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Whalley is the new Yaletown: Canada's smallest condos are in Surrey

Is a look at Canada's tiniest condos also a peek at Vancouver's future: small spaces in the suburbs?

Balance: Canada's smallest condos
Balance: tiny condos in Whalley

Living small in Surrey

If you've ever wanted to own Bruce Willis' tiny apartment from "The Fifth Element", it's your lucky day.

A new condo development called Balance was showing a model unit from a building that touts Canada's smallest condos, so of course I sojourned out to Surrey to check it out. Turns out that, yeah, these are some pretty freakin' small condos.

As a former resident of some big, crowded cities, I love the idea of small, efficient spaces. However, this unit was... small. Like, really, really small. Seriously, I was unable to get a single shot of the unit without a full-body shot of a stranger. Please forgive the hasty identity-obfuscation here:

Balance studio condos: they're small

Aside from the almost-frighteningly chipper sales staff, I noticed that the visitors fell into two groups:

  • Older couples, i.e. investors targeting the student rental market. Obviously a 65-year-old couple is not going to share a shoebox apartment, no matter how nice the kitchen appliances may be.
  • Couples with a young adult child, i.e. Mom and Dad helping with the down payment on their kid's first apartment.

The show home was roughly 300 square feet, including the (small) balcony. The cheapest units in the building start at $110,000. This gets you a Murphy-bed-tastic unit that looks something like this:

Balance: micro-studio

The Murphy bed dominates the space when flipped down. There is also room for an ice-cream table and a few chairs.

The largest studios boast 362 square feet, with the priciest of them coming to $137,000 (not counting taxes, strata, and parking).

The smallest unit was the only one they had mocked up at the showroom, but there were one-bedrooms and a single two-bedroom on offer. One-bedrooms will take up 490 square feet and cost between $180,000 and $190,000. The two-bedroom (648 square feet) was selling for $229,000.

Balance: 1br Balance: 2br

The feature sheet touts “Conveniently located cable and telephone outlets throughout”. Well, yeah, because you’d never really be far from an outlet, would you? Optional upgrades include dishwasher and washer/dryer.

Developer Tien Sher is marketing Balance as a first-time buyer's dream: Even if you spring for the parking space (an extra 12 grand), you'd only need to be earning $30,500 per year to qualify for the mortgage. You'd be paying around $800 per month, plus strata fees. Mind you, that's for the smallest unit available. Set your sights on the larger units, and we're getting closer to the prices you'd find in Vancouver proper.

Tremendous social life, itty-bitty living space

Tien Sher President Charan Sethi told The Province, “To a certain degree, It’s what you can afford. If you are making $17 an hour and your dream is to buy a new home, I’m sorry, but you can’t. The idea is to try and see if we can fulfill that dream of yours and give you a very basic home first, and from there you can flourish and do the next one.”  

This makes sense, but ignores the rest of the picture. If your shoebox is appreciating, would other properties in the city, currently more expensive than this, be appreciating as well? For what, then, would you be able to trade or upgrade your miniature condo?

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