“Condo Hating”



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I was on CBC Metro Morning on Monday to discuss “Condo Hating,” and host, Matt Galloway used a very interesting term to describe the condo development in Toronto: “A necessary evil.”

Agree or disagree?

Hmmm….I was really hoping that www.cbc.ca would have a podcast of my chat with Matt Galloway, but alas, they do not.

We’ll have to settle for THIS article/summary of our conversation.

We chatted for a good 5-6 minutes, but only a few quotes and points made it into the summary.

Matt suggested that there is a lot of “Condo Hating,” going on in Toronto these days, and I didn’t disagree.

I surmised that you have to divide so-called haters into two categories:

1) House Owners
2) Condo Owners

Now, of the first group, we can further divide those house owners to get a sense of why these people “hate” condos.

First, you have the people who can afford BOTH houses and condos, and ended up buying houses.  Of course these people don’t like condos!  If they did, they’d have bought one.  Being able to afford a house in today’s Toronto marketplace is a luxury, make no mistake.  And if somebody who has the money to buy a house was asked about living in a condo – what do you think that person would say about condo living?

Secondly, consider that many home-owners have never lived in a condo.  Think about a 55-year-old who has lived in seven different houses, and never a condo.  Consider this person’s 4,000 square foot house, of which probably less than half is actually used, and now think about telling this person to live in the proverbial “Shoebox in the sky.”  With all due respect, somebody who has never lived in a condo should not really have an opinion on condo living.  You can’t say, “I don’t like apples” if you’ve never tasted, held, or even seen one.

As for condo owners, it goes back to the very first point.

If condo owners are “condo hating,” perhaps it’s because they wish they could afford a house.

Much of our city is frustrated with the price of freehold homes, but the reality is – not much is going to change.  We can build more condos, but we can never really increase the supply of houses, and more and more people who wish they could afford a house will be disappointed.

Then, we have the condo-haters who own or live in condos, but who have had bad experiences.  I think we can all voice a few complaints about condo-living, but your loud neighbour down the hall isn’t very different from your loud-next door neighbour in his backyard.

The point I wanted to make on Monday’s CBC Metro Morning was that condo living is about the lifestyle.

I told Matt Galloway, “I’m 32 years old, and I work 70 hour weeks, so when I get home at 10pm, I love driving into my underground garage and taking the elevator up to my unit.  My fiancée works in social work and is in and out of shelters throughout the downtown core, so the location is perfect for her.  Condominium living, and the lifestyle it provides, is perfect for us, right now.”

I don’t have to shovel snow, rake leaves, water-proof my leaky-basement, fix my roof, get raccoons out of my attic, or do anything but live in the space.  That is what condo living is about, in addition to location, which is right downtown, where there are no houses.

There are pros and cons to both houses and condos, and I understand that a large majority of the buyer pool would much rather own a house than a condo, if finances allowed it.

But I have to rush to the defence of “Condo Living” when the hating is perpetrated by many people who have never been inside a condo, or by millionaire home-owners who hate condos like they would hate to buy a hot-dog off a cart rather than eat caviar in the back of their limo.

As for the discussion about “Where the city is headed,” that’s a discussion with no conclusion, and no solution to a hard-to-identify problem.

But if you have time, check out the CBC’s interactive tool to compare the city skyline today versus 1998.  Check it out HERE.

I’ve cropped a couple photos just to give you an idea.

Here is the waterfront in 1998:

And here it is in 2012:

As I said on Metro Morning – if we don’t build condos for people who want to live downtown, then they’d all live in the suburbs, and drive 90 minutes each way, every day, and further congest our already congested city.

Of course, traffic and congestion is yet another topic to explore.  Just not today…

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19 Comments

  • Peter Bromfield October 16, 2012

    Man. It is so much cloudier now than it was in 1998.


    • Jeremy October 16, 2012

      nice!


  • Ralph Cramdown October 16, 2012

    I don’t think it’s revealing to talk about the profusion of downtown condos without talking about where the city is headed, and transit and congestion.

    Without good transit and a master plan, the core density feeds upon itself, causing more congestion, which makes it even MORE important to be right in the core if your job is there. Picture the poor schlub who bought a nice bung on a 50′ lot in Don Mills, a 15 minute commute to his downtown job. Fast forward 15 years and he’s a paper millionaire but his commute is 40 minutes of frustration each way. No kidding he hates downtown density!

    A lot of the best cities in the world are master planned, whereas letting developers drive the process with no real (enforced) plan gets you a Brazilian favela.


