The torture of condo living

The Block

Those hoping for their regular dose of condo negativism may be disappointed by this post.  I’m gonna say something nice about a real estate marketing campaign.  No, I haven’t been paid off.  (If anyone wants to buy my goodwill, email me and I’ll give instructions on where to send the money.)

The Block is a townhouse project near Kingsway and East 12th.  As sales campaigns go, theirs at least tries to be rooted in strategy.  This is unusual in Vancouver condo marketing.  For many years, the captains of consciousness couldn’t escape coffee cups and spelling mistakes. The Block’s print ad, with a professional couple cramped over pasta dinner, is not only cute and coffee cup-free, it also speaks to a target audience: condo owners looking to upgrade.

As a bonus, the written copy is kept to a minimum.  No “feel the aura of the urban virtuosity” nonsense here.  The website copy isn’t as modest, sometimes drifting into high stink (i.e. “we’re offering awesome townhomes in the high $500,000s, it’s a huge value story already”) but some of it’s tongue in cheek.  One line describes those who miss out risk “a life tortured with regret.”  Torture in a condo ad? I like it.

With the current down market, I don’t expect these units to sell in the short term.  Because The Block has an RSS feed, a Twitter account and a Flickr page, the marketer has set themselves up to be a regular content creator.  Are they up to the test of keeping things fresh?  Nothing says suck like a blog with no updates.  Early evidence is promising — well, compared to other condo websites — given that they have four posts in four days.  I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

41 Responses to “The torture of condo living”

  1. Bally Says:

    When I saw this I thought it was an advert for a new ‘reality’ TV show!

  2. David Allison Says:

    You like us! You really like us!

    I’d like to thank the Academy, God, my Mom and Dad, my partner, fantastic art directors, the witty copywriter, and an amazing client who let us work on such a great project, no really, without you these great epics would not be made. Thank you. And Steven, Mr. Spielberg, you’ve always been an inspiration.

    The fabulosity of this pre-eminent blogosphere moment will linger long in our collective soul. Oh! there’s the music. They want me to stop talking. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU!

  3. blueskies Says:

    wait don’t tell me…
    the ad image was shot at H&H….

    i recognize the 90 degree corners
    in close proximity to each other….

  4. Carioca Canuck Says:

    You gotta admit, it is funny…..and pretty darn accurate.

    We’ve got the same problem here in Calgary, $400K broom closets being passed off as utopic lifestyles.

  5. BK Says:

    It’s nice that they’re finally offering some places where the square footage doesn’t look like it ought to have been square meters. However, when you consider 1600 – 1700 square feet “starting from the mid $700,000s”… for $750,000 you can buy a really nice HOUSE. You know, the kind where you have actual property. Land with a yard. Maybe a garden. And so forth.

    Sure, it’s nice to have to pay “mid hundreds” in maintenance fees every month for somebody to wash your windows and mow your lawn for you. However, for one month’s maintenance fees you can buy yourself a really nice lawnmower. The kind of lawnmower that your neighbours will look at and say “Damn, that’s a really nice lawnmower”. And they’ll borrow it from you “just to try it out” and you’ll have to practically pry it from their cold dead hands. Then with what would have been the next month’s maintenance fees, you can buy yourself a ten year supply of squeegees and Windex™.

    Or save up those maintenance fees for a year and spend a lush two weeks in Paris. Hell, put up a flag of France in your Real House With Land while you’re away. In your absence, your townhouse-dwelling friends can spend their time writing 12 months worth of cheques to the strata to cover their maintenance fees and beg for permission to put a flag in their window, while they watch the common area grass get mowed.

  6. condohype Says:

    David, I assume you’ve already called your client with the good news. Next stop: Yaletown Brew Pub. Buy your staff a round but make sure it’s not the Downtown Brown. It’s a bad brew. Trust me, I know.

  7. Patiently Waiting Says:

    The models look a bit emaciated, like those plates of rice are all they’re going to eat that day. I love those sad puppy expressions on their faces. Someone buy them a decent meal.

  8. Kebie Says:

    High $500,000 is $600,000

  9. David Allison Says:

    condohype, oh you think know me so well. I waited all the way until 7 am to email the client. So there.

  10. condohype Says:

    Ah, I should’ve known you’d be into client service! What was I thinking?

    Anyway, kudos to you and your client on a decent campaign. I started this blog to spawn laughs and critical thinking and hopefully steer real estate marketing to a less pathetic place. There’s enough visual pollution in the world. If it has to exist, it might as well be good. Cheers.

  11. Chris Says:

    @condohype “Next stop: Yaletown Brew Pub. Buy your staff a round”

    HERE! HERE! – David…the drinks are on you!

  12. An Endorsement By Condohype? | Braun/Allison Inc - Creative Services for Marketing - Blog Says:

    […] We must be on to something here. See the post here […]

  13. Montery Says:


    For 600K+ I would have hoped they would use plywood siding instead of particle board. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it won’t disintegrate/rot as quickly as plywood if the outer envelope leaks.

    Oh sorry, I shouldn’t be so pessimistic, but… I can’t help it. Too much Vancouver history working against this project to hope for anything better.

