category, the month-end inventory continues to slide. After hitting a high of 4,369 homes in March, the total has fallen to 3,861 at the end of last month.
"The gap between supply and demand at the end of last year was pushing prices down," says Wegerich.
"But since December, we have seen five consecutive months of increases in sales while our inventory continues to trend lower. The gap has narrowed and prices are stabilizing."
Ted Zaharko, broker-owner of Royal LePage Foothills Real Estate, says that the industry appears to have turned the corner.
"Have we bottomed?I would say yes and we are now starting to level out," he says. "I think young people should be jumping in."
He adds that there are more instances of multiple offers and, in general, deals are
coming together more quickly. Board figures show that, on average, single-detached homes are on the market for 45 days before selling. In January, it was 62 days.
"You have to believe that low interest rates are a major factor for the increasing number of sales we're seeing," he says. "That's just one of a bunch of good things happening."
Oil prices are climbing, the stock markets are regaining strength, $8 billion has been announced for oilsands investment and the value of the loonie is moving up. "But you know what, I think people are just getting fed up with all the negative stuff going on. It's time to get on with things," says Zaharko.
Sales Inventory Avg. price Days On market - January 530 4,040 $413,049 62 - February 825 4,352 $415,568 51 - March 1,086 4,369 $420,354 48 - april 1,290 4,130 $426,311 52 - May 1,584 3,861 $436,427 45
Source: Calgary real estate Board

Friday, June 5, 2009


Want to take in some great art? Check out the work of Darrell Underschultz at Masters Gallery in Mission. I consider myself a modernist and gravitate towards more unusual contemporary pieces but his work in undeniably superb. The following artist statement was taken from Masters Gallery website.

Darrell Underschultz

Artist Statement:
All of my work is acrylic on canvas. The paintings are built up of thin washes of color, opaque at first and then transparent near the end. The transparent washes intensify the color and build depth. Most pieces have up to 50 washes or layers. The work is delicately sanded between layers to produce an ultra smooth surface. The washes create a very matte, velvety surface that can be either varnished or left as is. I have always been inspired by classic landscape paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. For me, these works set the standard for how I view landscape paintings today. I am trying to marry a romanticized past with my contemporary vision. I believe that I learned to paint the way that I do because of a desire to figure out how it was done in the past. With my work, I want to create a sense of awe and beauty, but with a darker sensibility. I am not too concerned with capturing naturalistic impressions of nature, but rather with capturing a mood or a feeling. I want to create an emotional reflection of what I see in a sunrise, sunset, or a tree or a cloud. Dark romanticism is what I keep in mind when working. The relationship between what lurks in the shadows and what is visible in the light is what I find fascinating.

2115 - 4th St. S.W. Calgary, AB T2S 1W8

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


U.S. pending home sales jump most in seven years
Published: Tuesday, June 02, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Pending sales of previously owned U.S. homes in April unexpectedly saw their biggest monthly gain in 7-1/2 years, a report from a trade group on Tuesday showed, buttressing views the U.S. recession was easing.
The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in April, rose 6.7% in April to 90.3 from 84.6 in March.
It was the biggest monthly increase since October 2001 and it took the index 3.2% above its year-ago level in the latest sign the battered U.S. housing sector was stabilizing.
Economists polled by Reuters ahead of the report were expecting pending home sales to rise 0.5%.
The downturn in the U.S. housing market touched off a global credit crisis that sent economy's worldwide tumbling into recession. Now, signs are emerging that the global economy is beginning to heal.
The association's senior economist, Lawrence Yun, credited improved home affordability and a new government program that provides an US$8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers for the surge in buying activity.
The NAR said its Housing Affordability Index, which blends factors like home prices and mortgage rates, was "in record territory" with 30-year mortgage rates hovering around 5% and an abundance of homes on the market.