What’s Old Is New Again!

You know when people say, “Looks don’t matter; it’s all about what a person is like on the inside” – is that something that only ugly people say?

When it comes to your condominium, considering this is your homedo you care what anything outside your own individual unit looks like?

Do you look at the attractiveness of the hallways, lobby, and exterior of the building, and is this something that’s important to you?  Because some buildings are “freshening up the look,” and as you might expect – it ain’t free…


Do you know which building that is?

If you haven’t been downtown lately, but you’re familiar with Toronto condos, you might not be able to place this one.

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not X-Condos.

You might see those flashy hits of red on the side of the building, and think of this beauty:


Actually, you can’t really even see the red and yellow stripes.  Just trust me on this one, and it’s not for lack of effort on my part, as my Google-Fu, and MLS-fu did not produce a good enough photo…

I’m sure you could name a few other buildings in the downtown core that, for whatever reason, have coloured stripes running along the sides of them.

“Spire” at 33 Lombard Street has yellow stripes.

And the new building at 101 Peter Street has decals as well.

I’m not an engineer, an architect, or a designer, so I can’t tell you if these flashy colours are just for show, or if they’re load-bearing, like we all think they are…

But it seems that the stand-alone glass-and-steel buildings just aren’t catching enough eyes any more, and over the last several years we’ve seen a slew of buildings incorporate colour to the design.

So what about that building in the first photo?  What’s the story there?

Well, unlike the other buildings I just mentioned, which are relatively new, the building at the top dates back to the mid-1980’s.

“Maple Leaf Quay” is a complex of two rental buildings at 350 & 390 Queen’s Quay West, often confused with “Harbourpoint Condos,” which consists of three buildings at 250, 260, and 270 Queen’s Quay West.

The buildings often get confused because they have the same light-brown brick, and to be quite honest, because they look “old” and most people just fail to differentiate.  They’re also right next to each other, which doesn’t help either.

Here’s Maple Leaf Quay:


And here’s Harbourpoint:


Over a quarter-century after they were constructed, the buildings seem to get lost among all the flashy new glass buildings that litter both the north and south sides of the Gardiner Expressway.

You have to admit – they’re not the sexiest buildings in the city:

They look their age, that’s for sure!

So perhaps then, this is why the buildings at 350 & 390 Queen’s Quay are currently undergoing a facelift?

On a recent journey along the Gardiner Expressway, doing my civic duty and not using the HOV lane, of course, I snapped off the following pics:

390-01  390-03 390-04 390-05

As you can see from the sequence, both buildings are being painted, and #390 is further along, while #350 still shows some of its original colour.

You have to admit, the new “look,” whether cliché or not, makes the building seem a bit newer.

And for the owner of these buildings, it makes sense.

Check out what some of their rental units look like:



Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?

But unfortunately in real estate, we often do judge a book by its cover, or judge a building entirely by the exterior.

The other day, I talked to a fellow real estate agent who showed one of my listings in an “older” building, that dates all the way back to 2001.

He said, “My client loves the unit itself, but she’s a bit worried about the lobby.”

The lobby?  She’s worried?

Is she worried the lobby is too slippery, and she’ll fall and hurt herself?

Is she worried the walls will close in on her, like something out of American Gladiators, or a movie in the “Saw” series?

What does she mean she’s “worried about the lobby?”

The agent explained, “The lobby isn’t nice enough.  We were really excited by the photos of the unit, but the lobby is really lacking.”

He went on to say, “The building is kind of ugly from the outside too.  Luckily, we met on the street so she didn’t really take it all in, but if you’re a block away, and you see the building, it’s like ‘Wow, what an ugly building,’ you know what I mean?”

Sure, I guess.

I mean, it’s not a building that I would physically make love to, but because of my 2011 RECO complaint, I’m not allowed to do that anyways…

But having said his client “loved” the unit, how could he, or she, or both of them decide against the unit because of other factors not pertaining to the unit (or the amenities, or the finances, etc)?

To each, their own.  I guess…

I’m just not sure that a lobby and a building’s exterior are that important.

I would assume that the condo unit itself is always the most important aspect of the overall offering, right?

Then what comes second?  The building’s maintenance fees, reserve fund, and financial health?

Then amenities?  Or is that second?

I don’t consider the lobby to be an “amenity.”  It’s a “common area,” but we should distinguish between the two.  If you do consider the lobby an “amenity,” then you’d better hang out in there on weekends, and really take it all in!

Personally, I don’t really care what the exterior of a building looks like.  The lobby?  Yeah, sure, maybe a little.  I don’t want my lobby floor to be made of dead puppies or anything like that, but save for that really rare case (I’ll never go to that building again…), I can’t say I really care what a building’s lobby looks like.  I come up the elevator most of the time anyways, and there are always side entrances and exits to a building that people often frequent.

