What would go through your mind if you pressed the button for the elevator in your building, the light went on, the chime ‘dinged,’ the door opened, and there was a man inside holding a steak on a plate?
“Well, David, that depends on what kind of steak!”
Fine, fine. I get it. If it’s a Porterhouse, you’d have a different reaction than if it were a flank steak. Totally fair.
But what reaction would you have, seriously?
“Well, David, that depends on whether the steak is cooked or not!”
Another good point, dammit. I can’t disagree.
I suppose it also depends on whether that person is going up or down in the elevator.
And what else are they holding?
Any A1 sauce in that elevator? Are there roasted potatoes, garlic mashed, or a side of baked beans?
Too many questions to continue this simple exercise, but alas, the man-in-elevator-with-steak observation is one that some of you have never experienced, some find completely normal, and yet have others confused as to where this is going…
Many condos in Toronto have no outdoor space. Just a window from which you can stare at the crane across the street which is going to build another condo and completely obstruct your view.
Other condos have a “Juliette balcony” which is a nice way of saying “sliding door.” It’s not really a balcony.
Then some condos have very small balconies that are only 2-3 feet deep and maybe 6-feet wide. “Smokers’ balconies,” we call them, since there’s not much else you can do out there.
A “real” balcony might start at 3-4 feet deep and 5-6 feet wide. “The penalty box,” I often call these, since they’re about the same size and, when encased in glass, feel the same way.
Outdoor spaces, whether you call them “balconies” or “terraces” come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and as a result, might have all kinds of different uses. Those long-time readers of mine will recall my disdain for “L-shaped balconies,” which are lauded in pre-construction sales, based on their overall square footage, but which often lack functionality at all based on their awkward dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, I love any outdoor space, and I’m sure I’d love most L-shaped balconies, but I’m bothered by a developer touting “460 square foot terrace” when a 23 x 20 terrace has infinitely more function than some 80-foot long polygon that barely has the depth for a bistro set.
But what takes an outdoor space from a “balcony” to a “terrace?” That’s up for debate.
I remember checking the dropdown-box on an MLS listing for “Terrace” a few years back for one of my listings and a buyer agent emailed me to say how disappointed he was that I went with “Terrace” rather than “Balcony.” He argued that a terrace, “….ought to have room for a dining set, a lounging set, and a barbecue.” I’ll never forget that email because he said I was running “…a Mickey Mouse operation.” What a cute operation!
We’ll never properly define “terrace” versus “balcony” as it relates to Toronto real estate, but we can try.
It can’t be based on square footage minimums, however. A 225 square foot outdoor space would be a “terrace” if it were a 15 x 15 square, since you could fit a couple chaise in addition to a dining table for four, and that coveted barbecue. But if that outdoor space is simply an 80-foot long balcony that runs the whole length of a penthouse condo, by 3.5 feet deep, then it’s still just a balcony.
A “terrace,” in my mind, must have room for people and activities, whether it’s entertaining, gardening, cooking and dining, or the ability to perform Gojushiho Sho without running into the railing.
I’ve lived at two condos with “terraces.” The first was 440 square feet, laid out in a perfect 22 x 20 space. The second was almost 1,200 square feet which did have a 20-foot section that was 3.5 feet wide (that dreaded ‘wasted space’) but opened to an area that was about 15 x 60.
Both of these terraces had one thing in common, and it’s something you’d never, ever think to mention, because you’d never know that a terrace existed without this feature.
Maybe read the blog title again today.
That’s right, both terraces were accessed directly from my condo.
Right now, many of you are wondering, “Well, how else would you do it?” Climb the fire escape?”
But believe it or not, there are a lot of condo terraces in the city of Toronto that are not directly connected to the condo unit itself.
Now, take a step back for a moment and think about stacked condo townhouses. These units typically have four levels: you open the front door and see stairs – that’s the first “level,” you walk up to the living/dining/kitchen (second level), you walk up to the bedrooms (third level), then you walk up to the terrace (fourth level). The terrace is two levels from the kitchen. So if you’re cooking a steak, do you run up the stairs to check on it after five minutes, then again to flip it after ten minutes, and then two more times before putting it on a plate and walking down – over your carpet, trying not to drip juice, until you’re back in your dining room?
And don’t get me wrong, I love stacked townhouses and the terraces they provide! But I’m illustrating a point here about how different buyers might view different setups when it comes to terrace access.
The truth is: most people head up to the roof and hang out there for a couple of hours; they’re not going back-and-forth between the kitchen and the terrace! I’ve had friends with these terraces and some of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my younger days were on rooftop terraces on King Street, West, Stadium Road, Richmond Street West, and the like. Head over to Jimmy’s place, put your beer in the fridge, go up to the terrace, and head back inside when you needed a drink or a whiz.
But what if those terraces weren’t accessed by the condo unit? I mean, what if you weren’t going up Jimmy’s stairs, past Jimmy’s bedroom, and up to Jimmy’s terrace?