  • George October 16, 2012

    Location vs. space. Someone who hates condos is usually going to be someone who doesn’t want to live downtown. And of course, there will always be people who hate the lifestyle they don’t lead for little reason other than it helps them feel good about the lifestyle they do lead.


  • Nate October 16, 2012

    Metro morning’s Monday podcast has the conversation, just not ‘separated out’. Your piece comes around 11:20 in…

    http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/metromorning_20121015_73896.mp3

    (I assume this is the interview you’re talking about!)


  • Jim October 16, 2012

    There is much more to the condo lifestyle than just location. I lived in a condo right downtown for a number of years and loved it. I moved to house in central Toronto, but outside the core, and I love it too.

    In my condo – I had substantially more free time on my hands than I do with my house (and that’s not related to commuting time because I don’t commute). In my house, there are always million things to do. Yard work, upkeep, cleaning takes way longer (and it gets dirty way quicker without the condo elevators and hallways buffering you from the outside).

    And the choice isn’t just about a downtown condo vs the house. Plenty of people choose the condo lifestyle in burbs over a house in the burbs.


  • Floom October 16, 2012

    Dave,
    Read the newspaper article -sounds like it was a good interview. Speaking of the future of Toronto -can you comment on a couple of things? We have more condo starts than any other city in North America, but I’ve also heard that the number of new starts is not out of whack with immigration into the city and the number of new household formations, as such, supply/demand might actually be balanced -with demand NOT about to fall of a cliff (would you agree? I haven’t seen the numbers to prove or disprove)…With the City’s greenbelt, we just can’t build any more single-family housing so we have to build up.

    One thing that is concerning, however, is the trend toward smaller units. I’ve read that it will be hard for families to grow in the city because there aren’t enough larger condos hence, a lot of families will continue to move out (and/or bid up the price of single-family dwellings). As such, I guess we have to hope that Toronto’s population replaces families with single people or childless couples?

    I wonder what the future holds for Toronto’s condos…will unit combinations be a new trend in 10 years as families seek to stay in the downtown core? Will today’s glass boxes have exorbitent condo fees in 10-15 years which destroys the resale values? Will Toronto’s current crop of condos exist in 100 years, like the fantastic pre-war buildings in Manhattan? (Doubtful)…


    • Devore October 17, 2012

      The units are getting smaller because many (most?) are bought by investors, who prefer smaller units for at least 2 reasons: 1. lower price (duh) and 2. better rent/sqft than with a larger unit. While purchase price seems to scale exponentially vs square footage, rent is more logarithmic.

      I too worry about the massive number of tiny 1 bedroom and studio condos being constructed. Are we going to see attempts to combine units down the line?


  • Kyle October 16, 2012

    When i think of condo-haters, i actually don’t see it as a house vs condo debate, the loudest and most vocal condo-haters are the anti-development, nimby crowd that knee-jerkedly decry height, size, looks, density, too much glass, too little glass, blocks the sun, etc, etc, etc of anything that gets proposed. Under the guise of caring about the greater good of the city, they harp on about intensification, gentrification and pretty much anything that remotely resembles a change to “their world”.

    Every development should be weighed on its own merits and not just panned for the mere fact that it is a condo. Yes some projects suck purely on their own failings, such as the megaplex proposed for Lower Sherbourne and Front, but not all projects should be painted with the same brush. It makes me scratch my head when i hear about people going out of their way to stop projects like the Sterling Lofts. Would they really prefer to live beside a deserted, fenced-in brownfield than a revitalized heritage building and a new vibrant community?


  • Phil October 16, 2012

    It is exactly this house/space obsession that led to Toronto’s pathetic sprawl and congestion. A family of four complains about “there is not enogh space” when they live in 1600sf plus a basement. Are you kidding? Look around the world and get some reality check. What do we need so much “space” for, to put things we use once or twice a year? In very few countries a family can have a kitchen large enough to put a fre***ing island in the middle, just for the purpose of slicing peppers.

    I love the fact that housing pricing is increasing every year so that fewer and fewer people can actually afford living in their giant dream houses. Compact condo living is not only a personal lifestyle (which dominates the world outside north America), but also is the most efficient and least costly way to manage a city. A libary located in a sparsely populated suburb serving 100 people costs exactly the same as one in downtown serving 600. Unless the house dweller is willing to pay the corresponding usage fee (plus additiona cost associating with construction subways in Siberia) instead of expecting to be subsidized by city dwellers.


