‘Canada’s smallest-ever condominiums’ start at 297 square feet in Whalley

Micro condo
Canada's smallest condominium unit, measuring 297 square feet, is unveiled in Surrey. The Balance project is 56 units of varying size, from the 297 sq. ft. model shown, to 648 sq. ft. units. Prices start at $109,000 and are marketed towards people who earn between $22,000 and $55,000 annually. Jason Payne/ PNG

Cash-strapped first-time condo buyers in Surrey are about to get a shot at their dream home — as long as they’re prepared to live in a space the size of a dorm room.

A new development called Balance in Whalley is offering what the company calls “Canada’s smallest-ever condominiums” — units starting at 297 square feet — and that’s including the balcony.

The “micro-suites” concept is the work of Richmond-based developer Tien Sher. President Charan Sethi says they’re designed to meet the needs of a younger generation and a working-class demographic with small salaries, but big dreams of owning their own homes.

“To a certain degree, It’s what you can afford, he said. “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 fulfil that dream of yours and give you a very basic home first, and from there you can flourish and do the next one.”

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The 56-unit, four storey building, planned for completion in the summer 2014, will be built near 108th Ave. and Grosvenor Road, near Gateway SkyTrain. It begins pre-sales Saturday.

The smallest suites at 297 square feet start at $109,000. Sixty per cent of all the suites are under 305 square feet. There are just 32 parking spaces, so residents without cars don’t have to purchase one, and few amenities — just one meeting room and a co-op car.

Balance buyers will need incomes of at least $22,000; people making $17 an hour and up.

The 307-square-foot show suite, at $126,000, was a tight squeeze.

Most of the features that made it functional — a murphy bed, built-in cabinetry, and a space-saving dual washer-dryer, cost extra.

When Sethi pulled down the murphy bed, which doubled as a couch, the foot was only a few feet from the kitchen counter — it was almost possible to make breakfast from bed.

Sethi deflected such criticisms.

“We have to start thinking about what the next generation wants,” he said. “It’s not what I want, or what some of you may want. The next generation wants a pad of their own that they can call their home. They don’t entertain at home … their dining room is actually restaurants.”

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Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association president Bob de Witt said the micro-suites were on trend and he believed builders could go even smaller in future.

“How small can we go? I think the limits are only in our imagination.

“The limits are storage, creative use of space, murphy beds and collapsible things. As technology gets more sophisticated and creative, space gets more efficient. I think we can get smaller yet,” he said.

Architect and development consultant Michael Geller, who was involved in UniverCity at SFU, said such suites are good options for residents who could deliberately choose a small condo over a larger rental, and those who could leave in a few years if desired, but not for others, like seniors.

He also cautioned against towers of 200-plus micro-suites.

“You would definitely want to have a certain amount of amenity space both in the building and in the surrounding area to compensate for a smaller living area.”

Small living spaces are nothing new in Vancouver, starting with single room occupancy units (SRO’s) have existed in the downtown core. What is new is tiny suites coming with mortgages. There are smaller 230-290-square-foot units available in Gastown’s Burns Block, and a building at 600 Drake Street has suites in the 330-square-foot range, but both are rentals.

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More may be coming.

In North Vancouver, John Kay of Affordable Sustainable Homes Idea Company approached the city last month with a plan for 375-square-foot one-bedroom suites starting at $165,000, suited to built-up areas like Lonsdale Quay.

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