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Ken Bryant on the steps of his 86-year-old home, which went viral when it was listed for $2.398-million and recently sold in Vancouver's west side.

Ken Bryant on the steps of his 86-year-old home, which went viral when it was listed for $2.398-million and recently sold in Vancouver's west side.

DARRYL DYCK/For The Globe and Mail

'The house was a
tear-down in 1983'

Ken Bryant's house in Vancouver's west side was mocked online when it was listed for nearly $2.4-million – the latest symbol of an out-of-control real estate market. But for him and his family, it was a home. Brent Jang reports

Ken Bryant remembers the real-estate agent who tried in vain to steer him away from the decrepit house.

Some of the roof's shingles were curling up and needed replacing, while the interior's oak floors begged for refinishing – just two items on a lengthy renovation to-do list back in 1983. Mr. Bryant and his wife were unfazed by the prospect of owning a dump. It was what they could afford to get into Vancouver's Point Grey neighbourhood.

"The agent showed us the house and said, 'You're not going to want this. This house has been a rental. It's run down. It's going to be a tear-down, and you would have to put a fortune into it to renovate it.' We said, 'Yes, this is great. We'll take it.' We paid close to the asking price," Mr. Bryant, who retired last summer after working for 41 years as a professor at the University of British Columbia, said.

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Despite the agent's advice, the couple did only what was necessary over the decades. When the Bryants held an open house in February, the property near UBC quickly became an emblem of the region's out-of-control real-estate market, where abandoned or dilapidated homes with multimillion-dollar price tags create a frenzy in the media and are mocked online.

The couple's home sweet home became known as the $2.4-million tear-down. Even at that asking price, it was one the cheapest listings in the neighbourhood.

The Globe and Mail tracked down the Bryants after a land-title search of their single-family detached house on Vancouver's west side. During a three-hour interview, Mr. Bryant talked about buying at the bargain price of $141,000 in 1983 and reaping a lottery-like windfall after selling in 2016.

Ben Nelms/For The Globe and Mail

Back in 1983, the couple had two young sons to raise. The house on West 14th Avenue appealed to them, given the short commute to UBC and walking distance to an elementary school. "Location, location, location. It almost could have been a tent. It was clear that someone was going to come around with a bulldozer. The house looked then essentially as it does now," Mr. Bryant said.

The sale highlights how baby boomers have benefited from the region's hot real-estate market. The generational wealth accumulated through home ownership has been a major reason the B.C. Liberal government has given for its reluctance to intervene to cool down the market, whether it be steering clear of measures to stem sales to foreign buyers or refusing to slap on any significant luxury tax.

Bob Rennie, the owner of Rennie Marketing Systems, said the Bryants' case offers a glimpse into the large numbers of residents age 55 and older who own their properties outright or have almost paid off their mortgages in the Vancouver region.

Over the past three years, the median price for detached houses sold on Vancouver's west side has surged 68 per cent to $3.53-million and soared 72 per cent to $1.56-million on the city's east side. Mr. Rennie said the winners have been largely older residents like the Bryants.

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"They won the lottery," Mr. Rennie, who specializes in selling condos, said. He cites an analysis by Urban Futures that estimates the region has 193,000 baby boomer households with clear title, meaning they are mortgage-free and in a position to help their children and grandchildren. That is 30 per cent of the total number of households. Other baby boomers are close to paying off their mortgages.

DARRYL DYCK/For The Globe and Mail

The Bryants, who are now 70 years old, had paid off their mortgage long ago, but remortgaged after they bought a recreational property for $175,000 in 2001 in the Southern Gulf Islands. This summer, Ms. Bryant will officially retire from her job as a librarian. She and her husband have good pensions from UBC.

The story of the Bryants' entry into Vancouver's housing market underscores how a generation was able to buy homes on modest incomes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Bryant and his wife moved from California to Vancouver in 1974. He landed a job at UBC at a gross salary of $12,000 a year, or roughly $800 a month in after-tax income. "I had to look up on a map where Vancouver was," he said.

The pair initially rented a basement suite near UBC, living there with their first baby. In 1977, they bought a 1,000-square-foot condo for $30,000 in False Creek, getting help from Mr. Bryant's parents for financing. In the ensuing years, they worked their way up in the market.

In 1980, they sold the False Creek condo for $50,000 and paid $69,000 for a detached house on a corner lot at Blenheim Street and 11th Avenue. They sold that place in 1983 for $120,000 to purchase the now-infamous tear-down that same year. The couple bought the house on West 14th Avenue for $141,000. The previous owners had bought it for $54,000 in 1975, according to sales history data.

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The combined gross salaries in 1983 for the pair had grown to $45,000 a year. When the Bryants moved in, one of the neighbours across the street was then-city councillor Gordon Campbell, who would later serve as Vancouver mayor and B.C. premier.

Mr. Bryant and his wife enjoyed their new location, close to where they both worked at UBC, with his job as a professor and her duties as a librarian.

