Living Inside A Box

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…

LivingInABox

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:

Art Shoppe Condos floor plan L17;Freed;

Pretty small, right?

You can’t live in 379 square feet?

Well how about 336 square feet:

Art Shoppe Condos floor plan L45;Freed;

Oh what, that’s too much space?

Want smaller?

Okay, okay.

Try this on for size: 325 square feet:

Art Shoppe Condos floor plan T-SB;Freed;

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:

Hundreds

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!

7) Appliances

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?)

21 Comments

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  1. chris sky says:

    this is all part of “Agenda 21” (now called Agenda 2030) get the sheep used to living in jail cells… get them used to not driving… get them used to living with less and less and less while they are taxed more and more and more.

    😉

  2. AlexUnder says:

    Hey! That’s nothing – look at 120 sq ft nook in Seoul! That when I should start to worry….

    http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/03/this-award-winning-micro-housing-design-is-inspired-by-bubble-tea/387490/

  3. condodweller says:

    I disagree that you gotta have a full size fridge. They are convenient yes, but not necessary. Many places around the world people use small fridges and shop daily for meals removing the necessity to store large amounts of food in their fridge. Many condos in Toronto have nearby stores where you can walk to shops easily so that your full size fridge is in the store and the small size fridge at home is for condiments/leftovers/drinks etc. Look at St. Lawrence market. It’s surrounded by condos where I’d have no problem walking across the street for my fresh ingredients for my next meal.

    1. Joe dude says:

      Normalizing micro space condos= duped by speculators. You are the stock in the stock market. Mooooo!

    2. Joe dude says:

      Get a trailer in a trailer park. Much less expensive.

  4. Amelia Haynes says:

    Some of the mini fridges don’t even allow for a frozen pizza. FAIL!

  5. steve says:

    I think the dorm room example is a good one. Of course people will not live for very long in these units, so they will ensure a lot of turnover and eventually become rentals (which I think is the intention anyway)

  6. condodweller says:

    Are they livable? Apparently yes as you say people in Japan and maybe not to such an extreme in Europe as well have been living like that for a long time. It boils down to availability and affordability. The question I have though is are developers just boiling a frog by slowly making them smaller over the years and getting us used to them to allow them to make more profit.

    I think one has to think of these as shelters and as long as they meet minimum requirements of having a place to sleep/kitchen/bathroom they are perfectly adequate for a single person or even a couple as long as you can fit a double bed. You may want bigger and if you can afford it that’s a different story.

    I read an interesting article a while ago that people get used to their current conditions over time which means once you move into one of these eventually it will become the norm for you and you will be ok with it. Don’t forget that most condo buildings have all kinds of amenities giving you access to pools/saunas/party rooms/gyms/bowling alleys/basketball/movie room/roof top terraces with BBQs courts etc. etc. is it really that bad? It’s all the matter of expectations. I remember when I first moved into my two bedroom 850sqft condo downtown my colleagues felt sorry for me as if I was forced into sub-par living conditions. The irony was that I couldn’t see myself commuting up to four hours a day just to be able to have a large house I would never fully take advantage of. I was able to walk to work in 20 minutes which when contrasted to people spending 2 hours sitting a go train due to frozen switches/bad signlas etc. doesn’t seem so bad. I mean my longest commute was the day when Lastman called in the army to clear snow, it took me 40 minutes to walk home that day!

    BTW are any of these micro condos occupied already or at least under construction or is it still just an experiment at this point?

  7. AlexUnder says:

    There is nothing wrong with idea of minimalist housing – whether it is a tiny condo or 220 sq ft house. There is a niche in the market and I would rather live in 350 sq ft condo than share another 700 sg ft condo with someone else. The question, though, is the price – purchasing price, maintenance fees, taxes and !!!! return on investment in form of rent and capital gains. And that’s where I am not buying this idea in Toronto at the moment. I am certain that tiny condo has a market in Tokyo and Hong Kong, but if banks are not providing mortgages in Toronto – well, skip it all together.

  8. Smartie Pants says:

    How about Smart House Condo by Osgoode station? 289 sq ft! Once you’re at 700+ sq ft its a 3 bedroom…really??

    The pied-a-terre argument is there, but is a 3-bedroom that much cheaper than a hotel?

  9. Kyle says:

    People always talk about the lack of affordable options in this city. Definitely not a solution for everyone (myself included), but minimizing square footage to the bare essentials is one way to increase affordability for those willing to live that lifestyle.

    Simply put big city living is expensive and as long as our City’s population keeps growing it will only get more expensive. About 5 years ago a friend of mine rented an apartment in the Chelsea neighbourhood in Manhattan. It was very nicely finished and had a doorman, but it was only about 375 sq ft and he paid $2700/month + utilities. At the time, that was actually a pretty good deal.

  10. Joe Q. says:

    I can’t help but think that these are basically university dorm rooms with ensuite bathroom and kitchenette. And maintenance fees.

  11. Chroscklh says:

    I had same experience as the David – I face 8×10 living quarter and cry like baby; for me was jail for critisize govt, not ‘karate tournament.’ – but people handle stress different. I think small unit is okay for midget and can be okay for normal 6’5″-6’8″ man like Chroscklh if have clean modern line and ridiculous amount of storage – put everything away even 3M sticky note go in drawer not kitchen counter. For floor plan above, I question – dont think restaurant permit have fridge open to open bathroom door, but is okay for house? First floor plan terrible – I have sit in sink to get good view of 3D TV to watch ‘Red Heat’

    1. Red Heat, eh?

      It came after Running Man, Raw Deal, & Commando. The heart of the Arnold Era.

      It also came before Twins…………

  12. Bort says:

    These units are catering to a very specific stage of life. Its a lifestyle that is more focused on the sharing economy, aimed at single professionals who spend long hours away from home, either at work, travelling, or just generally out. Easy to keep clean and to maintain, and it forces you to eliminate the non essentials. I’m into it and could picture myself living in one, just not at this point in my life.

  13. myeo says:

    Micro-condos make sense as a niche product for a small portion of the population and developers prefer to make more money per buildable square foot. I would consider living in one as a pied-a-terre so I can split my time between downtown Toronto and my family’s home a fair distance outside the GTA.

    I spent a year in Seoul and will be going back for a few weeks this year and can relate to some of what David experienced in Japan. North America has always had the benefit of space and I think we often take it for granted.

    1. Boris says:

      Micro condos for micro penises. Makes sense.

      1. JoeJohn says:

        @Boris
        Apart from a few simpletons, the comment section of this site is one of the reasons I revisit on a daily basis. Let’s not go down the road of humour in poor taste such as your “micro” comment above with undertones of racism.

  14. Appraiser says:

    There was a time when I thought condos in general were a fad. Who would buy an apartment? What are you really purchasing – the air in between the walls?

    I suppose I got my answer.

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