Analyst links Fraser Valley homes becoming less affordable with removal of bridge tolls

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      The lifting of tolls from the Port Mann and Golden Ears is supposed to make life more affordable for many.

      As B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan stated in his announcement about the removal of the fees effective September 1 this year, “This is just one of many steps we'll be taking in the coming weeks and months to make life easier for families throughout British Columbia.”

      The effect will be immediate on a lot of pockets. It will save families who regularly cross the Fraser River an average of $1,500 per year.

      But looking down the road, real estate analyst Don Campbell sees another angle, which he believes will eventually lead to things becoming less affordable to many, and that in particular is housing.

      Campbell is a trusted expert. He’s not only a researcher and investment educator. He’s also an investor. He’s the founding partner of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN), a Langley-based company that provides market analysis to clients.

      “It’s not immediate,” Campbell told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview about the effect of the lifting of the tolls on real estate south of the Fraser River.

      “Like any transportation change,” Campbell continued, “the public has to first discover the change, experience the change, then have a discussion about changing where they might want to live. It will have the unfortunate impact of making homes less affordable out in the Fraser Valley by increasing demand.”

      According to Campbell, the long-term effect will extend to areas further out in the Chilliwack district.

      For many who cannot afford to buy in Vancouver and nearby cities, the Fraser Valley has been an affordable option.

      Campbell stressed that “without the deterrent” to driving, which used to be the tolls, more areas in the Fraser Valley and the Chilliwack district will become more accessible and attractive to homebuyers.

      With this, homes in the valley in the long run will become “less affordable than if the tolls were on”, Campbell said.

      Traffic volume on the Port Mann, which links Coquitlam to Surrey, has gone up since the tolls were lifted.

      According to figures by the Transportation Investment Corporation, the provincial Crown company that built the bridge, there were 4.36 million crossings on the bridge in September, the first month without the tolls.

      The September crossings represent a 15 percent increase over August 2017 crossings totalling 3.79 million.

      Compared to crossings in September 2016 of 3.43 million, last month’s figure represent a 27 percent increase.

      Traffic volume is also up over the Golden Ears, which links Langley and Surrey to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

      According to TransLink, which owns the bridge, daily traffic on the Golden Ears on September 1 was recorded at 53,800. It was a 29 percent increase compared to the traffic volume on the same weekday in 2016.

      In 2014, Campbell’s REIN released a report on the top B.C. towns to invest in real estate.

      With transportation among the factors considered in the ranking, which came after the Port Mann opened in 2012 and Golden Ears in 2009, the report listed Surrey, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, and Abbotsford in the top three.

      Campbell said REIN is releasing its follow up to the 2014 report early next month.

      According to him, the lifting of tolls and transportation in general will be among the considerations in the ranking of towns for real estate investments.

      “We study 15 or 16 fundamentals for each market, of which transportation is one of those,” Campbell said.

      Without going much into what the new report will look like, Campbell said that Abbotsford has “fared incredibly well, and all of the research is showing that it will continue to do so”.

      “Abbotsford has done very well as has Chilliwack as has Langley,” Campbell said.

      As for Vancouver, Campbell believes that the long-term effect of the lifting of tolls to city’s real estate will be minimal, meaning the market is not expected to be relieved of the pressure of high prices.

      “The predilection of Vancouver residents to move out to the valley is much lower than somebody who’s already out in the suburbs,” Campbell said, referring to people in such cities as Burnaby and Coquitlam. “So it will be very nominal impact on the housing market in Vancouver.”

      The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board (FVREB) covers North Delta, Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Abbotsford, and Mission.

      In a report dated October 5, 2017, the FVREB stated that in September this year, the benchmark price of a detached home in the region was $974,500; townhomes, $498,900; and apartments, $358,200.