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Toronto needs more family-focused condos

by Neil Sharma on 23 Apr 2021

Multigenerational living is commonplace in Asia, and while that isn’t the case in Toronto, that could change in the short years ahead.

Aoyuan International’s Canadian arm is building M2M on Yonge St. in a very dense North York neighbourhood, but unlike typical condominium developments in the city, M2M is a master-planned community that’s emphasized the need for family-sized units. In Asia, master-planned communities comprising 20-30 buildings are the norm but M2M will only have five, although they’ll total about 2,000 units.

When Yang moved to Toronto with his wife and six-month-old son, he found the family a one-bedroom-plus-den condo, which he loved because his 10-minute walk to work meant that he had more time to spend with his family each night. That included countless sunsets by Lake Ontario and taking his son to Ripley’s Aquarium three times a week.

But by the time Yang’s daughter was born three years later, the family’s condo was no longer sufficiently sized. Yang’s subsequent search for a three-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto didn’t yield much, save for in the 1,500 sq ft luxury category, which isn’t what the family was in the market for.

“It was difficult to find a family-focused community with that many bedrooms in an urban area because most condo supply downtown are investor-driven one-bedroom units,” Yang said during a recent webinar about multigenerational living.

When Yang joined Aoyuan, he’d helped steer the company towards family-focused developments, noting their paucity in the Canadian market. Despite initial scepticism, the company decided to buck the trend, which had theretofore been to build condo units for investors and students.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about the question, why would a family live in a condo?” said Yang. “But in Asia, it worked well because a lot of families happily live in high-density communities, and while we were told it wouldn’t work in Toronto, we decided to challenge this stereotype to give one more option to families who enjoy urban convenience. We wanted to turn the daily three-hour commute into playtime for families, because this will be very good for children, parents, and the whole family.”

At M2M, a daycare with a glass wall is next to the gym so that both child and parent have peace of mind knowing where the other is at all times. Although there’s an outdoor kitchen for communal meals, the playroom is indoors. The master-planned community also has co-working space, retail and office units too, because, as Yang says, the point of such communities is convenience and optimizing family time, part of which can be spent at the 43,000 sq ft community centre.

The first phase of M2M was one of Toronto’s fastest selling condo projects in 2018, and Yang’s anecdote about their 1,003 sq ft, three-bedroom model unit might explain why.

“When we launched in 2018, we were happy to see families coming in with their children and grandparents together, looking at our model and debating who would live in which bedroom,” he said of the unit containing two master-bedrooms located at opposite ends. “Sometimes there were six or seven people together. Kids would sometimes say, “Mommy, I want to live in this bedroom,’ and they’d say, ‘No, you’re going to live in the smaller bedroom. That one is reserved for your grandparents.’”

Norman Xu, head of the Norman Xu Team at Royal LePage Signature Realty, agrees that there is demand for family-sized condo units, especially in the COVID era where more people work from home than ever before, however, he believes the economics are prohibitive.

“On the other side, new construction is so expensive that it’s being sold for as much as $1,500-1,800 psf, and to buy an 800 sq ft unit, you’re looking at $1.3-1.5 million if you want to buy downtown,” he said. “Most people cannot afford it, and the developer can’t sell it any cheaper because they buy the land for a certain price and they have to sell their units at around $1,500 psf in order to make a decent profit. From what I see, more people are leaving downtown in today’s market as one of the solutions. People have to buy something they can afford and it won’t be downtown, so they’ll have to expect to commute after COVID.”

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