As Toronto condos shrink, space grows precious

Toronto — The Globe and Mail

One of the Maple Leaf Square condo buildings as seen through gap in overpass and Gardiner Expressway near York St.. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Jesse Blacker is an up-and-coming young hockey player who is currently lacing up for the Toronto Marlies and fervently working toward being called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, when he’s not on the road, Mr. Blacker can head back after practice to his own comfortable two-storey loft.

Mr. Blacker and I talked about his recent purchase after I invited readers to send in their stories about buying and selling real estate in the current market.

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He is just settling into the loft in the Mystic Pointe building near Lakeshore and Parklawn. His furniture arrived a few days ago.

Mr. Blacker is happy with the purchase: The unit had an asking price of $304,900 and he struck a deal at $298,500.

The Toronto native says he liked the fact that the open-concept loft, with just less than 1,000 square feet, has two stories. The bedroom overlooks the living space below.

He had been looking for a couple of months and most of the other condo units he saw were very cramped. “This is like a big house.”

Ira Jelinek of Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd. represented the seller, actor and producer Brigitte Kingsley.

Mr. Jelinek says the loft, which is in the former L.J. McGuinness Distillers building, has an authentic hard loft feel, and it includes parking, which is rare for a unit priced at less than $300,000 in and around the city.

“It had a ton of space,” Mr. Jelinek says. “It’s more of a value play.”

The same-sized unit in a building about six to 10 years old would fetch $450,000 to $500,000 if it were right downtown, he estimates.

Finding a unit with space to spread is getting more difficult as condo units shrink.

Paul Golini, chairman of the Building Industry and Land Development Association and executive vice-president at Empire Communities, says units may have shrunk as far as they possibly can. “There is a limit and we’re very close to it now. There are only so many bedrooms you can fit into 500 square feet.”

Mr. Golini was speaking at a gathering last week to release year-end statistics for new building in the Greater Toronto Area in 2011 and provide an outlook for 2012.

At the same confab, RealNet Canada Inc. reported that the average price per square foot for a high-rise condo came in at $529 in 2011, a 4-per-cent increase over the 2010 figure.

Meanwhile, the average condo unit shrunk 6 per cent, to 820 square feet. That’s 52 square feet less than the previous year’s average.

Mr. Golini says builders have been making units smaller to keep them affordable.

According to RealNet, high-rise “home types” as they like to call condo units, reached a record 62 per cent of all new home sales. The low rise sector – in other words, houses, townhouses and semis – accounted for a record low 38 per cent.

That means apartment condominiums outsold traditional detached homes three-to-one.

Let me know what you think about this shift in market dynamics: Are condo towers rising too quickly and becoming squeezed too far? Will demand keep up with this pace of building? Would you, like Mr. Blacker, put a premium on space?

Follow on Twitter: @CarolynIreland

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