If you think Vancouver has low yields, check out other figures from parts of Asia, courtesy Global Property Guide:
Taiwan: Price Yields 2.84%
Hong Kong: Price Yields 3%
China: Price Yields 3%
India: Price Yields 3-4%
Those are some mighty poor cash returns, if I might say so. Certainly GPG holds back no punches calling bubbles in all the above countries and territories. Remember these are yields before expenses. In Taiwan, it is likely newly-minted landlords are making a 0% cap rate.
But before we pass off these countries as simply being in a giant asset price bubble fueled by low interest rates, it's worth asking why their yields are so much lower than in North America's. Certainly avid speculation and a lack of perceived viable investment alternatives may play a role. There is one fundamental statistic, however, that can justify lower yields: high rental and income growth rates. While inflation is high in these countries, incomes are continually outpacing inflation by a healthy margin as they play catch-up to the developed world. (Albeit Hong Kong is pretty darn first world!) This in turn increases the present value of future cash flows and justifies a lower present-day yield. This is a similar concept why single family dwellings in areas experiencing density increases have low yields: their future cash flows due to re-development will outpace expected rental growth of the current structure.
Rents in Hong Kong increased over 6% last year; in addition, it is estimated 90% of mortgage loans are variable rate, with the variable rate currently around 2% or so. But it is worth noting rental yields have been low for a long time, what Global Property Guide analysts attribute to the wealthy using property as a method of diversification. Though if rents are increasing at a healthy pace, there may be more to it than diversification. In addition, while the "wealthy" certainly have the luxury of throwing a few % of their net worths into real estate, the majority are blithely going along for the ride with a significant and relatively undiversified portion of their net worths.
It helps to look at these Asian countries' property markets since a large number of buyers and sellers in the Vancouver area originate from these countries. It gives us some perspective of the attitudes and comparables these buyers are using when determining the value of North American (and specifically Vancouver) real estate. That said, I have some concern that the economics that, in part, can reasonably justify lower rental yields in certain countries are being improperly applied to North America, where wage growth is limited close to inflation.