Pros and cons of urban condo family living

If you look at new real estate development around Toronto, it seems like a city full of condominiums. A condo in the downtown core has long been the dream for many young urbanites, and builders have responded to the demand.

However, these small spaces designed for single or couple dwelling may not translate to the white-picket-fence dream of many families, which drives up the pricing on single family housing properties to a cost out of range for many buyers.

As such, many young Torontonians are opting to start their families in their existing condo space, or upgrade to a two-bedroom unit. However, there are a lot of things to consider when making the decision whether to have a downtown condo as a family home or purchase a suburban house.

One of the biggest issues with using a condo as a family home is the limited space. Many existing buildings and development projects feature single- and two-bedroom units – with very few or no three-bedroom units – and are generally all less than 1,000 square feet for the whole unit. This leaves little room for many of the extra things that go along with having a young family. It is important for a couple to decide if they are willing to sacrifice this space to accommodate children.

Choosing to live in a condo may mean giving up a home office, and trading a large furniture set, dining room table or home theatre system for a single couch, a two-person table and a simple television. Living in a condo also can require regularly purging anything you do not need, such as any toys the children do not take to right away.

Condo parents may need to spend extra money for baby items that serve multiple functions like a combination bassinet/stroller or things that fold up for easy storage when not in use.

On top of the issues of a smaller living space, it is important not to forget the close physical proximity of a condo family. In less than 1,000 square feet, there is little space for alone time when split between three or more people.

Another thing to keep in mind is the surrounding area itself. Are there many other families in the same situation as you? Are most of the neighbours people who will be loudly partying every weekend or going through the hallways at all hours? Or are they people who want quiet and will complain about the noise that is inherent even with the most pleasant and well-behaved baby?

Some condos may even cater to young families, offering daycare or play space or mommy-and-tot time in their party rooms. Where many condos offered rooftop patios or fitness centres to cater to young singles, condos may start offering play space to cater to families.

Like anyone living in a condo, the smaller personal space is the trade-off for larger common space and the convenience of many things in the vicinity of the building; condo-families are no different. Many businesses are responding to the influx of families in the downtown core by offering things that attract their business, such as play space offered at certain times during the day in a coffee shop.

It can be expected that in the near future, businesses that cater to children – such as the Vancouver-founded 4Cats, an art studio geared towards kids – will start to boom in these areas to meet the needs of parents with no play space for their children. For a prospective condo buyer with a family, a public park on the block could make or break a deal.

One of the things many people wonder is why things need to be this way. Given the limited space and high cost for actual houses, why don’t developers simply make larger units with more rooms and higher square footage to accommodate family space within a condo building?

One issue is with taxation: municipal and provincial land transfer tax increase significantly at $400,000, prompting builders to keep units smaller to stay below the magic number of $399,900.

Most builders also sell the majority of their units before they start building, and cheaper units sell faster for a number of reasons: (1) younger first-time buyers are quick to pick up smaller, cheaper units; (2) as prices climb, many people are not willing to shell out the money for a unit they cannot physically see and walk through; and (3) most people are not looking to buy a family sized condo that will not be built for several years – existing or starting families want the extra space now, and few single people or couples are investing more than $400,000 for a property for the family they might want to have five years down the road.

Existing condominiums could be converted to house larger units, but this requires extensive renovations to existing space at high costs, and still faces the same taxation issues.

Raising a family in a condo is possible, and definitely has its pros and cons. However, for many young people, starting a family in a condo may be the only option with the high price of suburban housing. Given this, we may expect to see the amenities in condos changing to cater to families, along with the business landscape of the neighbourhood to meet modern condo-family needs.