You either love ’em or hate ’em!
I’ve never seen such a polar opposite in the real estate market as I see on a daily basis with stacked condominium townhouses.
Some buyers absolutely rave about them, and others won’t even consider them.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of stacked townhouses, and you decide if it would be a viable option in your search..
I love stacked condo townhouses!
I also don’t like them. So figure that out.
It really depends on the buyer; their price point, their desired location, their style, and their wants and needs.
But isn’t all real estate like that?
That brick-and-beam, open-concept loft that dances in the fantasies of a young condo-buyer might not be conducive for a couple with a child.
We can find tons of examples of properties that appeal to one buyer and not to the next, but I suppose condo townhouses stick out because they’re so different in nature.
Over the years, I’ve sold enough of these units to excited buyers, and shown enough of them to buyers who “passed,” to learn what the pros and cons are.
Here are the ones that stand out?
1) Supply & Demand
This is pretty simple, folks: developers will never build stacked townhouses again in the downtown core.
And from a supply and demand standpoint, it means that if you own a stacked townhouse, you own something that is becoming more and more rare.
I shouldn’t need to explain “why” developers will never build stacked townhouses again, but just in case you’re not aware – there’s a lot more money to be made by building skyscrapers!
Take Liberty Village as an example.
This was a barren wasteland a decade ago, and now it’s one of the most populated neighbourhoods in Toronto. But it all started with the stacked condo townhouses that drew people to the area.
Ironically, Liberty Village was first cast as an “off the beaten path” locale, which was quiet, out of the way, low-key, and home to more funky artists than investment bankers.
My, how times have changed…
The townhouses were completed in 2004-2005, and they stood alone there in Liberty Village, without a single condominium tower around them.
They were essentially used to get people living in the area, and once the demand increased, developers started to build towers. And build, they did. Liberty Village is now home to about a dozen condo towers, all clustered around the original townhouses.
So if a developer did have an open plot of land, why would he or she build condo townhouses on the ground when a 40-storey tower can be built into the sky?
From a supply and demand standpoint, a condo townhouse is a fantastic purchase.
I do believe that these units will out-appreciate the market average for condominiums over the short, medium, and long-term, and if a buyer is ever worried about buying a “cookie-cutter” condo, certainly they need not worry about a condo townhouse.
If you didn’t know that these townhouses were condominium ownership, you might think they’re freehold, no?
What’s the difference between a condo townhouse and a freehold townhouse? Simply the form of ownership, but it has nothing to do with the way they’re constructed.
I wrote a blog about two months ago about how the larger 2-3 bedroom, 2-3 bathroom condo townhouses are becoming more and more popular with the buyers who want a house, but can’t afford one. Condo townhouses often offer a compromise, since they’re cheaper, often available in the neighbourhoods in which the buyers are already familiar, and feel “like” a house.
You have a front door, and not a condo lobby with a concierge.
You have multiple levels of living.
And you have your bedrooms one level up from your kitchen, living, and dining.
I’d say that feels like a house to me!
Buyers come from all walks of life, and many buyers who grew up in a house, lived at home through university or in a walk-up style residence, and have never, ever lived in a high-rise, end up targeting condo townhouses because it’s the closest thing to what they’ve always known.
Others simply tire of the “high-rise” life, and the condo townhouse can offer an interim step between condo-living and house-living.
As I said above – you have a front door.
Sure, you have a door to your condo as well, but that door opens to a hallway, with five, ten, or forty other doors. That hallway leads both left and right, to multiple stairwells and elevators, and those in turn lead to a common lobby.
A condo townhouse offers you your own front door.
You see fewer people when you live in a condo townhouse, and there are no elevator rides and no small talk.
It’s far more private style of living; not to sound repetitive – but like a house.
4) Outdoor Space
There’s a huge premium put on outdoor space in downtown condominium’s in our market, and for good reason: there isn’t enough of it.
Every time I see a condo with a significant outdoor space, it gets scooped up quick – no matter the price point, or location.
We only really get four months of weather each year that allows us to make the most of our outdoor space, but during those four months, some of us practically live out on our terraces.
Many condo townhouses are popular, in part, because of the outdoor space they offer. Most of the 2-bed, 2-bath stacked townhouses in Liberty Village have rooftop terraces that range from 200 to 400 square feet, with gas-lines for the BBQ’s, and water-lines to garden.
Same goes for the complex on Carr Street, and even the new townhouses at 150 Broadview Avenue.
But not only the 3-storey, 2-bed, 2-bath models have outdoor space. Many of the ground-level suites have a patio out front, that offers less privacy than the rooftop terraces, but similar perks in terms of being able to BBQ and have a 6-person table.
The “lower-level” units also often have a small outdoor space; not as large as the other models, but still useable.
