By SHANE DINGMAN
Friday, January 12, 2018
Want to buy some ocean front property in British Columbia? It'll only cost you 180 bitcoin, or maybe 160 - no wait, it might change to more than 500 bitcoins.
That's the volatile reality Camilla Stephan-Heck and her husband are facing with their decision to accept the cryptocurrency bitcoin in exchange for their Vancouver Island house. Priced in dollars, they are seeking $2.7-million for the fivebedroom, 18-room bluff's edge mansion.
She's a dentist, he's a lawyer, and they bought their dream property on 1885 Widgeon Rd., near Qualicum Beach, in 2001, right on the waterfront of the Georgia Straight.
In 2010, the couple retired and moved their three children from Sherwood Park (outside Edmonton) into a custom-built 5,788 squarefoot dream home on the 6.7-acre site.
Ms. Stephan-Heck says the couple's children are moving out, scattering across Canada, and the couple wants to downsize and have property near where they settle.
They listed in November, and started advertising on cryptocurrency websites in January.
"I read an article about the utility of bitcoin and I said, 'Would we accept bitcoin for our house?' [Her husband] said, 'I'd be open to it.' It's not done every day," Ms. StephanHeck said.
It may not have been done in Canada before, even though along with their house there are a dozen other Canadian listings from British Columbia to Quebec on the Bitcoin Real Estate website: everything from other luxury properties, condos, a farm and even one buyer who claims to have $450,000 in bitcoin ready to spend on a house in Calgary.
In recent months, there have been reports in the United States of houses selling for bitcoin, everywhere from Texas to Florida and nearby Seattle.
In part, what's changed is the value of bitcoin itself: The digital currency started 2017 valued at about $980 (U.S.) a "coin," and hit a high of more than $17,500 in December.
"We dabble in cryptocurrency ourselves," Ms. Stephan-Heck says.
She says they jumped on the bandwagon in October, 2017, buying some bitcoin and another crytpocurrency named ethereum. "We're fairly diversified in our investments, bitcoin was gaining notoriety and we started doing some research.
We've done reasonably well on it. ... It's enough to have fun with."
She says the couple would accept either a full or part bitcoin offer, but her real estate agent has told her he still expects to be paid in Canadian currency. The couple has no mortgage on the property, and is in no rush to sell; they are waiting for the right offer.
Ms. Stephan-Heck is also not sure if she would keep all or just some of her new bitcoins, saying she will be looking at the currency's pricing trend when deciding whether to keep or convert it to Canadian currency.
VANCOUVER, TORONTO RENTS SHOW STEADY RISE
Rental site Padmapper.com says that as 2017 ended, its data suggest Toronto's average one-bedroom apartment rent was close to drawing even with Vancouver rates.
The site reported that, in December, the average new rental listing prices for one-bedroom units in Vancouver was $1,990, down 4.3 per cent from the month previous. Toronto's average one-bedroom price was $1,970 (up 2.6 per cent).
Those figures differ from other recent data sources and may not accurately capture cost of renting in either city, because Padmapper just calculates its own current listings and doesn't survey the entire rental market. For example, in Toronto it currently has 5,346 condos, houses and apartments listed; of those, 2,903 were one-bedroom apartments. In Vancouver, it has 1,420 current listings for all types, and 793 onebedroom ads.
Padmapper's numbers also mash together rented condominium units, sub-units in low-rise housing stock and purpose-built units in rental apartment blocks. It's also likely the makeup of its listings is skewed toward the tech-friendly and may not include a representative share of the city's older units.
According to Urbanation Inc., which focuses on the condominium portion of the rental market in Toronto, the pricing for those categories is quite different.
