and I quote

may 2012

click for permalink May 27, 2012

A letter arrived in the mail this week on unfamiliar corporate stationery telling us (telling everyone in our building in fact) that the property has been sold to a developer which plans on gutting all the apartments and selling them as condos. We all have to be out by the end of July, which promises to result in a kind of constant chaos for the next two months as 28 floors of eight apartments each reluctantly and with much resentment vacate the premises. I had a suspicion about six months ago when I was searching for floor plans of our building online (we were considering an eventual upgrade to a 2 bedroom) and found a spec sheet that had obviously been prepared with the intention of enticing prospective developers. It was peppered throughout with red flag phrases about the high property values of the surrounding neighborhood, "up-market opportunities" and whatnot. But after poring over the details with a feeling of dread, and reading it out loud to Mr. Pink, I had managed to put it out of my mind — until this week.

($1600 1BR "RARE Yaletown Apartment" 560 s/f)

So just two years after leaving our last apartment for the same reason (although that time it was just us) we're back to searching for an apartment, only now we have a whole lot of oversized furniture purchased to fill this place, a relatively palatial 790 square feet, which is now a very inconvenient prerequisite. Apartments that size are almost unheard-of in downtown Vancouver, where the typical one bedroom is a 500 square foot box that compensates with an "open" kitchen full of stainless steel appliances and a full complement of ostentatious-sounding amenities like lap pool, sauna, fitness club and conference room.

After just a few days, I've lost the battle for my attention span and taken a break from the depressing chore of apartment hunting (it is, after all, a long weekend). I'm now devoting some serious concentration to documenting the more ridiculous trends in real estate advertising. It's hard to remain focused after several hours spent scanning web sites dedicated to Vancouver's apartment and condo rental market, an ever-changing landscape of aggregated links, some compiled from similar sites and others featuring proprietary listings, many long outdated but still on display to bolster the portfolio of the property management companies (which often flag such listings with an enticement to the vultures, e.g. "rented until June 2013").

Although most ads include price, size and location, the latter two albeit reluctantly, the exhaustingly hyperbolic language seems more often crafted to deceive than to inform. They effuse with all the required descriptors ("amazing," "gorgeous," "beautiful") and appeal to the social climber within ("high-end," "luxurious," "brand new") or simply scream in all caps, "LOCATION, LOCATION LOCATION!" The impulse to stand out from the crowd frequently results in the misuse of words like "rare" and "exclusive" to describe what is simply expensive but undeniably common. Others blatantly lie; headlines boasting "large," "spacious," "huge" or "open plan" inevitably refer to units under 700 square feet, with floor plans shaped like wiggly puzzle pieces or unusual "features" like a massive fireplace or a two-foot concrete column planted in the middle of the living room rendering any arrangement of adult-sized furniture impossible. (Thus the proliferation of "condo-sized" furniture, another Vancouver trope.)

(Downtown map by blogger Robyn.
Click to enlarge.)
Downtown map

Whether by accident or by algorithm, most of these web sites lack the basic ability to focus search results on the downtown core (see map), or break it down into ridiculous and arbitrary neighborhood designations; "Coal Harbor" for the north end of downtown, "False Creek" (which is the same as Yaletown) for the south. The West End is usually just that, except when it's described by what it looks at, e.g. Stanley Park, Second Beach, Sunset Beach or English Bay (the latter three being interchangeable) or by the main streets that define its borders, i.e. Robson Street, Denman or Beach Avenue. Of course, to confuse matters further, there's politics (and commerce) involved in what neighborhood you claim to live in, as another map of Vancouver irreverently demonstrates.

The worst are the ads that attempt to disguise their undesirable location by boasting "5 minutes to downtown" or somewhat more amusingly "downtown New Westminster" (two examples that render one search term completely useless). Once you've narrowed your search to those genuinely located downtown, you're left with only the most insanely overpriced, insultingly diminutive spaces; from among these you become a machine with one objective, scanning for and mentally juggling three determining factors: price, address and square footage.

Here are some more examples of the absurd offerings currently on craigslist...

