Think ahead: 3 bedroom condos needed

During the last real estate cycle, condominium living became popular in many cities.  Most buyers were singles or either young couples without kids or empty-nesters.  With perhaps Manhattan and Vancouver being notable exceptions, families with young children have generally not been among the new inner urban residents.

In part, this is because few new condominiums offer more than two bedrooms.  A two bedroom works fine with one child, but can be challenging with two or more kids.

This week in the Globe and Mail, Terrence Belford laments the lack of three bedroom units in Toronto’s new condos, seeing this as very short sighted.  He quotes urbanization specialist Jane Renwick who astutely notes: “Concrete lasts 200 years, so how will this situation change the face of the city 50 or 100 years down the road?”

Looking ahead in the future of North American civilization, more families will want to live in condominiums in order to be close to work as well as urban amenities.  Fuel prices will be high again, making commuting not only a time waster but also expensive.   Additionally, real estate prices will dictate that a condominium will be the starter home for many families, while others will prefer to spend their money on vacations, educations and other experiences rather than an expensive home with white picket fence.

Belford correctly notes that developers rarely build three bedroom units because at present there is not much demand for them, and profits are higher building 1 and 2 bedroom units.

What he doesn’t mention, is a solution that has been proposed in Vancouver (although not really implemented yet).  Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie as well as former chief city planner Larry Beasley, have both suggested that perhaps condominiums need “secondary suites” or “mortgage helpers.”

What if a building offered two bedroom suites with an attached small studio apartment of say 350 square feet.  The studio would have its own entrance, like a back door, as well as a door connecting it to the main unit that could be locked.  A couple or small family could live in the two bedroom unit and rent out the studio for a few years until enough mortgage is paid down or household income increases.   Then, they could take back the suite and use it as a master bedroom.

These studio suites would also serve to help alliviate the rental housing shortage in many cities.

Alternatively, with the separate entrance someone could use the studio suite as a home office or home business space.

Perhaps the slowing of the real estate markets in most cities will allow urban planners and developers to rethink what they’ve been  approving and building in order to think long term.  On the 100 year horizon, cities may need more 3 bedroom+ units.  If they fail, then Belford believes:

By mid-century, the lack of family-sized condominiums in the Toronto area may prove as effective a birth control measure as China’s one-child policy.

10 comments

  1. Wesley says:

    Lol at the end there.

    I think one of the main reasons there aren’t more 3 bedroom condos is because condos are typically smaller and it’s difficult to fit so many bedrooms in them without making either each bedroom much smaller or the condo overall much bigger, and if you do the latter, the price will become high enough that it’s worth the extra price of gas to live slightly further off where space isn’t as expensive.

  2. KenF says:

    Auxiliary dwelling units for condos. I love it. When my parents bought their condo eons ago the couple across the hall, bought 2 units, and combined them into one huge apartment. This condo, a high rise, did have some 3 BR units in it.

  3. Alex says:

    3 and even 4 br. Now that “telecommuting” is becoming normal – the ability for one room to serve as an “office” is critical.

    Adding a 10×10 area (or even 2), though it would increase the size of buildings and potentially add waste – would be compensated in combating sprawl and by taking would-be commuters off the roads.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    I love the idea of the attached studio apartment. It seems to me this could be a unique way to go after a potential problem, and add value to a project at the same time.

  5. feisto says:

    This is being examined by the City of Vancouver’s in its ecodensity intiatives. UniverCity at SFU has already done it

  6. Dave Atkins says:

    In many cases, condos are limited to fewer bedrooms by design to discourage families with children from moving to the development. One of the big concerns of neighbors around our Westwood Station project has been the impact to the schools…and it is disturbing to hear the great pains with which the developer and proponents of the project assure residents that these are condos and there won’t be any kids. Ultimately, a mitigation plan was developed by which the developer will have to pay the town money for each family with children if it exceeds a certain limit–and stop building units if a cap is reached.
    The reality is that if you add more than a certain number of kids…you need to build a new school. So residents are not “anti-kid” but they don’t want a developer to come in and create a mess in their schools. All part of growing pains…

  7. Yule Heibel says:

    The ‘condominiums with “secondary suites” or “mortgage helpers” strategy’ is apparently in the works for The Roundhouse in Victoria (see http://www.roundhousevictoria.com/index_dev.aspx).

    When the husband and I were looking for our first home purchase in the Boston area, we had a newborn and saw nothing but 2-bed condos in Cambridge & Boston being sold by couples who had just had kid #2 themselves. Condos that size left no room for a study/ any kind of home office, and if you had kid #2, you were hosed.

    We ended up buying a house on Boston’s “north shore” for less than what a condo in Cambridge cost. That said, I would gladly have found the reserves for a condo in Cambridge/ downtown if we could have found one that hadn’t screamed, “you’ll outgrow this in 3 years!”

    I know you can’t legislate it, but the potential for real out-of-whackness when families can’t afford to live downtown is huge. Wish I could come up with a nifty answer to this problem…

  8. And it’s not just young families that need larger condos. One of the great unmentionables of the era is the fact that many, many older couples–even older couples with active sex lives–don’t like to sleep in the same room because one snores and the other likes to read late in bed or whatever. This means that two bedrooms are a minimum and if the couple wants to have a home office or a guest room for grand kids or other visitors, a third bedroom is really desireable.

    In Montreal new high end condos have two bedrooms and two extravaganly large baths. Friends who would like to downsize now that their kids are grown find the configuration laughable. Developers are missing out on an important market.

    Mary

  9. The slow reinvention of Andre Iguodala continued in the Wachovia Center last night. If it is half as painful to go through as it is to watch, Iguodala is earning every dime of his new contract, regardless of what the stat sheet or the

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