Urbanation doesn't cover Vancouver's market, but in October, 2017, it reported that condo apartment rental transactions recorded in Toronto by the MLS system saw a year-over-year jump of 10.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2017, reaching an average rent of $2,219 for all unit types, and $1,839 for one-bedroom units (up 9.7 per cent). Padmapper's one-month sample may also be slightly skewed: "The rental market is influenced by seasonal factors as well, and it is not uncommon to see average rents decline slightly on a monthly basis during the last couple months of the year, following the very busy late summer/early fall period," says Shaun Hildebrand, senior vice-president with Urbanation.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. publishes rental market surveys that collect far more data about the existing market. In its third-quarter report, it said that, as of October, 2017, the average rent for a onebedroom apartment in the City of Vancouver was $1,223 (up 5.5 per cent from 2016). Across the city, average rent on all types of homes increased 5.9 per cent - the third year that rents grew faster than the provincially allowable 3.7-per-cent increase.
The CMHC data do show the average rent in Toronto is nipping at Vancouver's heels: The CMHC figures for a one-bedroom unit's average rent is $1,202 (up 5.7 per cent from 2016). The city-wide average for all bedroom types is $1,308 (up 5.8 per cent).
Looking specifically at one-bedroom condos, CMHC data for October shows the average rent in Vancouver at $1,692 (up 4.1 per cent from 2016.) Toronto came in at $1,847 (up 8.3 per cent from 2016), but for the core downtown area, it was $2,019 (up 8.5 per cent).
Toronto also has many more - and rents a larger share of - condo units: Of the city's 384,481 units in 2017, 32.7 per cent (125,801) are rented out.
The CMHC estimates there are 232,638 condominium units in the Vancouver area, 59,930 are rental units, or 25.8 per cent.
NEW PLANNING BOARD, OLD GRIEVANCES
It took three tries and more than a year for the City of Ottawa to settle on the shape of its new provincially mandated planning advisory committee, but in the waning days of 2017, it voted into effect a 15-member body that will involve residents in planning discussions between city staff and politicians and developers.
But even the lead councillor behind the committee isn't entirely happy about its existence.
"We wouldn't even have been considering it if we weren't mandated to. ... We already do an excellent job of consulting the public on planning matters," says Jan Harder, the councillor for Barrhaven and chair of the city's Planning Committee, referring to recent changes to Ontario's Planning Act that sought to better involve residents in civic planning. "We do communication constantly, and we do it not because we were forced to do it; we do it because it makes sense."
The committee is only intended to meet twice a year to review the annual work plan of the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department.
"All necessary groups appear to be represented. I think, as an industry, as the group that's building these projects, it might be appropriate to have more than one person from our industry sitting on this group," says John Herbert, executive director of Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association.
Mr. Herbert says that in the context of the Ontario Municipal Board reforms, which will limit a private developer's ability to appeal a civic decision, the Ottawa planning committee has stacked the deck with six citizen members (two each from the city's urban, rural and suburban areas), three councillors and a representative of the city's resident's associations.
"In a sense, the system is now rigged fairly strongly in favour of communities and residents - in other words, anti-development factions," Mr. Herbert says.
The 10-vote block of residents (who will be chosen and vetted by the city councillors) and politicians leaves only five votes for professional opinions: one for developers, one vote for the commercial real estate group the Building Owners and Managers Association, and three other professional advisers (a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, a landscape architect and one more architect who is a member of the Ontario Association of Architects).
"The problem, generally speaking, with citizen participation; all these people know is they don't want a project in their neighbourhood," says Mr. Herbert, who expects he will represent builders on the committee.
Ms. Harder couldn't disagree more with Mr. Herbert's view about resident input, but again stresses that the city has already been making strides to get great community buy-in on new developments.
"As evidence of the fact that we're doing a lot more than others are, in the last two years the OMB cases in Ottawa have dropped by 68 per cent," says Ms. Harder, falling from 19 hearings in 2015, to six in 2017.
This property near Qualicum Beach, B.C., is seeking $2.7-million - which can be paid partly or fully in bitcoin.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, left, and Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi last year. Mayor Watson has been left off a new city planning committee.
ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS