Welcome to this month’s instalment of Dear Urbaneer where I take on tough real estate questions that are posed to me by my inquisitive clients. This time, I’m responding to a client who requires more space but is weighing the pros and cons of buying a larger property or modifying the existing one that he’s in.
I was reading the most recent edition of your Toronto real estate forecast, where you outlined what various buyer segments have been purchasing in Toronto recently. I was particularly interested in the section about how more and more buyers are electing to renovate their homes rather than climbing the property ladder. My space requirements have changed, but I’m not optimistic I'll find a bigger place in my price point that will suit my needs. What are my options?
Dear Seeking Space:
You certainly are not alone in your housing dilemma. With a lack of available stock, increasing housing prices, the new mortgage stress test, not to mention the prohibitive costs of moving (especially with Toronto’s double land transfer taxes), it is becoming more and more common for homeowners to renovate their homes rather than move.
In fact, Ryerson University recently did a study on moving habits in Canada’s largest cities. The study saw a decline in mobility rates in most cities but saw the largest drop amongst Toronto homeowners (7.6%). Notably, the drop was significantly more substantial among homeowners over renters.
The study was comprehensive, looking at a number of different factors that might have contributed to the drop in mobility rates, like employment growth, housing prices, level of affordability along with the lack of supply. It was determined that, while these factors all play a role, it was the lack of available housing stock that drove the drop predominantly.
As the study points out, over the last two decades the rate of construction for low-density homes has dropped consistently and dramatically. Not surprisingly, it was also determined that more and more homeowners are turning to renovate, rather than moving.
Similarly, a recent study from CIBC found that 56% of homeowners were electing to stay put and renovate their homes, rather than selling and buying a new home, which many attributed to a lack of supply. These homeowners are renovating as a creative solution to gridlock on the property ladder.
I’ve written a number of times about how the lack of supply is creating a number of problems in the Toronto housing market, impacting affordability and the natural movement up the property ladder. Click here to read the challenges facing the missing middle buyers in Toronto: Toronto Real Estate, Yellowbelt Zoning & The Missing Middle: Part One & Toronto Real Estate, Yellowbelt Zoning & The Missing Middle: Part Two.
I also share some of the factors that are impacting the supply of listing- including the cost of daycare and the low wages earned by millennials - in Dear Toronto Real Estate: Where Are The Property Listings?.
Still trying to decide on whether to continue the house hunt or to think about renovations? Click here to read The Toronto Star's “Do A Renovation Or Buy A New House? and in Moneysense: “Should You Renovate Or Just Move?”.
The Question Of Space
Is your desire to move driven by your need for more (or at least more useable) space? Although early in my career - now in its 28th year as a realtor - when real estate values had flatlined and there was an abundance of properties listed for sale, the easiest solution was to sell your home and buy a bigger one. However, given these 7 Reasons Why Toronto Real Estate Prices Have Skyrocketed Over The Past Decade, it's significantly more challenging to find the right property, nor is it assuredly cost-effective.
Which is why homeowners are increasingly assessing - as their first option - whether it's feasible to expand or renovate their current residence. Though if you're not well versed in construction, consider reading my post that will help you Understand The Six Essential Layers Of Property.
First, it's important to establish whether your current dwell lends itself to the possibility of expansion (i.e. could you reasonably put on an addition/extension) based on the limitations that run with the land. You should always check with the City Building and Zoning Departments to determine what is possible on your property, and ensure you have all the necessary documents and trades aligned to confirm what's possible. Here's my post called Dear Urbaneer: What Are The Steps To Add Onto A House In Toronto?. You should also consider getting the opinion of a realtor in advance to determine whether the addition or substantial renovation you're considering will ensure a future return on resale. Is it possible you could be over-improving the dwelling for the location, rendering it a poor investment?
Alternatively, you might explore whether renovations within your existing footprint could increase your living space? Would digging the basement down, or adding dormers to your attic create the extra space you require? You might also find that reconfiguring your main floor to have an open concept living space leaves sufficient room to create an additional private room. Here's my post called Dear Urbaneer: What Are The Steps To Home Renovation?.
Believe it or not, as a side note - sometimes the secret to discovering space within your home is paring down and decluttering. If you get rid of belongings (or create more appropriate storage solutions) you might be surprised at how much space you can create easily and cost-effectively!
There are a few reasons that would compel you to move rather than renovate. If you are longing to change housing type (i.e. moving from a condo to a freehold home) obviously, a move would be necessary. Similarly, if your current home wouldn’t permit the necessary renovations (either because of housing type, lot size, bylaws, etc.) to accomplish your goal, you’d have to think about moving as well.
*Image courtesy of Vancouver Magazine
Do You Love Your Neighbourhood?
It can be hard to uproot yourself, especially if you love your ‘hood. It can be hard to find a home that ticks your boxes, is within the price point, and is still in your desired location. If you love where you live, but wish that your home was different, renovating might be a good plan. Beyond liking the look and feel of your current neighbourhood, how does it support your current lifestyle in terms of proximity to work, amenities and school? It might be hard to recreate that level of comfort in your lifestyle if you move to a new neighbourhood.
Furthermore, if you currently live in a neighbourhood where prices are climbing steadily, it might be a wise move in terms of growing your asset value to stay put in order to benefit from that price appreciation in the longer term. And if you're accommodating more than one generation, you might consider reading this post About Laneway Housing In Toronto, By Sustainable And Urbaneer.
