Toronto

An alcove, a nook, an office: In Toronto, 'nobody really knows what a den is'

According to real estate broker David Fleming, with no standard for a den, agents have to make some tough decisions on how to properly list a property. Without rules, buyers or renters also need to do a little extra research to make sure they know what kind of space they’re paying for.

Neither the province nor the city has any standards when it comes to 'dens' in apartments and condos

Would you call this a den? Real estate broker David Fleming says it was listed as one, although the two clients he brought here had hoped to use the space as a second bedroom. (David Fleming)

When blogger David Fleming thinks of a den, he pictures a small, wood-panelled sitting room where you'd watch movies with your grandparents.

Fleming admits his vision is a bit outdated, but he's still constantly surprised to see how small dens in Toronto apartments and condos have become.

"Every day in the city of Toronto people walk into condos listed as a '1+1' or a one-bedroom plus den and they cannot find the den," said Fleming, who's also a broker with Bosley Toronto Realty Group Inc.

"Nobody really knows what a den is."

David Fleming often writes about Toronto's den woes. He's also a broker with Bosley Toronto Realty Group Inc. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

There are no rules in Ontario or Toronto for what makes a den a den, as opposed to other rooms in a unit, such as a bedroom, which must have windows, according to the Ontario Building Code.

With no standard, Fleming said real estate agents can sometimes struggle to properly list a property. Meanwhile, as dens become smaller and more distorted, buyers and renters also need to do more research to make sure they know what kind of den they're paying for.

According to Fleming, this space would be an ideal den for consumers. Although it doesn't have a window, it has a closet, door and can fit a bed if needed. (David Fleming)

What is a den?

The den definition eluded several organizations CBC News contacted, including the Ontario Real Estate Association, the Real Estate Council of Ontario, and the city of Toronto.

Another example of a den, which, at 5.18-feet wide, Fleming said is too narrow to be used for much of anything. (David Fleming)

Praveen Senthinathan, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Housing, which is responsible for the Ontario Building Code, said in an email, "'Dens are not specifically mentioned in the Code," meaning there are no requirements for size or components.

"We note that in condos a variety of arrangements are called 'dens' for marketing purposes," he said.

"We encourage potential buyers or renters to inspect a property to make sure it meets their needs."

'Buyer Beware'

With no rules, there are certain things renters and homebuyers should be aware of when they see a '+1' tacked onto a listing, Fleming said.

First, some sellers want to list their property as a one plus den, even when their realtor believes it would be misleading to a consumer.

"I look around and I don't see a den. I don't want to market it as a den because buyers are going to come in and not be able to find it. The seller, however, wants to market as a den because they paid good money for it as a den."

This listing includes a den, but Fleming says it's more of a foyer. (David Fleming)

Therein lies another problem, Fleming said, where some investors are marketing their unit at a higher price, even if the den can't be used for much.

"Investors are looking for spaces where they can put two people instead of one. So if you have a one plus den, it doesn't even matter if it has a door. I have seen so many sheets strung across a piece of string with a bed behind it I can't even tell you," he said.

"Now, one person paying $2,000 a month, okay. What if you had two people paying $1,400 each? It immediately increases your return. Thus, prices go up."

Fleming says the space behind the curtain on the right of this unit is also considered a den. (David Fleming)

The size of dens and apartments more generally is something Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations executive director Geordie Dent finds concerning.

"In a healthy market if you came to look at a unit that ended up being a nook in a hallway you'd just leave to look at other options. In Toronto right now, those units don't exist so many people are just scrambling to find anything," he said.

Some real estate agents are also struggling to deal with a new term used by some developers in their floor plans called "plus media."

"Which is basically room for a desk," Fleming said.

This floor plan shows a small space on the left, which is considered a 'media' area. (David Fleming)

"The issue is on [real estate listing system] MLS there is no room called media … so what are they going to call it? A den."

Dave Wilkes, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which represents 1,500 home builders, land developers, and renovators across the GTA, said he isn't familiar with the use of "media," but the industry generally uses the term "den" to denote a small space.

"It's not a regulated term, but it is one that gives the buyer an indication of some extra room that would be available," he said.

Dave Wilkes says he advises all buyers to look at floor plans and visit model suites to understand what they're being offered. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

Wilkes added BILD is running a new campaign, Building Answers, where people in the GTA can submit queries, such as the use of "media," for the industry to answer. 

In terms of creating a standard for a den, Wilkes said, there's no need.

"We think it offers choice as opposed to confusion," he said. "There's different needs for different people … there's an ability to appeal to those needs by offering different products."

Wilkes said he encourages people to look at floor plans or model suites to understand what's being offered.

Fleming had the same advice.

"Unfortunately, what it comes down to is, 'Buyer beware.'"

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