The Editor’s Desk: How the one per cent lives

Looking at what $35 million buys you in the Vancouver housing market

I was idling away a few minutes on YouTube not long ago and noticed, in the list of “You might also enjoy these!” thumbnails coughed up specifically for me by some algorithm, a video from a real estate agent showing a house they had listed for sale.

Quite how YouTube decided I was interested in seeing this video remains a mystery, since a) I’m not in the market for a house, b) if I was, I wouldn’t be looking for one in Shaugnessy, and c) the house in question was $35 million, which is just a tad out of my price range.

I probably would have passed right by the video if it weren’t for the price tag, and the fact that it was followed by the word SOLD! That struck me as extraordinarily restrained, under the circumstances; if I was a realtor who had sold a house worth $35 million, there would not be enough exclamation marks in the world to show how happy I was.

So I decided to see what $35 million buys in Shaugnessy, a neighbourhood I remember as one of sleepy, tree-lined streets and large, shabby-genteel homes when I was growing up in Vancouver in the early 1970s. The answer is something that is undeniably opulent, impressive, luxurious, and as impersonal as a robocall.

The eight-minute video that took viewers through the home was lavishly produced, and probably cost more than some independent feature films. The comparison to a film is not random, for the home’s interior was not so much a house as a set that had been designed and polished to within an inch of its life. I’ve heard of “staging” a home to increase its eye appeal, but the theatrical aspect of the phrase had never occurred to me until I watched this video, which drove home the artifice involved.

There were carefully placed pieces of artwork here and there, the odd vase of flowers (very expensive-looking flowers; no cheap and cheerful grocery store bouquets need apply), a dining table that looked as if everything on it had been placed according to strict measurements (“No, that napkin has to move two centimeters to the right or it throws off the whole effect”). Kitchen counters were bare of everything except a tasteful item or two arranged just so, and the bedrooms — of which there were many — had all the warmth and cheer and personal feel of a hotel room.

The video was narrated by a British woman who had the kind of vaguely posh accent I associate with inflight safety videos. As the camera moved steadily about the house, caressing chandeliers and parquet floors and marble counters, she dropped a series of manufacturers’ names, none of which meant anything to me, and whose products are not, I suspect, available at Home Depot or Costco. It got to the point that when the narrator mispronounced the words “clerestory” and “contemplative” I was probably more smugly pleased than I had any real right to be.

Adjectives got a real workout, and I’ll wager that whoever wrote the narrration had a thesaurus close to hand. Balconies were not large, they were “expansive”. The recreation room did not have fridges, it had “beverage coolers”. No architectural detail went unremarked on, no expensive material went without a name drop.

The tour continued, through a walk-in cupboard bigger than the average bedroom, and bathrooms that were described in tones usually reserved for a religious experience. There was a wine cellar, a home theatre, an indoor gym, a wok kitchen, an elevator, an indoor pool, and a back staircase that connected what was described as “the nanny’s quarters” on the lower floor with the rest of the house, because apparently Upstairs, Downstairs is still a real thing.

Would I refuse the house if I won it? No, of course not. Would I want to live in it? No; it would be like living in a museum, but without the opportunity to chat with tourists. Check it out for yourself at, if you have eight minutes to spare, and want to see how the one per cent lives.

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