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News - Larger Condos in City Core Now on the Way

Published: August 25, 2013

It's a trickle that's turned into a flood, says condo market analyst Jeanhy Shim.

She's talking about the demand for family-size condominiums in Toronto's downtown core, which her new company, Housing Lab Toronto, is currently working to quantify. "We already know it's about generational trends," says Shim, past-president of Urbanation. A 20-year pro in the local condo industry, she has consulted with many major Toronto developments, and recently studied residential innovations in Scandanavia.

"Certainly, the Canadian dream has been to own a house in the sbuurbs with a big back yard, and many people will continue to go that route," Shim explains. "But what we're starting to see and it's still only the tip of an iceberg is that the kids of the baby boomers, especially those with kids of their own, want a different lifestyle.

"They're not willing to spend hours commuting every day, or even to have the expenses of owning cars. But they can't afford big houses downtown in today's market, where the average over-asking price in the most popular neighbourhood is now $100,000," continues Shim. "So what they're looking for are large condos in the city's core, where they can walk to work and enjoy parks and cultural opportunities.

An avowed believer in that premise which some call the "Manhattanization" of the city is Toronto city councilor Adam Vaughn. He is active in an ongoing effort by City Hall that paid off in the addition of more than 600 downtown units with three or more bedrooms over the past five years.

Some of these new condo units have flexibly-built walls called "knockout panels," to allow owners who want to enlarge their homes to push into adjecent units. Vaughn recently expressed worry about what he called the "explosion" of single occupancy units in the downtown core. "Family Housing," he said, "has to be in all parts of Toronto, not just the suburbs."


Among the recent and ongoing downtown projects that includes three-bedroo units are: Aura at Yongue and Gerrard, which will be Canada's tallest condominium; B.streets in the Annex; 88 Scott Street near Yongue and Wellington; and, near the waterfront, both 10 York Street and Harbour Plaza.

Another such project is Queen and Portland Lofts, which were built atop a Loblaw store in the Queen West area two years ago. Shim says because the three-bedroom units in the building were necessarily more expensive than the smaller ones, they sold "fairly slowly."

That situation illustrates why so many developers are leery about building larger units, she adds. "The condo market is investor-driven and larger suites present investors with a big challenge. Are they eager to spend $600,000 to build three-bedrooms? Probably not, because spending $350,000 on smaller units is a safer bet when they're seeking construction loans from risk averse banks." Even so, Shim says she's convinced that developers "will build larger units if the demand is there and it is, or at least it's growing.".

If Shim's prediction pans out, what she calls "an evolution, not a revolution" will match the conclusions in a new book titled The End of the Suburbs. Author Leigh Gallagher asserts that residential preferences tend to shift once or twice per century, and that many cities in North America are now experiencing just such a shift.