    I like the floor plans though.

    I agree with BK though, I think for that price I would buy a tear-down in Vancouver/Burnaby and build my own house.

  14. Urban Dweller Says:

    This looks promising and definitely a nice addition to the desolate doldrums that is know as Kingsway and 12th.

  15. ckung Says:

    BK: I used to think like that too with regards to maintenance fees. However, property taxes on most single family dwellings have risen so much in the last decade that they more than offset the maintenance fees in some cases. Unfortunately, either way you may still end up paying quite a bit above and beyond your mortgage payments.

  16. macchiato Says:

    I felt guilty at first for thinking it was decent, scared of joining the sheeple clan, I didn’t want to read, I feared my intellect was to be beaten by the wrath of a critical condohype. I’ve been spared.

    Would never pay those silly prices though even if I wanted this type of product, bubble or not.

  17. Silverhalide Says:

    I just can’t get over the name: “The Block” — every time I see it, I think that it must be some new HBO series about life in a prison.

  18. anon Says:

    You can get a larger mere two story townhouse in Las Vegas five minutes off the strip where the kitchens DON’T open into the living rooms for $120,000.

    And it rains 12 days out of the year.

    Whoever planned these places is an idiot. All but one floor plan has a view of the kitchen from the front door.

    Large? Please. Only if you live in the ad photo.

  19. Chris Says:

    @anon but the commute to Vancouver would be a bitch!

  20. Harry Says:

    @Chris: No, apparently @anon lives in Vancouver and commutes to LV…

  21. blueskies Says:

    I just can’t get over the name: “The Block” — every time I see it, I think that it must be some new HBO series about life in a prison.

    or “The Block” Your x- lax Solution”…

    i may never want to go home again

  22. foo Says:

    ckung: And you don’t pay property taxes in addition to your maintenance fees in a condo?

  23. bcj Says:

    A couple of points. First, the over-emphasis on “Main Street” helps to pull attention away from the fact that this is really a very sub-par location. It’s one thing to be located on a busy street, but to be located right next to the junction of 12th and Kingsway… ugly. Not only the traffic, but the lovely view of the backside of the HoJo. Second, the marketing puts heavy emphasis on trading up from a condo to one of these “big” townhomes. Have a look at the floorplans. With the exception of the 3 bed unit these places have absolute cubby-hole dining/living rooms. Maybe the developer should include some sort of murphy bed equivalent dining room table to allow for a decent sized sitting room. All-in-all, 1200 sqft over three stories will have a decidedly cramped feel. The lack of a powder room on the main floor is also a deal breaker for me. None of these criticisms’ hold for the 3 bed unit, which has quite a nice layout.

  24. bcj Says:

    Montery: A nit-pick here… That’s OSB (Oriented Strand Board) not Particle Board. Plywood is undoubtedly a superior construction material in terms of strength properties. But if the envelope leaks you’re screwed either way as neither is waterproof. In fact OSB has a higher wax and resin component so you could argue that it might stand up better to moisture.

  25. paulb Says:

    I drove by the project site and instantly thought of a prison. “The Block” scary.

  26. patriotz Says:

    Not only the traffic, but the lovely view of the backside of the HoJo.

    To me, it will always be the Biltmore.

    Pat Burns used to live there you know.

  27. markx Says:

    1200 sqft over 3 stories does seem pretty stupid. I would rather live in a 1200 sqft low rise condo than a 1200 sqft townhouse. Having someone above/below me is better than constantly running up and down stairs for every little thing, and struggling to move anything decent sized. Once this bubble settles, I expect developers to go back to building decent sized condos, like 1000 sqft 2 bedrooms on one floor, or 1200 sqft 2 bedroom+den. This is Canada, after all. Stop pretending we living in Tokyo.

  28. if only Says:

    this project would actually go to market. their last one (waterfront / slaughterfront) was pulled after accepting deposits.

  29. bcj Says:

    “I would rather live in a 1200 sqft low rise condo than a 1200 sqft townhouse”

    1200 square feet over three stories, particularly when there are three staircases, is roughly equivalent to 1000 square feet on one level.

  30. anon Says:

    Actually, I live in Vegas but commute to Vancouver in my private jet; it’s cheaper than living there… but that will be changing, and soon.

  31. Also Anon Says:

    The ad may well be reasonably clever, but the development itself looks pretty grim. That awful brick facade is so lacking in style or imagination (not quite as hideous as the vile Viridian Green on 4th and Collingwood, but still with Vancouver’s trademark absence of any kind of originality or forward thinking design and architecture). And as others have pointed out, who in his right mind would want to live on Kingsway and 12th?

  32. Canada's Poorest Postal Code Says:

    I agree with Condohype that this is a pretty catchy condo ad.

    It also illustrates a pet peeve of mine that Vancouver (or the world in general) needs bigger condos.

    I’ll take a 250 sq.ft “shoebox” built with ingenuity, taste and attention to detail over a 1,200 sq.ft poorly laid out, cheap, and boring bigger model any day. I love to live on my own, so I don’t require a ton of space. More people need more space, but not nearly as much as the prevailing wisdom would have you believe.

