Examining what each has to offer
Since our ancestors immigrated here, bringing with them traditional ways of life that translated into the buildings they constructed, the most common form of housing found in Toronto is the single family home. Though there are several common types and styles of single family dwellings, including detached, semi-detached, multi-storey, bungalow etc., the most important distinguishing factor is that such properties sit on their own piece of land (which is sold with the home). That means that subject to by-laws and building codes, you can do with it as you wish, from painting to expansion to landscaping.
So what’s the catch? With great power comes great responsibility. All maintenance and repair falls on you. You are completely responsible for the upkeep costs of the property, and single family homes are also more expensive to buy, insure and pay taxes on than condos are in most urban neighbourhoods.
In general, houses are good for people who:
- Like space and privacy
- Enjoy, and are robust enough to handle, indoor and outdoor upkeep
- Are independent and like to customize their living space
- Have children and/or pets who require outdoor play space
- Love having guests over for parties and BBQs
photo by Grant MacDonald
A condo is still a home! It’s just not a house. Think of it as an apartment that you own. Your ownership extends inward from your interior walls, floors and ceilings. In addition, you are a part owner, along with all of the other owners in the complex, of the exterior structure (the foundation, exterior walls and roof) as well as any common areas and amenities (for example, swimming pools, party rooms, tennis courts, play areas, etc.)
One of the hallmarks of condominium ownership is the payment of a monthly condo fee, which covers general repairs and maintenance to the common areas of the building as well as builds up a financial reserve for major future needs. In general, all exterior maintenance and repairs are carried out via the condominium association; all you have to do is help pay for them, either through your monthly fees or a special assessment (a one time charge for something big, like a new roof). The normal day-to-day maintenance of the grounds (cutting the grass, shovelling snow and maintaining the pool) are also the responsibility of the association. Interior maintenance and repairs to your own unit – such as replacing a broken washing machine – are your responsibility.
In general, condos are good for people who:
- Don’t want to be responsible for exterior maintenance and repairs
- Want to use amenities, like a gym, pool, or tennis court, right where they live
- Are on a budget, as condos tend to be cheaper than single family homes
- Want to simplify their bill-paying (as condo fees often cover all utilities in a single easy payment)
- Are generally willing to sacrifice some living space in exchange for being in convenient locations
- Don’t mind numerous nearby neighbours
- Travel regularly
Townhomes – A Perfect Compromise?
Townhouses are often described as the ‘middle ground’ between a single family home and a condominium because, to some degree, they offer attributes of both. They can range from duplexes and triplexes all the way through huge townhouse communities consisting of hundreds of similar homes.
Each parcel of land and the home that sits on it is separately owned, except in the case of ‘condo townes’. You will generally have an additional shared ownership in the common areas of the complex, although there are generally far fewer common amenities with townhouse developments.
photo by MsAnthea
The downside? Well, there are still monthly maintenance fees involved, although these may be minimal compared to condo association fees because there are fewer amenities to maintain (it’s not uncommon to see a townhouse fee of only $200 per year for snow shovelling and grass cutting, as opposed to $600 per month for some high rise condominium buildings). There are limits to what you can change/expand/add in your home; close proximity to neighbours; and generally less interior and exterior space than that commonly found in single family homes.