Welcome to Urbaneer.com's March 2019 Home of the Month!
This feature provides a snapshot of what our Buyers have recently purchased in the City of Toronto. In this installment, I share a tale about a couple who expanded their residence from one condominium into two, before adding a third unit for their parents. This resulted in a multi-generational 'compound' in Kensington Market Lofts. And while this might seem unusual at first, I believe it reflects two growing movements in Toronto real estate: raising children in condos, and a return to multi-generational living (albeit in a new incarnation).
This journey started back in 2005 when the parents purchased a studio loft for their daughter in Toronto. Located in Kensington Market Lofts, this vintage conversion of a former George Brown College campus comprising two buildings, were converted into residential lofts back in 2000. Together, the two buildings house 145 units over 7 stories, ranging in size from 512 square feet to 1757 square feet. This particular loft is in the more intimate and older of the two buildings - a former school dating from 1923. This loft is quite charming - albeit one of the bijou units - with massive windows, 12 foot ceilings, and exceptional light in the heart of Kensington Market.
Fast forward ten years to 2015; the daughter is now sharing her loft with a partner in domestic bliss. Now their family (and space requirements) are expanding as she is expecting their first child. They were referred to me to help them find a larger home. Like many urban couples, they loved living downtown (specifically in Kensington Market) so they wanted to see if they could purchase a freehold dwelling in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, as is often the case with downtown properties, those houses that were listed within their budget required a significant cash investment to upgrade the obsolete building components.
As I wrote in my blog Why Are So Many Downtown Houses Being Renovated? a lot of Toronto's aging housing stock is approaching the end of its life span in terms of obsolesence, such that those seeking freehold housing at lower price points are competing with flippers who are snapping up dwellings and transforming them into executive properties. This has consequences for the natural filtering of housing stock, as we need buyers and sellers moving up and down all prices points and housing types to keep a market healthy. I discuss this issue - and cite some examples further - in How Toronto Real Estate Near Queen Street – East & West – Is Climbing In Value.
Like many couples who celebrate an urban life - walking or cycling to work, enjoying the cultural amenities directly outside their front doors, and feeling part of a neighbourhood's fabric and community - the increasingly prohibitive cost of freehold housing in the downtown core is impacting millennial couples who are intending to raise a family. Basically, the option is to either move to the 'burbs and face a daily GO train commute (see my blog What Are The Real Financial, Emotional And Health Costs Of Commuting?) or raise their kid(s) in a condo. This is a fascinating issue impacting the property market today; in particular, as our decades-long condo boom was building small one bed and one bed and den condos for singles and/or investors with a limited amount of product catering to families. This has prompted soon-to-be parents evaluating their definition of family life. Is the large yard in a suburban landscape preferential or purely nostalgic, especially if the time-consuming commute is detrimental to family life? This query prompted me to explore it in my Dear Urbaneer series: Should We Raise Our Kid In A Condo?
While my buyers were considering their options, a larger loft (around 700 square feet) directly next door to their studio came up for sale. Listed about 10 per cent too high when compared to recent sales in the complex, we bided our time and monitored the listing. At last, when the listing was reduced in price (as anticipated) I began the negotiation process, with the objective of combining the two units into one if successful. We negotiated this without calling attention that my Buyers were the couple next door. After all, if the seller knew the buyers were his neighbours and guessed their endgame, there was a risk he may have potentially held these buyers hostage for a higher price.
If combining two spaces is something you've considered, a word of caution: be prepared for the process, time, and cost of having a condo corporation review architectural drawings and approve combining any neighbouring suites. After all, any party wall between two condominium suites run the risk of being structurally integral to the building, and/or housing plumbing and electrical services to other suites. To our surprise and to my delight - given my many years of experience in the development industry - this was the first time I found a clause in the condominium declaration which provided owners with an 'as-of-right' to connect units sharing a party wall. Discovering this - and reviewing the building drawings in advance of making a firm and binding purchase - made it significantly easier to negotiate and secure. Otherwise, it could have been a lengthy and costly process, and potentially unlikely in a real estate climate where competitive offers can snap up property within days, if not hours, from being listed.
Securing this second loft purchase, the original former studio had its kitchen removed (with the plumbing and electrical services left intact so it could be easily restored for resale ease if required) and converted into two bedrooms with a full bath and loft sleeping area. Meanwhile, the newly purchased open plan studio loft became the Great Room for the family.
Here are a couple of pics of the second loft from the MLS sale:
Three years later, this couple is now expecting their second child! Her parents - who live a few hours east - contacted me with the desire to purchase a pied-a-terre close by so they could spend more time with their kids and grandchildren. My initial thoughts? Why not buy in the same loft condo complex, and make it easy as pie to spend time with the grandkids? As the grandparents matured, it would offer the necessary conveniences available given Toronto's advanced health care services, lifestyle amenities, and overall walkability.
Right now, more and more Zoomers actively exploring how their future will look in their elder years. As we each navigate how we might age-in-place, it's critical to investigate strategies to live in a space and community safely, independently, and comfortably. This includes reconciling potential issues of mobility, as well as ease of access to family, services and amenities. The movement to merge with younger family members is not unusual, but the exploration of different ways and options, to me at any rate, is. Today it's not only about converting a single family dwelling that offers sufficient space for communal living, but purchasing dwellings nearby (like on the same street), buying a multi-unit property, or even multiple condominiums in one complex.
Multi-generational living isn't a new phenomenon, but it is experiencing resurgence. In 1940, pre-WWII, about one-quarter of the population lived with three or more generations in one home, a trend which began to decline in the '60s and '70s, reaching an all-time low in 1980. Now it's on the rise again in Canada, in part due to our aging baby boomer population and our sky-rocketing house prices. Did you know that "between 2001 and 2016, multi-generational households were the fastest-growing household type in Canada, increasing by 38% to reach nearly 404,000 homes?" ( - 2016 Canadian Census.) For more insights on how this is playing out in Toronto, read my blog called How Demographics Affect Toronto Real Estate.