    What are the biggest obstacles to small-but-awesome, in my opinion?

    1. We need more mixed-scale building in the downtown core, so that not every building has the same predictable height, footprint, etc.

    2. High quality construction. This means soundproofed floors and walls. They’ve managed to do this all over Europe for years. What gives over here? Also, nothing, absolutely nothing cheap-jack goes into a small abode – this doesn’t mean luxury necessarily, just no shortcuts.

    3. This is the toughest one of all. Ideally, one would step out of their lovely little nest onto an interesting steetscape and into a vibrant city. You can go blocks in downtown Vancouver without seeing a shred of “character”. And, no, chain stores don’t count. Condos need to be so big inside ’cause it’s so lifeless outside (drunken frat boys patronizing formula restaurants and bars nothwithstanding).

    I just wanted to say that small, done right in a wonderful downtown enviroment, can really rock. It could easily tide me over the the retirement home.

  33. RJB Says:

    If you are single with no boyfriend/girlfriend and no kids you can live in 250 square feet.

    As to your three points, all of them are addressed by the Westend.
    1 – Mixed-scale building
    2 – High quality construction compared to the Yaletown leaky condos
    3 – You can step out of your apartment and everything you need is right there. There’s a mix of low-end and higher-end restaurants plus grocery stores close by.

    Plus there are parks and schools so young families can raise their kids there.

    More Westends and less Yaletowns would make Vancouver a much nicer city.

  34. Canada's Poorest Postal Code Says:


    I am in agreement with you – more West Ends and less Yaletowns, absolutely!

    I cited 250 sq ft more as a “challenge”. If the place was Faberge-egg perfect, I could do it!

    You can still have a special friend over in a tiny flat (gotta love those soundproof walls). It goes without saying, this doesn’t work with kids. Not everyone is planning on having them, though.

    This isn’t any kind of “eco” posturing for me, either. I just think small can be beautiful. I’ll buy some scrubland in Arizona and head there in the winter for some “big” if I need it.

  35. Boombust Says:

    “Pat Burns used to live there you know.” -Patriotz

    “…Burns on line. Go ahead. Hi doll!”

    So, THAT’S where he lived, eh? What a guy!

  36. other ted Says:

    I think this add is funny and effective in making its point as to why its not ideal to buy a condo. Only problem it doens’t really make me want to buy a townhouse either. The funny thing about the add is that I didn’t think it was a real estate add but an add for one of those artsy films or off broadway like play capturing the times of people living in shoe box condos. At first I thought I got to get tickets to that show should be funny. Then my reaction was owe they are selling something.

  37. Paul Says:

    Can’t see why this ad is getting so much praise. OK, it’s got some soft humour, but is it effective in selling a townhouse? I would guess people living in a cramped condo already know they live in a cramped condo and might not appreciate being made fun of. Plus, they will also know that they’ll have a hell of a job selling that cramped condo to upgrade so this ad kind of rubs that in. So in this market surely focusing only on people who need to sell to upgrade is the wrong strategy. Why not address the people renting on the sidelines with a good downpayment? Perhaps because at nearly $600,000 for the cheapest one, this is a terrible buy. When RE advertising gets back to comparing the cost of renting with buying, with buying shown to be the better deal, then it’s time to buy.

    A better ad would focus on the benefits of the development, which sounds an OK one according to the comments above. Shame the ad doesn’t mention any of them. Surely good advertising not only identifies the problem, but promotes the solution. This ad gets it wrong, not least with the name – I agree with “other ted”. I also thought it was an ad for a play poking fun at cramped condo living, called – appropriately in that context – The Block.

  38. anon Says:

    RE: The couple in the ad… just WAIT until Rosemary’s Baby arrives…

  39. Vansanity Says:

    Only problem for condo owners trying to upgrade for more square footage: they’ve got to sell their condo. The game of musical condos has been coming to an end for since last spring. The only buyers are now the renters who waited for affordability to return. Has it? No.

  40. aetakeo Says:

    I got a targeted ad by these folks on Facebook today – and I actually clicked through. Not that it means I’d buy one, but I was intrigued enough by the ad to want to see what they were up to.

  41. Vandam Says:

    Paul / Vansanity /other ted

    The ad doesn’t target only current condo owners unless I’m missing something. Condohype made that statement and for some reason you agree.

    I’d say someone living in an overpriced Yaletown rental or a Falsecreek North ‘box’ may want to upgrade to more space just as easily as someone who currently owns. In fact they may be living in a box in a less desirable part of town so they can pull together the downpayment.

    And the point of an ad is to get attention and more importantly web registrants or phone calls. While it may look like an ad for a broadway play to “other ted”, it still got your attention and you’re somewhat qualified in that you have more than a passing interest in real estate as you seem to frequent this blog. I’d say the ad appears to be successful. But the number of registrants / leads and ultimately sales is the only true test.

    Don’t forget adding more copy means cluttering an ad or buying a bigger ad space. Not sure the dollars spent on a bigger ad space are necessary – that’s what a web address is for. And in a tightening market, more $ on bigger ads probably wouldn’t be the most strategic move.

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