British Columbia

At $289K, Vancouver's most affordable property is also the city's tiniest

With just 9 feet of frontage, an East Vancouver property is listed for $289K with unapproved development plans for a tiny house.

With just 9 feet of frontage, the property looks like a dirt driveway belonging to the next-door neighbour

The tiny lot listed for $289,000 in East Vancouver's Commercial Drive area has nine feet of frontage. Shed not included. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As Vancouver property prices soar ever higher into the stratosphere, there is one patch of residential land for sale in the city that stands out for affordability.

That's because 1912 William Street is literally a patch: nine feet wide at the front, 60 feet deep and easily mistaken for a muddy driveway belonging to the next door neighbour.

Listed for $289,000, the narrow strip located near Commercial Drive in East Vancouver comes packaged with development plans "not yet approved and not yet rejected" for a three-level, 425 square-foot tiny house.

Listing agent Christian Chiappetta of Sutton Group West said he's received five-times the number of calls for the tiny lot compared to what he gets for a regular property.

"The response has been quite huge," he said. "There's a bit of a popular movement for tiny homes... and while, of course it's not for everyone, it is a quirky curiosity for a lot of folks."

Architectural mock-up for tiny house development at 1912 William Street. (Christian Chiappetta/Sutton West Coast)

According to Chiappetta, the seller has a background developing smaller homes, although whether the city will grant the zoning variances and permits needed to proceed remains a major question.

The tiny lot last sold for $88,000 in July 2020, about the same time B.C. Assessment pegged its value at just $4,900.

The $4,900 figure reflects the low development potential, said Bryan Murao, the deputy assessor with B.C. Assessment.

"There's not many properties in Vancouver, or really anywhere, with this level of minimal frontage," Murao said. "I think it raises a lot of questions about what you can actually do with that property."

Mystery of history

At CBC's request, Murao looked into the provenance of 1912 William Street. What he uncovered is a mystery of history dating back 110 years. 

"Because [the lot] was registered in 1909 there's not a lot of context that comes along with it," he said. "The short answer is that I don't know and I can't find any archived records to help us understand why this was created in the first place." 

B.C.'s Deputy Assessor says the $4,900 assessed value of 1912 William Street represents its low development potential. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What the records do show is that in 1909, four narrow lots at the corner of William and Victoria Drive were consolidated and then subdivided into two big lots and the tiny lot in question. Murao said the small one might have been cleaved off with the intention of converting it to a lane at a future date.

However, considering that 1912 William isn't the only peculiar lot in the neighbourhood, it is possible there's a more colourful explanation.

The poker game story

A few blocks away, a similar sliver of land sits awkwardly appended to the backyard of 916 Victoria Drive.

When current owners Madeline Paris and Doug Wood bought the property, the seller explained a previous owner had won the finger of land and garage sitting on it in a poker game back in the 1930s or '40s.

Homeowners of 916 Victoria Drive were told the extra finger of land jutting out from their backyard was won in a poker game. (B.C. Assessment)

The couple said there's little reason to doubt the story.

"To imagine that the original plan allowed for an attached garage is, as Shawn Wallace would say, 'inconceivable,'" said Wood.  

Years ago, Paris said she was twice approached by an elderly neighbour who lived behind them, asking to buy the garage. But the conversations ended when he insisted on talking to the man of the house.

"He came to the front door... asking if my husband was home," she said. "I said, no, you can talk to me and that was it."

There's no knowing if poker played a role in the creation of 1912 William Street, but there's also no denying the present day real estate gamble it represents.

But if the development plans are approved and if the unit gets built, someone will have a sizeable story to go with their tiny house.

Studio units in area go for $600K

And, Chiappetta is quick to point out, it will all come at a competitive price — even after construction costs — considering studio units in the area that don't include a piece of dirt are going for $600,000.

"You can imagine where values on something as unique as this would be," he said.  

"I'm sure if you'd asked nine out of 10 folks who were going to live in a smaller space if they prefer to live in a studio suite or a small house ... many people would probably choose this property."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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