And some of the units at Carr Street have an actual backyard! Imagine that? A backyard patch of grass accessible from your back door. Who would have ever thought?
I know it’s ironic that one of the “pros” also finds its way into the “cons” section, but as I said, buyers love stacked townhouses, and they hate stacked townhouses, and often it’s for the same reason.
The largest style of townhouse has three sets of staircases. Open the front door, and there’s a set leading up to the living space. Then there’s a second set of stairs leading from the living space to the upper level with the two bedrooms, and then finally a third set of stairs leading up to the rooftop terrace.
For some buyers, that’s just too many damn stairs.
As I said in the “pros” section – many buyers love this because it feels “spread out,” or like it’s a house. But many buyers hate the constant ups and downs.
Any older couple likely isn’t interested in a stacked condo townhouse, since they’re usually looking to move out of a multi-level home, and into something all on one level, with no stairs.
Any buyer who wants an “open concept space” likely won’t want a stacked condo townhouse either, since they likely envision something like Broadview Lofts where it’s one giant open room.
Many buyers automatically disqualify condo townhouses at the onset, and the primary reason is the inordinate amount of stairs.
2) Lost Square Footage
This is obviously a follow-up on the point above.
A condo townhouse that measures 1,100 square feet on the ever-popular “builder’s plan” likely isn’t anything close to that in reality.
Whether you have one, two, or three sets of stairs in your condo townhouse, you’re going to lose square footage.
Three sets of stairs are going to cost you a lot of square footage, and some buyers who use “price per square foot” as a metric when buying a condo aren’t going to feel the stacked condo townhouse layout offers good enough value.
3) Small Living/Dining Space
One recurring theme in condo townhouses, whether they’re 1-bed, or 2-bed, and whether they’re 585 square feet, or 1,200 square feet, is that the living/dining space never seems large enough.
Some of the smaller models actually have decent living/dining spaces, on a relative basis, ie. the 585 square foot, 1-bed model’s living/dining space is reasonable, given the size of the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.
But it’s often the smaller 2-bed, 2-bath model (ie. the 900-1000 sqft model, as opposed to the 1,200 square foot model) that makes you think, “Geez, this living/dining space is tight.”
What you gain in outdoor space, multi-level, and overall “feel” of the home, you often give up in terms of the ability to have a 7-person sectional couch.
Keep in mind – these are very different styles of living! The 1,200 square foot, open concept hard loft is going to seem like it has a larger living space than the 3-storey, 1,200 square foot condo townhouse, but that’s comparing an apple to an orange.
The issue for condo buyers who don’t like condo townhouses, is that they expect to have all the benefits of a condo townhouse, without giving up that massive living/dining space.
4) Hidden Costs
I wouldn’t call these “hidden” necessarily, but many buyers (with distracted agents…) don’t know about all the costs until they’re already considering the unit, and thus they end up disappointed once the investigating is done.
Many condo townhouses have maintenance fees that don’t include heat or hydro, but we see this all the time with regular condos.
But it’s the “rental” items that really run up the costs.
Heat pumps, HVAC, and hot water tanks can all be rental items in condos, and they can easily add $150 to the monthly cost.
If you saw a 1-bed, 1-bath condo townhouse with $550/month fees, you might think that’s high.
If you saw a 1-bed, 1-bath condo townhouse with $250/month fees, you might think that’s low.
But what if that condo townhouse with $250/month fees had a $150 month charge for the HVAC and hot water tank, and then $75 for heat, and $75 for hydro? All of a sudden, those two units above cost the same.
Not all condo townhouses have these rental charges, don’t get me wrong.
But many units look cheap on paper, until the hidden costs make their first appearance.
5) No Amenities
Again, this is the opposite of a “pro” that I could have had on our list.
Many buyers are looking for a “low-maintenance” building, and that often comes with having no amenities to pay for.
But I’ve had buyers scoff at paying maintenance fees for a condo with no amenities (even after I explained what a “Reserve Fund” is, they still felt they should “get something for their monthly fees), and decide not to consider a condo townhouse because of this.
Many of the “pros” could be “cons,” and vice versa.
That’s why condo townhouses are such a finicky part of the market, and why there’s such a love/hate among the buyer pool.
I have two sets of buyers, right this very moment, who are looking for condo townhouses. One is an an expecting couple, who want to stay in their current neighbourhood, but need more space, and the other is a couple from Oakville who hate the idea of living in a high-rise, and love what a condo townhouse has to offer.
I’ve sold dozens of these over the years, but I’ve also had dozens of buyers say “no thanks” to the idea.
And that is what makes this segment of the market so unique!
Ultimately, I could make an argument for and against stacked condo townhouses, but it’s always going to depend on the buyer, and their tastes & preferences, and needs & wants…