Late last winter, Alan Martino and Tony Wang started their search for a home in Calgary. The couple had moved from Ottawa just six months earlier and were looking to buy a place spacious enough to accommodate Mr. Wang’s home office in a neighbourhood close to the University of Calgary, where Mr. Martino works.
After scouring trendy inner-city neighbourhoods such as Inglewood and Bridgeland, as well as the Kensington area, it didn’t take long before the couple found the home of their dreams.
By the end of March, after a month-long search, the couple moved on a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom-plus-den townhouse for $350,000 at Arrive at Bowness, an award-winning complex in Calgary’s northwest, whose sheet-metal siding and bright-red accents make the homes stand out in a sea of taupe. “[Many] townhouses look the same as the ones built in the eighties,” Mr. Wang says. “But this one is pretty unique, the design is pretty modern – I really like that.”
They looked at a handful of single-family homes, but found they didn’t quite fit their lifestyle. “In Calgary, most of the single-family homes in the inner city require a lot of maintenance,” and would have involved more work than they wanted to take on, Mr. Wang says.
They also didn’t want to worry too much about the property’s upkeep, such as mowing the lawn or shoveling snow, he says. “We want to be able to work and have fun. We find that houses are too much work to take care of.”
This is precisely one of the perks of townhouse living, according to local real estate advisor Justin Havre. “Some townhouses come with landscaping and snow removal already included in the condominium fees.”
But having fewer hassles is only part of the growing appeal of this townhomes. A more attainable price-point and lower condo fees allow young couples such as Mr. Martino and Mr. Wang to afford to live in a community of their choosing. “We figured out very quickly that in Calgary having a car is huge,” Mr. Martino says. “So [if] we’re going to drive anyway, we might as well buy a place that we like.”
The mix of existing (and forthcoming) amenities and the community feel of Bowness played key roles in their decision. “We have lots of colleagues who work or live in the area; they tell us about how close people are in the neighbourhood,” Mr. Martino says. “For me, it’s perfect.”
As Calgary strives to attract young talent, the rowhouse segment might be on the verge of a renaissance. Today, townhomes represent roughly 10 per cent of the housing stock in the city, and their popularity is steadily increasing. Over the past decade nearly 13,000 townhomes were completed in Calgary, nearly as many as there were in the preceding 20 years.
“[Townhouses] are tending to be built in ‘first ring’ suburbs because it’s close to transit, it’s close to schools, close to amenities,” says Chris Ollenberger, managing principal of QuantumPlace Developments. “And they’re a more affordable option than a single-family home because they’re driven by land prices.”
Earlier this year, as the detached market soared in Calgary, buyers started to take notice of the advantages of townhouses, driving sales to an all-time high on the first quarter of 2022, according to CREB.
“We’re definitely seeing more and more buyers moving to townhouses because of the significant price increase in the detached segment,” Mr. Havre says. “Some people are getting priced out of the single-family detached, so they’re going to go down to the next, and more affordable segment, which would be townhouses.”
But affordability isn’t the only reason townhomes are becoming more popular. According to Mr. Ollenberger, while many Calgarians still seek a suburban lifestyle, a growing number of people are letting go of the single-family dream-home to live closer to the city’s core.
“I think there is a market where people are specifically looking for townhouses because of the price point, and it gives them the option to live closer to the city,” he says. “And then there are people that feel like they’ve been knocked out of the single-family and duplex market, but they don’t want to drive further out until they qualify.”
Indeed, although Mr. Havre believes most Calgary buyers would still prefer a single-family home, he recognizes townhomes have become a reasonable alternative, as this segment helps fill the gap between single-family homes and apartments. “You can get townhouses with an attached garage, you can get townhouses with a small yard. You may not necessarily get as big of a garage or a big yard, but it’s a small trade off.”
For Mr. Martino and Mr. Wang, buying a townhouse was not a trade-off but a deliberate choice. “That’s what we were actually looking for, [because] it’s the best of both worlds,” Mr. Wang says. “It has a management company taking care of everything for you, and also has the space we need.”
And as more millennials such as Mr. Martino and Mr. Wang climb up the housing ladder, this trend signals a shift in lifestyle and buyer preferences that might improve the viability of middle-density housing, a much-needed segment in Calgary, where detached homes in the suburbs are still plentiful.
“I think it’s just a sign of growth as a city and growth as a country in terms of what our expectations of housing are, " Mr. Ollenberger says about the rising popularity of townhomes. On the one hand, he says, townhouses can be a “rejuvenating factor” for established neighbourhoods, while in new suburban communities, “they are a good way to achieve some of the density targets that Calgary is looking for.”
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