April 3, 2023 | Tips for Buyers
If you ever had a look at the condo map on urbantoronto.ca, you will be amazed at just how many condos have gone up in the last decade, and how many are under construction right now. You will truly be gobsmacked by the amount of condo proposals under review. No doubt the last 20 years has put the boom in boomtown for Toronto. Many of us are very aware that Toronto finishes first year after year for the most construction cranes in the sky in North America. And by a long shot. With limited space and big demand, condos are going up all over the city and beyond.
The question then becomes: How does all of this development add to or take away from the neighbourhood you already live in or plan to buy in? Do condos to-be improve the value of your house/condo unit or make your property less valuable? Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the important indicators of whether future condo development will impact where you live positively or negatively.
GOING DEEP ON DIVERSITY
Does the new project generate more diversity in your neighbourhood? From an economic perspective, it is good to have many different types of people in your neighbourhood. Families, single people, artists, renters, younger people, older people, and people who gut and fix up old properties, LGBTQ+ people, straight people, rich people, poor people, and people from all kinds of backgrounds. Diversity makes for a nimble, dynamic and magnetic neighbourhoods. And it says: you are welcome here to everyone. Just ask Jane Jacobs. With diversity, there is broader interest in your neighbourhood. And this isn’t just about the fuzzy feelings you may have around having a diverse neighbourhood, it also creates different kinds of businesses that cater to a broader spectrum of cliental. That means your main streets is more durable and able to withstand any sudden changes in the economy. Think of it like a diversified stock portfolio. You don’t want a lot of the same thing. You want a buffet of options so you can withstand any changes in the market, if something should happen.
Let me start by explaining how an injection of some kind of diversity can be helpful. If you have a neighbourhood that is predominantly retired seniors, there is a good chance you will have many locals who do not spend very much money on the neighbourhood main street. Seniors are often on a fixed budget/pension. They are not in their money spending years. They are more likely to skip the hot yoga class on Saturday morning – with some exception, of course. A new condo with entry level units prices will bring in more young people. They will help to keep the main street more robust. They are more likely to buy the $10 cookie at a new cookie store if all of their friends are raving about it. This diversity would offer an injection of something different to broaden the business options that anchor a given neighbourhood.
Now let’s look at how condo development can take away from a diverse neighbourhood. Many of the buildings going up now are not condo developments at all. They may start off that way, but developers are seeing the benefit of adding rental units. The city needs them, and there is money to be made by just building rental units for developers. A problem can arise when there is too much of one thing. An historic example would be St. Jamestown, near Cabbagetown. This neighbourhood consisted entirely of high rise rental buildings when it was built 50 years ago. At the time, it was advertised as a luxurious, modern place to live because there were so few high rise rental accommodations in Toronto. It felt rather special to be living in one. Over time, these buildings often required more repairs because they have all renters. Now, renters are not bad people. I was one for many years! Still, when you own something, you have pride of ownership. People have a reason to keep their unit or house looking good. When there are too many renters, the diversity of the area is compromised. You don’t have an anchor that will keep people in the area. People are less invested. It’s good to have a healthy mix of renters and condo and house owners, but with there is an over concentration of rental buildings, the quality of the neighbourhood may be compromised. The real problem happens when you don’t have a mix.
It can also happen when a new neighbourhood just gives you a whole lot of large condo buildings. In an area of just condos, you can run into a situation where all the businesses are generic chain stores with a Rabba and a Shoppers Drug Mart. It is good to have a grocery chain or pharmacy nearby, but if a neighbourhood lacks its own flavour and becomes purely functional over enjoyable, then it takes away from the value of the neighbourhood, in my opinion.
DESIGN IS NOT JUST SOMETHING TO LOOK AT
For some, the inside unit of the condo building is what matters because that’s where you are going to spend much of your time. Fair enough. But I’m here to tell you that the design of your building is going to have a greater impact on your neighbourhood. There’s a reason much attention has been focused on King Toronto , Junction Point or Forma, the Frank Gehry designed condo. It’s because people love good design. Condo buyers pay attention to who is receiving the design awards. And when a condo is designed well, it can really be the cherry on top of already great neighbourhood. There are some interesting proposals on the consideration list- Quayside with the trees, 208 and 210 Bloor Street.
Just take those early renderings with a grain of salt: First round renderings can be more of a fantasy, than what we will see built one day. By the time a project receives approval, the design can be altered considerably. A developer may even sell the condo project to a different developer once it receives the permits to build. This new developer, in turn, may create something completely different. What I think takes away from the value of a neighbourhood is a poorly-designed, junky condo building that uses only glass and panelling for it’s exterior. Because once an ugly/bland condo has been added, the future developers will continue that cheap and junky trend. Same goes for the nice stuff. The high design condos will put pressure on the next developers to step up their game.
DON’T GET TOO CLOSE
No matter how nice-looking or ugly a new condo may be, you really have to figure out exactly where a new condos may be built. Because where the new condo building is built could impact the value of your existing property. I don’t have much sympathy for those who complain about a condo building that casts a shadow over a backyard for an hour each day, but I do feel for people who live in a condo or house where the new property will block most of their light and a significant portion of their view. And there’s not much you can do about it once the condo has been approved. In Toronto, you should anticipate by now that new condos will be built near you or where you plan to buy.
Even if there is nothing planned to be built next door to you, I’m pretty sure if you bought a condo downtown next to a parking lot, you should expect a new building and construction at some point. So be aware of the “endangered species” of Toronto property types including, but not limited to, supermarkets with large parking lots, strip malls, warehouses and storage areas, a row of houses on a very busy street and or course, the parking lot. These are low hanging fruit for developers who want in. Ideally, you want to look out your window and see a park or properties that have already been built.
If you are in a house, you may want to be weary of large lots with small bungalows. Those are also ripe for the picking. And with legislation coming that will allow mid-rise development in low density areas for houses, you should be aware of this. Low-rise zoning may not protect you for much longer. And let’s not forget there tends to be much more development near transit lines and proposed transit lines.
By and large, an influx on new people not only adds to the tax base, but it gives a dynamic boost to the neighbourhood main street. You see more robust businesses, more walkable street traffic to help current businesses flourish. Of course, with more people comes more traffic. Anyone who drives knows this, but if you take a streetcar or subway at rush hour, you may not be able to get on because of the large amount of human traffic on the train that slows down your commute. Still, we live in a big city. And with big cities come higher density, buzzing neighbourhoods and a whole lot to do.