($1075 "Gorgeous 1BR
condo." 420 s/f)

Read this one bedroom ad all the way through and suddenly it becomes a bachelor (aka studio). Notice the strategic placement of the sofa sticking halfway out into the hallway, which is also the kitchen? Adding insult to injury, this post cautions that the unit is "intended for a single renter only (too small for a couple)," which may or may not be true (let's ask a family in Tokyo) or it may depend on the couple, but it's blatantly illegal either way because specifying your preference in tenants based on their gender, sexual orientation or couplehood violates well publicized discrimination laws. Unless you're advertising for a roommate, this is strictly forbidden in real estate ads but still, loaded phrases like "perfect for students" and "singles only" persist everywhere except professional property management sites.

($2,200 "Fully furnished
condo." 610 s/f.)

A few years ago someone posted a collection of "real estate terms defined" on craigslist, and, while these things tend to be incredibly unfunny (cozy means small? You don't fucking say), this one was creative enough and pissed off enough to be downright hysterical. Among my favorites, "furnished" means the landlord is storing a bunch of their shit there, and "close to nightlife" means you will be kept awake every night by the sounds of drunken assholes and the muffled thump of house music as a perpetual reminder of how grumpy and old you've become.

($1,250 "Furnished 1BR."
Size unlisted.)

I can only imagine two legitimate scenarios for the entire category of "furnished" apartments; one, you are an overindulged college student who plans on moving back home with your parents just as soon as you're finished with school, or you plan on getting married and assume you will then begin accumulating possessions as a couple, as if it was the 1950s and your home was being furnished for you as part of the GI Bill. Two, you are reintegrating into society, Shawshank Redemption-style, and a humble set of rooms above the 24-hour grocery is the only place that will have you and your single change of clothes, lack of credit or career and letter of reference from the Board of Corrections. (Even then, I suspect this coffee table would have to give you pause.)

There is a third category but let's leave the alternate reality of "executive furnished suites," with their tiny leather sofas and wall-mounted television screens, and the revolving contingent of interchangeable Wall Street/ Boiler Room corporate sociopaths supposedly meant to occupy them, out of this. The bottom line with furnished apartments is I don't trust anyone who's made it all the way to adulthood without accumulating enough stuff that moving all of it is an ordeal to be dreaded more than taxes, layoffs or divorce. When I moved into student housing in college (a 4 bedroom row house that came "furnished" with a single oak bed and a plastic-wrapped mattress in every room), I had more stuff than the other three girls put together. I had to stack my bookcases on top of my dresser and send several boxes back home to live with my grandmother until I made enough money to send for them, like a 19th century Chinese railroad worker. If you ask my mother, she'll tell you I didn't even come into the world a clean slate free of baggage, so I certainly wasn't by the time I turned 18, and I've always been suspicious of anyone who is.

($1400 "Spacious unfurnished 1BR." 600 s/f with fisheye lens)

Twenty years later, I've gone through almost every stage of moving; from the good-natured friend with a pickup truck to the U-Haul to professional movers (and all the attending horrors that entails). For this move I'm actually contemplating hiring the guys who not only move all your shit, they actually pack it and unpack it for you, presumably while you sit at the kitchen counter, deeply ensconced in your laptop and avoiding eye contact as they slowly empty the apartment around you. If only I could believe it would be that easy, I think the expense would be well worth it because at this point I can barely manage to get a larger-than-average load of groceries all the way to my front door without enlisting the aid of a sherpa.

$1590 1BR with fisheye lens gone wild

Back to the ads, unfortunately, even in pictures it's impossible to overlook the obvious attempts to deceive, from the ridiculous fisheye lens shots designed to make tiny apartments appear cavernous (but for the telltale curves at the edges) and their bargain counterpart, the horizontally stretched images that make bathroom fixtures and kitchen countertops seem to vanish into a distant forever. Even these optical illusions are preferable to the other common (though I imagine increasingly less successful) technique of distracting potential tenants with pictures of everything but the actual apartment. These ads will show you the entrance to the building, the well-furnished lobby, the view from someone's window, though not necessarily the one in the ad, and occasionally an awkward close-up of a toilet lid or laundry closet which begets more questions than it answers.

But enough of my ranting for now... time to get back to it but first to wash the Manic Panic red passion out of my hair (perfect for meeting prospective landlords, no?). I'll try to check in with more tales from the Vancouver rental marketplace as the search continues...