Wednesday, 29 February 2012

For Some, Size Matters

Lately, I have been getting a lot of people asking me about where to find a condo with some space without breaking the bank. Developers in Toronto are making more condos that are smaller  than ever before in a city that already makes small condos. So, where do you find a condo unit with space in this in this current market?

Traditionally, I would point to older condos back in the day when condos where made larger, albeit with dated appliances and finishes by now. Older condos can have some pretty big condo fees, though, because of all the amenities they have and because things break down and need to be fixed after you've been around awhile.

So, if you're a sucker for space in Toronto, and you don't mind being a little out of the city centre, here's the condos I would suggest:

1. The Village By High Park
These condos are  really not that close to High Park. They are in the Junction though. And though I often do not endorse giant condos, this eco-friendly building offers up some condos , 2 bedroom plus den, with over 1000 sq ft and still under 400K. Not bad at all despite the so-so finishes on many of these units. Plus, the Junction is just getting better and better - a cool, hip strip right at your door step.

2.  Foundry Lofts
These converted lofts at Lansdowne and Davenport are less expensive than their other converted loft counterparts. Thus, more space is available at a lower price. Lansdowne and Davenport isn't exactly the most exciting area of town, and some of the social housing to the south can look a little grim, but with another huge condo and a Dominion going in at Dupont and Landwone, this area has a bright future.

3. Mystic Pointe Lofts
Now these south Etobicoke lofts are huge, and right off the Gardiner, if you drive. The maintenance fees are kinda high, but most of the units I've seen are amazing. Over 1100 square feet for under 350K. Plus beautifully done units with huge ceilings and lots of windows.

This isn't a definitely list. There area great condos to the east with some space too! These are just my current faves for the space-lover in us all.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Long Branch: Where the Downtown Refugees Go Without Leaving the City

I've been spending quite a bit of my working hours in Long Branch these days, the western-most portion of Toronto along the lake. And even though I've been familiar with this area of the city for while, I keep discovering new little tid bits about this neighbourhood that makes Long Branch really grow on me. Not like a fungus or a bad rash, but like a new romance, maybe, that builds slowly.  It's one of the few parts of the city where you can live near the lake without being a multi-millionaire, a place where you see one house with a stunning renovation next to a home that looks like some thing the Beverly Hillbillies lived in before they found the oil.  You're surrounded by parks. The area along the lake is walker and dog heaven, as far as I'm concerned.  The view of the industrial waterfront to the west is not the prettiest, but it only takes up a fraction of your view of the lake.

What surprised me at a recent open house I had in Long Branch is just how many people want in to this neighbourhood.  I see a lot of what I call downtown refugees, those folks who would rather have a small house or townhouse than a condo right downtown, but who still want to live in the city limits. It's like having the quieter elements of suburban life without technically leaving the city.

Long Branch still has a way to go before it becomes great though. It used to have a lot of industrial buildings and zoning. Most of that is gone now, but there is a lot to be built. The townhouses that are being built are pretty nice and you often get better features than downtown at a lower price. The main strip of Lakeshore needs a lot more fresher businesses than what's currently there. Like the other Lakeshore communities to the east of Long Branch (namely Mimico and New Toronto), the main drag needs some love. But unlike those other two communities, the new condo developments seem to suit the scale of the neighbourhood. Watermark will be a new condo at Long Branch Ave and Lakeshore, and I think it will add quite a bit of character to the street. And it seems like the smaller townhouse-style development is what is going to continued for the most part in this area - Condos roughly 4 to 8 stories.

I'm not sure how long Long Branch will take to fully transform into some thing revitalized and energetic. To many, it is just the end of the line for the Queen car. I think, though, that this place has some thing cooking.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Rise of the New Gerrard East

I think in most Torontonians' minds, when I say Gerrard St. East, they think of Little India (a.k.a. India Bizaar), east of Coxwell. If you search a Toronto travel guide or google "Gerrard East Toronto" then up pops this distinct and beloved part of the city with South Asian flare, saris for sale and tasty food.

But that's not the Gerrard East I want to mention today. Today, I want to take a good look at Gerrard East between Login and Jones, that mostly sad commercial strip with crusty-looking shops, neglected buildings and poorly maintained every thing. For a long time, it felt like a hopeless drag that sharply contrasted the radical transformation not too far south on Queen East, the nerve centre of Leslieville, the ground zero of every thing cool, new and culinary in East Toronto.

It looked like this Gerrard St. East strip would never turn around, but once Leslieville on Queen East started to become a tough place to open a business on a modest budget, daring business owners looked a little further afield to Gerrard Street East.

And though the change is early, you can see that this area is starting to gain some momentum.  There has been a series of indie coffeeshops to open up including Grinder, not to mention the sign of all thing gentrifying (for better or for worst), Starbucks.  Each new strip in Toronto usually has a gourmet  burger joint and Gerrard East is no exception with the Great Burger Kitchen. Then there's the fancy new restaurants like the very cool Hammersmith's and the Playpen near Carlaw, a place whose aim is to recreate the playboy aura of Las Vegas in the 70s. I think it's worth the visit, just to peer inside. And one of the most interesting new developments has to be the reclaiming of the Gerrard Cinema by the locals. It has now become the Projection Booth, a new rep cinema. It's an unusual and surprising development. If you hear of any news of a rep cinema in Toronto, it usually has to do with one shutting down.

 In my opinion, this street is going to look very different in 10 -15 years. You won't even recognize it. For now, you can drive down this portion of Gerrard, and you will still see a lot of the dreariness. But take a mental before photo because I think the after photo is going to be pretty impressive.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

How Low Can You Go?

