All About Duplexes

I’ve had the recent experience of assisting clients buy a full duplex as a place to live in. They are two families who wish to share one mortgage, thus finding a large enough home that was equal for both parties limited our search to full duplexes. A full duplex is when both sides of the duplex share one title. Going through the process was different than buying a single detached house in so many ways, so it made sense to share our knowledge for anyone considering this option.

When shopping for a duplex, be prepared to be patient. Since duplexes are an old style of building, they are fewer of them available for re-sale. With the building boom of the last 15 years, many duplexes have been torn down because of the large land that they occupy. New style homes, such as the two-storey with basements have often replaced them, thus reducing the inventory of duplexes on the market. Furthermore, in an economy with much uncertainty, duplexes are fairly easy positive cash-flow generators, so once an owner has a duplex, they hold onto them.

Then, when a new duplex listing pops up on the MLS, getting into a duplex is not easy, either. Since duplexes are often converted (legally or not) into a fourplex, 24 hours notice to get access is usually necessary. In fact, it is not uncommon to have to give 48 hours notice to get access.  Listing agents, or the sellers, have to track down all tenants to give legal notice. Getting into all sides of a duplex is so important because of the quality differences from each unit. Sometimes owners will renovate one unit when a tenant moves out, but leave other units alone as long as there is a tenant. So while the layout might be the same from one side to another, the quality can be drastically different. Finally, don’t be surprised that when you go to see it, there will be other potential buyers there at the same time. Since getting access can be difficult, a listing agent will try and get as many buyers through at one time. So be aware, as this can also create an urgency in the buyer writing an offer (when they see other buyers).

Not only do you have to be patient when shopping for a duplex, you have to keep a careful eye on the quality of the duplex, too. It’s likely that the seller’s of a duplex are probably investors and don’t live in one of the units. Since they are investors, they often don’t treat the duplex with the same kind of care that they provide their own home. In many investors minds, as long as they get the rent cheque, that’s all they are concerned with. Now to be fair, many tenants simply don’t report problems with the place, either. But since most duplexes are older buildings, often built back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, they are showing their age. If owners have never lived there, it is easy to see how repairs can get overlooked. That’s why it’s even more important to have a thorough home inspection done on a duplex. Getting access to the attic, and the roof is of particular importance.

Many duplexes in the Fraser Valley seem to be located close to the city centres. So many also have redevelopment potential. But the word “potential” must be noted. Listing agents will tell you how prime the land is, but buyer’s agents must do their research to find out the long-term plan for the region.  Furthermore, with regards to zoning regulations, careful attention must be made to determine whether the duplex is conforming or non-conforming. A non-conforming duplex means that if the duplex was destroyed for any reason (ie-fire, or to rebuild), the city’s zoning laws would not allow it to be a duplex again. I think you’d agree that’s an important fact you’d want to discover before you buy it! Other zoning challenges when it comes to duplexes is to find out other restrictions of the land. Some duplexes are zoned as multi-family, and others are zoned as residential duplex…each with the own allowances for number of units, size of building square footage, etc. Do not buy a duplex without careful inspection of the city’s bylaws.

In the end, my experience with buyers of a duplex has been an exciting one. We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. My clients exercised patience and kept a reasonable head to ensure they found the right fit for them. But be forewarned, it is a completely different ball game than buying a single detached house. So be prepared!


Blog post provided by Greg & Liz Holmes, a REALTOR® Team with Macdonald Realty in South Surrey / White Rock.   Visit The Holmes Team blog at

CREA, the Competition Bureau, and BC Real Estate Commissions

Competition Bureau Won’t Lower BC Commissions

The Competition Bureau’s efforts to open up the MLS likely won’t have any significant effect on BC’s real estate commission rates. That’s because, in this province, alternative discount business models have been a part of the landscape for many years.

Matthew Lee, Sales Manager of Macdonald Realty Vancouver (Downtown), sees this as an Ontario issue, “The average commission in Ontario is significantly higher than here in BC. We’ve been in an ultra-competitive market for years now that has resulted in many alternative business models.

The Competition Bureau has used the United States as an example of a jurisdiction that has opened up its MLS® system to the benefit of the public. However, the average commission in the US is still 5.1% while in BC, the “typical” commission is less than 3%, meaning that most houses in BC have significantly lower transaction costs than houses in the more “open” US system.

Dan Scarrow, Vice President at Macdonald Realty, believes that the industry is already competitive, “I can’t think of a professional business that has lower barriers to entry. The median gross income for Realtors is only $37,000, and that’s before expenses.”

In BC, companies like and 1% have historically allowed for cheap access to the MLS®. This has resulted in more choice to consumers. However, despite their best efforts, is no longer in business and other discounters have limited market share.”The brokerage business is a hard business” says Scarrow, “as an industry, we’re about as efficient as we can get.”

Adds Scarrow, “If you’re going to pay for real estate services, you might as well hire a full-time professional.”


For more information, please contact:

Vice President, Strategy
Macdonald Real Estate Group

New Condo Development in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Have you been to Chinatown recently?  For some time, Chinatown seemed to be on the verge of fading into the horizon as another forgotten area of Vancouver downtown.  I rarely ventured there for dim sum, nor have I purchased anything in the stores.  The obvious choice for the real Chinese experience was beginning to be Richmond.   With that mentality I was pleasantly surprised at the new restaurant Bao Bei on Keefer. An area in Chinatown is becoming a pretty hip place with interesting art galleries, a new club and new condominiums, like the development on Pender St., pictured.

Talk about possibilities around Chinatown.  There are serious discussions about removing both the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.  The Vancouver Police building on Main will be rebuilt in the next few years according to the latest news.  Suddenly we have plenty of land to recycle and reuse around Chinatown to revitalize the area.

Chinatown may become a desirable place to live in the very near future.


Blog post provided by Aki Li Foster, a REALTOR® with Macdonald Realty in West Vancouver.   Visit her website at for more information.

3 Ideas to Help You Sell Your Home This Spring

In anticipation of the spring market, here are three helpful tips to help you sell your home this spring:

Be a Minimalist and hire a cleaner – Presentation of your home is critical in selling quickly and for more money. An uncluttered home allows people to see themselves living there, their own furniture and their decorating ideas. If it’s overly cluttered, people may see a home that is not well cared for. Have a friend offer insight as sometimes we don’t notice things in our own home because we’re used to it.

Hire a professional photographer – Buyers are looking online at MLS® data and photos before they even visit their first open house these days. They want to see as many photos as possible online and as much information as they can. Show off your home and have it ready for the photo shoot. You will be amazed how great your place looks with a wide angle lens.

Keeping your place in showcase condition– Okay this is the hard part, and the stage many sellers find the most stressful. With your online photos and marketing in place, Buyers are now convinced to attend an open house or call your realtor to make an appointment, ensure you keep your home in the best possible condition for all viewings. Don’t cook onions before an open house, it’s a turn off! If you’ve got tenants, offer a cleaning service to get the place spic and span! (perhaps the day before an open house).


Blog post provided by Carol Palfrey, a REALTOR® with Macdonald Realty in Vancouver East.  Visit her website for more information.