After a year of occasional 'dipping your toes in the market to see what's out there' (a very common occurrence for those considering a move but uncertain), a studio loft came to market directly across the hall from our now family-of-four. And it was the perfect pied-a-terre for the parents, both in space plan and in location. Why? If you could open your unit door and watch your grandkids toddle across a common hall twelve feet wide (it's in a converted schoolhouse with broad halls), wouldn't you? It was just enough distance to be self-contained, yet convenient enough to visit in a flash!
Listed at 449,900, the 600sf loft garnered 22 offers. What was it worth? In this instance, it was effectively priceless, and my buyers locked it down with a precedent-setting price.
To me, this entirely made sense. Here are some snaps from MLS of this uber cool loft:
Congrats to our Buyers!
We live in a time where there is the greatest transference of wealth occurring between generations, where the benefits of convenience and ease, of aging in place, or being in proximity to those you love, has a value that is far greater than money. As this dynamic continues to blossom with a demographic cohort of baby boomers shifting their shelter wishes, wants and needs, we're going to see the Toronto housing market being pressured by a demand that may potentially outstrip supply for an extended period of time.
Today, North Toronto houses near Yonge and Lawrence garner surprising sums until you learn the parents who have lived in the neighbourhood for 40 years helped their children buy the house next door. And why not? These grandparents can pick their grandkids up from school, age-in-place and still have some separation. Are they paying too much? If the price they're paying is setting a new precedent, it's still serving them well as they're pushing the price up of their own property.
Canada has long had immigrants purchasing massive residences houses which become home to multi-generations and extended families. Faisal Ahmed and his family in Montreal are a great example of this, as are Derek and Robyn Drews in Toronto, and Yi Jiang and his family in Ottawa; all of their housing journeys have recently been documented by media outlets, as multi-generational housing is trending so steeply upward in Canada's largest cities.
So what's coming next? Along with families buying properties near each other - whether houses in neighbourhoods or condos in the same complex - next on trend will be friends - particularly Baby Boomers - purchasing large homes to convert in co-housing. They're considering collectively cohabitating so they can age in place with their 'chosen family' and bypass the need to go into expensive long term care facilities. Instead, groups of individuals and couples will pool their financial resources and purchase properties (perhaps dwellings which are near obsolete and therefore sold mostly for land value) that can be transformed into co-housing residences. While it's not unusual for retirees to initially head to more remote locations outside the city to embrace a quieter and more economical life amid nature, there inevitably comes a time where being in an urban centre is necessary. Proximity to health care specialists, access to public transportation (or Uber), and being able to walk to daily amenities like pharmacies and grocers becomes really important as your mobility decreases. And engaging consistently with a community becomes increasingly important - whether it be participating in cultural events, social clubs, or fitness groups. As we age, isolation is no longer our ally. It becomes critical to cultivate being mentally, emotionally, and physically in top form, or at least to have a support network that can both nurture our well-being and take care of us.
Think Golden Girls. The right sized city lot can accommodate a 3000 to 4000-square-foot 4-floor dwelling (of which 25% is partially below grade to comply with planning regulations) containing four to six suites of around 400 to 600 square feet each. Said suites could have a sitting room with beverage bar (toaster oven, bar sink, and fridge), accessible spa washroom, sleeping sanctuary, and balcony, while all cohabitants could share the ground floor domestic space containing a communal kitchen, plus dining and lounging zones. These mini estates - either newly constructed or substantial renovations/expansions of existing housing stock - will become 'group households' comprising singles and/or couples with space potentially accommodating a live-in caretaker. These properties will be kitted out with all the latest gadgetry like elevators, voice-activated communication systems and defibrillators, embrace sustainable materials and design programmes, and be custom tailored to suit. As our health care system becomes overwhelmed the affluent will find it to their advantage to band together in multi-unit homes that they collectively operate in a holistic self-care manner.
The multi-generational family and aging-in-place co-housing comrades will both be keen to reinvent our centrally located single-family housing stock. This demographic cohort of Torontonians - many who are part of the greatest transference of generational wealth Canada has ever witnessed - will funnel it into supporting each other, and their families, through the financial wisdom and security of shelter.
Looking for a condo downtown? Here's some essential reading in Here’s What’s Happening With The Toronto Condominium Market
Think you're a loft lover? Here's What Is The Difference Between A Hard Loft And A Soft Loft?
Moving in, or out, of a condo? Here's How To Master A Condo Move
Serving first, second and multi-time Buyers, young families, down-scaling Zoomers, renovators and those building their investment property portfolios, our mandate is to help our clients strategically secure the best real estate on offer, while ensuring their purchase best serves their practical needs and their dream of 'Home'. We identify a property's best qualities, features and insouciant charm in the context of the future target market while meeting your own wishes, wants and desires.
If you, or someone you love, has specific real estate needs, wishes and desires, and would enjoy the personalized service of someone Celebrating Twenty-Five Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor who subscribes to a pressure-free approach - and a specialty in unique and charming urban homes - please know my team and I are here to help!
Thanks for reading!
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
Keen on Toronto real estate? Here's Urbaneer’s Toronto Real Estate Forecasts!
*Like what you've read? Did you know we were recently listed as one of The Top 25 Toronto Real Estate Agents To Follow On Twitter, The Top 50 Blogs On Toronto and the Top 100 Real Estate Blogs In Canada!!? Consider signing up in the box below to receive our FREE monthly e-newsletter on housing, culture and design including our love for unique urban homes and other Toronto real estate!
*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve's Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, product and real estate in Canada!