A VANCOUVER PRIMER: FINDING AN APARTMENT

Here is the first of a series of articles I dub “A Vancouver Primer.”  They are meant to be a starting point for the prospective Vancouverites as they evaluate the pros and cons of living in this beautiful city, consistently voted as one of the best in the world.

Boxing Day.  The term conjures up dreams of great deals everywhere.  But it also means long lineups at every store, as each “boxer” fights for the elusive deal that everybody wants.  Vancouver’s apartment hunting scene reminds me somewhat of that latter part of Boxing Day unfortunately.  You might be able to get a great deal too, but that’s less likely as the rent/mortgage rates border insanity here.  The plain fact is, once you see something you really like, you’d better sign up right away or else the next person in line might just ruin your plans.

The main reason why finding an apartment is stressful in Vancouver is because all tenants need only notify the landlord one month in advance whether they will stay for another year or not.  Very rarely will you see, let’s say on December 1st, landlords listing available units for February 1st or March 1st or later.  The vast majority will be for January 1st only.  But actually, the race for the best apartment out there starts more on the second day of each month rather than the first, as landlords often give tenants until the evening of the first day of their last month to hand over their notice.  I think it’s safe to say that the most interesting ones will be going first so, if you can manage to find some spare time to visit apartments on the second of the month, by all means do so!  During my own visits last year, a couple of landlords told me, in all honesty, that they didn’t really care if I didn’t give them an answer right away: the occupancy rate in Vancouver hovers around 100% and if I didn’t sign up, somebody else would — all the more reasons to get out there early and waste no time finding that apartment.  If you’re planning to relocate, schedule your flight accordingly for the best “shopping” experience.

And yes, the rent is insane here (EDIT 2009-04-26: things could get even more insane very soon :s).  I tried to find an apartment with a rent comparable to the one I had  in Montreal, but it just wasn’t possible without moving quite a ways away from the downtown core.  Unless you’re the stay-at-home type, you’ll most probably have to make do with the increase in rent money you’ll spend each year here.  But thankfully, the salaries are higher here and there is less tax to pay than in Quebec, so that was a relief for me.

A 1-bedroom unit in the downtown area usually goes for more than 1,000$ (but the lower the floor, the more affordable it becomes).  Wherever you decide to stay — but especially around downtown Vancouver –, you will pay more for less than what you used to have.  And if that wasn’t enough, watch out if the unit you like has a balcony: landlords like to inflate the total square footage of their units with the space covered by balconies to attract more tenants.  Maybe it’s a common practice, I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t like it; I don’t think a balcony should be considered as a full-fledged “living” space.  Once you see the unit with your own eyes, you’ll be disappointed by how much smaller it really is.

As you look around, you can be sure of one thing (well, almost): if it looks too good, it’s a condo; if it looks “decent” or worse, it’s an apartment.  All condo owners must have a good portion of their monthly maintenance fees set aside for landscaping.  There are so many buildings that look so incredible out there — all condos.  Although there are some condos for rent out there, they’ll most likely be quite expensive.  If you live on a tight budget, there are other alternatives, of course.  The first is to go for a basement suite.  I saw many reasonably priced ones, but I craved my light too much to settle for living in a basement year-round.  Having a roommate is another obvious option, but cross your fingers that the “relationship” withstands the test of time (and ego).

While you may find many listings on the Web, don’t stop there.  Some buildings advertise their available units only on their front yard, or even not at all.  In the latter case, you can still look up the manager’s extension at the front door and call him/her up to inquire about what they have available right now.  A building without a sign does not necessarily mean nothing is up for grabs.

If you’re new to BC, you might find it strange that you have to leave the manager a cheque worth half a month’s rent as you fill up an application and they check your credit and so on in the next couple of days.  The idea of having maybe 3 different cheques — worth a good chunk of money each — in the hands of people I don’t know at all doesn’t appeal to me, but that’s how it works here.  I don’t understand why it’s so important for them to have that cheque in the preliminary stage instead of after the credit has been approved and you’re ready to officially sign a lease (this “security deposit” will be used against you if you mess up your unit).

To close off this article on finding an apartment in Vancouver, here are a few more interesting apartment facts for you:

– As you move into your new place, you might be pleasantly surprised at how clean your unit is — at least I was (Quebec landlords should definitely learn a lesson from their BC counterparts here).  The “Condition Inspection Report” ensures that you get a clean unit upon arrival and that you keep it clean yourself as long as you live there.  If not, you can kiss your security deposit goodbye — you’ve been warned! :p

– Don’t brush aside older buildings too fast!  On average, older buildings seem to give you more room for yourself (and maybe more noise, too; that depends on how thick the walls are or how much space there is between units).  It’s quite possible that, being older, landlords will charge you less for their space — but don’t expect them to “give it away.”

– Most high-rise buildings have their own personal gym and some also have an indoor pool and/or sauna and/or jacuzzi and/or game room (seen mostly in swanky Yaletown), too.  Vancouver is a health-conscious city and the means to keep fit are readily available here, whether it be in your apartment building or in a huge park not too far from your place.

