The Pros And Cons Of Stacked Townhouses

Condos | July 22, 2015

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..

LibertyVillage

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?

PROS:

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.

2) “House-Like”

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.

3) Privacy

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?

CONS:

1) Staircases

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…

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27 Comments

  1. Francesca Wiitasalo

    at 7:16 am

    We lived in two level stacked townhouse for almost three years in the Yonge and Finch area. We bought pre construction and loved the modern design of the townhouse and the proximity to the subway station. Our was the top unit with 1200q feet. When we moved in we quickly realized that 1200 sq feet didn’t feel as spacious as we originally thought spread out on 2 floors. The worst was dealing with the set of stairs that led up to the unit from the outside. Going up and down with groceries wasn’t fun. It became even worse when we had our daughter and I was carrying the baby bucket and stroller up and down numerous times a day! Also I should mention that we had to actually walk outside the corner of the building down another set of stairs to get to the garage. Needless to say after living there for 2 years with a baby/toddler we grew tired of the inconvenience of all the stairs and of not having a garage attached like a traditional 3 storey townhouse. We also found, David, to your point that the living space wasn’t big enough with all the baby gear we had. We sold our unit in less than a week to another young childless couple and moved into a house twice the size in the suburbs. After the experience I would say I would never move back into a stacked townhouse again. The additional privacy gained say compared to a condo wasn’t worth having to deal with all the stairs!

    1. Chitranshu

      at 4:34 pm

      Hello,
      I’ve been looking for a condo townhouse in yonge-finch, yonge-sheppard area. I’m a single guy who wants a decent space so a condo townhouse seems to be a good idea. My concern is the appreciation of the townhouse. Can you please tell me if you got good appreciation from the time you bought it? Everyone says that condo townhouses appreciate more than a regular condo, not sure how true is that. I’d really appreciate if you can give me your insights.

      Thank You

  2. NYCer

    at 7:48 am

    I’d also add that there is a difference from stacked townhomes to condo townhomes. The biggest con for stacked is that it’s stacked. You either have people living on top of you or you are climbing 3+ flights of stairs.

    I’d much prefer regular condo townhomes where you own the entire piece of land from the ground to the top. Of course that comes with a price.

    And I agree with the living space feeling. Since most townhomes are usually 2-3 floors, the 3-storey ones have spacious bedrooms (placing the bedrooms on 2 separate floors) and a crammed living/dining/kitchen all on one floor.

  3. Marina

    at 8:38 am

    The smallliving space is a problem for non-stacked townhouses too. We looked at a stunning 3 bedroom – two large bedrooms on the second floor and a huge master suite on the top.
    But the living space was pathetic – we could fit a couch, and maybe a 4-person dining table, but it was tight.
    Honestly the rooftop terraces alone make it worthwhile to consider stacked townhouses. At least in summer you can entertain outdoors.

    1. Francesca Wiitasalo

      at 9:19 am

      Marina, not all of them come with outdoor space. Ours was the top floor and had no upstairs outdoor terrace. Just two small balconies on both floors and one communal front yard we shared with the 3 other people who lived below us and next door to us. So for us we didn’t have outdoor space to keep us there. Stacked townhouses aren’t convenient anymore once you have kids. All the people we met who bought pre construction like us moved out as soon as they had kids it seemed. The bedrooms were spacious each with ensuite but the living space was too small. Our kitchen was even smaller than the kitchen we had in our 650 sq foot condo we lived in beforehand. I agree with NYCer that regular condo townhomes, not stacked, are the way to go if you can afford them or find them as I know in downtown TO they are a rare commodity. My husband used to live in the Summit complex at King and Bathurst and they had really nice 3 story stand alone townhouses there I remember and the bonus was you got to use all the amenities of the condo too!

  4. amy

    at 9:41 am

    i was all prepared to write about how i like stacked townhomes etc, and in our recent search it was something we considered for all the “pro” reasons david pointed out. but reading the article and few comments I think my bf and i might have lived to regret that decision..we may never know, but you’ve def given me something to think about when we look for our next property.

    What I will never get are the people who purchase the “lower level” units..so much money to feel like your living in a basement (ok, maybe not quite as bad, but that was always the feeling i got when I looked at these units). There was one we looked at, you opened the front door, there was a 3 foot landing in front of you and then it dropped down a flight of stairs…we just closed the door and nope nope’d all the way home. haha. I would be interested to hear what ppl think about lower level units.