What if you had to leave Jimmy’s condo?
What if you had to exit Jimmy’s condo, lock the door, walk down the hall, walk up two flights of stairs at the back of the building, exit through an industrial door, walk through a path on the rooftop – with numbered doors, or “stalls,” adorning each side of the path, until you arrived at #16?
What if that was Jimmy’s terrace?
This is what I mean when I refer to “terraces not connected to the condo,” and there are a lot of these in Toronto.
Here’s a note on an MLS listing:
Perhaps “directions needed” is the first potential turn-off for many buyers.
And at this price point (this particular unit was listed for $1.7M), maybe buyers are thinking, “For that kind of money, I don’t want to take an elevator to my terrace.”
Many buyers would kill for an outdoor space no matter what!
But would you? And at what price?
Here’s what one of these terraces looks like:
I see a glimpse of the CN Tower, but no matter where I look, I see blue sky! I breathe fresh air! I’ve got a deck where I can have a patio set and maybe a couple comfy chairs, a barbecue, and then I’ve even got some greenery. Er, when the seasons change, I will!
But how is this terrace accessed?
Via this little stall door:
And if you’re wondering what’s on the other sides of the frosted glass to the left and to the right, it’s other owners’ private quarters as well.
In this particular building, there’s also a large common area terrace too:
So how “private” is your private terrace?
It feels more like going into a nightclub and having one section of couches ribboned-off and called “VIP.”
Now, how you value this space?
It’s outdoor space in the city, right? So it’s awesome no matter what? You can have a barbecue up there? You can chill with freinds all summer?
But relative to a terrace accessed through your living room – how do you value this? Or more to the point, how do you discount this?
These “private” yet non-direct terraces come in many forms.
Here’s another one, photographed beautifully at the perfect time of year:
But if you look closely, you can see that the railing dividing this “private” terrace and the ajdacent terrace is only about 3 1/2 feet high.
The owners on the other side have used a storage shed and a large plant to block the direct view of this terrace.
So is that a concern for you, if you’re a buyer?
With the first example, the glass dividing the units wasn’t very nice looking but it was frosted and it was 7-8 feet high.
If “great fences make great neighbours,” then what do we say about private rooftop terraces that are directly connected to other private rooftop terraces?
More to the point, how private are these from prying eyes and able-bodied passer-byers?
Now, I’m not saying that another resident of your building is going to wheel away your barbecue when you’re not looking, but consider the one element of the not-so-private terrace that we’ve yet to consider: security.
A feature of your terrace that’s only accessible from the sliding door in your living room is security.
But with these rooftop terraces, you don’t have eyes on them except for when you’re physically up there. So how do you factor the lack of security in your valuation of the condo, or the desirability of the outdoor space in general?
And I’m not just talking about “security” from people, in that I think somebody is going to poison your prized petunias, but rather security from the elements as well.
I’ll never forget my wife coming home to the condo one day with one of our outdoor couch cushions in her arms. It took a while for me to realize that she came in with that cushion. Like, in from the the hallway, meaning in from the elevator, meaning in from the street!
“It was the strangest thing,” she told me. “I was walking home through St. James Park and I saw one of those sketchy dudes drinking on the bench, holding a large grey cushion, and I thought it looked familiar. Then I got up close and realized it was ours!”
She didn’t have to wrestle it away from him, in case you’re wondering. She’s a social worker. She knows how to handle herself.
That cushion had blown off our 9th floor terrace, sailed over Jarvis Street, and landed in the northwest corner of the park.
I can tell you from experience how windy those open-air terraces can be! We lost multiple cushions and not one but two ping-pong table covers! (topic for another day: the ping-pong ball is the lightest sports ball in existence; ask me why I thought it prudent to buy an outdoor ping-pong table on the 9th floor of a downtown Toronto condo…)
So if you have one of these non-direct rooftop terraces, only accessed via staircase or elevator in your building, how often are you going to check up on your space and your belongings?
Here’s one more example:
See that little door on the left-hand side?
That’s your entrance.
From a corridor that might remind you of walking down the aisle in your condominium’s locker room, looking left at Unit #27, then right at Unit #28, then left at Unit #29, and so on, and so on, until you find yours.
Here are a couple more photos:
It’s a gorgeous terrace and a large majority of us would be fools to say, “That doesn’t interest me.”
But it’s not the same thing as a terrace that’s accessed from your living room, no matter how listing agents or property-owners try to sell it.
There are about twenty condos in the downtown core, that I know of, which feature terraces like this. That’s not a lot; twenty, in an entire city.
But I’ve seen these featured in new developments, both those in the GTA and those across the country.
If this is going to become a trend, either because it’s easier or cheaper for developers, or because they think its attractive, buyers are going to need to understand the differences between these terraces and traditional terraces before they make any decisions…