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But take a stroll through the city’s more established neighbourhoods — Rosedale, the Annex, Cabbagetown — where large, low-rise homes are a staple and trees tower over all other structures, and you’re likely to see signs of an emerging urban design trend: the uncondo.
“They’re more like a custom home than an apartment,” says Neil Spiegel, a principal at Oxygen Development. His company is at the forefront of this housing trend where old, low-rise, multi-unit rental buildings and homes are regenerated into luxury, eco-friendly condominiums.
A good example is Oxygen’s current project, Lytton Park Suites. The spaces are some 40% larger than conventional condos — units range from 1,053 to 1,287 square feet, with prices starting at $ 594,000, including parking. Each suite is outfitted with luxe materials and details: quartz countertops, dual-flush toilets, spa showers and extensive soundproofing and millwork — from the trim to the flooring. Units even have wood-burning fireplaces.
“When you’re building six units, there’s an ability to pay attention to detail. You can focus on all of the trim and the details, and you can make sure things are being managed properly,” Mr. Spiegel says. “Our decisions, such as choosing solid wood materials that fit into the era of the home, wow customers.”
A similar uncondo build is 103 Pembroke in Cabbagetown. Developed by The Rainbow Group, the project entailed transforming a heritage home from 1879 into four two-storey, two-bedroom units, each approximately 1,400 square feet. All of them feature 10- to 12-foot ceilings, as well as gas fireplaces and quality finishes that honour the home’s Victorian period.
These include ceramic mouldings and hardwood floors. But the spaces are also outfitted with modern touches such as granite countertops and marble bathrooms. Prices range from $ 500,000 to $ 600,000 and include parking.
Living here will feel very much like life in a single-family low-rise, says Rainbow Group president Mac Champsee, who is restoring the home with his daughter, Sonal. “Our spaces are generous. A lot of people are interested in these properties, because they give the sensation of living in a house with a backyard,” he says. “[Residents] get their own garage with access on the back laneway.”
Mr. Champsee echoes Mr. Spiegel’s sentiments on what makes these uncondos special.
“[With this type of restoration], we can feel good about offering a unique style of living while also preserving parts of Toronto. There are a lot of homes with good character that would otherwise get torn down.”
Of course, there is a catch to such boutique-style condos: They don’t have the amenities found in high-rise towers. There is no concierge, swimming pool, movie theatre, gym or underground parking and there are no elevators.
“The amenities are the neighbourhood it’s in,” says Brian Elder, a sales representative with Royal LePage Real Estate. To him, properties such as Lytton Park Suites and 103 Pembroke give people who don’t want or need traditional services an opportunity to purchase relatively affordable condo-type dwellings in otherwise hard-to-buy-in neighbourhoods. They’re great for those who can’t afford to buy a detached house and who are looking for alternative living options.
They’re also great for those who want to pay lower maintenance fees.
“[In our buildings, common element fees] end up being around $ 0.20 per square foot,” Mr. Spiegel explains.
Investing in these homes could even prove to be cost-effective for developers.
“If you’re converting a house, the structure is already built. You’re not building an underground parking garage so, technically, it should be less expensive than a high-rise condominium,” Mr. Elder says.
That’s not to say, of course, there won’t be costs to renovating or restoring these types of spaces (things always pop up during construction). Or that building uncondos is actually a trend. Mr. Elder believes too many people still want to live in a high-rise condo or in a detached home on their own.
Mr. Spiegel feels differently.
“What 10 years ago was three-quarters low-rise new building is now 25% low-rise and 75% condo. The pressure and the desire for low-rise is still there, without the land to build it on. And with the increasing cost of low-rise, [these spaces] provide a low-cost option that melds the best of both worlds.”