could this be Vancouver's cheapest house

By on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

VANCOUVER The little grey house at 937 Mclean Dr. is trim and tidy, with a small front patio for barbecuing and a stand of bamboo growing beside the porch.

At first glance, there's little to distinguish it from any of the thousands of small homes in Vancouver now worth more than $1 million. But BC Assessment's latest figures put the value of the property at just $385,900 one of the cheapest single family homes, if not the cheapest, in Vancouver.

"We thought we would never be able to afford a house in Vancouver. We feel very fortunate that we were able to buy when we did, after spending two or three years searching," Rowley wrote in an email from Mexico, where she was on cheap jerseys holiday (a house sitter is staying in the home while she's away).

"It was all worthwhile, and we are happy in our urban cottage."

The lot measures just 33 by 44 feet, and the back of the 107 year old house is less than a hand width from the business behind it. With its tiny dimensions and complete lack of a backyard, the structure is something like a townhouse, without the hassle of a strata council, Rowley said.

Though her assessment is remarkably low for a city where paying $2 million for a teardown has become routine, the value of Rowley's property still rose by 16.6 per cent over last year.

When she received the news, she thought: "Yet another tax hike to be expected."

But it's still the lowest assessment in the neighbourhood. The two storey house next door is on a lot of the same size, but it's assessed at $579,000.

The only difference is the value of the buildings. Rowley's house is assessed at a measly $6,900 down steeply from $106,000 last year.

That kind drastic change isn't unusual for the home, though. Some years, the value of the building has quadrupled, only to fall back down again, according to Rowley.

"I don't give the 'why' a lot of thought. I'm sure BC Assessment has an ever changing magic formula. To us, our house is just right," she wrote.

Vancouver's regional assessor, Jason Grant, said that radical fluctuations aren't unusual when it comes to building assessments.

BC Assessment estimates the total market value of the property from recent comparable sales, and then assesses the value of the land by looking at sales of vacant or soon to be vacant lots. The value of the actual house is just the difference between those two numbers.

"It may seem counterintuitive, but it's not incorrect for a building value to change from year to year," Grant said.

He wouldn't say if Rowley's "urban cottage" is really the lowest valued single family home in the city, but said that any detached house assessed at under $400,000 would be among the lowest.

"Any time you have a very old home, on a very small lot, with a very small house, on land that is zoned industrial, you could expect to have some of the lowest single family home prices in the city," he said.

The area, near the intersection of Clark and Venables, is zoned light industrial, which means most banks would require a 35 per cent down payment.

That doesn't bother Rowley, who bought the house as a place to live, not as an investment.

She loves living in the up and coming neighbourhood, where she's right on a bike route, close to Britannia Community Centre and just three blocks from Commercial Drive.

"That means convenience, library, pool, groceries, restaurants and bars, shops, transit, and just about everything you could need, very nearby. In short it's great," she wrote.

She said she has no immediate plans to put the house on the market, but "if we got the right offer, anything is possible."

Selling it might be a bit tricky because of the zoning issue, according to Vancouver realtor Dwayne Launt. The house next door was recently on the market for a number of years, with an asking price of $539,000 in 2013, but it failed to sell.

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