Burnaby vs. Vancouver: Why I Think Burnaby is a Better Choice for Real Estate Investment

When considering real estate investment in Canada, the Greater Vancouver area on the West Coast is an obvious choice. The Greater Vancouver region is known for its mild climate, making it one of the most livable metropolitan areas in Canada. Cities like Vancouver, Burnaby, and Richmond, with their convenient locations and high proportion of Chinese residents, are particularly suitable for Chinese communities. Today, I want to share why I believe Burnaby might be a more suitable place to live and invest in real estate compared to Vancouver.

Advantages of Burnaby

  1. Convenient Transportation

Traveling from the west side of Vancouver to surrounding cities can be time-consuming, while Burnaby provides easier access to neighboring areas. Burnaby boasts two SkyTrain lines, the Millennium Line and the Expo Line, running east-west through the city, with even more SkyTrain stations than Vancouver. Burnaby is adjacent to cities like Coquitlam and New Westminster, and reaching North Vancouver and West Vancouver via the Second Narrows Bridge is convenient, bypassing the need to go through downtown Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge. Whether by car or public transportation, living in Burnaby is convenient.

  1. Shopping and Investment Opportunities

In Burnaby, shopping and residential centers like Metrotown, Brentwood, and Lougheed are larger in scale, more impressive in architecture, and offer more convenient parking. Prices are relatively more affordable in Burnaby, especially in various Chinese restaurants compared to Vancouver. Near Metrotown, there’s Crystal Mall, catering primarily to the Chinese community, providing fresh produce, daily necessities, and affordable snacks. The commercial and high-rise residential cores of Brentwood and Lougheed in the north are located along main roads and SkyTrain lines.

If you are interested in investing in high-rise units, Burnaby offers more opportunities and choices. The Metrotown area in Burnaby is popular for its excellent transportation, shopping environment, and diverse food options, making it particularly attractive for the Chinese population, especially young Chinese individuals. Therefore, it has good investment potential.

  1. Residential Density

Vancouver has limited land, resulting in higher residential density. This means more crowded communities and limited land supply. In contrast, Burnaby has more available land, providing a potentially more spacious living environment. Standard lots in Vancouver are typically 33 feet by 120 feet, while Burnaby lots range from around 6,000 square feet to 7,800 square feet, with some exceeding 10,000 square feet. Burnaby’s zoning regulations also allow for higher floor area ratios compared to Richmond and New Westminster, allowing larger houses to be built. Despite Vancouver having 2.65 times the population of Burnaby, the land area is only 1.27 times that of Burnaby, resulting in Burnaby’s population density being only 47.8% of Vancouver’s.

  1. Real Estate Prices

Prices for standard lots in the west side of Vancouver exceed 2 million Canadian dollars, while a lot twice the size in Burnaby may be within 2 million Canadian dollars. Burnaby has many upscale neighborhoods, such as Government Road and Buckingham, where luxury homes typically have large land areas of over 10,000 square feet and house sizes of several thousand square feet, yet they are much more affordable than luxury homes in Vancouver’s west side.

  1. Living Environment

Firstly, Vancouver’s living regulations have been constantly changing. Vancouver allowed the construction of laneway houses and duplexes many years ago. Recently, new regulations, such as one-to-six and one-to-eight changes, have been implemented, meaning a single-family home lot in Vancouver can now accommodate six to eight residential units. While these changes may address Canada’s housing shortage, they could have negative impacts on the living environment. Vancouver’s streets are already narrow, with most lots being the standard 33 feet wide, and even without restrictions on roadside parking, fitting two cars can be tight. Imagine if one lot has six units, where would the extra vehicles park? Burnaby lots are generally wider, with some exceeding 50 feet wide, and larger land areas, making street parking less stressful.

Recently, Burnaby also implemented new zoning regulations, allowing the construction of duplexes and laneway houses, providing more investment opportunities, housing choices, and a more comfortable living environment. For example, Burnaby’s laneway houses can have a maximum building area of 1,500 square feet, which is 1.6 times larger than the maximum allowed in Vancouver.

  1. Environmental Policies

Vancouver’s aggressive environmental policies, such as not allowing gas-driven heating and only permitting electric heat pump systems for heating to reduce carbon emissions, could pose inconveniences and increase initial and ongoing heating costs for investment and residential purposes. Burnaby currently does not have such restrictions, providing more choices and freedom, as well as cheaper and more comfortable heating systems. Additionally, concerns arise about whether Vancouver’s requirement for electric heating may lead to power shortages.

