The Hongcouver

The HK$12m garage and other properties that prove Vancouver realty has lost the plot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 9:25am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:49am

Vancouver’s real estate listings provide an alternating source of horror and hilarity. Trying to get a housing toehold in the world’s second-most unaffordable city - according to Demographia’s* study of 378 cities around the world in nine major markets - where median housing prices are 10 times median household incomes, gives rise to a certain kind of gallows humour.

One manifestation of that has been the popular “Crack Shack or Mansion” website, which invites visitors to differentiate between dilapidated drug dens and Vancouver homes with million-dollar-plus price tags. It’s surprisingly tricky.

It is in that spirit that the Hongcouver blog presents this list of five properties that suggest Vancouver’s property market may have lost the plot. For the sake of comparison, I include links to what the same money would buy in the Toronto region.

2439 West 5th Avenue, C$1.775 million

This listing in stylish Kitsilano, price C$1.775 million (HK$12 million), certainly looks promising. The main photo shows a grand stairway leading up to an imposing 1920s-style home. But no, that’s not for sale. It’s the one behind it. On the same lot. Where most people put the garage. Sure it’s listed as a “coach house”, but Melissa Carr, author of the terrific Vancouver lifestyle website The Thirties Grind isn’t buying it, pointing out that “coach house is fancy for garage”. “I’m not going to shell out nearly two million dollars just so that I can live like Mike Seaver did in Growing Pains…in the garage,” she says.

Or you might consider this actual waterfront mansion in Burlington, Ontario.

5516 Marine Drive, University, Vancouver West, $12.8 million

It’s near the University of British Columbia, and in keeping with that theme is the 1970s-style kitchen which would not be out of place in shabby student digs. It’s not clear whether the C$12.8 million price tag includes the old toaster oven and wire dish-rack.

Or you might prefer this palatial nine-bedroom, 11 –bathroom home in prestigious Rosedale-Moore Park, near downtown Toronto (and buy a couple of Ferraris with the change).

8120 Shaughnessy St, Marpole, Vancouver West, C$1.298m

You could probably haggle this stucco beauty down to the average price for a detached home in greater Vancouver (C$1,259,775). For that, you get a rather less-than-average-looking home: Mismatched curtains, algae-stained steps and a front yard covered in dandelions. Alternatively, you could rip it down and start again, which is precisely what the realtor suggests.

Or perhaps you’d rather this country-style estate with rolling lawns and a koi pond in Halton Hills, Ontario.

1409-1420 West Georgia St, West End, Vancouver West, C$389,000

The average home price in Canada is C$389,119 (as of December 2013). Which is fine in Vancouver, if you are prepared to fit your average household into a one-bedroom apartment, such as this offering in the city’s downtown core. The view is nice, but is it nice enough to distract you from the fact you are living in a 534 sq foot apartment (similar to the Hong Kong average of 484 sq ft) in a country where the average new home size is 1,948 sq ft?

Or, should you own a cat which occasionally needs swinging, you could opt for this four-bedroom house in Oshawa, Ontario, which comes with a hot tub for those chilly Toronto nights.

4344 Rockridge Road, Rockridge, West Vancouver, $8.888 million

This West Vancouver renovation is a long way from the city, but it actually offers pretty good value by Vancouver standards. It has sweeping views, 8,460 sq ft of floor space and extensive outdoor living areas. It earns its place in this list by virtue of its very specific price point. A quick scroll through Vancouver property websites reveals plenty of other such listings, including no fewer than 10 homes priced at C$888,000 in the satellite city of Richmond. You don’t need to be a numerologist to conclude that all those eights add up to a Chinese-driven market.

Or you could consider this spectacular stone manor in the heart of Toronto, complete with a huge wine cellar and infinity pool overlooking the city’s ravine.

Crack shacks, mansions, and everything in between - Vancouver’s property market has something for everyone. Everyone with deep enough pockets, that is.

[*Update: This story has been updated to include a link to the latest Demographia study and to describe its scope]

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.