Vancouver is an expensive city, but it is also very clean and the view does have a price.  The higher salary helps somewhat cover the higher cost of living but, with the steep increase in rents and mortgages the city has seen these past few years, it makes you wonder why it hasn’t followed a similar growth.  Lots of people I talked to foresee a drop in prices after the 2010 Olympics, but that’s just speculation, of course — don’t take my word for it.  That being said, I still think, as a nature lover, that it’s worth it.  I find the abundance of outdoor activities and green spaces so close to the city very enjoyable.  I’ll go into more details about the lifestyle aspect of Vancouver in a future primer.

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “A VANCOUVER PRIMER: FINDING AN APARTMENT

  1. Wow… Deciding on where to live in Vancouver without even setting foot in Vancouver… That MUST be stressful! :s

    I was lucky that the company covered all my expenses as I relocated here, including 2 “scouting” trips to get to know Vancouver better and find an apartment and finally moving all my stuff by truck from Montreal ($$$$!).

    I hope you manage to find yourself a great place to live!

    Alain

  2. Well, I’m going to be moving to Vancouver from Japan in June, it’s going to be extra stressful. I have booked a hotel for a week to look for a place, is that enough time?

    Most landlords only accept cheques now? What the…? I like the old fashined way of paying cash myself, but that’ll be difficult to find someone who accepts cash me thinks.

    Any advice? What are good areas but reasonably priced?

    I’m going to be shipping out June 19th.

  3. A week’s stay is long enough — as long as you come at the beginning of the month. Later in the month, less opportunities, more difficult to find a decent place.

    Well, I don’t know if landlords accept “only” cheques, but when I did my own apartment hunting, that’s how it was (and it was more convenient for me anyway; didn’t have to carry thousands of dollars in my wallet).

    What kind of lifestyle do you prefer? Urban or suburban? If it’s urban, you wont have any choice but to settle for the 1,000$+ rent a month. That’s what I had to do myself when I came here: I was 15 minutes away from downtown Montreal and paid 600$ a month for a 1-bedroom and now I pay 1,000$ a month for a smaller place (still 1-bedroom, but closer to the downtown core). Big difference in rent prices, you just have to accept it. But I heard Japan was quite expensive too; maybe it wont be as shocking to you. :)

    Otherwise, for slightly less, look towards North Van (great view on the city and not too far) or Burnaby, close to “Lougheed Mall”, where I could have had a 725 sq. ft., 800$ a month 1-bedroom with cable (and the usual heat and hot water). But the apartment looked “tired” and didn’t feel as big as they claimed it to be (balcony size inflation?). And nothing special to do in the area… 30 minutes to get to downtown Vancouver by SkyTrain… Naaah… But if your budget can’t afford the extra rent money and downtown proximity, then you might have to settle for this…

  4. Dave,

    I don’t know about the Alberta and Ontario markets. Coming from Quebec myself, I base my comparisons on this province only. When I moved here, I can tell you I got a nice “raise” (to cover the higher cost of living) and have been paying less taxes ever since (Quebec is the most taxed province of all). :)

  5. Good article :) What websites / newspapers did you use to find apartments? I’m moving to Vancouver later this summer from Seoul – and a bit stressed about finding accommodation.

  6. Thanks. You can check out my “Links” tab for a list of rental sites.

    I concentrated my efforts on finding an apartment around Lougheed Mall initially (by checking prices on the Web and a map for easy access to downtown and my workplace). But once I came here for a scouting trip, I quickly noticed that Lougheed Mall, although the prices were more affordable, was way too quiet for me. So I could only figure out my neighbourhood of choice by driving around (the Net couldn’t help me by itself). After accepting the fact that the rent was insane in Vancouver, I decided to move in the downtown area, because for my personality/interests/budget, this was the only option for me in this city.

    The next step was simply to walk around and inquire about available units whenever a 1-bedroom was posted as being available or when a building looked interesting to me.

    Hope this helps,

    Alain

  7. Hey,
    great tips, thanks so muc. I was wondering if there are “better months” and “worse months” fo moving ans looking for a place? And what do utilities usually mean, I mean how much are they, I read on some postings: 50% of what? The base price?? That’s a lot? And which newspapers or online sites would you recommend??
    Thanks so much!

  8. Pingback: Ein Sprachaufenthalt in Vancouver bewegt! « Sprachaufenthalt

  9. One of the more helpful sites. I am planning on attending the Vancouver Film School in downtown Vancouver for a year program beginning March 2010. How long do you think it will take for me to find a place? Is North shore good or should I stick with the downtown area?

    Thanks,
    C

  10. Charlotte:

    it shouldn’t take long to find an apartment if you already have an idea of where you want to stay — leading to your next question… It all depends on the type of person you are:

    Nature lover:
    –> North Van (many hiking trails nearby)
    –> West End (Stanley Park & English Bay within walking distance)
    –> Around UBC (Pacific Spirit Park, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, etc.)

    Party girl:
    –> Yaletown $$$ (many clubs nearby, fancy boutiques & restaurants)
    –> Kitsilano $$$ (fancy boutiques and restaurants, Kits Beach –arguably the hippest beach in Vancouver)

    Loves to dine out:
    –> Downtown/West End
    –> Anywhere around West Broadway
    –> Richmond, around No. 3 Road (the SkyTrain will be functional there by then — 22 minutes to Downtown)

    Time is money:
    –> Around the area where you will work/study.

