High price of parking in a housing crisis: $195,000 for Whistler stall

The most affordable real estate in the Greater Vancouver region might just be a stall in a parking garage. If only we could live in it.

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It is the kind of real estate opportunity that dreams are made of: a small chunk of property located in Whistler, steps from the base of the Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas, priced at less than $200,000.

What housing crisis? This glorious 110-sq.-ft. property underneath the Pan Pacific Hotel in Whistler Village is the size of a New York City micro-studio, and has ultra-high ceilings.

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Sure, it’s a parking stall, but it does have a certain gritty urban charm. Who cares if it’s underground? This could be the 21st century version of a loft conversion. Think upzoning.

Despite recent housing reforms promised by every level of government in B.C., the dream of living in Stall 45 — perhaps running it as an Airbnb on weekends to cover mortgage interest, inflation, and the skyrocketing cost of necessities — has zoning policy standing in the way.

Stall 45 is only available to house a car, and yet it still sold in a week to a local buyer for $195,000.

Shauna O’Callaghan, the Whistler real estate agent who handled the sale, said that having a parking spot near the base of the hills is a lifestyle bonus.

Hot tub, granite countertops, and a spot at the base of the hill? It just makes sense.

Most luxury homes in the area are in neighbourhoods outside Whistler Village. It’s not that someone who owns a $32-million home can’t afford to pay the local day rate for parking, but spaces are limited.

“Everyone needs access to the ski hill, and parking has become more and more of an asset. For people who make a significant investment in this lifestyle, it’s a pretty nice perk,” said O’Callaghan.

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While sales of parking stalls are not uncommon, this one was unique — and not just for its price. Stall 45 is a leasehold — in strata-titled developments, developers often retain the parking spots and grant leases to management companies, which then assign the spots to homebuyers. In rare cases, parking stalls on commercial property can be designated as a separate strata lot that can be purchased by anyone, such as Stall 45 in Whistler.

This is not allowed in residential stratas, where stalls are usually considered limited common property. Owners don’t buy the stall assigned to their unit, they buy the right to exclusively use it. They can only sell it to the owner of another strata lot in the same property with permission of the strata corporation.

“It is very common to sell a parking spot, because parking has become a more limited resource in high-density areas and lots of new condos that feature smaller units don’t come with parking,” said Vancouver realtor Amoo Bao.

Bao currently has a 450-sq.-ft. double parking stall for sale in Coal Harbour’s Palais Georgia. The stalls are listed for a mere $250,000, but can only be purchased by another strata lot owner in the development.

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Although parking is an increasingly limited resource, Metro Vancouver’s 2018 regional parking study showed that “apartment parking supply exceeds use across the region for both rental and strata buildings.” For strata apartment buildings, 42 per cent of parking spaces were vacant, while in market rental apartment buildings, 35 per cent of parking spaces were vacant. In mixed-tenure (strata and rental) and mixed-rental (market and non-market) apartment buildings, 41 per cent of parking spaces were vacant.

In a region with a 2023 purpose-built rental vacancy rate of 1.9 per cent, the number of parking stalls that could be upzoned to housing is staggering. The math makes sense, even if the zoning bylaws lag behind.

Sure there might be a few issues with sewage and water, but what’s wrong with a bucket?

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