Don Campbell likes to say that he doesn’t sell real estate. “I’m just a researcher,” insists the author of several books on property investing.
Campbell also likes to say that because he’s not selling property, he can be counted on to offer an unbiased perspective. He’s the founding partner of the Real Estate Investment Network, a Langley-based company that provides market analysis to clients.
Reached by the Georgia Straight on his cellphone for an interview about the fall municipal elections, he was forthcoming about which cities he’s watching.
Surrey is number one on his shortlist of three. According to Campbell, B.C.’s second-largest municipality has been “excellent” on a number of fronts. One is the development of its town centres. Another is the protection of farmland. Third is its ability to provide more affordable housing than Vancouver.
“And now that Dianne Watts is no longer going to be the mayor and heading up that focus, it’s going to be very interesting to see (a) who gets in next, and (b) what their policies are,” Campbell said. “They need to keep very similar policies that they’ve got now. They’re growing at such a rapid rate that if they start changing policy now, they’ll get caught in a lot of problems.”
Earlier this year, REIN released its latest report on the top B.C. towns in which to invest in real estate, and Surrey topped the list.
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum and councillor Linda Hepner have announced that they’re running for the city’s top post. Councillor Barinder Rasode is widely expected to join the fray.
Campbell said that he’s also looking at what happens in Abbotsford. In REIN’s latest report on the top towns in B.C. for real-estate investment, Abbotsford placed third after Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, which came second.
Underscoring that he’s not siding with anyone in particular, Campbell said that he’d like to see that the next Abbotsford council “understands that the Surrey model is a sustainable model”. Another concern he has regarding Abbotsford is the need for the municipality to attract jobs.
Vancouver is third on Campbell’s list of cities to watch. “The next mayor, whether it’s the current one or a different one, is really going to have to tap into us being that high-tech hub, and attracting that millennial-aged, well-paid employee because they can, you know, afford to live in Vancouver.”
Asked about New Westminster, Campbell admitted that he’s not familiar with its politics.
But there’s one thing he has observed about the Royal City: “What they need is a new economic-development focus that right now hasn’t been communicated very well.”
Campbell explained that while the city has transit and jobs, it “seems to have missed the majority of the real-estate demand curve that you saw in Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, [and] Coquitlam”.
It’s mostly “reputational”, according to Campbell, pointing out that New Westminster needs a brand that is attractive to young people and families.
“What it needs is a new message by the city put out to the world of, ‘Hi, we’re New Westminster, here are our positives,’ and a new, young, fresh mayor might do that,” Campbell said.
He emphasized that he doesn’t know much about Jonathan Cote, a young councillor who declared in June that he wants to become the next mayor. Incumbent four-term mayor Wayne Wright hasn’t announced his plans. According to Campbell, “The mayor is just one of many moving parts in a city’s reputation.”
Campbell also mentioned one other thing in connection with civic elections: the impact on real estate of decisions made by mayors and councils on public transportation. According to him, every time a new rapid-transit system like the Evergreen Line in the Tri-Cities area is developed, demand for real estate shoots up along its corridor.
Surrey council has been pushing for a three-pronged, street-level light-rail system that would connect Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley. For its part, Vancouver wants a subway along Broadway to UBC.