  • JC October 16, 2012

    I’ve owned both a freehold townhouse and condo in the downtown core. I much prefer the condo. Aside from not having to worry about snow clearing (I had my house in that year we had a TON of snow – 2007?), leaf raking and external maintenance, there is also the feeling of security. Yes, it’s nice being able to walk out the front door into your front yard, but depending on your neighborhood, you don’t have to worry about people breaking into your condo from the outside when you live on the 20th floor. Or dealing with homeless people rooting through your recycle bins at 3 am, raccoons, or cleaning up condoms and other nasty stuff that finds its way into your yard. Ah, big city living!


  • JPak October 17, 2012

    My husband and I lived in condo for two years before we bought a house. My problem with condo is not lack of space.it’s a lack of green space in the neighborhood.There’s no large park in downtown to enjoy nature at all and all small patch of lawns are covered with dog poos. If toronto had a park like central park in NY, I would have loved living in downtown but unfortunately it doesn’t. I didn’t even notice changes of the seasons when I lived in downtown. I personally think the major problem with downtown condo living is not lack of space but lack of green space.


    • George October 17, 2012

      You are so right about the lack of green space and how any remaining green space is essentially brown space thanks to the booming dog population.


      • Sylvia November 15, 2012

        Don’t blame the dogs. It’s the dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs, that are the problem. And speaking of dog poop, I lived in a Condo out west in a suburb of Vancouver. It was a brand new luxury building. I was paying $1800.00 a month. I had a huge teraace that jutted out beyond the footprint of the building. Can you see where I’m going with this? No? Well, I had every form of garbage imaginable, tossed down from above. My so called “neighbours” thought it appropriate to toss vegetable garbage, lit cigarette butts (which damaged the surface of the terrace), and last but not least…. Dog SHIT! So you can class me among the people who HATE condos…


    • Krupo October 19, 2012

      Queen’s Park, Don Valley, Leslie St Spit, Toronto Islands, High Park, Trinity Bellwoods… fly over Toronto and marvel at the amount of green canopy, compared to say, LA.

      Not all in the exact same central location or as easy to access (i.e. the islands), but depending on which part of downtown you’re in, there are many green space options.


  • Angela October 18, 2012

    Wow – a little bit of perspective in the photos! I absolutely agree that condos ‘boil down’ to lifestyle appropriate!


  • Joe October 22, 2012

    I grew up in a house, rented apartments, bought a condo and now live in a freehold townhouse. I actually loved renting far more than owning a condo. My problem with condos right now is the lack of regulation – there are a lot of bad builders out there who cut corners, and leave the owners with the price of repairing the building later on. If you’re buying preconstruction, there’s lots of things you can’t see until you move in, like shoddy soundproofing, deficient HVAC systems, etc.

    When you go to your warranty program (Tarion), they are all in the pocket of the developers so there’s not much you can do. Then there’s the condo board, which are usually inexperienced and easily swayed by the developer and outside interests. I’ve seen this firsthand as I was in the condo board of my building.

    To me, the risk you take when you buy a condo is not worth the benefits, especially when you buy preconstruction. There can be delays and tons of deficiencies. Your condo fees can jump up or there can be a “special assessment” at any time. All of this can eat into your property value and make you lose money fast. If the market tanks, condos are the first to go since there are far more of them available than freehold house. The price per square foot is far more expensive than if you bought a house, plus you have to pay unpredictable condo fees. To me, if you want a small place to live downtown, it makes far more economical sense to rent than buy a condo.

    If you want anything bigger than ~1000 square feet, you’re looking at close to $1 million or more if you want to live close the downtown core. You can easily get a house for that much. I love what condos have done to the city, making downtown more vibrant. But I would never want to own one, not with the current regulations and market value.


    • Horrido October 25, 2012

      I actually agree with you. I currently own a unit at West Harbour City 2 (1,160 sq ft). It lives up to all my expectations, *fortunately*. I took a risk when I bought it in 2007. However, the quality of my unit is pretty good; I’ve had no significant warranty issue. I have a fantastic view of the lake and CN Tower. The condo board has done an exceptional job; so far, they’ve kept the fees constant, even though we have added value. I’m close enough to downtown that I can walk to Chinatown or the Eaton Centre. I have a TTC stop right in front of the building. I have ridiculously easy access to the Gardner. I really lucked out.

      But I am aware of the condo construction glut. Like David, I no longer feel precon is worthwhile. Quality is dicey. And a market correction is inevitable, if not predictable. (Do you feel lucky, punk?)

      I expect to sell my condo after a few more years, before condo fees begin to rise sharply. After that, I will rent to continue living downtown.

      FULL DISCLOSURE: I previously owned a house in the Lawrence/Avenue Rd area (before that, a house in Mirvish village). I rented a condo after I sold the house, waiting for West Harbour City 2. So I have insight into owning houses and condos, and renting.





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