For generations the image of the Canadian dream has been well defined: children playing in a lush suburban backyard as their parents arrive home from their jobs in the city. But that dream is changing.
More and more young families are choosing to live in the city rather than the surrounding areas. And with housing prices so high in Toronto, that means many people are looking to condos to satisfy their housing needs.
Condos are more convenient
There are a number of various factors contributing to this paradigm shift, says Jamie Sarner, Toronto real estate sales representative.
The lifestyle and demographic of people starting families has changed and people like convenience, and they are busy working all the time. They like the idea of not having to maintain a property and deal with all the energy and time involved maintaining a house. So people like that convenience aspect of living in a condo.
Houses are too expensive these days
Sarner also points out that costs are very prohibitive to young families in Toronto. And no wonder, the average price of a home in the city has jumped 29.8 per cent from the year before. In the 905 it’s up more than 35 per cent. In February, the average price of a detached house in the City of Toronto was $1,573,622. The average price of a condo in the 416 area was $515,424. According to BILD, the average price for a new condo works out to a record price of $625 per square foot, setting the average price in the GTA at $507,511 in January, with prices higher for larger, family-sized units.
Living in a condo means living closer to where the action is
In addition to the convenient lifestyle people are searching fore, there seems to be an increasing drive to be closer to the action. With work nearby, and amenities and entertainment close at hand, families can cut down on the amount of time they spend in their car.
When I moved to my condo in downtown Toronto, there was just one family with children living in my building. During the last 10 years, I have witnessed a stupendous growth in families with kids and their number in my building is now between 12 and 15,
said Jim Burtnick, Senior Vice President at Sotheby's Realty Canada. He calls the steady migration of people to the city and the increase in family size condos a result of chain reaction:
Rising houses prices both in the City as well suburbs and longer commute time, have resulted in many moving to City; for many others it is a matter of choice. In order to accommodate the growing population with kids, City as well developers have to concentrate more on two and three-bedroom units and comparatively less on one-bedroom although the latter were much easier and faster to sell.
The City of Toronto has noticed the influx of people from the suburbs. The City Planning Division recently put together a study, Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities, which examines how high-density communities could better accommodate families with young children in a growing urban environment.
The study looks at three aspects of new developments: the individual unit, the building, and the surrounding neighbourhood. The study’s authors point out that in 2011, 32 per cent of households with children lived in mid and high rise buildings.
Building family friendly units becomes mandatory
With those considerations, the big question becomes: are there enough family friendly condos to support this influx?
"No. I think there needs to be more and more," said Sarner. Indeed, construction on these types of units has been slow. The Housing Occupancy Trends report released in 2015 shows that six out of every ten units built between 1996 and 2011 were in high-rise buildings, yet only 3.8 per cent of those apartments had 3 or more bedrooms.
A 2014 report on condos commissioned by the city shows developers weren’t creating larger units because they were harder to sell while making the same profit margin. However, city councillors like Adam Vaughan have made it clear that building family units is mandatory to get support for new developments from the city.
Luckily, Sarner says there are more condos being built with this demographic in mind and there are incentives for builders to build family friendly units.
They can sell them for more money when they're bigger because there are fewer units like that available out there. The reality is, then they have to put in more kitchens, more bathrooms, which are expensive to build.
Indeed, builders seem to believe the change is here to stay. Many of the cranes dotting Toronto’s skyline point to future family friendly units. Some prominent names include:
- Eglinton by Menkes Developments in Toronto ($309,990 to +$695,990),
- Fontana Condos development in Markham (Average cost for 3-bedroom: $799,000),
- Tridel’s Islington Terrace development (2-bedroom + den: $470,000),
- Museum House condos overlooking Royal Ontario Museum (Priced at +$12 million),
- Garrison Point in Liberty Village ($249,000 to $942,000).
These developments all come equipped with family friendly facilities including learning centres, play zones, splash pads and more. But families interested in buying a condo should look at what’s nearby, says Sarner, since that’s part of the charm of living in an urban centre. Things like transit, daycare, parks and schools are all important.
Sherille Layton, a Toronto real estate specialist, says that the rise in the family-friendly condos is not only because people like living in the city, but also because prices are much more affordable compared to a semi- or detached-home.
An average house in the city is about $950,000 and not everyone can afford such kind of dwelling. Therefore for people opting to live in city, family-friendly condos are like a breath of fresh air where they can afford amenities at a comparable lower price.
She notes that people who are living in condos are both new immigrants as well Canadians.
New immigrants coming from China, Hong Kong and India have been used to apartment livings. There is a good possibility they would feel comfortable living in condos as they can relate themselves to them. On the other hand, Canadians who are born here and lived in suburbs when young are moving to the city because of not only change of attitude but also because of change in their lifestyles as compared to their parents.
The rising prices and lack of space won't stop the Canadian dream from evolving. But instead being focused on a big detached house as was tradition for generations, families will pursue condo living more often and the city needs to make this possible for them. Toronto is already a world-class city, and the real estate market needs to adapt to this new situation by creating more affordable housing for young families.