But an exterior?


Should a condominium’s board of directors look to spend money out of the reserve fund to give the building a “fresh, new look?”

Or should an older building just stay older?

Having seen another building in my area blow their brains out about five years ago, when several members on the board of directors decided they needed to “keep up with the newer buildings,” and did so by spending most of the reserve fund on upgrades, I don’t necessarily know that the fresh look is the way to go.

As more and more new condos are built in the downtown core, existing buildings, in theory, get “older and older.”  A lot of nervous or dare I say, over-analytical condo owners might decide they “need to do something,” but in reality, isn’t this just like the natural aging process of humans?

Sure, you can get a face-lift, a tummy-tuck, or have your eye-lids “done,” but it’s expensive, it comes with side effects, and it’s risky.  It also doesn’t last forever, and eventually you’ll want to either do it again, or realize that it wasn’t a permanent solution.

I’ve accepted that I’m 34-years-old, turning 35 in a month, and after that I’ll be 36, then 37, and so on.

I’m not sure why some condo owners believe they should make the building “look” newer than it really is.  Sure, they do it because they want to keep up the value of their investment, but what if it comes with a massive special assessment, or increase in maintenance fees?  And what higher fees turn away potential buyers, who like the low fees of newer buildings?  Isn’t that a self-defeating prophecy?

I don’t profess to have the answer to this one, because I also don’t know if we humans should spend money, time, and energy trying to constantly look younger.

But mark my words: a lot of these older condos are going to have these internal discussions, and we’re going to see more than a few buildings in the downtown core get a “face-lift” of their own…


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  1. James says:

    just came across your post, this is very fascinating to me, as my parents ran both of these buildings, they were the managers in the mid 90’s when the place was owned by realstar properties, they certainly have come along way since then. but they have structural issues and I’m sure they still do.

    they shot a movie on the roof of 390, my dad even earned 1000$ bonus for helping them out. good times back then

  2. Doc Benway says:

    David has mentioned he doesn’t like the 77-99 Harbour Square condos. I believe they are over 20 years old. But I have a friend that used to own there and now rents a unit. She cashed out for retirement. I visit often and ocassionally, we will go down to the pool. These buildings have well kept common spaces. I don’t know what the main. fees are but I think the building has aged well. And there have been updates over the years. Unfortunately someone decided on black tiles in the lobby. Very hard to keep clean.

    Secondly the constant construction in the area is painfully noise. Going on two years.

  3. Natrx says:

    I saw this coming and called it 15 years ago.

    I said alot of these nice new condos are going to be like those 60s Apartments people made fun of. Unlike a house, it’s not easy to ‘upgrade’ these buildings.

  4. AndrewB says:

    Electra Lofts on King West at Shaw recently painted the ugly dirty yellow and red exterior to shades of grey and it honestly looks a million times better.

  5. Marina says:

    I love the look of older buildings, but only if they were built in a more classic style.
    THe examples above were clearly built in the Golden Age of Concrete – I hope that will never become a classic. So I can see why they would want a facelift.

  6. steve says:

    I agree about letting buildings retain their original look … eventually, it becomes “classic”, or “vintage”, sort of like the Victorian facade, and people once again come to appreciate the aesthetic of the period.

  7. Julia says:

    Too funny – as a freshly minted university graduate I lived in the 350 building 15 years ago – at the time there were not that many downtown buildings to choose from and this place was basically an extension of a university dorm – everyone wading their 20s, a tone of parties, and as dating pple from the building was not uncommon, one would never go down to the laundry room without at least some mascara 🙂

  8. Jimbo says:

    There are neighbourhood’s out there where people got sick of looking at the houses within. People sell until they can’t get what they want for the house. At this point they rent it out and move on. There are a lot of cities with large areas of rental housing because of the above perceived misconceptions.

    I have a feeling that this is the future for some of Toronto’s condos. They are worth just enough for a first time buyer to outgrow it and with wage and COL inflation afford to buy another property to live in while they rent their condo out.

  9. KatLyn says:

    I agree with Amy about preferring older buildings. I live in a building that will turn 40 this year. It’s extremely well-maintained and I think it looks great. And because it’s an older building, my unit is spacious, well-laid-out, soundproof and even includes a storage room!

  10. amy says:

    i think it depends on how ugly. I personally prefer an older building. In my experience older buildings were just built to a different standards such as sound proofing and unit size..the amount of noise you can hear in some of the new builds i’ve been in is ridiculous. As long as there’s some standard for maintenance such as hallway carpets arent all shredded up and nasty looking. I do find it surprising that someone would not purchase unit they really like bcuz of the lobby.