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Mariana Brussoni and Nick Sully are photographed outside their 1,500-square-foot townhouse unit in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, October 26, 2013. The townhouse unit is on land that traditionally would have been the site of a single-family detached home. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Mariana Brussoni and Nick Sully are photographed outside their 1,500-square-foot townhouse unit in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, October 26, 2013. The townhouse unit is on land that traditionally would have been the site of a single-family detached home. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

In Vancouver, the dream of owning a roomy home is drifting out of reach Add to ...

Nick Sully and Mariana Brussoni have learned to stop worrying and love Vancouver’s expensive real estate market.

Like other Vancouver buyers over the past several years, the couple had to scale back expectations and squeeze the most out of a relatively small space.

Mr. Sully, a 42-year-old architect, and his wife, who is an assistant professor in public health at the University of British Columbia, have owned their own place on Vancouver’s East Side since 2010.

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It’s a two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot townhouse with an assessed value of $766,000.

In Greater Vancouver, where the average price for a detached house is approaching $1.2-million, the dream of owning a roomy abode is drifting out of reach for many.

Now, a new generation is learning to make do with smaller homes.

That trend is having a major influence on the home-building industry.

Nearly 79 per cent of new housing built so far this year in the Vancouver region have been townhouses or condos.

That is up from 62 per cent in 2002 and 53 per cent in 1991, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Mr. Sully and Ms. Brussoni have fond memories of the large front and backyards they enjoyed as kids growing up in Calgary. But they love their townhouse even if it means minimal yard space for their two young children, and living in close proximity to others.

“People in Vancouver have to get used to the fact that you do have to look at your neighbour sometimes,” Mr. Sully said.

He added it has worked out well because they’re friends with their neighbours, who also have young children. Mr. Sully designed and co-developed the property, which has four units and mountain views.

“The middle-class, family-oriented couple with a kid or two are facing the biggest squeeze in this housing boom here,” said Andrew Yan, an urban planner with Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects. “They are looking for units that are bigger than a 650-square-foot box in the sky. They are in a state of life that they are raising a family or soon will, or want space to entertain.”

High housing prices have exacerbated income and wealth inequality, said Mr. Yan, who noted that employers offering good salaries have the challenge of recruiting workers into a market where prices have skyrocketed. On Vancouver’s West Side, the average price for a detached house exceeds $2.4-million.

For cities to prosper, they need to find ways to encourage more housing for young families, Mr. Yan said. He points out that even families headed by dual-income earners with above-average salaries have a hard time finding suitable, affordable townhouses within the City of Vancouver.

Mr. Sully and Ms. Brussoni are big supporters of increased housing density. They’re raising their seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son in the unit, which is located on land that has soared in value over the past decade. Traditionally, the lot would have been the site of a single-family detached home.

Buying any type of property remains elusive for many Vancouver renters, who face high monthly payments. The average monthly charge for a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver in April this year was $1,255, the highest rent among major Canadian centres, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Cycling coach Andrew Pinfold and his wife, Keltie, live in a two-bedroom apartment in North Vancouver with their two young children. The couple pays nearly $1,500 a month in rent, including some utilities. While they have considered buying a home, prices that remain near record highs and the prospect of taking on a large mortgage have scared them off.

Mr. Pinfold would like to see the housing market cool down significantly, but he points out that if there is a crash in prices, it won’t be a pretty picture for the economy. “We have friends in similar positions, with great white-collar jobs and still renting,” he said. “It is a scary thing to think about – if we were to have a major correction in real estate prices.”

Laura-Leah Shaw, a real estate agent with Re/Max Crest Realty Westside, lives in Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood, where the land value alone for a single-family detached property often exceeds $1.5-million. Her two daughters, who are now in their early 30s, have made compromises in their housing. They each managed to buy a townhouse in Vancouver’s trendy Kitsilano neighbourhood.

“Both my daughters are in households with dual incomes,” Ms. Shaw said. “Being in Kits, they’re closer to the beach, closer to work, friends and activities. The townhouses are their home, and they love it. They didn’t get everything that they’re looking for, but they got something, and that is what’s important.”

MLS home price index benchmark prices, Greater Vancouver

SOURCE: B.C. Real Estate Association

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