Touring Todd Talbot’s new Grandview-Woodland home doesn’t take long. Standing in the centre of the kitchen, you can see the entire main floor — the living room and front entry, a small bedroom and compact bathroom, as well as the back door.
“This is it... Just do a 360 and you’ve got it all,” Talbot says during an Aug. 8 visit.
At about 630 square feet, the main floor is a tight space. An unfinished basement, which can only be reached from outside, measures about the same, which creates a total square footage of just over 1,200 square feet. Even the 25-by-103 foot lot is smaller than typical for a single-family property.
But Talbot, realtor and co-host of HGTV’s Love it or List it, isn’t fazed by the relatively modest size, he’s embracing it. And so is his family — wife Rebecca, an actor who also runs a birthday party business, and children Ashlyn, 7, and Kesler, 6.
“Every house that I’ve bought I’ve walked in and thought, yeah, this is it. And this fit the bill. It was everything we were looking for, which is a weird thing to say,” he says with a laugh. “It’s cute, it’s small.”
The couple bought the East Vancouver home for $1.175 million, took possession Aug. 4 and plan to invest roughly $50,000 to renovate it before moving in, hopefully in September.
It will be a dramatic lifestyle shift for the Talbots who are in the midst of selling their 3,000 square-foot Lions Bay home with a “beautiful” view. It was listed for almost $2.4 million. (An offer came in the day the Courier first interviewed Talbot over the phone in late July but a sale isn’t finalized yet).
Lions Bay, the smallest municipality in B.C., is about midway between West Vancouver and Squamish. The Talbots bought their home there — an arched A-frame circa 1973 — shortly before the Olympics and renovated it. It was the costliest project they’d ever taken on. They kept the arched structure because they liked the architectural detail of it and then doubled the square footage to around 3,000 square feet plus a two-car garage.
But the couple wanted a “new project, a new adventure.”
“Neither Rebecca or I subscribe to the idea of a forever home, which I think is a term that gets thrown around loosely and is not backed up in reality,” Talbot says while pointing out the national average for staying in one spot is somewhere between five and seven years.
“We had a five-year time horizon that we felt was going to be good and then we’d move on to something else. We weren’t sure at that point in our lives what that would look like.”
Several factors contributed to their final decision to move — Talbot, 44, was spending at least two hours a day in his car and the only school in the small municipality goes to Grade 3, after which the closest school is down the highway in Horseshoe Bay. The couple also wanted to live in a more diverse neighbourhood.
“We went all over the map. We had no idea really. We explored everything from a five-acre farm in Pitt Meadows to Whistler. We explored most areas of Vancouver. We looked in Burnaby. We really threw the net super wide. That was mostly because I don’t think we had a clear vision of what we wanted,” he says.
“But around January, a few events happened that solidified our path and it got us focused on what we wanted and also the community that we wanted to be in.”
One particular issue sparked a desire to live more modestly. Around Christmas, they noticed their son, who was five at the time, was “over-the-top” wanting things. Talbot figures it might have just been his stage of life but it seemed compulsive and the couple knew they had to take control of the situation. They took back some gifts before Christmas Day, but still enjoyed the holiday. They also started to be more conscious of what they were buying for their kids and for themselves, including thinking about the amount of space they had in their house.
“It really put us on this journey to see if we could simplify and kind of “right-size” our life,” he says. “I’m coining this phrase because downsize to me sounds like retirement. And it sounds like a sacrifice. I want to have a conversation around affordability, sustainability and the anti-bigger-better scenario.”
It’s a subject that strikes a chord when he talks to people about it, according to Talbot, and not only in Vancouver where dynamics such as extreme pricing in the real estate market come into play.
“It’s human nature to expand to the space that you have,” he says, "So if you're living in 900 square feet, you design your life around that space. If you have 3,000, all of sudden you've got stuff for 3,000 square feet. There's a big part of it that just didn't sit well with us, and not from a judgemental standpoint that other people should do it... [but] I'm a big believer that we need to address [the issue] in some way, shape or form."
Talbot maintains large lots, with big detached homes near the downtown core aren’t sustainable and we need to re-evaluate what we’re building and how we’re building it. He says there also has to be middle ground between a tiny 300-square-foot house and a monster home.
The Talbots eventually started looking for a three-bedroom condo, but those are scarce. Although they found one, they lost it in a bidding war with five other people.
“It was the only one that had ever come up that we felt could work,” Talbot says. The couple then shifted their focus from condos to a small lot.
“I still wanted to handcuff myself. If ever we were to redevelop, I wanted to make sure I was going to build something that was the correct size for us."
The property in Grandview-Woodland — a neighbourhood the couple had lived in prior to moving to Lions Bay — ticked all the boxes.
“We both felt like we wanted to have our kids exposed to a dynamic community with lots of different things going on in terms of social economic ranges, opportunities culturally, sports, food even,” he says. “Part of finding a community is trusting your gut. And we knew [the neighbourhood] so we knew that we could go back into the environment and we would be happy there.”
The couple is now embarking on a “light renovation,” which includes re-doing the kitchen, installing stairs to the basement inside the house and outfitting the basement with two bedrooms — one for Talbot and his wife, the other for their children who will share. The existing small bedroom on the main floor will likely be turned into a multi-purpose room.
“We believe it will give us what we need to live the lifestyle that we want. I’m gambling on this journey that the choice to go smaller in Vancouver is actually going to produce more happiness and freedom in our lives than going bigger, which is a little bit counterintuitive to what we’re taught as a society,” he says.
While $50,000 — which Talbot concedes could increase as the project moves forward — doesn’t seem like a significant investment for renovations, he's convinced it’s enough.
“I’ve renovated lots of properties and there’s a spectrum of ways and how much people should and can spend on renovations,” he says. “One of the ways is to blow open the doors and drop $200,000 or $300,000 into a piece of property, but I think you have to be very careful economically. Like, does that make sense? For this little 1912 house that would be ridiculous. You could rebuild the whole thing for close to that number. And, honestly, I don’t think it’s needed all the time. You can do great things to a space without launching headline into six digits.”
Talbot also acknowledges it’s easier to make a decision to “right-size” and invest in a project like this when you have resources such as money, time and the skill to do it.
“There’s no argument to that… I do think it’s easier to look at options of saving money, streamlining and being conscious around our consumption and the environment if you’re in a position where you’re not just going day-to-day to try and make your way,” he says. “There’s no question about it, but I also think that if you’re in a position to be able to do it and you don’t then what’s your excuse? [But] I don’t want to be high and mighty about it. I’m really desperately trying not to be preachy. I want it to be an authentic experience for me and my family.”
While he’s excited about the possibilities that will come with the move, how long the family will stay remains a question.
“I like to keep my options open. I imagine we would stay in this property indefinitely but if there was an opportunity to move to Toronto or move to another part of the city that we thought would be good for our family, we would entertain that option,” he says.
Note: This story has been updated since first posted.