That is not a bubble. This is a bubble…

An Aussie visitor says Vancouver ain't got nothin' on Sydney when it comes to low affordability

I have just returned from visiting relatives in Vancouver. I mostly stayed in West Vancouver with my retired aunt and uncle but also stayed in outer-suburban areas with my police-officer cousin.

I was looking for a bubble – after all Vancouver is a notorious property bubble – but – speaking as someone from Sydney I could not see one. Everything was so cheap. Houses especially. Cars too.

A Mountie and his drug-rep wife had a material standard of living that would match a partner in a second tier law firm in Sydney. House prices seemed impossibly low.

The only place where my material standard of living was markedly higher than the outer Vancouver middle class was that I have a decent surf beach locally and the local restaurants and coffee shops are much better in Sydney. Also alcohol is cheaper in Sydney – which is in part taxes and in part protection. (Alcohol is much cheaper in parts of the USA.)

To offset the beaches and restaurants, my cousins had a ski resort up the hill. And food (other than dairy) was cheaper. Quality was high. Dairy seemed to be another industry-protection issue.

And housing was much cheaper and much higher quality.

I remember thinking that Sydney was in a bubble when it got as expensive as Vancouver now is. But then housing prices doubled. After that they seemed to drift upwards.

I have given up predicting the end of the Sydney property bubble. It will happen. It feels like it might happen now. But it has felt like that before. And before that. And before that.

I would rather be short Sydney property than long it (though my wife might object). And that stance has cost me money in the past.

There is a scene in Crocodile Dundee where a New Yorker pulls a switch blade on Dundee. He pulls out an Australian bush knife which is far more impressive.

That is how I felt about Vancouver. You call this a bubble? I am an Australian. I can show you a bubble. Vancouver – that is just kids having fun.

– post by John Hempton from his blog Bronte Capital. Thanks to Tim Bray for tweeting the original post.

Wireless pole idea unplugged by City - for now
Glissy's Big Adventure

Broken image or link? Click here to report it or visit

About The Author

  • cp

    John’s clearly been going to the wrong cafes when in Vancouver.

  • There are very few wrong cafes in Sydney. The random restaurant in Vancouver would not survive in Sydney. But it is a LOT cheaper than Sydney…

  • Higgins

    You kinda compare apples with oranges, John. And you work in investments and global markets you say?It figures as you guys were never ever, right on mostly anything, palm reader or investment advice, same thing only better pay.

  • John Hempton

    Don’t see the apples and oranges I am comparing. Living standards are higher everywhere I looked in Vancouver – and the driver was lower prices.

    The only exception was restaurants/cafes – and those are better in Sydney but MUCH more expensive. So that is only an exception if you are rich enough to deal with it.

    In the Crocodile Dundee thing BOTH blades are knives. And both property markets could be bubbles.

    Just our bubble is MUCH bigger than yours.

  • Max

    @John Hempton:

    Curious – what is the average HHI in Sydney?

    Minimum wage?

  • The Angry Taxpayer


    What’s the average household income in greater Sydney? It’s around $68,000 per annum here.

    As for affordability, certainly not so much in West Van, and on the West Side (and migrating to East Side).

    Also, do most people there live in single family homes or has the 1+ bedroom condo craze hit Sydney?

    I also understand that there have been restrictions placed on investor properties (housing). How has this affected the market?

  • ed elec

    Vancouver doesnt compare to Sydney..

    Sydney is a financial centre,has a strong economy, high wages and good job opportuity,
    Vancouver has no industry, a weak economy,low wages and poor carrer opportunity…..

    and as for climate, Sydney is sunny and warm year-round, and outdoor activity can be enjoyed all year.
    Vancouver’s climate is shall we say a little depressing .. short daylight hours, unbearable cold half the year , also makes Vanouver a terrible place to get quality produce…….i found people in Vancouver to be angry.. always in a rush… generally just miserable

    i also found food in Sydney much Cheaper than Vancouver,,,especially fruits/ vegatables…..example a Mango or Coconut in Sydeny is maybe 20 cents.and superior quality….Vancouver…2-3 dollars and poor quality

    Vancouver is no Sydney

    • Max

      @ed elec:

      Wow – your portrait of Vancouver is depressing.

      As a long time Vancouverite and born and bred BC’er, I don’t share your evaluation of Vancouver – a true jewel in it’s own right.

      Of course the climate in Syndey is going to be different – geographical location, which also plays into the costs of certain fruits and other imported items.

