How did we get to the point where this is considered “finished?”
Ever since I first wrote about the ill-fated West Side Lofts, I’ve received countless emails from investors and end-users alike who are disappointed in the quality of their “finished” lofts.
Perhaps we can better understand how we got to this point by tracing back the origin of the “Loft Boom” in Toronto…
A few months ago, when you Googled “West Side Lofts,” four of the first five links were to articles I had written on my blog which absolutely slammed the new development.
Today, you’ll have to scroll down to the 7th or 8th link on the first page to find something I’ve written.
I’ve taken more than my fair share of heat for my panning of the building in which I still own a condo, but the commentary isn’t unwarranted.
Just look at the photo above and imagine being handed the keys and told, “Welcome home! It’s your new condo!”
It was jaw-dropping.
But you know what? It’s happening every day in Toronto.
The quality of developers in this city is rapidly declining and the Tridels, Monarchs, and Lanterras are becoming that much more trustworthy for people who have been burned by the Urban Corps and Plazacorps of the world.
When I get emails from people who find my articles on Google and turn to me for help, I can’t help but feel bad for them and all they’ve endured. I’ve long believed that it’s the Province’s job to regulate the pre-construction condominium industry to stop developers for getting away with all that they do, but I’m not convinced that anything will EVER change.
People used to say “The only way the Leafs will get better is when people stop going to the games.” Well, the only way pre-construction will change is when people stop buying; but yet the buying continues at a frenetic pace…
The largest issues seem to come with lofts, but again – anything and everything is being called a loft these days.
My “loft” was so bare that it “featured” this:
So where did this all begin?
How did we get to this point?
When I got into the business in early 2004, “hard lofts” were all the rage.
Buildings like Candy Factory and Chocolate Lofts on Queen Street West were undoubtedly the most popular buildings in the downtown core, and today they remain fan-favourites.
These buildings were very unique as they were converted industrial/commercial spaces, and they offered features that you only found in a small percentage of condominiums – things like exposed brick, timber ceilings, post and beam, 14-foot ceilings, etc.
They also offered an A+ location as these buildings are both across from Trinity Bellwoods Park and are on the Queen TTC line. Now it’s definitely true that the Queen West area wasn’t as gentrified in 2004 as it is today, but it was getting there.
Developers noticed the success of buildings like these, and soon began a boom of other “hard lofts” as developers scrounged to find old industrial spaces.
Think of the irony – with all the land available in the downtown core to build on, developers were trying to find brick warehouses and old abandoned buildings!
We saw the old Tip Top Tailors building turned into a loft, and soon the Irwin Toy Company’s headquarters was also turned residential.
Of course, one of my ‘favourite’ buildings in the city at 1100 Lansdowne Ave was also turned from a beat-up building into a loft, and many others like it followed.
But the problem with these buildings was location, or rather that the locations weren’t nearly as good as something like Queen West across from Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Tip Top Lofts was desolate down at Stadium & Lake Shore, and consider that this was before all the garbage on Fleet Street and Fort York Blvd had even started construction. There was no infrastructure, and living in a “true hard loft” came with sacrifices.
The same could have been said about Toy Factory, as this was before most of the shops, restaurants, stores, banks et al were built in Liberty Village.
And as for 1100 Lansdowne Ave and “The Foundry Lofts?” Well, I still think that building looks like Alcatraz inside, and there have been no seismic shifts in the city’s geography that would render this building NOT in the middle of nowhere…
So what happened next?
Well, after developers realized that location was an integral part of the popularity of hard lofts, they in turn invented “soft lofts.”
A soft loft is basically a “fake loft,” if you will.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not slandering soft lofts at all! I’m just putting things into perspective – these are “faux lofts,” or somewhat “pretend.” They are condos that are built from the ground up, and NOT converted from old commercial or industrial spaces.
They are made to look like hard lofts, but you can never truly replicate the 100-year-old timber ceilings or the yellow brick.
Soft lofts have their own pros and cons. First of all, they’re new, so you won’t have problems with heating, cooling, plumbing, etc., and you won’t have a giant furnace situated in the kitchen cupboard like you find in some hard lofts where unfortunately, there was no option to design from scratch.
Secondly, the finishes are usually better in soft lofts, and there is far more thought put into the layout, flow, and functionality of the space.
Some might argue that soft lofts are automatically easier and cheaper to run since their systems are newer and more efficient, and I’d probably be inclined to agree.
But what has happened to “soft lofts” over the past few years is an absolute tragedy.
If you want a great example of a true soft loft, look at 169 John Street. This is a true “boutique” building as there are only 46 units, and the units are tastefully done. There are exposed ducts, but they’re small, and they’re confined to the edges of the ceilings – NOT like they’ve done at West Side Lofts! The space is wide open, there are huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and the polished concrete is done exceptionally well.
This is a great soft loft, and one of my favourites in the city. The location is prime too! It’s a quiet side street and only one block up from Queen.
The mid-2000’s saw buildings like Mozo Lofts created, which was wildly popular and still is today. I have some small dislikes of the “2-storey” units where you open the front door and see a staircase in your face, and then for reasons that remain unclear, you walk UP to your living space. What’s the point of the stairs? My cynical side thinks it was so marketing gurus could offer these as “two storey” or “multi level” lofts.
Soft lofts were likely popular among developers because it meant that they could leave the ceilings unfinished, and some walls too. They’d undoubtedly save money on drywalling, and they never had to build bulkheads to cover up exposed ductwork.
However, if these “soft lofts” had 10-foot ceilings, then zoning for 160-feet meant they could get sixteen storeys instead of twenty, had they simply built regular apartment-style condos with eight-foot ceilings.
So when did things change?
I can’t really specify the date, but certainly in the last three years.
I remember getting the phone call from the “customer service” (an oxymoron, if you ask me…) department at UrbanCorp, kindly telling me that my ten-foot ceilings would now be eight-foot. I rhetorically asked them, “So are they changing the name from ‘West Side Lofts’ to ‘West Side Condos?’ Because eight feet in ceiling height does not equal “loft” in my books!”
We’ve seen soft lofts with 12-foot ceilings before, and now we’re accustomed to seeing nine – if we’re lucky.
Then we saw the disasterous launch of a project called “17-Foot-Ceiling-Lofts” in Liberty Village, where they had two 8.5-foot storeys, with a little exposed section where the floor-to-ceiling rise was all the way to the top – thus “17 feet.” Whatever happened to that project? Are they building yet?
Along with ceiling height came a change to the systems – specificially the placement of heating/cooling units which should be out of sight, but more often than not will be built wherever, whenever the developer feels like it. These systems should be in a closet but often are built in the living room, thereby splitting the useable wall space into two sections.
The duct work got larger and more shoddy, and developers went from “exposed ducts” to “exposed EVERYTHING.”
How else to you explain this:
We went from having “exposed concrete ceilings” to having concrete walls! Like a parking garage, underground labrinth, or anywhere else you’d like to call “home.”
Developers began to cut every corner possible because at the end of the day, they could always say, “HEY! This is a loft! L-O-F-T! It’s supposed to look unfinished!”
But is it, really?
Is it supposed to look like this?
I’m not going to be naive and suggest that “Developers should take pride in their projects!” That’s a pipe dream.
But unfortunately, when you buy into a pre-construction condo for a “loft” of any type, you simply don’t know what you’re going to get.
Developers have taken soft lofts and made them into a disgusting, ugly, incomplete mess, and as long as people are ready to sign on the dotted line, developers will cut more and more corners and deliver worse and worse products.