Did developer intend to give overseas buyers first shot at Vancouver project?

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Questions are being raised about whether a developer planned to hold more thorough marketing and information sessions for a Vancouver project abroad than it did locally.

Property developer Westbank has moved forward the public sale date for one of its major projects.

The change in date came after NEWS 1130 inquired about an ad circulating online that appeared to show Westbank hosting information sessions in Taiwan in mid-June for its 5050 Joyce Street project — ahead of any such events locally.

When NEWS 1130 asked questions about the JOYCE ad early Tuesday afternoon, the only date listed prominently on the project’s website indicated that sales would begin on June 24.

The developer did not immediately respond, but instead changed the dates on its website, bringing sales forward to June 17 and advertising an “Advanced Neighbourhood Preview” on June 7 and a “Public Preview” on June 10 in Vancouver.

A screenshot showing the website headline before and after NEWS 1130’s inquiry. 

Screenshots showing the website's headline before and after NEWS 1130's inquiry.

One of those following the situation closely online was Justin Fung, with the group Housing Action For Local Taxpayers (HALT).

“I think they’ve got caught with their hand in the cookie jar to be honest,” says Fung. “It looks like information is being shared abroad in Taiwan before it ever was meant to be viewed by locals. It seems as if there’s some backpedaling happening here, where they’re now suddenly, at the last minute, the 11th hour, they’re scheduling some last minute local viewings. So, certainly that is disconcerting.”

As the development community pushes for the rapid approval of more housing units and greater density as solutions to the housing affordability crisis, Fung suggests situations like this do nothing to help that argument.

“It looks like yet again we’ve got new housing supply that’s coming on to the market, and effectively being sold abroad before it’s sold locally, especially when we have this affordability crisis,” says Fung. “We’ve been told housing supply is the answer that we need, and then we’re turning around and selling it off to the highest bidder.”

Housing critic points to systemic issues

NDP housing critic David Eby understands the frustration of Fung and other British Columbians upset with this, but says there are other issues at play.

“Whatever happened in this particular case, whether it was simply a typo, or whether the intention was to sell overseas first, there is a systemic issue in that the foreign buyers’ tax doesn’t apply to presale condos, and it should, for the obvious reason that buying and selling or flipping presale condos is just as harmful to affordability for local families as buying a completed home,” says Eby. “Whether or not this particular development was intended to be marketed first overseas, clearly there are developments that not only have given priority to the marketing – but the design and the concept of the building is explicitly intended to be sold to international speculators and investors.

“We have to get away from a housing market where we’re building absentee owners and investors, and into a real estate market that prioritizes families who live, work and pay taxes here. Because we’re building a community. We’re not building a giant safe deposit box for international money.”

Property developer says it is diligent in monitoring

Westbank eventually directed NEWS 1130 to an external communications firm. In an e-mail, Jill Killeen with Killeen Communication wrote that Westbank had sent letters to 1,400 addresses in the vicinity of the project, inviting people to see it in full, and purchase it, if they wish, on Wednesday June 7. However, a copy of the letter clearly states the event is “not an offering for sale, but details on how to purchase will be provided for those that are interested.

Killeen says there has been advertising of the project locally in print, radio and on-line since May 23.

With regard to the date change on the development’s website, Killeen’s email says public sales begin on June 17.

“This date was just advanced from the original date of June 24, as we were able to file the Disclosure Statement for the project earlier than anticipated, which allowed us to begin marketing and sales now, instead of later in June.”

As for the online ad about the information session for this project in Taiwan and scheduled for June 16 and 17, Killeen writes:

“We have been advised that some promotional material has been posted on-line internationally. The reality is, the moment we post anything on-line locally – and that is the case with Joyce – it can be pulled and re-purposed for sales and marketing purposes by non-affiliated vendors. There are thousands of REALTORS who are using social media to promote Vancouver pre-sale projects around the world, including JOYCE.

“We are diligent in our monitoring and when something unsanctioned appears, we work to have it taken down and removed. Many are respectful and comply with our request while the odd few do not and the material lives on-line.”

UPDATE: Killeen insists the sales date was not changed because of NEWS 1130’s inquiry.

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