METRO VANCOUVER — In Metro Vancouver’s hot real estate market, everything’s up for sale, even resting spaces for the dead.
But unlike the residential housing market where prices are skyrocketing and prompting bidding wars, gravesite owners are having to haggle for a deal.
Laverne Waite, 84, has two plots at Burnaby’s Forest Lawn cemetery, which have been in her family for 65 years and are worth $22,500. She’s willing to take $18,000 or best offer for the pair, partly because her father rests in a plot between them and she doesn’t want to pay the funeral home $7,000 to move him.
“That makes it hard to sell because people want them to be together,” Waite said.
Resale of burial plots is nothing new, although the practice has been increasing in recent years, said Jarma Del Rosario, marketing manager of Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
The reasons vary. Some, like Waite, have left Metro Vancouver and have no desire to come back to the family plot, while others are choosing cremation, which means they don’t need as much space even if they choose to bury just an urn at the gravesite. In some cases, people find the deeds to the family plots after burying their parents elsewhere, while others just want the cash.
But while buyers of residential land in Metro Vancouver are experiencing booming returns on their investments, those with graveyard plots typically only see a three to five per cent rise annually.
“The whole point of buying a site was to pre-arrange your funeral,” Del Rosario said, noting sites were as cheap as $50 in the late 1950s. “People who bought them for a song 60 years ago are now seeing them go up.”
The decision to sell her two sites was a no-brainer for Waite, who was raised in North Vancouver but now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, which she expects will be her final resting place. “I’m dying and (the plot) was willed to me by my mother,” Waite said. “My family up there doesn’t want it. They’re living in their own towns and want to be buried there.”
Del Rosario said the resale of plots varies on the location. Most of the sites in her cemetery, particularly in its older gardens, have been sold out for decades, she said, meaning the only time a spot opens up is when someone decides to dispose of it.
Debra McIvor’s father bought three sites at Surrey’s Valley View Funeral Home and Cemetery from a door-knocking salesman for $125 each. However, when her mother died and was cremated, her father gave McIvor the burial plots.
She put them up for sale a year ago, but didn’t get any bites. She decided to try again this week, offering the three sites for $7,500 each, $20,000 for the trio or best offer. “I’ve had them for years,” McIvor, 59, said. “We don’t need them anymore because we want to be cremated.”
People who bought them for a song 60 years ago are now seeing them go up
Cemeteries can only buy sites from owners for what they paid for them, Del Rosario said. But there’s nothing stopping people like Waite and McIvor from seeking the true value of their properties. And, just like in the real estate market, there is always someone hoping to make a quick buck, even if it involves flipping gravesites.
Patrick Downey, regional director for Valley View Funeral Home, said the situation has resulted in a secondary market for gravesite brokers, who are setting up shop around the region.
On Craigslist, for instance, there are 44 sites for sale. Some, such as one for $19,999, feature a single or double plot, while others involve multiple gravesites akin to a real estate land assembly deal.
He urges owners to first consult with the funeral home to get the assessed value of their plots, as well as any conditions for re-sale. “It’s a piece of property after all.”
Waite was contacted by a broker shortly after advertising her two plots for sale this week. “I had a burial graves salesman call me who tried to buy them cheap and make money on them,” she said. “They’re supposed to be valued at $20,000 and he offered me $7,000.”
Waite refused. But she said she wasn’t surprised to get the call. “It’s all part of life.”