      Produce – nothing wrong with the quality, nor the quality of people – you get back what you put out.

      And as for no career opportunities in Vancouver – you need to explain this one.

      I’ve worked inthe province since I was 11 years old and have only been out of work for a period of at most, 4 weeks since then. There are jobs, but you have to be willing to take the work.

      • Paulette

        Common Max,
        Give it to the man/woman…
        Long weekend, for goodness sake, look out the window…
        It simply sucks to be in Vancouver!
        Big time. AND TO PAY THE PREMIUM FOR THAT…THAT’s depressing! 🙂

      • boohoo

        Wait, Max, I thought Vancouver was unaffordable, businesses were going out of business, industry was fleeing, bike lanes were causing anarchy, etc?

        Or does that argument only work when you’re angry about Gregor?

      • Steven Forth

        Hi Max – Hey, we agree. I have not been to Sydney though I have heard great things about its restaurants and the sailing culture. On the other hand, in the industries I work in, software and management consulting, I have been told that there are more opportunities in Vancouver and I am certainly bullish on the opportunties here. And I like the weather and the gardens one can grow here. I cycle everyday and as the Norweigians say, ‘there is no bad weather, just bad dressing.”

  • Mario

    @Paulette and Max,

    A quick and easy way to see how “bad” we have it in Vancouver is to see the flock of bums coming from the East that is TO, Montreal, etc. They are a very good indicator this city is GREAT!
    I’m not a Vancouverite but this city is a very nice place to live. Clean, green, and with a fairly nice weather. I will give some pointsd to the attitude some people have, but I guess is more about being somehow alone. Another thing I really dislike is the pollitics of City Hall and the mafia, I mean the Unions.

  • Richard


    Sydney is building even more separated bike lanes than Vancouver. 50km over 3 or 4 years I believe, investing $76 million. Probably why max didn’t mention that.

  • Eric

    Australia’s largest city is Sydney. It’s also is a head-office city. Vancouver is Canada’s third largest city and therefore not our head-office one. Sydney is also larger than Vancouver, it’s where the publishing and advertising Industry is also located. Right there these factors mean many more well paying jobs and all the service subsidiaries to supply them, from law firms, to printers, graphic designers, etc. and all the cultural support that headquarter cities receive in patronage and financing. These factors contribute substantially to Sydney having much higher real estate prices than Vancouver.

    Geographically, both cities are spectacular but as long as business in Canada is mainly done in Toronto, Montreal and increasingly Calgary, Vancouver will lag in having many high paying jobs. Vancouver’s port is often underrated. The newer industries such as the film and video-game industry and the Internet-based industry along with entrepreneurial start-ups are where opportunities are excellent.

    Summer in Sydney can be oppressively hot. Summer in Vancouver can be great. It sure does rain in Vancouver but it beats the snow and ice in the rest of Canada.

    • Steven Forth

      Although I agree with your basic points, Calgary is smaller than Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver but is much more successful than Vancouver at growing head offices. Vancouver business leaders have failed the city here and we need a major culture shift. We need to invest in and grow local companies. (And yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black as I am running a company with its head office in Cambridge MA, I am part of the problem).

    • Everyman

      Vancouver’s weather may be better than other Canadian cities, but it is decidedly worse than Sydney’s. Yes, it can have some “oppresively’ hot summer days but the average temp is around 26.

  • Brilliant

    @Birdy-good to see at least one city has the sense to fight back against the war on the car (though Gordon Price’s starry eyed Aussie worship must now be dented). If they were outraged about politicians jacking up street parking prices to the level of offstreet parking,imagine what they’d make of our little green paradise. And how would they react to private parking that inexplicably costs more than Midtown Manhattan?

  • eric

    One other thing. The restrictions introduced in Australia in ownership of real estate by non-residents has not lowered the cost of Sydney houses or condos.

  • Eric

    @Brilliant, the escalated parking rates that Vancouver exacts on vehicles in the west side of town is creating a ghettoized downtown. The idea is designed as progressive, those that have more money can afford to pay more. It leads to locals avoiding the western side of downtown and Coal Harbour, where it costs $6 an hour as opposed to more than half as much in and around Gastown.

    This policy is social engineering. What’s next? Rates based on the value of the vehicle?

