Delamont: Flipping houses 1930s style!


People always flipped houses in Vancouver but in the 1930s, it was done quite differently than it is today. When Delamont arrived in Vancouver he opened Delamont Grocery in Kitsilano, as we all know, and saved enough money to buy three lots next door to General Gordon School. He had three houses built, sold two and lived in the other. He was always buying and selling houses. He would spend his free time going around picking up rent cheques from the various houses he owned. In 1933, when Roy Johnston joined the band he worked at Spencer’s Department Store and would come to the Delamont’s for dinner on band nights after work because he lived away out on East Hastings. He used to talk to Roy about his finances. “You know Roy, when I am 45, I’m going to retire. I am buying annuities. I’ll have a steady income by then.” He used to also buy second mortgages. Mrs. MacDonald was his contact with the bank and she would call him when she had a second mortgage for him to buy. Interest was pretty good on them.  He continued to prosper over the years and bought several apartments right up to 1946 when he developed a stock portfolio. Vera, his daughter married and moved to Yellowknife, so she lost contact with him in regards to his business matters she told me.

The book I am writing on Faye and Dean Chun Kwong Leung fills in the gaps in the housing industry in Vancouver and illustrates how we went from flipping 1930s style to flipping 2018 style. Faye got her real estate license in 1956 and a year later she and her husband opened their business in Chinatown, Pender Realty & Insurance. Faye was more than a realtor, she was a developer as well and her first big housing development started in 1960 and lasted through 1965 when she developed 90% of the CPRs land around the Oakridge Shopping Centre. She built custom designed houses for the little guy that were affordable, all under $100,000. They also planted cherry trees all around the Oakridge area. She locked her buyers into a 30-year mortgage which meant in 1982 when the worldwide recession hit, they did not lose their houses, something many of them still thank her for to this day.

In the early sixties, Premier W.A.C. Bennett asked her and Dean to raise funds in the ethnic community for his new university.  She is today a convocation member and founder and each year still attends ceremonies on the hill every June. When it was decided that the location of the university would be Burnaby Mountain this led to her second big development Simon Fraser Gardens, 24 acres around the bottom of Burnaby Mountain.

Clarke Bentall who owned Dominion Construction came to see Faye around 1963 to see about building an attached townhouse complex with her for the pioneers in Chinatown. When they approached City Hall for the permits they discovered they couldn’t build because there was nothing in the bylaws that allowed for attached homes to be sold individually. So Faye got Mayor Bill Rathie and a couple of aldermen together and they drew up a paper to get strata title on the books in Victoria. It became law in 1967 and was known as The Strata Title Act. Later it was changed to The Condominium Act. Bob Rennie heard about what Faye was doing because the newspapers didn’t report it and he ran with it. Today he says, “I owe my livelihood to Faye Leung.”  Faye also introduced pre-sales around the same time and another innovation called pre-fab concrete. Before pre-fab concrete, there were only duplexes and triplexes being built. Using pre-fab concrete towers could be built to 10 or 15 stories high. These three innovations that Faye introduced on her construction sites revolutionized the housing industry in BC and is why Bob Rennie today is known as ‘The Condo King.” Faye still couldn’t build attached homes herself because she couldn’t qualify for a mortgage as she was both Chinese and a woman.

When Vera returned to Vancouver in the late sixties to look after her father he was still buying and selling real estate. She told me, “We would go to look at this house and he would tell me to be quiet and not say a word. He knew how to do it. He didn’t want to give his hand away and let the seller think he was eager to buy.”  I am not sure how much buying and selling he was doing in the late sixties but he always seemed to be able to take his band to Europe and money never seemed to be an obstacle although he certainly would publicly complain about a lack of funding.

In 1972, Faye completed her third large development project in Chinatown, the Mandarin Centre. The newspapers called her, The Only Big Time Lady Developer in Vancouver. This development was all funded and built by her and Dean to help Chinatown prosper. As a result, other development followed.

When the White Spot at 12th Cambie was torn down for a condo development a friend of Faye’s called up the sales office to purchase a condo. “You’re all sold out?” they told him. They called back in a half hour and said, “If you still want one we can give it to you for the original price plus half.” By this time what developers were doing was going to Hong Kong and pre-selling most of the units and saving a few to flip at half again or double the price. No government regulations were ever put on Faye’s innovations and developers were free to make as much money on each property as they could. Speculating was the name of the game.

A couple of years ago, China started giving out Destination Visas to its people which are good for 10 years. This is when the undesirables started to come over and money laundering, loan sharking, big house casinos and other bad things we read about in the newspapers began.

If you are asking yourself how did we go from a country that only allowed British immigrants to enter to a country that now embraces wealthy immigrants from all over the world, well that was because of Faye as well and various new immigration categories that she was able to get tabled starting in the mid-sixties. To understand what led up to all these innovations you have to read her story and that is what her biography is all about.

Flipping houses in the 1930s and flipping houses in 2018 is all about supply and demand. In the 1930s few rented a house because the population base was low. yet that didn’t seem to stop Delamont. As immigration increased in the sixties and more people came to live in Vancouver the demand for low rent housing grew as not everyone could afford a house. With the innovation of condos for the first time in the sixties, the supply of accommodation increased. Supply and demand have continued to grow ever since but along the way, prices have skyrocketed as well, as we all know.

“How could one person do so much?” everyone always says that when they talk about Faye Leung. The answer is because, ‘she was one in a million,’ just like Arthur Delamont!

As Peter C. Newman said in a Maclean’s Magazine article in 1993 referring to the smear campaign Vander Zalm’s socred lawyers initiated against the Crown’s star witness, “This Vander Zalm affair has completely overshadowed all the good she has done over the past four decades.” The newspapers depiction of her as a two-bit realtor who wore floppy hats and came out of nowhere and hounded him into selling his Fantasy Gardens is anything but the truth. He chased her because she had the contacts. He needed an S.E.Asian billionaire to buy his property and she knew many. She was far more accomplished in business than he ever would be, decades before he even came on the scene as her book will tell, “It Ain’t Over Till, Faye Leung, The Hat Lady Sings.”