    Wants to have all amenities nearby:
    –> Metrotown (25 minutes from Downtown, but prices similar in range to Downtown, though)
    –> Downtown/West End
    –> South Granville

    Without a car:
    –> Downtown
    –> 10 minutes walking distance from any SkyTrain station
    –> Close to a “B Line” (i.e. express bus).

    Avoid:
    –> Vancouver Downtown Eastside (Main & Hastings)
    –> Surrey Central (after 2 years, I still haven’t been to Surrey, at all)

  11. Thank you so much for writing this post. It is awesome in my opinion. I will be moving to Vancouver and will need to look for an apartment, and this post is really really helpful.

  12. Thanks so much! Also now considering a shorter 4-month course at UBC’s downtown campus. Will apt. rent out for such a short time or is it better to stay at extended-stay hotels, etc. Not that that is my first choice.

  13. Charlotte,

    Sorry, I don’t know the answer to your question. I suspect *it is* possible to rent month-to-month, but I never really looked into that option. You’ll have to do some digging on that. ;)

    Alain

  14. thanks for a very informative article. i am relocating from toronto for grad school, and was wondering when the best time is to visit vancouver and apartment hunt. my two options are july 2nd/3rd or august 10th/11th – any thoughts?

    • Since most apartments available on the market are only for the following month and you plan to move at the beginning of September, August 10th/11th would be your best bet (the week before would be even better, if you could –> more choices).

  15. I am relocating to Vancouver from Ontario in the next couple of months. As a local I thought maybe you would have an inside scoop or understanding of why most rented apartments don’t accept pets. I have a 10 year old declawed and neutered cat that will be coming with me and am surprised at the amount of “no pets” advertised in rental apartments.

    Would you happen to have any first hand knowledge of this type or maybe have any friends that were in this situation? So far the only places that seem to allow pets are in the suburbs (Burnaby and farther).

    Can you give me any tips – are landlords and management properties really strict when it comes to this or can one bring in a cat after a few months and not have any problems?

    Any thoughts from a local?

    Thanks

    • (I didn’t have to go through that process myself, having no pets of my own. So this is just an “educated guess”)

      It’s true that few apartments accept pets. I guess landlords are iffy about having to put up with the damages some pets might cause and maybe even potential lost opportunities if an interested tenant is allergic to pets (I saw an uncle have allergic reactions once even though the dog was not there. The pet hair, the smell left behind — whatever — was enough to cause the reaction). I don’t recommend bending the rules and sneaking in a pet in a “no pets allowed” apartment building — this could get you evicted. :o

      Thankfully, pets are welcome in Vancouver, too. Do a quick search of Vancouver apartments allowing small pets on the following site and you’ll see that the opportunities are not so rare. :)

      http://www.247apartments.com/Search/

      See my “Links” tab for more apartment finding sites also.

      Cheers

  16. One thing we need here in Vancouver is RENTAL AGENTS. I’d gladly pay someone a couple of hundred dollars to find a place at my specs! But we have none except for expensive, executive-type listings.

    And you need to be very careful, especially in the West End as we are experiencing a scourge of bedbugs. Landlords are not required by law to disclose infestations, so when you find a place to go see, look it up first on bedbugregistry.com. Of course there will be some malicious postings on there, but the site owner tries hard to verify any postings, and allows rebuttals from managers/owners.

    Keep in mind that if you move further out from the downtown core, and stay along the skytrain lines, there are communities and deals to be found.

    But it’s hard out here, and now the average rent for a clean, reasonably nice one-bedroom apartment that may accept, say, a cat, is 1000 or more a month.

    And beware sneaking in your pet. The landlords are very efficient at enforcing their end of the Residential Tenancy Act. Also be aware that for some reason landlords are able to ask for an additional pet deposit so you end up paying 2 months rent up front. I don’t know if that’s allowed by law, but it happens all the time anyway.

    I’ve been looking for a place I can afford (under 1000/mth) that accepts cats, isn’t a dump, doesn’t have bedbugs, is near rapid transit, and isn’t adult-only (I have grandkids who like to visit) for OVER 14 MONTHS! And I have EXCELLENT references! Thanks, Olympics!

    Cheers, thanks for letting me blow off steam and add my two-cents worth…..

    • Thanks for your input and the bed bugs registry link. I did not know about it. The site could be a little bit more user-friendly (like not just showing addresses, but the name of the building as well), but it’s one more tool we can use to find a decent apartment. Click here to find the registry for Vancouver.

  17. This was a great read. My husband and I are relocating to the Vancouver area in 2 months and thankfully the military is paying for a rental agency to find us a place to live. We head out first couple days of May for a June 1 possession date… hopefully we have some luck as we do have a small hypoallergenic dog but can afford up to 2000 a month for rent (if need be…hopefully closer to 1500 or less!). I’m hoping to get a small house or townhouse in the Capitol Hill Burnaby-ish area.

    Wish us luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s