As Toronto continues to see a growth in population there is an increased necessity for population density which has lead to an increase in condo living. While many people know what they want when it comes to purchasing a house there remains a bit of a knowledge gap when someone is buying a condo for the first time. This is a list of the fundamentals about what to know when buying a condo, with many of these being overlooked in a hot market however these key factors will rise to the top in a flat or down market as there will always be a higher demand for the essentials.
Here is what to know when buying a condo:
Getting the best views:
Never-Eat-Shredded-Wheat…AKA: North East South West (or NEWS!). Some people are adamant that they must have a southern or southwestern view for maximizing sunshine throughout the year. While others are not fussed, the view to the north is perfectly fine by them. A premium is paid for south facing condo units over large unobstructed views of the Toronto (think south side of St. Clair Avenue West, open expanses of Lake Ontario and Toronto Island).
However there are times when a view to the North will fetch a higher dollar if the view is of nature or in comparison to any of the other views it doesn’t have another condo unit a matter fo a few feet away – meaning the unit owners may keep the blinds shut all day for privacy from peering neighbors. This is clearly best decided on a case by case basis…however, in general, a premium is paid for the south and west views.
Boutique lowrise condo development or a high rise? Another layer of this question is whether or not one would like to be in the downtown core (taller condo buildings – many are over 35++ storeys) or a quieter neighbourhood with less density. Tall buildings can mean incredible views however, it may also mean waiting a while to get on the elevator, or not knowing your neighbours, as well as you, would in a smaller building.
Some people like to be on a lower level to feel more of a connection to the street (as well as using the stairwell as an alternative to the elevator to come and go). Penthouses and sub-penthouses can typically fetch a higher dollar however, this is more about the size of the units. Typically the developer has larger units on the top two floors which fetch higher prices. Perhaps there is a better view, however, there is a trade-off as mentioned above.
Layout and Flow
The smaller square footage doesn’t necessarily mean the condo won’t work well. A good layout leads to a good flow of space. Flow is essential with layouts. Flow has a lot to do with what our eye perceives, are we met with a large object or impediment to our vision of ability to walk forward (walls, pillars, etc).
Picture old condo developments, these typically have defined rooms for each room: Kitchen is walled off, Dining room, living room, Den, etc.. it takes away from the flow. If their layout is large (ie more square footage) than this may not be much of a factor. Many modern developments are an open concept, very few walls but for the bedroom(s) and washroom(s). In general downtown condo buyers want the modern layout as the flow is better.
Close your eyes, can you picture a 1980s mirror that is floor to ceiling in height and manages to run the full width of the wall…can you see the yellow-gold tint? I’m sorry if this may be your idea of nice finishings…but most people buying today are not looking for this type of decor. A renovation is necessary. This will hinder the value. Let’s now put the extreme case aside and focus on the quality of finishings. Most condo builders are looking to cut as many corners as possible to maintain their profit margins. It is only amongst the higher-end developers where you will see elite finishings where even the drywall seems better.
Finishings matter, however, these can become dated within 8 years typically. So the easiest way to navigate this is to ask your self if you want high-end finishings or finishings that can be replaced at a nominal cost at any point during your ownership. Careful not to overvalue “every day” finishings in the bathroom and kitchen (most people do). Everything is replaceable!
A good thing to note with what to know when buying a condo is that the older the condo development the lower the ceilings, in general. Modern condo developments have higher ceilings as this is what most new condo purchasers want – the “Soft Loft” look, basically the developers copied “Hard Loft Conversions” and have now marketed these to buyers who want to live in a space typically found in SoHo NYC. Higher ceilings make any amount of square footage feel bigger, it makes the space brighter and airy. It’s worth forking out more money for higher ceilings.
Balcony or Terrace for Your Condo
Nearly every buyer who says they must have their own outdoor space will rarely use it once they move in. It’s a fact. It is the most underutilized space that one can purchase. That being said it feels nice to know that you could use the balcony or terrace at your convenience. Balconies are cheaper than terraces as terraces are typically quite large. The challenge of evaluating a condo with large balcony or terrace is that there is no finite cost per square footage as there can be with the living space, parking space or locker. Terraces can be 300+ square feet but it’s very challenging to put a value on that space. It can be a waiting game to see what someone is willing to pay when enough market exposure has occurred.
Type of Street (busyness)
Yonge Street, King Street, Bathurst Street, Eglinton Avenue, Sheppard Avenue, Finch Avenue and Queen Steet are good examples of busy streets in Toronto. It isn’t hard to notice that most condo developments are built along these streets as the planning act permits this higher density on main thoroughfares as well as the fact that public transit can better support the influx of people coming and going from their buildings. Perhaps a quieter street would be better, these are rarer however very desirable for some people who like leafy streets and to walk through a neighbourhood seeing familiar faces.
This is less of a factor in downtown Toronto than areas on the outskirts of the city however it is worth noting: Is there a necessity for condos in the area? Have you ever driven through a suburb or rural area and seen a tall condo building standing on it’s lonesome? Have you stopped to wonder why? I certainly have! In all likelihood, it was a developer who managed to force their way through the municipal government approval process as there was ZERO need for this density – there was plenty of land to expand lowrise, horizontal living.
I will acknowledge that this is an extreme case but it is worth noting whether high-density condos are necessary for the area you want to purchase in. If not then the market may be oversaturated when the time comes to sell. Oversaturation in a marketplace equals lack of value and/or appreciation.