There are various types of housing available in Metro Vancouver, such as single detached houses, townhouses, suites in houses, condos, and co-op housing. All of these are found all across the region. The main difference between them is price, although co-op housing is different altogether, as you must apply to become a member of a co-op (and whether or not you will be accepted depends on your income—should be in the lower to mid-range—and your references), and if accepted, you must then purchase a share in the co-op (co-ops are fully owned by their members).
Single Detached Houses
This refers to a regular house (not attached like a townhouse), which is the most expensive of housing options, whether you are renting or buying (but again, it depends on location). To rent a whole house in Vancouver could cost upwards of $5,000/month, and to buy, upwards of $1 million. Conversely, the same type of house in an outlying area of Metro Vancouver could cost perhaps $1,500—$2,000/month or around $400,000—$500,000 to buy. In any case, this type of housing is readily available for purchase, but less so to rent, although this is not to say there is a lack of availability, it is just harder to find something suitable in a rental, as most houses are not rented out as an entire unit.
Townhouses are homes attached to each other, and sometimes look like row houses, or they can also appear more like condos. Generally speaking, however, they are built like detached houses conjoined together. It is also harder to find a townhouse to rent or even buy, as townhouses are not as readily available as ordinary condos, but, with some effort and patience, you can probably find what you are looking for within a few months’ time. Townhouses are expensive to buy in Vancouver, with prices sometimes approaching that of a single, detached home. They are also more expensive to rent than condos, as it is nearly the same as living in a whole house, just one that is attached to another. Many developers, when planning a new site, will build a group of townhouses in addition to high or lower-rise condos. Of course, this part of the development carries a substantially higher price tag. Townhouses are stratified and managed by a strata corporation, with one vote per owner, and monthly fees paid for the upkeep of the building, but renters don’t need to worry about this.
Suites in Houses
This is a popular type of housing, particularly in Vancouver’s Westside, as many of the older character homes are divided up into suites, sometimes as many as 6 or 8 suites in one house, depending on the size. Many of these older homes are large, and in the past, were built large enough to accommodate extended family and servants, so there is often ample room for more than 2 or 3 suites. This is a big money-maker for landlords, as you can imagine, although sometimes suites are available for purchase. In this case, the house is considered a building, and is typically stratified (see above), and you, as the owner, have a vote and say in what happens to the building. More often though, families will rent out suites in their homes, as a way of helping to pay the mortgage. Lots of character homes on the Westside have suites that are rented out on a regular basis, and actually, this practice is common throughout Metro Vancouver. Some of these suites are “legal suites,” meaning they have the right to exist on their own, and have separate utilities and their own house number. Sometimes they are not legal suites, which means that your address is the same as your landlord’s address and utilities are shared.
This is the most popular type of housing in the region and the most common. In Vancouver, nearly all “apartments” or “flats” are rather, condos. This means that they are owned individually and managed by a strata corporation (see Townhouses above). The good thing about this is that as an owner, you can have a say in what happens to the building, and decide how the money (monthly fees paid by all owners) is best spent to keep the place in good repair and make upgrades as necessary. There are condos all across the region, available for purchase, or to rent. This is the most economical form of housing (aside from a co-op, which has restrictions).
Once upon a time, co-op housing was introduced as a way of dividing up an apartment building for individual ownership (pre-strata times). Each member would buy a share in the company that owned the building, and would gain the right to occupy a certain suite or apartment in the building. Nowadays, co-ops are a terrific alternative to buying, if you can’t afford the $500,000+ price tag of many regional properties. The shares typically cost between $1300—$6000 (refundable when you leave the co-op), and you then pay monthly “rent” of anywhere from $800 to $1300 or so. These prices are vastly cheaper than typical rental prices and/or monthly mortgages. $1300 might get you a spacious 3-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, something unheard of outside the co-op world. Many co-ops are on the Westside of Vancouver, or are located in the downtown. There are actually co-ops all over Metro Vancouver; the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC can help you find prospective co-ops: http://www.chf.bc.ca/pages/directory.asp. Keep in mind that co-ops are very selective in accepting new members, and many of the better ones have long waiting lists. You must also be able to prove that your income is not over a certain level (this type of housing is specifically designed to help the lower to mid-level income population afford decent housing), and you can expect to be assigned weekly duties in the co-op to help with the upkeep of the building. All members are expected to contribute to the welfare and well-being of the co-op (for those familiar with the concept of the kibbutz; similar idea).
First-Time-Buyer.ca — http://www.first-time-buyer.ca/
Renting in British Columbia— http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/reho/yogureho/fash/fash_002.cfm