Keddy, a manager with the Ontario government, has specific housing needs. Divorced, he needed room for his two children, who spend half their time with him. Under his wing he also has his brother, who suffers from cerebral palsy and schizophrenia; he needs to be near doctors and laboratories in Mississauga.
So Keddy was looking for something with four bedrooms, or three bedrooms and a den. A detached home was beyond his price range, so he figured a townhouse would be a good bet. But “it’s hard to find a three-bedroom, let alone a four-,” he says. Ditto for a high-rise condominium—“unless it’s a $3-million penthouse,” he says. As a stopgap, he rented a three-bedroom townhouse in a Daniels subdivision in July.
Two months later, he noticed a four-storey apartment block in the subdivision; it had a unit with three bedrooms plus a den. At $400,000 it wasn’t a steal, but it was definitely affordable. He put 5% down last November and took possession in January. His monthly mortgage payment, including insurance, is about $1,900. The building has no pool or other fancy amenities, so the maintenance fee is just $210. “Some condo buildings in Mississauga that include cable, water, hydro, pools, et cetera, charge $800,” he says.
Another key money-saver: The mid-rise is of wood-frame construction. Cohen says this can save up to $80 per square foot compared to the metal-reinforced concrete used in high-rises. For a 700-square-foot apartment, that’s a $56,000 saving. If land prices in the Toronto area stay high, he and other industry executives say that wood-frame is the way of the future, particularly in dense suburban townhouse and low-rise complexes, and in urban infill projects. Helpfully, new building codes are about to take effect in Ontario that will increase the maximum allowable height for wood-frame buildings from four storeys to six.
Keddy looks around the Toronto area and figures the pressure of population on land isn’t going to ease any time soon. “It’s just going to be one built-up city,” he says.
Syed Ali, 37, and Maimoona Mehmood, 34
After six years of living in a Brampton basement apartment, Ali and Mehmood were frustrated. Their three kids, aged 4 to 8, were growing up and the couple wanted to move to a better neighbourhood. “I like Mississauga because our community is here—there are lots of people from back home. The mosque is here. The school is very good,” says Mehmood. And although Ali is cautious by nature, waiting to buy wasn’t paying off. “Friends of ours bought a three-bedroom townhouse for $260,000 seven years ago,” says Mehmood. “It probably costs $330,000 now.”
Through friends, the couple heard about Daniels’s so-called FirstHome communities of townhouses and low-rises. These projects give first-timers help with financing. The company offers graduated deposits—say, $2,500 to start, another $2,500 10 days after you sign a purchase agreement, and another $1,000 a month until you reach a 5% down payment.
Unlike most developers, Daniels doesn’t sell these places through floor plans or a few model homes; it builds the entire subdivision first. “There’s no customization,” says Cohen. “Having 15 different tiles, 20 different kitchens, whatever, is really complicated. Contractors give us a phenomenal price because they can get in and out quickly.”
The approach not only saves money, it is also a powerful marketing strategy. Buyers can actually see their unit, and they don’t have to wait months or years to move in. They usually line up weeks in advance of the sales launch date, and the developments tend to sell out immediately.
Ali and Mehmood “lined up” for three weeks at Daniels’s Hazelton Place Phase Two development in May. They were No. 17 in line, coming back for roll calls two or three times a day. They bought a modest two-bedroom for $279,000. Hazelton looks like a collection of three-storey row houses, but the buildings are actually divided into units of various sizes. Mehmood would have liked one of the “big houses with a garage.” But the couple settled for a one-floor unit with a parking spot.
Ali and Mehmood have a 2.9% mortgage that costs them about $1,500 a month. “We wanted a house we could afford any time, whether the market goes up or down,” says Mehmood. “You have to start small and think big.”
One part Cadillac Fairview, one part hippie co-op: the Daniels Corp. hybrid
An hour with Mitchell Cohen is like a free-ranging seminar on cultural studies with a retro-hipster professor. For the president of Daniels Corp., the redevelopment of Toronto’s Regent Park social-housing project is a springboard for extemporizing about local quilt makers, organic gardens, the kids’ dance troupes and music schools now headquartered in the gleaming new Daniels Spectrum, and plans for new athletic grounds, sponsored by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Investments in culture and athletics, he says, “are changing perceptions” about a place once regarded as slummy.