We all know Vancouver is expensive – the real estate market continues to be out of reach for most of us, and trying to find a place to rent is a bad joke.
But how did we get here? Sure, there are theories about the influence of Expo 86, the Olympics, and foreign buyers. But let’s go a little further back in history.
Here are 23 notable moments from the history of Vancouver real estate, that show you just how far long this city has been fascinated with real estate.
McCleery’s Farmhouse is built (1862)
McLeery’s Farmhouse was one of the first buildings constructed by Europeans in the area now known as Vancouver, in 1862. The farm house was situated on the Fraser River, just east of the First Nations village of Musqueam, in what is now Marpole.
Vancouver is incorporated (April 1886)
Vancouver was incorporated on April 6, 1886, almost a century after Capt. George Vancouver first arrived on the Coast Salish people’s land. A realtor was elected mayor.
Early real estate promotion (May 1886)
Ever ingenious, a group of realtors decided to set up shop in a big tree – although only temporarily as a promotional event. More than a century on, they’ve still got our attention.
Great Vancouver Fire (June 1886)
No sooner had Vancouver been founded than it burned down. The Great Fire on June 13, 1886 left only a few structures in the burgeoning city standing – but the city was quickly rebuilt and new building regulations introduced to prevent a similar fire in future.
First Vancouver Real Estate Board formed (1888)
Some 25 real estate companies created and signed a constitution and bylaws to promote and protect the ownership of property. This Board collapsed after almost three months, unable to come to a resolution on the issue of commission sharing with non-members.
Second Vancouver Real Estate Board formed (1919)
Three decades after the first attempt, 10 real estate brokers joined forces for the good of the industry, forming the Vancouver Real Estate Exchange. In 1948, this would become the Vancouver Real Estate Board, known today as the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Real Estate Licensing Act proclaimed (1920)
Prompted by the Vancouver Real Estate Exchange, a Real Estate Licensing Act was introduced by the province in 1920. Two years on, the first real estate license law set minimum standards of practice expected of those licensed under the Act.
Marine Building opens (1930)
When it opened, the Marine Building was the tallest skyscraper in the entire British Empire. But amid the Great Depression, building costs had escalated and the owners went bankrupt. Renowned for its art deco details, the Marine Building is now valued at $90 million.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver opens (1939)
This was the third Hotel Vancouver – the first was a brick farmhouse, the second was a society meeting place, but became a government building during WWII. This, the third Hotel Vancouver, took 11 years to build due to Great Depression and cost $12 million.
Multiple Listing Service launched (1950)
The Cooperative Listing Bureau was established by the Vancouver Real Estate Board in 1950 – it would later be renamed the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®).
Real Estate Act is passed (1958)
The Real Estate Act is passed, after seven years of effort, consideration and research by the Vancouver Real Estate Board’s elected members.
Leaky condo crisis (1982-1999)
Tens of thousands of condos began leaking prematurely, prompting a provincial inquiry into the quality of condominium construction in BC and $4 billion in damage. It forced the most extensive and most costly reconstruction of housing stock in Canadian history.
BC Place opens (1983)
BC Place gave Vancouver a downtown multi-purpose stadium and the world’s largest air supported roof, since replaced with a retractable roof. More recently, as condos have sprung up nearby, residents have begun to complain about the stadium lights and noise.
Living First policy launched (1986)
In 1986, the City of Vancouver introduced the Living First policy, to create more residential buildings downtown. Developers wishing to build there were now also required to create a mix of homes, resulting in the construction of many of the condo towers now there.
Expo 86 lands sold to Chinese tycoon (1988)
In 1988, Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing bought the lands previously used for the city’s hugely successful Expo 86 as one block, an unprecedented deal in the history of Vancouver real estate, arguably leading to an increase in foreign investors flocking to the city.
Laneway homes guidelines adopted (2009)
In July 2009, Vancouver City Council adopted laneway housing regulations, in an effort to give people the option of a new form of housing in single family areas that didn’t have the expensive price tag of actual detached single family homes.
Olympic Village fiasco (2009 – 2014)
The 1,100 units built for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were plagued with problems almost from the start. Building was behind schedule, developers went bankrupt, the property went into receivership and the city almost ended up millions of dollars down.
Living Shangri-La opens (2009)
The Shangri-La hotel and residential apartments became Vancouver’s tallest building when it opened in 2009 and gave Vancouver its first public sculpture garden. The Shangri-La cost around $350 million, and has 307 residential units.
Detached homes sell for $1 million (2010)
As Vancouver’s real estate market continued to skyrocket, the average price of a detached home in the city finally reached $1 million. At the time of writing, the benchmark price for a detached home here is $1,474,200.
In 2016, it emerged some realtors in Vancouver were shadow flipping – selling a contract for a property at a higher price before a sale closed, earning themselves commission each time the home – or contract – sold. Public outcry led to the end of self-regulation for the real estate industry and increased fines for realtors breaking the rules.
Amid claims that foreign investors were driving up real estate prices in Vancouver, the provincial government increased the property transfer tax rate by 15% for foreign buyers of real estate in Metro Vancouver.
The Empty Homes Tax came into force, aimed at boosting rental rates in Vancouver’s incredibly hot market. All non-principal residences left unoccupied for at least six months of the year would be subject to a 1% tax on the assessed value of the property, as of 2017.
One of the most controversial real estate deals in recent years, the Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver opened in 2017, prompting protests against Donald Trump, who sold the naming rights to the building’s developers.