Flip, Flip and Fly – the Crazy world of Vancouver Real estate

The great Paul Simon once said “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”. Yep, I had to go that far back to find a real estate reference in a poem or song. I’ll get back to poetry and real estate later in this post but in the meantime check out this excellent piece of investigative journalism which appeared in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/the-real-estate-technique-fuelling-vancouvers-housing-market/article28634868/.

It paints a depressing picture of opportunism and greed, it reminded me in a lot of ways of the movie “The Big Short”. In particular, this quote from one realtor, a Mr. Wang:

“I have multiple properties and an annual income 10 times higher than the average Canadian. I am making more money than multiple doctors” .

To quote “The Big Short”: “he’s not confessing, he’s bragging”.

I live in the area at the epicentre of the bidding wars described in the article and every weekend I see real estate agents in white BMW SUV’s cruising up and down the road with prospective clients. As a result, a siege mentality has developed among people like me who want to stay in the neighbourhood and have no intention of selling (my next door neighbour has put a sign on her door saying “I am not selling my house”). There is also a lot of anger (justified or not) in the community at the destruction of perfectly good houses, some of which have been around since the 1920’s, and their replacement with larger, lot filling “monster houses” which are then rented or left to stand empty waiting for the price to rise.

So I thought, is there a poem in all of this? I looked at parody – “I’ve got some real estate flyers here in my bag”, “pave paradise, put up a monster house”- but I couldn’t get beyond one or two lines. Then I looked at the pile of flyers from real estate agents that drop through by letter box on a daily basis and I thought “found poetry”! Maybe I could string the names of all the real estate agents together and form a poem. I immediately hit a problem. Way back in time, I read an interview with Eric Burdon of the Animals about a song called “Gonna send you back to Walker”. It was the B-side of “House of the Rising Sun” and was originally called, I believe, “Gonna send you back to Georgia”, but Eric thought it would be amusing to substitute an English place name. In the interview, he explained that it was difficult to write rock or R&B songs using English place names because most of the names were just not musical. I can see his point, “Sweet Home Derbyshire”, “Derbyshire on my Mind” wouldn’t work – those parsimonious slender vowels “e” and “i” compressing the middle of the word into that unmusical ”ysh”. “Alabama” on the other hand, now that’s a big loud word – all those “a’s” and that big “bam” in the middle.

Well, looking at my list of real estate agents, about half of the names were Anglo Saxon or Scottish and what can be done with “MacDonald”? He had a farm, end of story, or maybe he sold the farm, either way I was going nowhere. The names of the Chinese real estate agents offered more possibilities – one syllable, a lot ending in the same two consonants “ng”, easier to rhyme. There were two “Zhangs” on the list, so I thought – “more Zhang for your buck”- but that raised the spectre of racism that has been hanging over the whole issue like a giant red herring (mix that metaphor!). So it was all getting a bit fraught and mean-spirited and perhaps most of these real estate agents were just decent people following the first rule of capitalism – make hay while the sun shines.

So, no poem,

but maybe down the road

when the wrecking ball hits the house next door,

or the house across the back lane,

or the house across the road

and another load of old timber, gyproc and memories

is scooped into a giant tote

and trucked off to the land fill

maybe then there will be a poem

and a sad poem it will be.

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