The words "Toronto" and "condo" have become synonymous. There's no avoiding them. It seems as though every week more are commissioned, and half a week later a cluster of three or four high-rise, garden-topped buildings appear.
Different people will experience this influx of infrastructure differently, but there's no denying it's changing Toronto, and the change poses questions to the city's population. "Do I take advantage of this? Get in on the literal ground floor? Do I leave the city because I don't like condos? Do I invest in the condos, buy, sublet, and remain where I am? Do I just want a condo because it's something new when I should really just renovate?" This last question, paired with the question of who's asking it, is the most important in this case.
Think Broad and Think Long Term
What is best, and for whom? Richard Silver, Senior Vice President of Sales at Sotheby's International Realty Canada, understands this well:
Adding value to any property is less expensive than selling and buying. For example money spent on improving kitchens and baths usually will garner a return on the money spent. But not everything is as impressive, interesting, or attention-grabbing as that. Not all renovations are equal. Maintenance must be done, but it does not have that wow factor.
And although finances are arguably the most important indicator when choosing relocation or renovation, it is not the only indicator.
A long-term perspective is the only way to consider your options when it comes to housing. Health is long term. Employment is long term. Overall livability is long term.
Not all renovation investments pay off equally: the maintenance doesn't have that wow factor but it has to be done.
Age and Health
The housing market is a tough market to get into right now. There are some options for buyers, but each is as expensive as the next. This means, generally, it's people in their middle age who hold the power; they can afford the luxury of choice. Put another way, younger, less established people in their 20s and early 30s must either work with a lot less to achieve the same or reassess and minimize their options.
Right away on buying you have a 4% land tax, and on selling you have moving expenses including commission. That could be money put into improving your property.
Seniors, too, have got the short end of the stick. Silver says,
I suggest [seniors] if they have to move at all plan on when and where to move before they're forced to move. In other words, they should make the choice instead of having the choice made for them. There's nothing sadder than speaking with a senior who needs my help and realizing they're past the point of control. Someone who has outstayed their life in the house: Living on the main floor because they can no longer do the stairs or worse.
All of this means one must take into account their health.
Currently, seniors don't have to worry too much about long-term employment. Chances are they have got a pension plan from years of work, and between 55 and 65 years of age, they transition to become dependent on said pension. This means, after a few years, it all comes down to their health and in another ten years, whether they'll be in decent shape or not. How well will they be able to move? Not properties but even around the house. Will they have to install railings? Bars in the shower? Do they have to make their home wheel chair accessible? What about a room for a caregiver? Speaking of caregiver, will that be a family member? Family adds another layer of decision-making and planning for a senior. Silver adds:
A lot of what should be empty nesters end up with their nests full again. Kids, and then grandkids end up living with their parents. A smaller, two-bedroom condo would make the return impossible.
So, which way is best when it comes to a factor of health? It's too easy to say the answer is different in every case. Ultimately, it comes down to planning. As long as you're ahead of the curve of your physical and mental health, renovation yields the greatest long-term benefits. The only major issue is finances.
Finances, Employment, and Location
Until you hit retirement, every major decision made hinges on finances. Do you have enough money to do whatever it is you're doing? That applies to buying, moving, and renovating, among other issues. If you have prepared well enough for retirement, you may well be okay spending your money on the home you know you're going to settle into and stay for the long haul. If you are like folks in middle age, or especially those who are younger, just getting into the market in general, it becomes a little more complex.
Buying outside a city centre is almost always cheaper, but then there's the commute. Silver says when it comes to Toronto, a bad location is a cause for concern.
Toronto has huge issues with transportation, means the closer you are to your work the better. In Toronto, you will never have an issue the closer you are to subway/transit system.
The other thing to remember is the commute to the city (where, inevitably, your job lies). You can afford to be picky with a lawn or the kind of stone you wanted in your front yard, but location is key. If you're far away from your job to the point that it affects your ability to work, that in turn affects the money you make, and infects the rest of your decision making. For example, with less money, you no longer can afford the luxury of picking the kind of stone you want.
The Conclusion: Pros and Cons
Dissecting reams of advice from professionals can feel a lot like sifting mud for gold: tiring and potentially fruitless. Let's just cut to the chase, but let's do it in a way that's slightly more hopeful, with the bad news first, and the good news to follow.
What are the cons of relocation?
Everything, if you don't have the money. There are the aforementioned taxes and fees, which are hefty. There's a lot of general stress in buying, not to mention moving and selling.
What are the pros of relocation?
If you can handle it, financially and physically, it can mean a lot of money in the short term, especially if you then move somewhere where you live beneath your means. Theoretically, you'll also move closer to where you work, considering the commute issue in Toronto. If you've got all that going for you, and the money to make it happen, relocation makes a lot of sense.
Be prepared that renovations can take longer than the initial outline and become financially and mentally draining.
What are the cons of renovation?
Maybe your lifestyle changes in a way you don't expect, or you take a gamble on an idea for a living room, and it flops. The idea doesn't pan out and maybe it causes the value or look to suffer, therefore hindering your ability to sell should you want to. If you outstay your welcome, as Silver warns, you're in for years of hardship. Without a house that's flexible or without being flexible yourself, it can cause a lot of problems. And this goes for construction. It almost always takes longer than the initial outline and if that causes you a lot of internal stress, financially or mentally, it can be draining, and you may come out on the other side less happy and resentful of the change you've made to the house.
What are the pros of renovation?
All of the moving fees, the shopping around for realtors, the interviews, going from seller to "buyer" in a tough market -- all of that's gone. You get to improve the home in which you've settled, and if you settle, theoretically you've decided the commute (if you've got one) isn't too bad, and you've got the money to shape and rearrange the property to your slowly shifting lifestyle.
If there's anything to glean from all of this, it's to weigh your options, and to be self-aware. If you're self-aware, smart about your health and your finances, you can consider all opportunities as objectively as possible. In real estate, there's no room for subjectivity.
Be prepared, and good luck out there.