That said, often the only way to get more space is to compromise on location. Need some help reconciling this issue? Here's my helpful post called Dear Urbaneer: Should I Sacrifice Location To Get More House?.
* Image courtesy of the Boston Globe
Both moving to a new home and renovating your current home involve costs. It is important to understand the costs involved with each option and determine what route would provide you with the most benefit in the long run.
Buying a new home, given the high prices in Toronto, may mean taking out significantly more mortgage debt. Is this still affordable for you? Similarly, remember all of the other costs that are associated with buying and selling a home, like taxes (double land transfer tax in Toronto!), legal and realtor fees, appraisal, property inspection and more. Click here to read Dear Urbaneer: What Are The Closing Costs For A Property Purchase?.
One of the benefits of renovating is that it can be done in stages over time, which may be more budget-friendly. However, realize that living through a stage-by-stage renovation comes with its own challenges, beyond budgeting (click here to read Dear Urbaneer: Should I Renovate My House In Stages Or Do A Full Gut? and Dear Urbaneer: Help! We Want to Renovate And Keep Our Relationship Intact).
Renovating can be less expensive than buying a new home, but it is imperative that you plan carefully to anticipate all of the costs so that you can do a proper cost analysis. Set a budget and don’t forget to include costs for architects, engineers, permits, surveys and rental if you are to live off-site during renovations, in addition to the construction/renovation actual costs. I wrote briefly about this in Dear Urbaneer: I Need Help With Architects, Builders And Toronto’s Committee Of Adjustment.
Don’t forget to include a contingency fund in your budget, as renovations have a way of gaining momentum once begun, especially if you encounter problems (plan for an extra 10 to 20 per cent to cover unanticipated costs). The CIBC study showed that 86% of respondents said that renovations ended up costing more than they had anticipated, while 31% revealed that they overshot their budget on a recent project.
It’s wise, even if you are doing renovations from the point of view of improving your comfort and convenience while living in the home, to undertake renovations with an eye to return on your investment. Not all renovations are created equal.
I’ve had a great deal of my own personal experience with home renovations, which I’ve written about in these series: Tales From Tennis Crescent (my current effort to expand a 1960s purpose-built duplex in Riverdale, Toronto), Rejuvenating The Button Factory (elevating my slice of a factory loft conversion in Little Italy, Toronto), Renovating The Movie House Loft (transforming a loft into a luxe boutique residence on College Street, Toronto) and The Tales Of Upper Hillsborough (rebuilding a vintage triplex in Charlottetown PEI into a furnished vacation getaway and rental).
Renovating With An Eye On Return On Investment
When planning your renovations, it is important to accomplish what your goal is (i.e. more space, new configuration/layout, updating decor etc.), but it is also important to prioritize your renovations from a return on investment standpoint, especially if you are employing this strategy to “move” up the property ladder without physically moving.
This 2018 survey from Remodelling Magazine (it’s a U.S. based magazine, but the principles are applicable in Canada as well) shows some surprising results. For example, you are more likely to recoup your costs in a resale with smaller jobs, like siding replacement, roof replacement or window replacement, rather than a major HGTV-style gut. That’s not to say that doing a kitchen or bathroom overhaul won’t generate a good return on your investment; it just underscores the value, as perceived by potential buyers, of good maintenance of your home.
Some projects that are known to be asset-increasing are kitchens, bathrooms, deck additions, exterior doors/windows, basement remodel (even better if there is an income suite potential), master bedroom, siding replacement, eco-friendly upgrades and curb appeal (i.e. landscaping).
If you are planning on renovating your kitchen, keep in mind a few pointers as this is usually a big-ticket job: firstly, the kitchen truly is the heart of the home and will land big impact on future buyers. And secondly, a kitchen typically has a lifespan of about a decade before it becomes dated. If your goal is resale, it is advisable to take a classic, broadly appealing approach to your renovations. I go into detail about this in Dear Urbaneer: How Should We Renovate Our Kitchen With Resale In Mind?.
It’s important to note too, that given the age of the housing stock in Toronto and the propensity for buyers in a certain price point to purchase a home for teardown purposes, it is important to factor that into your renovation plans. If potential buyers won’t be using your upgrades for their own purposes, that should set some perimeters around your renovation budgeting from an ROI perspective.
For example, in this post, Dear Urbaneer: Should I Replace My Vintage Windows When My House Is Considered A Teardown, I help a homeowner reconcile her desire to replace ageing windows in her home and maintain a certain aesthetic, with the possibility (and probability) that such an investment may not generate a return on investment for prospective buyers, given that her home will likely be a teardown and rebuild. **The post also outlines how the value of a property is split between land and structures in Toronto**.
There's no question resolving how to accommodate your wishes, wants and needs can be a challenge. It’s all about balancing your requirements in your current day, predetermining what you will need in the future while trying to build your real estate wealth strategically with minimal risk. It's a complex issue to navigate.
May my team and I be of help?
First, if you enjoyed this post you may like these other Urbaneer blogs!!
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With a multi-disciplinary education in housing - and 28 years experience in the property market - I believe the search for Home requires gently guiding you through the search process without pressure or hassle. In fact, I'm renown for talking you out of a property purchase when I truly believe there are better options.
It's one of the many reasons I've earned my place as a credible realtor with a sterling reputation.
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-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
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