When blogger David Fleming thinks of a den, he pictures a small, wood-panelled sitting room where you’d watch movies with your grandparents.
Fleming admits his vision is a bit outdated, but he’s still constantly surprised to see how small dens in Toronto apartments and condos have become.
“Every day in the city of Toronto people walk into condos listed as a ‘1+1’ or a one-bedroom plus den and they cannot find the den,” said Fleming, who’s also a broker with Bosley Toronto Realty Group Inc.
“Nobody really knows what a den is.”
There are no rules in Ontario or Toronto for what makes a den a den, as opposed to other rooms in a unit, such as a bedroom, which must have windows, according to the Ontario Building Code.
With no standard, Fleming said real estate agents can sometimes struggle to properly list a property. Meanwhile, as dens become smaller and more distorted, buyers and renters also need to do more research to make sure they know what kind of den they’re paying for.
What is a den?
The den definition eluded several organizations CBC News contacted, including the Ontario Real Estate Association, the Real Estate Council of Ontario, and the city of Toronto.
PraveenSenthinathan, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Housing, which is responsible for the Ontario Building Code, said in an email, “‘Dens are not specifically mentioned in the Code,” meaning there are no requirements for size or components.
“We note that in condos a variety of arrangements are called ‘dens’ for marketing purposes,” he said.
“We encourage potential buyers or renters to inspect a property to make sure it meets their needs.”
With no rules, there are certain things renters and homebuyers should be aware of when they see a ‘+1′ tacked onto a listing, Fleming said.
First, some sellers want to list their property as a one plus den, even when their realtor believes it would be misleading to a consumer.
“I look around and I don’t see a den. I don’t want to market it as a den because buyers are going to come in and not be able to find it. The seller, however, wants to market as a den because they paid good money for it as a den.”
Therein lies another problem, Fleming said, where some investors are marketing their unit at a higher price, even if the den can’t be used for much.
“Investors are looking for spaces where they can put two people instead of one. So if you have a one plus den, it doesn’t even matter if it has a door. I have seen so many sheets strung across a piece of string with a bed behind it I can’t even tell you,” he said.
“Now, one person paying $2,000 a month, okay. What if you had two people paying $1,400 each? It immediately increases your return. Thus, prices go up.
The size of dens and apartments more generally is something Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations executive director Geordie Dent finds concerning.
“In a healthy market if you came to look at a unit that ended up being a nook in a hallway you’d just leave to look at other options. In Toronto right now, those units don’t exist so many people are just scrambling to find anything,” he said.
Some real estate agents are also struggling to deal with a new term used by some developers in their floor plans called “plus media.”
“Which is basically room for a desk,” Fleming said.
“The issue is on [real estate listing system] MLS there is no room called media … so what are they going to call it? A den.”
Dave Wilkes, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which represents 1,500 home builders, land developers, and renovators across the GTA, said he isn’t familiar with the use of “media,” but the industry generally uses the term “den” to denote a small space.
“It’s not a regulated term, but it is one that gives the buyer an indication of some extra room that would be available,” he said.
Wilkes added BILD is running a new campaign, Building Answers, where people in the GTA can submit queries, such as the use of “media,” for the industry to answer.
In terms of creating a standard for a den, Wilkes said, there’s no need.
“We think it offers choice as opposed to confusion,” he said. “There’s different needs for different people … there’s an ability to appeal to those needs by offering different products.”
Wilkes said he encourages people to look at floor plans or model suites to understand what’s being offered.
Fleming had the same advice.
“Unfortunately, what it comes down to is, ‘Buyer beware.'”