    • Richard Unger

      Dear Eric,

      You Sir, are absolutely right!
      The crooks residing at 12th and Cambie are simply removing out the “deadwood” from the Downtown area and its surrounding amenities.
      I for one am punished for being over 70 years old together with my wife, who can no longer afford not to get to Stanley Park without our car. And after being retired for some time you all need to know, it is boring and expensive in the same time.
      The parking restrictions imposed by the City Hall are to be compared with the regimes that no longer exists in the world. I am not going to mention which because you all know about them.
      Shame on this parody of a City Manager, shame on this pubertal Mayor, shame on this group of individuals calling themselves “Vision” … vision of what?

      Social engineering! I am too mad to continue.

      Richard Unger MD (Ret)

  • Kaya

    Correct me if I’m wrong but it’s not just the house prices and meals that need to be compared. There is lot of other factor determining the existence of a bubble.
    House price increases have not been matched by increases in the essentials like growth in disposable income, growth in GDP per capita, inflation or the rental indexes produced by CMHC. The ratio of house prices to rent is now higher in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto especially) than in any other developed country.
    Average house prices are now 12x personal disposable income, far above historical averages. This ratio was as high as 9.7 times during bubble in the late 80s.
    Various people can get various impressions. I’m happy that your impression of Vancouver was very positive however looking at the data provided by CMHC and IMF, they are telling a different story.

  • Johnny Needles

    “I was looking for a bubble – after all Vancouver is a notorious property bubble – but – speaking as someone from Sydney I could not see one. Everything was so cheap. ***Houses especially.*** Cars too.”

    Can I have some of whatever he’s smoking?

  • Mira

    Bob Rennie is high on lies. he makes things up as he breaths, that’s how he sold out this city to foreigners. The guy is a slippery individual.
    Richard Unger is right, there is a sustained fight against cars, and people who do not agree with the powers that be. But who’s to blame? Vancouver chose to re-elect these clowns for another term ain’t that right?

  • boohoo

    “there is a sustained fight against cars”

    Tell me about it! Look at how unfairly treated cars and drivers are being punished all over Metro Vancouver. I mean sure, there’s a new highway to Whistler, new South Fraser Perimeter highway, widened highway 1, new bridge across the Fraser, another new bridge next year but those last two are tolled!! How unfair is that!! And two lanes of downtown are now for bikes! Gross!!!

    War?? This is the apocalypse!!!

    • Working Mom

      Ha Ha! Yes this City is so anti car – it is amazing.

      Let picture this – mom with two children one is 6 months old the other is 3 years old. She has to go grocery shopping, take the children to the doctors, play groups or swimming classes and also may take the pet dog to the vet. Oh yes and she does this all by BIKE!

      Too often I have even seen bus drivers refuse parents on the bus because they have strollers! But hey BIKES are welcomed and their riders are allowed to jump the line.

      Got to love Vision Vancouver for their disrespect for the working families!

      • Steven Forth

        Sure there are many people who need to use cars. And there are others that need to use bikes. And others that rely on transit and foot. Vancouver has grossly privliged people with cars over the past few decades with an assumption that everyone should or can drive a car. Not so. I know many young mothers in Vancouver with two kids who do not rely on cars. When my kids were small I took them to school, soccer practice and music by bike and did all the shopping on foot. We chose to live in an area where this was possible. The only thing we relied on a car for was skiing and to get to Vancouver Japanese Language School. Even for VJLS, by the time my kids were past ten they took the bus. I do not see how a few bile lanes are a war on cars.

        • Heather Tailors

          So just because you have your little community, where you can walk and bike, you’ve already decreed that everybody should just the same and they should suffer for that because you know what’s right for them, right? Wrong! You have no idea what you are talking about as you people in West End/ Kits live in your own imaginary cocoon. We, the rest of Vancouver, we are not living in Gaza you know… and don’t need your permission to enter, pay a surcharge, in order to enjoy yours only, God given to you, land of Downtown and Kits! What a JOKE!

      • boohoo

        Working Mom, care to explain how your scenario has anything to do with reality? Who said she has to do it by bike? Are you arguing that a couple of bike lanes downtown are forcing her to ride a bike? What is your point?

        • Working Mom

          My point Boohoo is that City Councillor’s and the Mayor want everyone to ride bikes everywhere. They are making it very hard for you if you own a car. It is almost like we are being punished.

          They really don’t care that having a car is essential for families. Yes I take transit for work and try to use it as much as possible. But it is just not feasible to take transit or bike ride everywhere when once you have children or a pet and need to drive an off leash park.
          Like Andrea Rehimer said the other day on CKNW “all able bodied persons should be on a bike and not in a car!” Give me a freaking break!!!!!

