Thinking about a Toronto pied-à-terre? Here’s what you need to know.

Thinking about a Toronto pied-à-terre? Here’s what you need to know.

Over the last year-and-a-half, countless Torontonians left the city behind in search of bigger spaces and lower prices. But they were leaving more than cramped quarters and pricey square footage behind: they also said goodbye to an exciting urban lifestyle, the energy and excitement of the city, and an easy commute.

Of course, at the height of the pandemic, those things hardly mattered: leaving was an easy choice. But now that restaurants are open, people are returning to the office and the energy of the city beckons again? That choice seems a little less cut and dried.

So what's an urbanite living in the 905, 519 or 705 (or beyond) to do?

Not many are willing to give up their newfound space and calmer lifestyle to come back to the city full-time. But the idea of a long commute isn’t very appealing either. For folks who are looking for the best of both worlds, investing in a small pied-à-terre can be a nice compromise.

What is a pied-à-terre, exactly?

Literally translated, it means “foot on the ground” in French. It’s a unit – either an apartment or a condo – in a city that's a distance away from a person's primary residence. Traditionally, it's on the smaller side: often a studio or one-bedroom that's just enough for one or two people.

“People who have a pied-à-terre can come to the city for meetings, events, or just to soak up the vibe, then head back out to their roomier suburban/country home the rest of the time,” says Cameron Miller, Sales Representative. “It's a great option for a couple where one person works remotely while the other has to be in the office a few days a week. It’s definitely a homier alternative to a hotel, and an investment you can sell later on, rent out or even pass on to your kids one day.”

Cameron has had a couple of clients who have jumped on this trend, including a Kitchener couple looking for a foothold in the city.

“Their kids live downtown and the wife is taking courses at U of T,” he says. “Plus, they want to enjoy what this city has to offer without having to worry about a 90-minute drive home. Shopping for a property in downtown Toronto came as a bit of a shock to them, however: prices and unit sizes were not what they expected.”

The couple, who own a 3,500 square-foot home in Kitchener, faced a bit of a learning curve in their search for a downtown unit: they were surprised how small the units are – and how pricey. Initially, they were looking for a place around 1,200 square feet, but that was out of their budget, so they compromised on a 1,000 square foot property (still pretty big by downtown standards).

“The buying process was a bit of a shock to them, too,” says Cameron. “Navigating the market and facing multiple offer situations – they weren't aware of quite how competitive it would be. It took a couple of tries, but they're now in a fantastic location across the street from the Shangri-La. It's a smaller space than they expected, but they're close to the subway, bars and restaurant, and they can walk to King West St Lawrence – and to see their kids.”

3 things to keep in mind when shopping for a pied-à-terre in Toronto

1. It’s competitive. Downtown Toronto condos sales may have experienced a low in 2020, but that's long over: things are back to where they were before the pandemic (and then some) so be prepared for bidding wars and paying more than the asking price.

2. You may be surprised by how small some units are. If you've never lived in “cozy” quarters, Cameron suggests focusing on a unit with outdoor space (a great addition to your living area), a good, functional layout – and a building with good amenities and nice public spaces that you can use as an extension of your home if things start to feel a little cramped.

3. You’ll need to get creative about maximizing space. Go with multi-use furniture like Murphy beds, fold-out couches and extendable furniture to create a functional space that doesn’t feel cramped or cluttered. Want to know how to make a small place feel bigger? Read this.

Looking for a great place to hang your hat while you're in the city?

Check out these downtown listings or talk to a property.ca agent for insights into the best buildings and values for part-time living in the core.

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