Is it really a master bedroom if you can take your clothes out of the closet without getting out of bed?
Is it a den if only one person fits in it at a time?
In the overheated real estate markets in some Canadians cities, particularly Vancouver and Toronto, the astronomical price per square foot has spurred some creativity when it comes to the condo sales pitch.
“The newer places we’ve seen, because the square footage is more expensive, those master bedrooms were tiny. Very tiny. We thought ‘Can we fit our queen bed in here?’ " says Justin Valente, 30, who along with his partner Natalie, has been hunting for a condo in Vancouver for more than a year.
“I need to go see them. I take what they write at face-value. Details are definitely fudged a bit.”
One Toronto condo shopper stirred a Twitter tempest recently with photos of the latest trend – sliding glass doors where solid walls and an entry door once would have been. Apparently, the interpretation is that a Toronto bedroom doesn’t need a window to the outdoors if it “borrows” natural light through internal glass.
The Twitterverse responded with tales of bathrooms without baths and the ambiguously designated “junior” one-bedrooms and “studio max.”
Even toilets are turning up with the questionable choice of glass walls.
“The layouts of a lot of the places you think, ‘I want to talk to the developer,’ " Mr. Valente says with a wry laugh.
He and his partner are currently renting a one-bedroom suite in Vancouver’s West End, in a brick-and-bay-windows heritage building with rent-hike protections.
But they both work remotely, one at a makeshift office in a bedroom and the other at a makeshift office in the living room. They plan to start a family soon and they’d like a two-bedroom condo their family can grow into for a few years.
The cost of the two-bedroom condos they’ve looked at range from about $850,000 to $900,000. They would like in-suite laundry and secure underground parking.
They’ve been told they might have to compromise.
“You think this is a substantial amount of money. I’d be almost quadrupling my monthly bill to have something that’s worse than what I’m currently in,” he says.
Mr. Valente is a “research shopper.” Buying an air purifier involves a couple of weeks going down a rabbit hole of Reddit discussion boards and online reviews. Now he’s in a real-estate market where there are more buyers than sellers and some of the design elements and descriptions are, to be polite, rather creative.
There are regulations dictating condo design and amenities, but some new developments have interesting ideas about how those regulations are met, he says.
For example, in Vancouver, a condo must have a storage space.
“You think ‘why is this small little closet attached to the kitchen here?’ Because they have to have a storage space within the unit,” he says.
Most listing agents are accurate, says Desmond Brown, an agent with ReMax Hallmark Realty Ltd. in Toronto, and host of the podcast Sold in the 6ix.
“But sometimes there are things that are exaggerated, and we just have to be aware of that,” he adds.
“A den can sometimes resemble a closet. We see dens being described as a little hole in the wall in some cases, seven-by-seven [feet], seven-by-six [feet] — if that, sometimes. If you can put a desk into it with a chair, then go ahead and call it a den.”
And beware of the “great view,” he says.
“I love it when they say it has a great view – but of what? A parking lot? Another building? Of the model who lives across the courtyard?”
A bedroom is supposed to have a window, though, even if “junior one-bedroom” means it’s a rather small one, he adds.
These days most real estate buyers are online constantly, looking for properties themselves and letting their agent know what they want to see, Mr. Brown says. He suggests working with a professional real-estate agent who is familiar with the area you want to buy in and the lingo.
“Sometimes the pictures can be a bit deceiving, with wide angles making the rooms look bigger, but, also you’re not going to see the flaws in a picture and you’re not going to see exactly where the condo is, or what kind of exposure it has and what type of views.
“That’s why it’s so important to get out there. And we as agents try to know the market so we don’t end up wasting [our clients’] time. I often say it’s great to be viewing online but you have no idea who lives next door.”
It’s also important to know the details of the status certificate of the condo corporation and the financials of the building, Mr. Brown advises.
The Real Estate Council of Ontario says all features of a property advertised by a brokerage must be technically accurate and cannot be misleading.
“The law in Ontario contains a general prohibition against false, misleading or deceptive statements in advertising by RECO registrants,” says Christine Harminc, director of external relations for the council.
“Descriptions of features must be technically accurate, but as with all sales and marketing techniques, there is some allowance for sellers to use promotional language and opinion, sometimes called puffery.”
The Ontario Building Code criteria applies to all buildings, and a property described as having one bedroom must meet those criteria, she says.
The terminology used to describe condo features has remained fairly static, and although “there are people who are always pushing the envelope of creativity … the representations must be accurate and not misleading,” Ms. Harminc says in an e-mail.
Complaints are usually handled by real estate boards and the council has not seen any increase in complaints.
“Buyers should see the property themselves to make sure it fits their needs and to measure for themselves,” Ms. Harminc says.
Mr. Valente has looked. The condos he’s seen and liked have sold quickly, with as many as 15 bids and well above the asking price.
“We just got frustrated and said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ " he says. “We’re asking ourselves ‘what is keeping us in Vancouver? Why are we trying to fit into this market?’ We’re definitely starting to consider elsewhere.”