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Top Tips for Downsizing to a Toronto Condo

Top Tips for Downsizing to a Toronto Condo

Feb 16, 2015
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Empty-nesters are the new first-time buyers, at least when it comes to Toronto condos. According to Statistic Canada’s condominium dwellings stats from their latest National Housing Survey, over 65’s make up 26.1% of the Toronto condo market. We expect that figure to grow further.

Now, not all empty nesters choose Toronto condos as part of their retirement strategy. Baby boomers are the wealthiest generation in Canadian history and most are choosing to stay in their homes longer or buy a less expensive house as a downsizing strategy. But there is a sizeable segment of the boomer population that’s keen on downsizing to a Toronto condo to enjoy a vibrant urban lifestyle in a maintenance-free home, freeing up cash and time for new adventures like travel.

And downsizing isn’t just for boomers. There are other reasons to choose to sell your house in favour of a condo beyond retirement. This is a good year for it too with more selection in condos for sale in Toronto than ever before (2014 was a record-breaking year for new condo completions) and banks cutting mortgage rates to record-lows (if you require a mortgage).

But downsizing is hard. I’m not going to lie. There are however some simple strategies to make the move more enjoyable and productive. I won’t state the obvious here such as “downsize your belongings”. Smaller space = less stuff. That goes without saying. Instead, let’s look at the five areas that represent the biggest challenges for downsizers: finance, lifestyle, condo regulations and identity both in terms of sense of self and what really makes a house (or condo) a home.

Downsizing to a Toronto Condo? Create Your New Financial Plan Before You Start Condo Hunting.

Money is the single most important factor to ensure your downsizing move is a success. For most people, downsizing is a way to get their finances in check. This is typically for one of two reasons: because they want to free up equity for retirement or they’re looking to pay down their debt and reduce monthly expenses a) because they’ve overextended themselves in the past or b) their household income situation has changed due to loss of a job or divorce.

AvondaleWEB-2

AvondaleWEB-2

The commonality here is that you’re giving up more house for less in order to save money. And while that may be the prudent choice and an easy one to make on paper, it’s hard for people when viewing Toronto condos for sale to see what that reduction in floor print and outdoor space really means.

This is when strategy can go out the window, at the early stages when buyers haven’t quite reconciled themselves to the realities of downsizing. There are some stellar, high-end condos on the Toronto real estate market with as much square footage and fancy finishes as some houses. But that luxury comes at a price. Downsizers can easily get dazzled by finishes, amenities and large spaces when they’re emotionally down about having to downsize.

My advice to ensure you stay on track? Sit down with your financial advisor well before you start looking at condos in Toronto and develop a clear financial plan. Then, communicate with your real estate agent about what you can afford both in terms of the property price and monthlies and stick to your guns. Do not get tempted to view units outside of your financial comfort zone.

When crunching the numbers on your monthlies, remember condo maintenance fees which can be almost as high as mortgage payments in some buildings. Shop wisely for units within your budget and work with your agent to research the building’s management history and reserve funds. Remember though that you’d be paying to maintain your house anyway, typically at a cost of 1% of the home’s value per annum. So be realistic about what it costs to maintain a condo in terms of your monthly fees.

Also, plan for the positive in your budget. Include a conservative number for savings on things such as reduced gas and electric bills and home insurance. Condos are often better situated in terms of local amenities than houses so can you also save on gas by walking more (which will contribute to a healthier lifestyle)? If you have two cars, can you get rid of one?

Envision the Lifestyle You Want and Use That to Guide Your Search

1900BayviewWEB-25

1900BayviewWEB-25

*The new Blythwood at Huntington by Tridel is a brilliant option for downsizing while still keeping a bit of luxury.

The whole point of downsizing your home is to upsize your life–either through reduced debt or freed up equity to put towards new life adventures. Either way, it’s about living with less stress and responsibility and more enjoyment. Be clear with yourself and your Toronto realtor about the lifestyle that you’re looking for; what’s truly a deal-breaker in a property and what’s merely a nice to have . Focus first and foremost on those deal-breakers. You don’t want buyers’ remorse.

Do you have a family pet that’s going to make the move with you? Not all condos allow pets. Do you like to have family and friends stay over regularly? If so, a guest bedroom and second bathroom and/or a visitor’s suite are critical. What about outdoor space? Do you need a large balcony that allows for use of barbeques? Is a central, shared courtyard for reading and relaxing a necessity if you’re giving up your beloved backyard?

What about noise insulation? If you’re a light sleeper who’s used to a detached house on quiet residential street, then a building with top-notch sound-proofing is paramount. You can easily upgrade that tired-looking bathroom or add more storage to keep a small space clutter-free. Ripping down all the shared walls and ceilings is another matter. Your move is going to be stressful enough so focus on the things that matter most to your daily comfort and lifestyle and let the little things go.

Be Honest With Yourself. Can You Live by Someone Else’s Rules?

One of the biggest changes to grapple with in transitioning to condo life is that there are rules and regulations that condo owners must abide by. In most Toronto condo buildings these are standard and not something that negatively impacts your daily life. But some condo boards are more restrictive than others.

Be honest with yourself about what you can live with and what will drive you batty. Are you okay with not putting a wreath on your door at Christmas and having to select neutral coloured window treatments or will these little restrictions really get to you? If you’re a fight-the-power personality, make sure to tell your realtor so that he or she can show you units in buildings that are light on restrictions.

Get a Hobby

cityplace-condos

cityplace-condos

For a lot of people, trading in their family home for a condo brings with it a sense of loss of self. If you’re in a couple, living in small quarters is also a new challenge because it means you’re living on top of each other in a way that you’re probably not used to. There may not be enough space in the condo to create a private retreat for each of you.

It sounds cheesy but getting a hobby, joining a club, taking up running–anything that gives you some private time and space doing something you love is absolutely key in making this life transition a positive one. If you like to project manage and organize, a great idea may be to volunteer on your condo board. You are not your house just as you’re not your old job. So find the things that make you happy and challenge you positively and use some of that newfound free time to go towards you time .

Surround Yourself with the People and Things You Love Most

The hardest part about trading in your house for a condo, particularly for those who are selling a long-time family home, is the emotional aspect. It can feel like you’re giving up on family life. To ease the transition, you want to make your new space feel like a home as quickly as possible and not just a place to hang your hat out of financial necessity. This one’s the easiest to do but also the easiest to lose sight of during a busy and stressful life transition.

When you’re editing your belongings before the move, be disciplined but don’t be brutal. Keep the things that really matter and represent happy family memories. It’s okay if your condo looks at little crowded at first. You’ll continue to thin out your stuff over time.

And learn to let go of being the perfect host. Your kitchen may be crowded and your dining room table may not seat 12+ people anymore but guess what? Your guests want to spend time with you, not your furniture. Lighten up and enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to be flawless. Have more potlucks. Host board games nights on floor cushions around your coffee table. Your guests will love the casual and warm vibe and may just end up hanging out in your new condo more than your previous home.

Image © Kevin Renes from Shutterstock.