    I note to maintenance fees, the biggest turn off in our house search over the last year was the thought of “throwing away” money on maintenance fees. then circumstances changed and what we neede was condo. And at first we were all “nothing over $350 in maintenance.” and all our grumbling about the craziness of maintenance fees. Long story short, we purchased a pretty sweet 2-bed unit (our intention was a 1 bed) in an older building with what I consider high maintenance fees, and the building really doesnt have any amenities. i think at the end of the day it’s toally worth it.

    Lastly, I find the Carr st units curious…i looked into them a few years ago and again this past year, and didn’t find the price appreciated as much as i would have expected give the the supply/demand of these units as David mentioned

    1. Francesca Wiitasalo

      at 10:19 am

      Amy, you are right about the Carr townhouses as we actually looked at those pre construction too back in 2004 and they were similar in price to what we paid for our unit at Yonge and Finch for the same size, same year. They haven’t gone up in value that much at all in 10 years as I remember the top units were selling in the mid 300s then pre construction. As for your comment re the lower units I totally agree with you. I would never buy the lower units with the bedrooms in the basement, not enough natural light and I would be worried from a safety perspective about people possibly breaking in while you are sleeping. We found that in our townhouse complex at Yonge and Finch the bottom units took way longer than the upstairs units to sell and there was more turnover. Most of the bottom units were rented out actually while the upstairs were lived in by the owners.

  5. GinaTO

    at 10:33 am

    Great article, and great comments too. I guess we were lucky when we decided to move out of our 1-bedroom condo that we could afford an actual house, and I know that a stacked townhouse is the only affordable choice for many. I was not interested though. One of the advantages of a house, in my mind, is to not have people living on top of me, below me, on either side of me… which is what you get with a townhouse (especially the stacked ones). I’m also not a fan of rooftop terraces – they get really bloody hot. And all the square footage lost to stairs bothers me.

    Having said that, if townhouses work for you, they are still getting built just outside of the core – in the Junction Triangle, where I live, there are many, either new or just a few years old, and some at great prices for young couples or families.

    1. jeff316

      at 11:17 am

      To me, the rooftop patio always seemed like something that would look like fun but that you never use. More attractive in a rental than something I would own.

    2. Anil Alwe

      at 8:46 am

      Hi Gina , as u mentioned could you let me know what price they are available for in & around Junction Triangle ?

  6. Peter

    at 1:51 pm

    When I was looking I also had considered stacked townhomes and was turned off by the items you pointed out: too many stairs, tight spaces, even the rooftop patios were turn-offs because they were attached to the neighbours by a tiny fence so security became a concern.

    Another issue is that I believe these can be wood frame construction in Ontario. Noise and fire hazards come to mind. I ended up buying a large condo apartment instead for a higher price than the stacked towns I was looking at that was built from solid concrete construction all around. No noise issues, nothing.

  7. GinaTO

    at 4:29 pm

    Another thing I’ve noticed while visiting a few during our house search is that some 3-bedroom townhouses have 2 good-sized bedrooms on the upper floor, but the third bedroom is tiny and on the ground floor – so while it is technically a 3-bedroom, there is no way you can stick a kid in that room. Maybe an office, and even for a guest room, the nearest bathroom is two stories up…

  8. Izzy Bedibida

    at 9:53 pm

    Looked at several precon projects for fun a while back. Talked to salesperson about the design rational for some of the layouts and missing dimensions on plans. The plans already showed many of the cons discussed here. Salesperson immediately asked how many children I had, and how soon I was planning to move. I said that I had three toddlers and needed a long term family friendly place soon. Salesperson responded that these places were not designed for people like my family in mind. I was aghast when I was told to move to Barrie, buy another car and accept that fact that commuting is a way of life for “people like us” if I wanted “affordable” long term family friendly housing. When my shock wore off, I was told all about investment opportunities. I’m now wondering where families are headed, and the long term resale potential of these units-especially that many of these units are not family or senior friendly.

    1. jeff316

      at 10:09 pm

      It’s a real squeeze for people with kids. Condos often aren’t considered big enough, there are almost no three bedroom condos that are affordable, stacked townhouses are increasingly small in space and the old three bedroom rental apartments are either taken by long-term tenants or are in areas of the city that many people don’t want to live in.