From the street, the house looks like a bungalow, although the attic has two modest-sized bedrooms. The couple had the main bedroom and their two sons shared a room with a bunk bed. The house has 2,069 square feet of space, including 492 square feet on the upper floor.

Their first son was born in 1974 and the second in 1979. The older son, now 41, is a professor at a major U.S. university and the younger son, now 36, is an entrepreneur in the software industry.

Brent Jang/The Globe and Mail

"My point is that out of the house has come these fantastic kids," Mr. Bryant says. "We weren't worried about getting the gutters cleaned or getting the roof done. But my sons are immensely successful."

The couple decided it was time to move as Ms. Bryant neared retirement. It was getting tougher for her to navigate upstairs to the bedroom and down to the basement.

He retired in the summer of 2015 as a professor in UBC's Department of Asian Studies, where he specialized in Hindi-Urdu languages and literature in India. His most popular course? Bollywood films.

Mr. Bryant said he left the decision about promoting and holding an open house up to the real-estate agents.

On social media, critics pounced. Strangers had a field day, describing the detached house as worthless: Crack shack for sale near UBC. Trailer trash in tony Point Grey.

Mr. Bryant survived cancer surgery in 2002 and a heart attack in 2006. In the big scheme, he explained, he had higher priorities than replacing the eavestrough that fell off at the front. Over the decades, he let the backyard grow wild. Five tall trees in the back can be seen from blocks away, dwarfing other trees in the neighbourhood.

Brent Jang/The Globe and Mail

He does not regret leaving the roof's shingles curled up in the front or allowing moss to spread in the back. He got the flashing around the chimney fixed, but the roof itself did not leak. He does not care if people make fun of his old washer, dryer, stove and fridge, because he had them repaired as needed in the past and they still functioned when the house was sold. When the back stairway rotted and collapsed, he did not replace it. "Nobody used the stairway but the racoons," he said. "The house was a tear-down in 1983. I have no quarrel with that description."

But in hindsight, he said the open house was probably a mistake. As word spread of the listing, someone quietly delivered an unwelcome present at the front of the 86-year-old residence. The Bryants were shocked to see what landed on their front porch.

"We had a fake bomb left on the porch during all the crap that was going on," Mr. Bryant recalled. "It turned out to be a basketball painted black and with some kind of fuse painted on at the top. Some guy's idea of a joke."

While the residence is destined to be bulldozed, Mr. Bryant took the sender's dark humour to mean the sooner the home got blown up, the better.

Brent Jang/The Globe and Mail

Last July, the land was assessed at $2.1-million and the house itself at $45,500, according to BC Assessment. Mr. Bryant says he has presumed for years that the house's next owner would knock it down.

The property sold in February for $2.48-million, $82,000 above the asking price. To be precise, the list price was $2.398-million. The number eight, deemed lucky in Chinese culture, is a common sight in Vancouver in real estate pricing for listings and sales. In the end, the buyers were not from China.

Land title records for the property were updated in May, disclosing the buyers as Gurinder and Urvashi Arora, who describe their jobs as "business owners." In the earlier sales contract, the buyer is identified as Paul Minhas of Vic Development Ltd. Mr. Minhas is also a real estate agent.

Mr. Bryant said the property appears to have been flipped to the Aroras. The final buyers declared the value of their purchase at $2.48-million – the same price the Bryants received.

Property prices have surged since last July's assessment. There were three bids and Mr. Bryant said he is not upset that the closing date got delayed by more than three weeks. While he did not know the names of the final purchasers until he received new documents in early May, he is satisfied he and his wife got fair value when they signed the sales documents in February.

DARRYL DYCK/For The Globe and Mail

Their paper gain on the property over the past 33 years works out to more than $2.3-million or an increase of 1,660 per cent before closing costs, property tax obligations and discharging the remaining mortgage amount. Even factoring in inflation, the paper gain still surpasses $2.1-million or a jump of 687 per cent, based on adjusting the purchase price to $315,000 in 2016 dollars.

The Bryants moved last September to a rental property near the UBC campus, downsizing to a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom unit for temporary accommodation. In early May, they vacated the rental unit and moved into their one-storey waterfront cabin on one of the Southern Gulf Islands, where their younger son also owns property. "I have changed my sense of loyalty to the island house," Mr. Bryant says.

The Bryants were volunteers in the U.S. Peace Corps in the late 1960s. Before arriving in Vancouver, they had lived in rural India and Samoa, and then spartan campus quarters at the University of California at Berkeley. The Bryants gained perspective on living modestly. They do not view houses and cars as show pieces. Ms. Bryant drives a 1991 Toyota Corolla. Mr. Bryant's old truck went kaput a couple of years ago. He has been a regular user of bus route 99 to and from UBC, and he now pays for Car2Go when he needs a vehicle.

"I have said goodbye to the house," he said. "There are many things in our life that are important to us. What our house looks like is not one of them. We have pride in our kids and how they do, and our grandkids."

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