To Tsur, With Doubt
I found myself on the East Hastings car lot not out of any personal need but as a favour –to provide moral and tactical support for an encounter with that most voracious of economic beasts: the used car salesman.
At an emotional and financial remove, the event is not without its rewards: the pathological optimism necessary to advance the virtues of an obviously abused fin de siècle Toyota has entertainment value; and I have to admire our interlocutor’s lightning-quick gear changes that accompany our drifting interest.
Still, it’s an unpleasant chore. Wandering the wind-swept lot, surrounded by lacklustre metal/plastic/rubber artifacts, hounded at every step by an ever smiling, barely contained ball of rage.
Tsur Sommerville’s a big guy, with a big, welcoming smile. Throw in a thick head of hair and beard, a tie-less pink dress shirt and the overall impression is of a seriously over-sized teddy bear.
At the podium to discuss Foreign Investment in Vancouver’s Real Estate Market (SFU Woodwards, March 20, 2013), the first order of business is a correction to his introduction: he is not a UBC economics professor specializing in real estate, but a professor at the Sauder School of Business.
(For the record, his official titles are Associate Professor, Real Estate Foundation Professorship in Real Estate Finance & Director, UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate. The Centre was established in 1988, with the financial support of the Real Estate Foundation of BC; its objective to “foster the integration between teaching, research, and the professional real estate community.“)
Following on Andy Yan’s fine-grained analysis of empty condos in Coal Harbour, and Sandy Garossino’s impassioned call for housing that serves people not international capital flows, we get Tsur’s well-honed pitch: it’s a fast-paced drone, a swarm of low-octave bees, peppered with jokes to blunt the unfettered market sting. A limited land supply is the issue, restrictive city zoning the aggravating factor, so blame God and your elected officials. And for a big guy he sure can duck and dodge, admonishing us not to fall prey to “Yellow Peril” fear mongering even as he ignores the real estate industry’s HAM-fisted tactics†.
It’s quite a performance –amusing, even.
But seated next to his fellow panelists, his body language belies the “hail fellow well met” package. As the discussion turns to declining values, hollowed-out neighbourhoods, and other apparent market failures, he sits with elbows on the table, hands clasped, head downcast. He looks put out.
It’s not surprising. It’s a tough job selling an idea that’s looking dented, scratched and betraying the telltale bubbling of rust.
† Hot Asian Money