Tiny Boxes: Vancouver Condominiums Continue to Get Smaller in Size While Prices Rise

If you've noticed that the size of condos are shrinking, you're not the only one.

Credit: Mina Dimes

The price of condominiums and apartments continue to rise in Vancouver, but you’re getting less space for your buck. What gives?


Almost half of Vancouver’s population rents rather than owns their accommodation. The current crop of young renters seeking entry into the condo market as first-time buyers is discovering that not only are prices still on the rise, unit sizes are diminishing.


New condo developments in 2012


21 Doors by Robert Fung Gastown, 393-521 sq. ft. studio & 1-bed starting from $209,900; 770 sq. ft. 2-bed $380,000


Kits 360 by Intergulf Development

Kitsilano, 475-550 sq. ft. studio & 1-bed $300,000-$349,000; 850 sq. ft. 2-bed $499,000-$700,000


Sesame Vancouver by Jameson and Marcon Development

Hastings-Sunrise, 530- 760 sq. ft. 1-bed starting from $289,900; 800-960 sq. ft. 2-bed & 3-bed $387,900-$499,900

In 2006, MPC Intelligence, which tracks new residential developments in the province, reported that apartments in Yaletown were getting increasingly smaller, but apartments in the downtown core remained a constant size. Now however, it’s evident that first-time buyers should manage expectations when it comes to condo size.


21 Doors, for example, the latest Robert Fung Gastown development that goes on sale in October, has an average unit size of 560 sq. ft, while in 2007, Fung’s Paris Annex offered buyers an average of 700 sq. ft. per unit.


Neither the renters nor the owners in Vancouver’s diminishing condo market are pleased. For Masako Adachi (26), Geoffrey Tomlin (30) and their kitty Windsor, who rent in Mount Pleasant, purchasing a first apartment has been a two-year struggle with no end in sight.


“After we made our last offer, I started to get really discouraged and I stopped looking,” says Adachi, a UBC business grad student, seated at her mid-century modern dining table that’s too large for the barely 700 sq. ft space she shares with Tomlin.


Top Shop

Cream colours and a minimalistic approach are two ways to create the illusion of space, as you can see in this before and after photo of Mina Dimes kitchen. (Image: Mina Dimes)


“For the two years we’ve been here, we’ve watched the same space go up $50,000. Anything under 900 sq. ft. feels really cramped, but all the newer buildings we see have smaller square footage,” she says. “If you buy in a building from the 70s, you might get 1000 sq. ft, but you won’t have ensuite laundry and you will have other risks.”


For Mina Dimes (35), a first-time Vancouver owner who shares a 700 sq. ft. Yaletown loft with her husband Chris, tiny condo ownership hasn’t provided real quality of life.


“If I get a job elsewhere I would absolutely cut my ties with Vancouver. It’s because of the real estate. Vancouver has this myth [about being a livable city]. It hasn’t lived up to the hype,” says Dimes, who invested a great deal of time, money and energy into renovating her loft to maximize space, but she still finds it unsuitable for cohabitation. She describes coupledom without walls:


“Sound travels. It’s impossible to work in the same space. You can’t stay up late and watch television.”


Where Dimes paid $390,000 two years ago—about $550 per square foot in sleek, yuppie-infested Yaletown—Adachi and Tomlin are prepared to pay $600,000 for a 900 sq. ft., two-bedroom near Main Street, nearly $700 per sq. ft. The problem is that they can’t even find one. So far, they’ve been outbid on three flats and another simply fell through.


“I’ve seen tons of places,” says Adachi. “There are pros and cons to having this long search. I know exactly what I want. Our ideal place looks like a restored Gastown heritage building, only it’s here in Mount Pleasant,” says Adachi, whose savviness navigating real estate lingo belies her arduous attempts to break in. “But we don’t own anything right now and the longer we wait, the more we are going to have to spend.”


How to utilize space in smaller apartments

Top Shop

Compare this living room after an extensive renovation. (Image: Mina Dimes)

According to Steven Cox, the creative director behind innovative Vancouver design firm Cause + Effect, the space problem originates from the fact that hurried sales and development led to Van’s urban growth, which left few resources for applying thoughtful, space-maximizing design to new condos.


Cox also believes that Vancouver residents expect larger spaces when compared to Europeans, and should focus on living better, smaller.


Both Adachi and Dimes possess a strong aesthetic sense and have honed the art of living well in a small space, without sacrificing personal touches. Read on for their tips.


Mina and Chris Dimes
Neighbourhood: Yaletown
Space: 700 sq. ft. loft
Style: Minimalism with a touch of eccentric luxury

  • Tip #1: Replace full size kitchen appliances with European-sized options in the kitchen. In the bathroom, switch tired dark fixtures with a light custom vanity that’s 30% smaller—you’ll be surprised that custom and ready-made pieces cost nearly the same.
  • Tip #2: Keep the walls light with whites and creams like “Cloud” by Benjamin Moore to enhance sense of space. Maintain continuity by choosing blinds that are the same colour as the wall.
  • Tip #3: Minimalism increases the perception of space, but it can also bore. Add a touch of unexpected texture or luxury, like a striking violet Murano vase or velvet cushion, to create a point of interest.

Masako Adachi with Geoffrey Tomlin and kitty Windsor
Neighbourhood: Mount Pleasant
Space: One bedroom; 700 sq. ft.
Style: Japanese Hippie or ‘J-Hippy’

  • Tip #1: Vintage bits and bobs are great: they add comfort and colour. To avoid clutter, make sure each piece you accumulate also holds personal meaning, and then organize by type of item.
  • Tip #2: Save surface space by hanging plants, which add living texture. Use a classic, compact Anglepoise lamp or an attachable swing-arm desk lamp to increase workspace.
  • Tip #3: Rearrange your entire flat at least twice a year: you’ll find items you want to pitch, see new space solutions and boost your spirit while you condo-hunt.