“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“When a friend of mine asked me to help him rent out his one-bedroom apartment in East Van, I didn’t expect a bidding war.
“I’ve had a lot of experience as a landlord and a tenant. Sometimes I end up talking to the people around me about all the trials and tribulations you go through as both, and they like to listen to the mistakes that I’ve made to make sure they don’t fall into the same traps.
“One day I was giving a friend some advice, and around two weeks ago he called to say that he had just got a job up in Kelowna. He needed someone to rent his place very quickly, and he asked if I might be able to do it for him. He’s a really good guy, so I said that if he left me the keys, I’d help him out.
“I went over and took photos, and asked him what he wanted for the apartment. He said $1175 would probably a good ballpark figure. I said that was great, and that I’d go on Craigslist to compare it to other properties in the neighbourhood to make sure he was getting market value. When I looked it up, there was nothing for rent in his area. Because I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I didn’t know whether his initial price was a good or a bad deal, so I just listed it at $1175.
“Within a minute, I noticed that I had three replies. I started writing back, and when it refreshed after my first email, there were five replies. A few minutes later, there were seven. There were far too many people to reply to, so it seemed as if the rent was too low. I bumped it up to $1200 to hopefully slow down the emails, and it didn’t. I put it up to $1250, and then $1275, and then $1300. The responses started reducing, and at around $1400 I was able to get it roughly under control.
“The next day, my inbox was flooded again. Because there were so many responses, I decided I would just do an open house for an hour to make it fair to everyone. People immediately started asking whether they could come early, or whether they could see me that night instead. They said that they had the deposit ready, and that they wanted to come and pay me right now. I told them they would have to come on the day with everyone else.
“When I came up to prep the house half an hour before the viewings were set to start, I opened the blinds, and I could see people walking up to the front entrance. There was already a lineup outside the door. I didn’t want people to wait any longer, so I started letting people in.
“My intention was to write down people’s names and contacts, if they were a couple, if they had pets, and whether I thought they would be good tenants. There were so many people that they started filling out the form themselves. Halfway down the list, someone wrote in that they were willing to pay three month’s rent in advance—and that’s when the bidding war started.
“Someone else wrote that they wanted to pay four months in advance. Another couple said that they were willing to spend $1400, and then further down someone said that they were able to pay $1425. And then they ran out of room, and so they flipped to the other side, and people just started writing out numerous bids. Because the prospective tenants didn’t look at the first side of the sheet, they didn’t realize that these were just offers—they thought it was a real bidding sheet.
“When I got this list back and went home with it, people immediately started sending follow-up emails to say that they really liked the place. I told them that others had offered up to $1450 and three month’s rent in advance. I wanted my friend to get a good deal and didn’t think I could justify turning down the extra money for him, especially because he had spent a lot of time renovating the place himself.
“I narrowed it down to three couples. There was one pair who had just moved out of Kits because their rent had been raised. They’d been together for a few years, and they seemed like they had pretty good jobs. You can tell people that will do well in life, and I could see that these two were going to be just fine—I would gladly have given them the place, but if not, I knew they wouldn’t find it too hard to find somewhere else. In the second couple, the guy worked on the same block as the apartment, which was great—I wanted to be able to help him out with a home that would let him walk to work. The third couple was a dancer and an actor. She had just received a big inheritance, and her boyfriend had just got a lot of money through an ICBC claim. I thought that they might be looking to buy a place in the near future—or if not, I would be wondering why they weren’t able to get a mortgage—so they were the least safe bet.
“I decided to go with the second pair. They had offered $1600 and four month’s rent in advance. They had a cat and were able to pay a pet deposit and the damage deposit, and I know it’s hard to find a new home when you have pets, so I wanted to help them out. We arranged to meet the next day and exchange the keys before the beginning of the month, so they could take their time to move in.
“The next day, the first couple messaged me again and said that they were willing to pay even more. Then the third couple emailed to say they would offer $1650 and four months in advance. I told them both that the deal was already done. Then another guy messaged me. He said that I should take him because he was respectful, older, and a contractor so he could fix things if they went wrong. He said that he would match whatever bid had been put in, and that he’d personally give me $1000 cash on top.
“I’d already said yes to the couple, so I turned them all down. I wanted to stick to my word, even though the others were now offering more money. It’s crazy that the listing generated so many replies. The market is so tight that a really simple property can start a bidding war.”