I received an email the other day from a renter who was tired of renting. And who could blame her? I'm told her landlord, who lives in a different unit upstairs from her, is her ex. And they don't currently have the best relationship. So, she's looked around a little for a new place to rent, but she doesn't like what she's seeing. 

It seems that some thing is happening for renters in Toronto these days.  Years ago, the fair share of city rentals were located in houses or apartment buildings, but now there are far more condos for rent and slated to be built. I even spoke to a friend today who own several large houses in High Park with separate apartments in each house. As I write this, he is turning a large two bedroom unit in one of his houses into two separate units. His logic: His one massive 2 bedroom will soon be the size of two condos. Condos are becoming his competition, and he can make more money off of his two smaller units than the one big one. 

From the perspective of a renter with the ex upstairs, she wonders: Why should I rent a condo sized unit when there are condos for sale?  Rents in this city have gone up quite a bit these past few years. So,  why keep renting if the rents will just keeps going up?

Well, simply put. She's just not ready yet. 

This renter plans to buy in a year or two, but she's also wondering if she can skip the wait, and just go for it  now. So, she asked: What's the cheapest condo I can get downtown right now?

I know... It's a pretty loaded question! So, let's break it down. First, the one word you should zone in on is DOWNTOWN. Outside of downtown, you can certainly find much more for much less. Also you should consider that  you have to live there. So the cheapest condo in downtown is not going to be cheeriest place to come to at night. Plus, you have to pay maintenance fees on the dump. 

I posed her question to a number of real estate agents in my office.  It became a bit of a debate, but one with a consensus. And that is: You could buy a downtown condo for 200K. I think it's a bit more, but who am I to mess with a consensus? This unit would likely be in its original 70s or 80s condition with no parking or locker - so a dated kitchen, probably carpet or parquet flooring a la an apartment building complex. It would be a bachelor. So under 500 sq ft. for sure. Possibly in a building like 40 Homewood or 80 Charles - not terrible condos at all, but a place that has the basics downtown.

If you want some thing a little prettier, you can get up to 250K to 275K.  Still mostly a bachelor (maybe a one bedroom) with no parking. I've actually have seen some pleasant units in this price range, but it's a rare find.

If you don't need to be downtown,  you can definitely find space, a nice view, even 2 bedrooms north of the city. You may have a much longer time on transit if you work downtown or you may have to flat out get a car. 

It comes down to the old trade-off.

Downtown: Buzz, social, easy transit or walkablility, BUT tiny, expensive units

Outside the city:  a little dull, long transit rides, traffic BUT large units at a less expensive price. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Art of Noise

I'm lucky enough to live in a downtown neighbourhood where I can actually hear the peaceful purr of crickets on a summer night with my window open. On the other hand, I have a neighbour who owns a parrot that whistles at me each time I walk outside. It's like walking by a construction site in a short skirt. Cute the first 5 or 10 times, but getting a little tired.

Living in the city means you're likely going to suffer from a little noise, some noises more tolerable than others. Nice noises: rustling leaves, birds, certain kinds of music. Lousy noises: cranky dog barking, construction, certain kinds of music.

Wherever you live, noise should not be taken lightly. And when it comes to buying some property that you expect to spend some time in, noise can be a deal breaker. Every one has there own idea of what noise will drive them nuts, but here are my thoughts on what noises you should and should not take seriously:

TRAINS: Trains aren't that bad. Well, maybe if it rumbles right through your back yard or if it backs up and moves forward all day, like in some parts of the Junction. Nonetheless, if you are considering a home near a route where the trains just whiz by, I don't think this should be a huge concern. Every one I know who has lived by the track has told me that they grow accustomed to the trains very quickly, and they don't even notice after a few months. It's funny because I find trains tend to be one of the most feared forms of city noise when someone is considering a home purchase.

NEIGHBOURS: A bigger things to worry about are neighbours.  Until you're moved in, though, it's hard to find out if you're going to be living next to a DJ who can't sleep. You can always come by the property later at night to assess the noise levels, but that is no guarantee. It's mostly a wild card, though you can use your better judgment. If you see a older couple with a pleasant house next door, chances are you can sleep fine at night. Though you may be the recipient of a few noise complaints yourself. If you're in a semi, make sure your party wall has some sound proofing. In condos, ask current owners how well they can hear their neighbours.

CONSTRUCTION: Construction can be painful. Not only is it seemingly relentless, but it's dusty and messy and can last up to 3 years with some homes or condos. The good news is that it usually happens at reasonable hours when you won't be sleeping.  Also, if construction is happening next door, it will scare other buyers away, allowing you to buy your condo or house at a more reasonable price. A little pain at the start of your stay, but a better deal over all. The future you will be grateful.

BUSY ROADS: Busy roads can very noisy. The worst are the routes the emergency vehicles take. Sirens really do have the effect of bringing a peaceful silence to an end very quickly. Same goes for living next to the fire station or an emergency entrance at a hospital, though many of these emergency facilities do make an effort to keep the noise down.

PLANES: Planes are noisy. Know your flight paths. It will make a difference. Some people can handle it, but some will be driven mad. It may be less expensive to buy near the air port, but it will be less expensive to sell too, when the time comes.

STREET CARS: Then there's streetcars. They are kind of a symbol for Toronto, distinct and eco-friendly. They do have a softer sound than buses, but if you are in the unfortunate circumstance of living too close to where a streetcar turns, then it's like nails down a chalk board. You'll find one ear drum-breaking turn in Cabbagetown at the corner of Parliament and Carlton.

Again, noise tolerance is a personal thing. Some people can sleep through any thing. But if you're a light sleeper, like me, you want to be as prepared as possible.