How small, is too small?
Or better yet, how much smaller can developers possibly make condos?
This concept of “micro condos” is sweeping real estate, and I think it’s more of a disturbing, curious fascination among industry participants than it is actually a functional and logical idea.
Let’s take a look at a couple of floor plans for micro condos currently being offered for sale, and examine the few things you can look for in a very small space in order to make it more livable…
Ten years ago this past December, I got on a plane, and flew to Japan for reasons that I tried to rationalize over the course of the next five weeks.
I had just finished my first year in real estate, and that was enough to make anybody crazy. Me in particular? Oh, it was like Cuckoo’s Nest crazy…
I was still in my tough-guy phase back then. I had a black belt in karate and was going to Japan to train with the Toyo University karate club to try and find out what I was made of. I think that’s the true reason we take trips like these – to find out about ourselves…
I found out what I was made of about three hours getting off the plane, however.
I flew into Tokyo, and then took a train to Shinjuku. I came outside the train station and the culture shock almost floored me. It was like Time Square meets Union Station meets The Moon.
It took me an hour to find my hotel, and after about 16 hours of travel, I was weary, and wanted to relax. I put the key in the door, opened it, stepped inside, and turned on the light. I was so tired, that I don’t think I noticed right away what was in front of me: a 96-square-foot “suite.”
This room was roughly 8 feet by 12 feet, and it had a “bedroom,” “bathroom,” and “living space.”
My heart started to race like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It was a borderline panic attack.
I had traveled halfway around the world, and there was no turning back now. I was here for five weeks, and here I was – on day one, in a “suite” the size of my manager’s office.
And guess what?
I broke down and started to CRY!
Yep, a 24-year-old tough-guy, here to train karate, and I was crying like a baby.
That tiny “suite” shocked me in a way that getting knocked unconscious with a spinning heel-kick never could (true story actually – and my opponent was 16-years-old!).
Over time, I would come to learn that this was nothing new in Japan. In fact, people routinely lived in spaces that are 1/4 what we might consider “comfortable.”
I saw 2-bedroom apartments, with bathroom, living room, kitchen, and dining space, that were 250 square feet.
Walls were literally made of paper!
I know that we living here in Canada hear stories about what living quarters are like in other regions of the world, but until you actually see it up close, and try living in it, you simply can’t imagine what some people consider normal.
Although no matter how small a space you can think of, there’s always smaller.
Remember how Kramer put up his house guests from Japan? (skip ahead one minute)
My first condo was 585 square feet, and my Dad came over to see it for the first time and said, “How the hell do you live in here?”
That’s an experience that many first-time condo-buyers go through, and over the years, condos have gotten smaller and smaller.
I remember when I sold my first sub-500 square foot condo. It was a good use of space, but man was it ever small!
I remember selling a unit at 39 Jarvis Street with a 440 square foot terrace, but the interior square footage was only 435! Imagine a condo where the terrace is bigger than the unit?
And now, we have the unthinkable: condos with square footage in the 300’s.
Check out the floor plan for a 379 square foot unit being pre-sold at Art Shoppe Condos on Yonge Street:
Pretty small, right?
You can’t live in 379 square feet?
Well how about 336 square feet:
Oh what, that’s too much space?
Try this on for size: 325 square feet:
Yes, folks, it looks like developers in Toronto are FINALLY giving people what they truly need: 325 square foot condos.
In fact, the floor plans are available in 325, 336, 379, 424, 478, 510, 521, 558, 590, 607, 689, 697, 756, 809, and 882 square foot models.
Right, so again, exactly what people want: to be shoved into a chest of drawers by Cosmo Kramer.
It would seem to me that “Art Shoppe Condos” believes that true art comes in this form:
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that micro condos are “the future” of Toronto real estate, but they certainly seem to be more profitable for developers today.
So answer me this: how small is too small?
I suppose the answer to the question depends on where you currently live, and what you’ve lived in before.
But I’ve had clients that say, “If all I can afford is a 410 square foot condo, then I’ll……” And then comes the alternative. Renting, moving out of their desired area, splitting with a friend, and so on.
How small is too small?
I think back to that hotel room in Shinjuku, Tokyo, when tears were streaming down my face like Niagara Falls. The ceiling was barely over 6-feet, which made the room feel even smaller.
And that leads me to my list of items to watch for in small spaces, or features of the condo that can, in some way, make up for the lack of square footage.
1) Ceiling Height
400 square feet with an 8-foot-ceiling that lowers to 6 3/4 feet where there’s bulkheads feels a LOT smaller than 400 square feet with a 10-foot ceiling in an open-concept loft.
If we can put a price on square footage, then how about “cubic footage?”
2) Outdoor Space
Sometimes you just need to get outside. If you’re living in a box, it’s nice to stick your head through the lid, and see what’s going on around you. My hotel room in Shinjuku didn’t even have a window that would open…
3) Closet Space
I showed a bachelor condo to an investor-client the other day, and she said, “Where does the tenant put her clothing?
There was no closet in the “bedroom,” which was really just a glassed-in box.
Living in 400 square feet or less means making concessions on lifestyle, but if you have to pretend you’re living in 1922 where you have one pair of slacks, one white t-shirt, and a nice Sunday
dress or suit, then the walls are going to cave in a lot faster.
4) Storage Space
We’re not talking about a closet for your clothes here, but rather all-purpose storage.
I know you won’t be able to fit that industrial-sized Dyson vacuum, but it would be nice to have a hall closet for coats and shoes so they’re not in your living room, which is also your kitchen, and also happens to be your bedroom.
Kitchen cupboards make a huge difference too. If you have one cupboard above the dishwasher, then it’s like living in university all over again with one plate, one bowl, and one spork.
5) Space For Bed
When was the last time you saw a true single bed? No, not the “twin,” but that bed that is most notorious for, you know……jail.
The “double-bed” is a poor man’s queen, but in a bachelor condo, avoiding the lonely twin-mattress is crucial to feeling like you’re not living in a tent.
Sure, it might take up more space, and space is at a premium. But laying flat on your back in a bed that’s 30-inches wide is what people do, you know…….in jail.
6) Space For Dining
I know, this is nuts.
A dining table? In a 400 square foot condo?
But even if you have a tiny 2-person table, it gives you that feeling of different “areas.” You’re never going to have different rooms, since you’re living in 325 goddam square feet! But to go from your kitchen stove, to your dining table, then to your couch, gives the illusion of space!
Micro-appliances are meant for micro-condos, and yet I still see them in $700,000 condos.
“Charlie Condo” is the worst offender. $700K for a condo where the fridge is half the size? And there’s no room left or right of the fridge to expand the kitchen even if you wanted to? Who designed this?
Suddenly the tiny dishwasher in a 400 square foot bachelor doesn’t seem so bad by comparison!
You don’t need a full-sized dishwasher, stove, or microwave in a micro-condo, but you just GOTTA have the full fridge!
I truly believe that developments like “Art Shoppe Condos” which feature primarily smaller-sized units are just a 2015 fad, and it’ll fade quicker than the memory of David Clarkson in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. (too soon?)