Question: I’m moving to Toronto from Montreal and looking to buy a house. Most of the houses I’ve lived in in Montreal were duplexes or triplexes. In Toronto there seem to be few of those, but lots of semi-detached – a form I’m not familiar with. Is there any downside to buying a semi-detached? Any up-side?
Answer: Semi-detached homes are quite common in the city of Toronto, especially in the downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods. This is largely due to the high density in these areas dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even back then, lot size came into play – it was typical for downtown Toronto lots to be long and narrow in size making them a perfect fit for the Victorian “semis” we see throughout the city.
Many of these older semi-detached homes still exist and new ones continue to be built. Their popularity boils down to price and availability. They are cheaper than detached homes, and there is only a finite number of homes available in the city – so somebody’s going to have to occupy these homes. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board’s figures for the month of November, the average sold price for a semi-detached home in the 416 area code was $640,208. The sold price for a detached home during that period was a whopping $855,188! Those figures could be argument enough for semis.
Beyond economics, there are few benefits to owning a semi-detached compared to a detached. However, a semi is typically more desirable than an attached/row house, as you only have one attached neighbour versus two. Depending on your relationship with your semi-neighbour, you can take advantage of some economies of scale. For example, since your roofs are attached, you can both contribute for replacement and negotiate a better deal. If you share a driveway, snow clearing duties can be shared – but more on driveways and parking later.
There are definitely some drawbacks to owning a semi versus detached, but I assure you that they do not outweigh the benefits of owning a freehold home in the city of Toronto.
Depending how your semi is built, noise transfer can be an issue. Party walls - the common wall both sides share - can be thin and sometimes don’t run the entire height of a home, leaving a gap in the attic areas. In addition to noise transfer, the lack of a party wall in the attic can also have an adverse effect in the event of a fire.
Semi-detached homes can be limiting when it comes to structural renovations as the party wall once again comes into play. Extensions and additions have to be carefully considered to make sure they don’t impact your attached neighbour’s home. Your renovation plans can also put a strain on your relationship with you neighbour, so an open line of communication can help mitigate any potential issues. Make sure you have the proper permits in place, as a complaint to the city can put your project in jeopardy.
Parking can be tricky. You may be one of the lucky ones with your own driveway or laneway parking. A good portion of homes inToronto have no parking or at best a “mutual” driveway ( a narrow lane between homes widening out to parking spots in back) or maybe a right-of-way to pass over to get to your parking spot. To illustrate the parking situation in Toronto, I looked at MLS data for homes sold within the geographic area bordering from Humber River on the west, Coxwell Avenue on the east, and south of Bloor/Danforth to Lake Ontario. There were 116 freehold homes sold during the month of November, of those, 52 were semi-detached. Of those semis, 4 had a private driveway, 26 had laneway parking, 8 had mutual or right-of-way and 12 had no parking.
Finally - and this may seem glaringly obvious - but owning a semi-detached home means you can’t separate from your neighbours – literally. You are stuck with them until either you or they move out. So if you’re thinking of buyng a semi, it might be wise to find out something about the people who live next door.
If your budget allows for it, a detached home is the way to go. But, like I said, owning any freehold home in the city of Toronto can be a very rewarding experience both from a personal and financial perspective, so don’t be discouraged if a detached is out of your reach. You may find yourself quite satisfied with a semi as your final destination or as a stepping stone towards another home in the future.
Ricky Chadha is a broker with Royal LePage Estate Realty in Toronto, and specializes in applying social media and other digital tools to the business of real estate. You can find Ricky on Twitter @your416 or at his websiteRickyChadha.com.
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