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Vancouver mansions are now an affordable alternative to studio apartments for students

By Misael Lizarraga

For many of us, the idea of living in a detached home in Vancouver seems like an impossibility. In a city where a newly developed studio apartment could set you back a monthly $1,600, just being able to afford a place to live is a struggle. And that struggle is particularly harsh for students.

Even if you live in a fairly comfortable home, and you lack nothing, which one of us hasn’t watched at least once a reality show dedicated to showcasing the homes of the rich and famous? And who hasn’t spent some time on luxury real estate websites, and daydreamed about what it would be like to live in a place like that?

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As fun as it is to fantasize about what it would be like to live in a multi-million dollar mansion, for most us that dream was just that, a dream.

But in our current Vancouver market, it seems like the gods of real estate have a sense of humour, because the dream of living in a multi-million dollar home can now become a reality, even for college students. And the craziest part? Renting a mansion could actually save you money.

As of the publication of this article, it’s quite possible to find a five-thousand square foot, 12 bedroom, eight bathroom, plus pool mansion, at a monthly rental equivalent of around $1,000 per person.

And as unbelievable as the situation already is, the number of mansions offering a “cheaper rental alternative” aren’t just a few. They number in the hundreds. Kishone Roy, the author of the book “Make Housing Central”, spend some time tracking mansions for rent that suddenly appeared on Craigslist. “I thought when I found 25 it was noteworthy,” Roy said. “I didn’t expect to find 800.”

Among those 800 mansions, there is a $4.64-million, five bedroom West Vancouver mansion renting at $5,900 a month, or around $1,180 a bedroom. There’s also a $7.23 million mansion with eight bedrooms, at around $7,000 a month, or around $875 a bedroom.

You don’t have to take our word for it either. A simple Vancouver Craigslist search will yield hundreds of results similar to the ones described above.

Of course, these low prices are not simply the result of a suddenly charitable group of philanthropists looking to do something about Vancouver’s housing woes. Though we don’t doubt that there are in fact many charitable millionaires, those that choose to rent their empty homes are looking to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

As we have mentioned many times in the past, although Vancouver is now in the middle of a buyer’s market, home ownership is still a difficult goal to achieve. Because of the mortgage stress test and rising interest rates, hopeful home buyers are having a hard time qualifying for mortgages. This situation doesn’t just affect buyers, it affects sellers as well.

Of all property types, luxury homes have seen the largest drops in prices. But even then, many multi-million dollar home owners are finding it hard to sell those properties in the current sluggish market. Adding to that situation, B.C.’s speculator and vacant home taxes, as well as the City of Vancouver’s own empty home tax (which is separate from those two), are putting enormous pressure on luxury home owners.

Luxury home owners looking to avoid paying the empty home tax are forced to either sell their empty homes, pay tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in additional taxes a year, or find occupants for their empty properties. A growing number of luxury home owners are choosing the latter.

“A lot of these homeowners are not looking at how much rent they can get,” said Kevin Wang of MacDonald Realty. “They are thinking of coming back to Vancouver for retirement. And if they don’t rent, they’ve got to pay hundreds of thousands a year.”

Students who don’t mind sharing their living space with several roommates are quite happy about this new luxurious rental options.

Sehrish Qureshi, a UBC student who was simply looking for a good deal, was able to rent out a bedroom in $5.4 million West Vancouver mansion, with the help of several roommates. “The first day we moved in, me and my family were like, ‘What? Is this real?’” said Qureshi.

Qureshi claims that one of the best things about living in the mansion is the looks of disbelief she gets from her friends back in Toronto. “I show pictures of this place to people back home and they’re so shocked. They ask ‘How much are you paying? Are you rich?’”

It’s hard to say whether this “single-bedroom mansion rental” trend is here to stay. But at the moment, students, single people, and young couples have an additional source of housing to consider.

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