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Introducing Micro Units: The Future Of Vancouver Real Estate

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Have we finally found the answer to the Vancouver housing crisis? Are micro units, small condos and bachelor suites the way of the future; able to douse our city's precariously overheated housing market in a cool shower of affordable, convenient rental units?

It seems the question is still up for debate here in the, albeit beautiful, third least affordable housing market on the globe.

When it comes to micro units, there is much to talk about -- starting with how the heck to get your hands on a mortgage for one. In this case, unfortunately, it seems lenders really do subscribe to the notion that bigger is better. We're talking literally here, too.

Some time ago the city of Vancouver pushed through a bylaw prohibiting sale of any ultra-small or micro rental unit that measures less than 320 square feet total.

The city may grant exceptions at the planning stage that would allow the developer to build smaller units. But with the affordability crisis in the Vancouver housing market coming to a head these last few years, there are those who argue that the impact of this bylaw has effectively been to push out anyone who may be able to enter the market with a smaller property, and therefore a smaller financial investment as well.

With Vancouver's one per cent vacancy rate, and density becoming a major issue, something's got to give.

Financing a small unit will present more challenges and some lenders will only lend if the mortgage is insured. Other options would include monoline lenders, B lenders and even private lenders.

Interestingly, micro units tend to secure more rent per square foot, which could add fuel to the unaffordable housing cost crisis; at least, that's what the powers that be say. Due to the number of built-in necessities these tiny units demand (bath, shower, microwave, desk and so forth), developers must pay a pretty penny to outfit suites with everything a person needs. But an article in the Globe and Mail last year asked a poignant question: "Is it fair to expect people to live in less than 300 square feet and pay top dollar for it?"

It went on to say that developers like the idea of purchasing micro suites for obvious reasons: as unit size decreases and towers rise higher, their returns balloon. But even for those who don't like the idea of micro units have to admit: with Vancouver's one per cent vacancy rate, and density becoming a major issue, something's got to give.

Another shocker in B.C. is the birthrate -- the lowest in the entire country. A fact that many have blamed on the exorbitant cost of living. Upwards of 58 per cent of households don't have children in them.

There are, however, a lot of people who don't think that means living in a 300-square-foot space is the answer -- and Tsur Somerville might be one of them. The associate professor at UBC's Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate told CBC news that public spaces become "a bigger part of your life" if you're in such a small space. With such little room to breathe, the city becomes an extension of your living space. But isn't that true for all of us?

Even UBC is jumping on the proverbial micro unit bandwagon. Last summer the University, located at least 45 minutes from downtown by transit, had a staggering 6,300 students on a waiting list for campus housing.

Andrew Parr, UBC's managing director of student housing and hospitality services, opened a dialogue up with student leaders about the problem of housing affordability. By the end of these talks, 61 micro units 140 square feet in size, were scheduled to be built by 2019. These units will rent for between $670 and $690 a month, instead of the average $1,000; not a nominal gap by any standards (especially a student's wallet).

Despite the challenges posed by these tiny spaces, it would seem they're here to stay, in which case we need to focus on the positives. As pointed out by Sandra Rinomato, living in a micro unit can afford you a fantastic location as all these units are being built in dense urban areas with low rental availability and sky-high rents.

That means you get to live in some of the most exciting urban areas without paying the less-than-exciting monthly rents that come with them. They also force you to think about what truly matters in terms of material things. With space saving furniture to maximize space, trips to the nearest home design centre are unnecessary and collectibles infringe on living space. This minimalist way of life is being embraced by millennials in particular, who value experiences, environment and their community over amassing material wealth and assets.

Even with everything you need, it's not hard to see how these units could feel confining with time. So if a micro unit is on your radar, finding helpful methods to downsize and embrace the experience is paramount to your well-being.

And if that doesn't work, there's always the coffee shop downstairs.

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