$300,000, one human soul, plus tax and maintenance: Your first Vancouver apartment

It's hard out here for a real estate agent. Caught between sky-high prices and cheapo renovations, an army of Realtors are giving their souls to the game.

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Two bedrooms, huh?

We examine another apartment, one that boasts two bedrooms. Technically, that's correct. Bedroom Number Two was more like an office: no adult would be able to occupy it full-time, not unless their sole possession was a set of Matryoshka dolls. Currently, Bedroom Number Two is deployed as a baby's room.

She floats the idea of a guest bedroom, imparting words of wisdom: "A guest bedroom should be comfortable... but not too comfortable". Moving on to what the floorplan calls a "den", we're forced to re-label it as a nook.

Vancouver apartment hunt: office nook

The kitchen is small but functional. Soft-close drawers.

On the market for 47 days, the list price is $350,000. She hints, "The sellers have another baby on the way, so they're quite anxious."

We head off to examine the downstairs coin-op laundry. As she mashes the elevator button, she tells me that, as a prospective buyer, I'd have the right to demand the least two years' worth of strata meeting minutes, which would detail any issues with the building. 

"Including a broken elevator?" She flushes, slightly, just for a moment, then smiles. "Exactly."

The fine art of hiding your stuff

The last place we see is not the largest, nor is it the cheapest, but it's my favorite. This surprises my Realtor. The selling point isn't the crown moldings, nor the ultra-modern kitchen (with soft-close drawers), nor the luxurious bathroom. The best part of this condo is all the places to hide your stuff. A walk-in closet, an efficiently-organized bedroom closet, and a floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinets at the far end of the dining area. 

The owner has clearly flipped apartments before: the place looks like a movie set. Immaculate. No popcorn ceiling, no dusty light fixtures.

My Realtor is warning me, "This place doesn't exactly get tons of light." We explore the coin-op laundry room (if $350,000 doesn't get you ensuite, neither will $300,000), I notice a lending-library of discarded books. One is a book on rabbit surgery.

Outside, my Realtor warns me that this building will be tented with tarps for nearly a year as the roof is upgraded. Nobody casually drops a third of a million dollars: "By the time you're ready to lock in an offer, you will be intimately familiar with the property". In other words, whitewashing only wastes time. She does not waste time.

The tour is over, and she gives me a ride back out of East Van. The first time out with a client is about gauging whether he or she is serious. You don't want to spend four hours with a total stranger: you want to see how motivated they are, how realistic their expectations might be.

Lies, damned lies, and real estate hoaxes

I ask her about the MAC Marketing Solutions scandal, in which a real estate marketing firm used its own staff to create a story about fake Chinese siblings and their fake overseas-investor dad shopping for an apartment in the city. The ploy used racist undercurrents to spur would-be local buyers into pouncing on overpriced properties around Chinese New Year. 

MAC Marketing Solutions characterized the incident as a "misunderstanding", and owner Cameron McNeill called it an "unfortunate occurrence", but it could be described less charitably as "a straight-up hoax".

My Realtor's response is immediate and sharp: "They'll lose their license, and soon." She is not sure how Canadian media swallowed the story so readily.

Sure enough, a senior manager at MAC has already resigned, but there still may be some fallout yet to come. Her eyes on the road, she says, "It makes us all look bad."

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