‘Everybody has to die’: Cemetery plots bought, sold as hot commodity

METRO VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Metro Vancouver’s real estate market has people trying to cash in on more than just homes. It turns out, people are also investing in places to rest in peace.

One Craigslist ad boasted more than 12 plots for sale at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burnaby. It advertises single-casket plots starting at $11,000. That’s a bargain, given the cemetery’s prices start at $17,000.

A Craigslist ad, advertising more than a dozen plots at Forest Lawn Cemetery for sale. (Screenshot)

This reporter called the number on the ad, posing as a potential buyer. The man said his family has been buying and selling for decades.

“This is more like a real estate business,” he said.

“People buy for a long time and store it — like a house. If you [bought] a house 40 years ago, now you’re a millionaire … This kind of real estate is crazier [than the housing market] … The value is crazier because everybody has to die.”

LISTEN: A portion of NEWS 1130’s Denise Wong’s call to a Craigslist seller. She posed as a potential buyer to the man, advertised more than a dozen plots at Forest Lawn Cemetery


He said his family started to buy and sell plots about 30 years ago.

“My wife’s great great grandfather worked at the cemetery as a gardener,” he said. “This kind of property was very cheap, maybe a couple hundred dollars. Like a house in Vancouver. A house 40 or 50 years ago was maybe $20,000 or $40,000. Now it’s all over $1 million.”

“Keep buying, keep selling, continue like this.”

There aren’t any rules on the terms of plot resales in B.C. That means people can hold plots for as long or briefly as they want — and sell for whatever price they choose.

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Erik Lees is with LEES+Associates, which plans and designs cemeteries. He says while concerns about a shortage of cemetery space isn’t a problem unique to our region, “it’s exacerbated here because of our land prices and geographically, we’re locked in. We’ve got the mountains on the one side and the ocean or rivers on the others.”

He adds one of the reasons supply is low is because, in North America, plots are bought and occupied forever.

“In North America, we bury in perpetuity … a grave is occupied by one person and one person only uses that space forever. That’s a long time.”

“Almost everywhere else in the world, grave spaces are on a temporary basis or a fixed-term basis. So, the real estate is used and re-used and re-used over the generations. So, it’s pretty well self-sustaining, from that standpoint.”

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Lees says major cities in North America are dealing with the conundrum of space “because they have not adequately planned for the space needed for cemeteries.”

He thinks we, as a society, need to re-think what is done with bodies after people die. “I think that’s going to be a fundamental question for society here in North America, in particular — how we bury our dead.”

“It might not be in my lifetime or yours, but eventually, we’re going to have to reconsider the way we approach open spaces across our cities, especially our more urban ones,” he said.

Lee also believes we need to consider whether we should continue allowing land to be bought and used in perpetuity.

“That’s just a decadent wasteful practice that is eventually going to stop. It may not be my generation, it may not be the next generation, but eventually, it’s going to stop. My point is it’s going to happen sooner or later — let’s make it sooner and make those decisions appropriately,” he argued.

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