          @Steven Forth – You said that by the time your kids were ten they took the bus by themselves. How old are your kids now? Well wake up buddy is 2012 – and there are way too many wackos taking transit who can hurt our most precious children. Children taking transit is not safe – are you telling me that I should dump my car and have my 6 year old travel by bus and skytrain all the time?

          Vancouver also has limited family and children activities for the weekend – and seeing I am a working mom, I have to drive to Surrey, Richmond, Delta or Ladner to get our child into skating or swimming lessons. Plus many of the schools are also not close to transit and would take me over an hour to get my child to school – IF he was going to a public school.

          I found a school that was easier to get to by transit and I am happy with that decision. But many schools have poor bus access or would take hour to get from my home to that school while by car it would take 5 minutes.

          • boohoo

            Stop with this drivers are being punished bs. You want to drive? Go ahead, no one is stopping you. Drive all you want. But stop expecting 100% use of the road at a massively subsidized price tag.

            We should all want people to bike more, walk more, take transit more for a variety of reasons I’m sure I don’t need to detail. But, and this is the crucial point you guys keep harping on–Wanting more people to cycle/walk/take transit DOES NOT EQUAL a war on cars.

            Wanting more apples does not mean a war on oranges.

          • Ms. Jones

            Forget them, Working Mom, I know where you are coming from… it’s a known fact that most of the Vision members have this love for the kibbutz environment and they want Vancouver to become one. Well, too bad, not everyone share their “values”!

  • jenables

    Well, i’m told a car takes up the same amount of room as ten bikes, although Richard claims the burrard bridge lane can’t be two way because its not wide enough to pass others? I am happy to see pedestrians using the east side of the bridge anyways. Boohoo, its obvious that working mom was illustrating a scenario where using a bike is not practical. Why you would interpret that as being forced to use a bike lane is beyond me, but what I take from that perhaps not all motorists should be vilified the way they can be sometimes? Not all handicaps prevent people from driving, either. Myself, I am just annoyed that I got a letter from the city of Vancouver saying they would report me to the credit bureaus, and negatively affect my credit, in one month if I don’t pay the ONE parking ticket I got March 7th, 2012. And they make these affordability task forces as if they don’t realize how unreasonable they are themselves. Hundred and fifty bones.

  • jenables

    So Steven, I guess I don’t feel grossly overprivelged. I think people forget we need roads for transit and on moving day, and the buses and trucks are much harder on the road than cars, though cars lately get blamed for all of it and told we don’t pay, though i’m pretty sure gas and tax go hand in hand.

  • boohoo

    “Boohoo, its obvious that working mom was illustrating a scenario where using a bike is not practical. Why you would interpret that as being forced to use a bike lane is beyond me”

    It’s a ridiculous scenario portraying something no one is saying should or will happen. I can only assume she feels like she’s being forced to use the bike lane, because if she’s not, then her rant makes even less sense that it appears to.

  • jenables

    Boohoo, you and your half quotes. You condescendingly act like everyone else is so black and white and shortsighted yet you don’t even bother to address anything that answers your assumptions. The point is people, online and otherwise, vilify motorists, whereas some people living in todays society don’t have a choice. Why don’t you ask able bodied me why I drive?

    • boohoo

      What other part of the quote would you like me to address? I’d be happy to do it.

      I find it hilarious that a few bike lanes out of the hundreds of new kilometers of roads in Metro Vancouver = vilification of motorists. Talk about crying wolf.

      I drive to work. Everyday. I’m able bodied and could cycle, although it would take 4 times as long and be unsafe. So I don’t. I do carpool, but I would rather bike if I could. However, I appreciate that me driving to work is a luxury, not a right. Not something I’m entitled to. So I should be screaming about gas taxes and bike lanes right? Why don’t I?

  • jenables

    How about the other half of the sentence? Or maybe I’d be happier if you could tone down the hyperbole. The vilification I was referring to has nothing to do with bike lanes, the fact that they exist, or bicycles. It’s the attitude that SOME people project when voicing their opinions. Also, if I can’t even state that I don’t like being told that I don’t pay to use the road, when I DO, without you hearing it as entitled screaming about gas tax, then I’ll just feel sorry for you, trying to find the worst in everyone so you can feel better about yourself. PS, read the fable about the boy who cried wolf, so you can put that phrase to it’s proper use.

  • boohoo

    My hyperbole? LOL! Good one!