  9. leeshin

    at 5:02 am

    this comparison was quite interesting and i found some unheard facts in there

  10. Chroscklh

    at 4:24 pm

    Chroscklh hate stack townhouse. 1/4 square feets is stair – as point out many time. I visit friend, have great, huge roof terrace with barbecue sectional sofa, cedar tree. We go for dinner, I say “is beautiful day, we eat outside?” Couple look at all plates, cutlery, food, look up at 2 flight stair to roof say “uh, mind if we eat dining table?” I look at 2-person “bistro” table (only thing that fit in small room) and I look at wife (both of us over 6 feet) and we say “is okay, I eat standing.” Stacktownhouse too much illusion – I challenge one commenter say “I like my stack townhouse, I no regret/I no want move” – cuz I personally not met this person. Also, as investor – I hate townhouse. Prefer small apartment building – one roof, one boiler. Who want maintain diff furnace, diff roof, EACH unit? Is crazy.

    1. Squidward

      at 7:55 pm

      Chroscklh, you sound like a sensible fellow. If you’re ever in the market for a tenant, I’m interested (provided I can meet the bear).

  11. AndrewB

    at 4:56 pm

    I was in the market over a year ago and saw a few stacked towns in Liberty. The layouts were horrible and we’re mostly tight 1 bedrooms with a tiny nook. We ended up with a 1+1 in LV and the same square footage was much more spacious laid out flat and with all the rental fees and costs with the stacked, the condo actually came out cheap and better deal. I’ll have to admit though, the brick facade is alluring to many people.

  12. condodweller

    at 5:18 pm

    I don’t like stacked towns and I would encourage anyone considering buying one to rent one first to avoid the moving fees when you find out how impractical they are. Main reasons for rme not liking them is noise from neighbours, stairs, density i.e. fire hazard. In multiunit housing situations I prefer concrete construction. Anyone know what the 841 Richmod St. row houses are? Freehold/town condos/stacked condos? I used to walk by there a lot and always liked the external styling but never been inside.

    1. BillyO

      at 4:56 pm

      841 Richmond and 850 Richmond across the street are 3 storey freehold towns (so maint fees aren’t too bad, in the $200s – this covers landscaping, garbage pickup and underground parking). They are not cheap though, at least $1M. In 850 Richmond, the biggest corner unit (2100 sq ft) was listed at $1.399M and sold for $1.5M in a week.

  13. Kyle

    at 10:06 am

    Personally i don’t like town house developments or stacks. Lot’s of good comments already about how impractical they are, but aside from that i think their price appreciation tends to be way below market. Anytime something is marketed or viewed as the “poor man’s version” of something else, the long term prognosis is never good. With the exception of some of the new uber-modern ones, architecture and design was a non-consideration. 99% of them look cheap and f’ugly like something out of Kitchener when they are brand spanking new, and only get f’uglier over time. Look outside of the core you can find them all over the place, and they are usually the cheapest form of housing per sq ft. If you look at areas where they are common, you can see they simply don’t appreciate in value. As an example of how they “appreciate” overtime you can just look at the older developments in the suburbs where these are much more common to see where the prices are going. As an example, you can buy a 2+1 bedroom, 2 bath unit for 168K: http://www.realtor.ca/Residential/Single-Family/15926015/1025—100-MORNELLE-CRT-Toronto-Ontario-M1E4X2-Morningside This is 81K cheaper than the 2+1 bedroom, 2 bath condo just down the street: http://www.realtor.ca/Residential/Single-Family/15901661/206—3050-ELLESMERE-RD-Toronto-Ontario-M1E5E6-Morningside

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    at 8:14 am

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  15. Wayne Foster

    at 2:45 pm

    There is one alternative I have not seen discussed. A ground level entry townhouse where the first and second floors are 1300 sq ft all on one floor. The first floor people enter right off the walkway. 1300 sq ft on one level. The second floor people have one flight of stairs but once they are in, everything is on one level. Using lightwieight concrete between floors and noise protection would this be something more interesting?

  16. Anon

    at 12:41 am

    I hear noisefrom neighbours on top of me. Not much materials between floors. I hear everything.

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  18. Ahmad Syed nesar

    at 2:58 am

    There is alway 3 types of builder one have less money they will go for condo the second type will go for house s third rich one will go for high rise
    But bayers go with earning
    Nesar

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