By Penelope Graham, Zoocasa
Special to the Financial Independence Hub
It used to be that high-rise living was the domain of young professionals and couples; those who were happy to sacrifice outdoor and living space if it meant dwelling close to all conveniences of the downtown core. However, as real estate prices in Canada become less affordable for the average family, the idea of “moving up” in the market has taken on a whole new meaning.
Priced out of traditional low-rise homes in the biggest urban markets — prices hit $707,269 for Toronto townhouses in July while all home types rose above the million-mark in Vancouver– those with kids in tow are increasingly embracing the condo lifestyle. That means the industry — from developers to municipal planners — is taking notice.
Here are four emerging trends we’ve noticed as condos become more popular with growing families.
Demand for larger units
Not so long ago, micro-units –- apartments under 500 square feet — were considered the future of condo dwelling. You could fit loads of them onto a floor-plan plate, and young homeowners and renters enjoyed their sleek and modern aesthetic. Now, though, the pressure is on developers to increase their unit sizes and to include more multiple-bedroom units in their builds.
And the demand is voracious for two- and three-bedroom units, more square footage and living space that promotes greater privacy for families. Additional features such as dens and second baths add even more value, as they’re highly prized by families seeking liveable units.
Typically, high-end condo amenities include a gym, pool, hot tub, and entertainment spaces: features that aren’t always safe or welcoming to little ones. That’s changing, as developers are putting greater focus on spaces specifically for children’s activities and socialization.
For example, developer Menkes has two Toronto projects with designated areas for little ones. The Eglinton, located in the booming Yonge and Eglinton corridor, features an indoor playground and jungle gym, while their South Core Harbour Plaza development has an outdoor track and play area. Early childhood specialists were brought in in both instances to develop the spaces.
Cities taking action
Families in any neighbourhood need access to services and infrastructure such as nearby schools, green space, and social programs. However, many new condo developments, especially in urban cores, crop up neighbourhoods that are less established; they have been previously industrial, for instance, and are not well serviced by transit or existing school catchments. Plans to build grocery stores, parks, and libraries may still be years away.
In the City of Toronto, where 10,000 people move downtown each year, this has garnered municipal action. The city is completing a one-year study titled “Growing Up: Planning for children in new vertical communities”, revealing a slew of requirements for building and neighbourhood development.
Under the new regulations, a minimum of 25 per cent of units in newly-built Toronto condos must be considered “large”, with 10 per cent of suites having three bedrooms, and 15 per cent with two. Larger units should be located on lower floors for easier family access, and halls must be larger to accommodate strollers. Buildings must include some child-designated spaces such as toddler play, crafts, child fitness, or music lessons: plus, lobbies will accommodate stroller storage!
From a neighbourhood perspective, areas around condos are to have stroller and bike-friendly ramps, playgrounds for all age groups in unshaded areas, and public wi-fi access.
“Hacking” your condo
Perhaps the most ingenious measures are taken by those who actually live within condo units. As part of the city’s consultations, nine families were interviewed on how they make living in limited square footage work. What the study found was a shift in thinking: families in high rises are more likely to use neighbourhood amenities, such as parks and libraries, as extensions of their homes, as well as embracing a downsized lifestyle.
The families indicated they no longer held onto excessive stuff, purging what wasn’t needed, and taking a militantly organized approach to the rest. They also aren’t afraid to rethink the use of their condo’s rooms, whether converting a den into a bedroom, knocking down walls, or sectioning off parts of their living room or kitchen space. Stackable furniture that easily freed up room for storage or play, also proved to be popular.
High-Rise Living is the future of Real Estate
High-rise family living as a new concept is a mostly North American stance; kids in condos and apartments is the norm in cities like Hong Kong, London, and New York. As space, and real estate, increasingly come at a premium, buyers who choose the urban lifestyle will continue to snap up units in the sky, rather than drive until they qualify in a further flung suburb. In fact, according to the Canadian census, 10,000 more families lived in condos in 2011 than in 1996: a trend that will only continue to grow, along with city skylines.
Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor of Zoocasa.com, a leading real estate resource that uses full brokerage service and online tools to empower Canadians to buy or sell their home faster, easier, and more successfully.