  1. Tree Protection

Vancouver is known for its abundant trees in residential communities, and tree protection is relatively strict. While this might be an advantage for those who want to preserve more natural surroundings, it could limit opportunities for construction and development, increasing upfront and mid-term costs and construction difficulties.

  1. New Home Approval Time and Costs

The time and costs for new home approval in Vancouver are significantly higher than in Burnaby, and the approval process is more complex. Especially in today’s high-interest-rate environment, this can have unfavorable effects on both investment and living.

  1. Speculation Vacancy Tax

In addition to the province-wide speculation tax, Vancouver has its own speculation vacancy tax. Combined with lengthy approval waits, this may cause concerns about vacancy tax for investors and builders. Burnaby does not have its own vacancy tax, only the province-wide speculation tax.

Shortcomings of Burnaby

Let’s also objectively consider some drawbacks of Burnaby:

  1. Activities and Green Spaces

The west and north sides of Vancouver, being close to the ocean, have more beach activities and green spaces, extending from downtown to the far west at UBC. Vancouver boasts natural scenic spots like Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Pacific Spirit Park, providing excellent outdoor activity opportunities. This may be an advantage for those who enjoy outdoor activities. Although Burnaby also has places like Barnet Marine Park, Burnaby Mountain, Deer Lake, and Burnaby Lake, they are somewhat smaller in scale and offer less activity space compared to Vancouver.

  1. Residential Atmosphere

Vancouver, especially the residential communities on the west side, has a good environment with lush greenery, providing a better residential atmosphere. Burnaby’s greenery and neighborhoods may seem a bit more cluttered. Although houses in Vancouver are more expensive than in Burnaby, many people may still consider living in the west side of Vancouver more prestigious.

  1. Appearance of Detached Houses

The detached houses in Vancouver are taller and have more traditional charm, making them suitable for investors looking for luxury homes. Vancouver’s building height limits allow for 10 meters or even more, while Burnaby’s limit is only 9 meters. If a lot is lower than the street level, Burnaby’s regulations require houses to be less imposing.

  1. Road System

Vancouver’s road system is more organized, while Burnaby, due to the presence of Burnaby Lake, SkyTrain lines, highways, etc., may appear more fragmented. There are also more irregularly shaped lots in Burnaby. Additionally, the traffic noise from Burnaby’s roads and SkyTrain may be higher than in Vancouver.

  1. School District

Vancouver has better school districts, making it suitable for families raising children. Education is a crucial concern for new immigrant parents. Vancouver’s schools generally rank higher, such as Lord Byng, U Hill, and others. There are also some prestigious private schools like Crofton House, St. George, and more. Parents who prioritize providing their children with good education may lean towards settling in Vancouver.

According to rankings from the Fraser Institute, Vancouver has 18 elementary schools in the top 100, while the combined number for Burnaby and Richmond is less than half of Vancouver’s. The number of top 100 high schools in Vancouver is roughly equal to the total of Burnaby and Richmond. The quantity of Vancouver’s top 10 schools far exceeds that of Richmond and Burnaby (which almost has none), clearly indicating Vancouver’s significant lead in the quality rankings of primary and secondary schools.

Vancouver also boasts the renowned UBC, undoubtedly the leading university. Burnaby has SFU and BCIT, making it a somewhat even match at the university level.

  1. New Home Prices and Returns

Although land prices in Vancouver are higher than in Burnaby, resulting in higher acquisition costs, the selling prices of new homes in Vancouver are also higher than in Burnaby. Especially in Vancouver’s west side, known for luxury homes and affluent living, while the east side of Vancouver and Burnaby are seen as more working-class areas. Therefore, the returns from building in Vancouver may exceed those from building similar houses in Burnaby.

From a rental perspective, Vancouver’s rents are generally higher than in Burnaby. Areas near UBC command very high rents, and houses near reputable schools like SFU, BCIT, and Burnaby North are also suitable for renting.

  1. Climate

There is a slight difference in climate between Burnaby and Vancouver. Burnaby has mountains and slopes, leading to more rain and snow, making travel more inconvenient during winter snowfall. However, the climate difference is not very noticeable, and most people may not be aware of it.

Which do you prefer, Vancouver or Burnaby? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

I hope this information helps you make informed decisions. Thanks for watching!

Gary Gao, licensed Realtor® with Grand Central Realty, a licensed real estate brokerage in BC. Gary is also the principal of CitiDesign Build Inc., which is not affiliated with Grand Central Realty. CitiDesign and Gary are licensed builders in BC. Contact Gary.

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