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The Future of Housing in the GTA
In the past five weeks, you’ve heard about what Conservatory Group partners Shelley, Mark, Jay and Corey Libfeld have had to say on The Real State of Real Estate. In this concluding article, the Libfeld brothers were interviewed about their take on the future of housing in the GTA.
These are the trends that they have identified:
Smaller lots “In the last decade, the development process has become extremely tortuous,” says Sheldon Libfeld, who is in charge of development and finance at the Conservatory Group. “While it used to take only two or three years to bring a building lot to the market, today it takes almost three times as long. Infrastructure issues, new government regulations and municipal approvals have now become very complex, and levies — the taxes that municipalities charge developers to pay for community services — have more than doubled. That means that the price of a lot today is very expensive.”
All these have resulted in a trend towards smaller lots. “The old 50-ft. lot that our parents or grandparents grew up in is almost a fossil,” says Mark Libfeld, who is responsible for the Conservatory Group’s low-rise division. “Because costs are so high, we’re seeing smaller lots, along with semis and townhouses — a trend that will continue. The old 50-ft. lot is now 40 ft. or even 36 ft. wide.” The 36-ft. lot is the smallest that most municipalities will still allow for building a house with a double-car garage.
Infill sites Another trend is the shift away from the old post-war-era suburban communities to smaller infill sites. “We’ve seen this trend with high-rise since the 1990s, and it’s continuing today,” says Jay Libfeld, director of the Conservatory Group’s high-rise division. “What makes a high-rise site desirable is, first and foremost, a central location, and that means a location where the community is already well established. We’re always looking for such sites, and often the conversion of old industrial land offers a perfect opportunity for a new community that is higher-density than the old suburban model.”This new housing form could be high-rise or higher-density low-rise. “In Oakdale Village in North York,” says Corey Libfeld, director of customer care and the Conservatory Group’s Home Décor Centre in Thornhill. “We purchased the old Workers’ Compensation Board site and converted it into a mix of detached homes, link homes and townhouses, plus there’s still a site for a small apartment building for seniors.”This kind of mixed-density residential site is a model for future development, says Corey Libfeld. The Conservatory Group is also building higher-density low-rise infill communities in Upper Beach Village at Main and Danforth in Toronto and in Weston Village at Sheppard and Weston Rd. in North York.
Smaller homes, smaller suites Mark Libfeld notes how the trend towards smaller houses keeps prices affordable to consumers. “At the Conservatory Group, we’ve pioneered some innovative ways to bring value to the consumer — for example, finishing the lower basement level, which increases livable space by up to 50 per cent but without a significant impact on cost,” he says. “The homebuyer is looking for value today and our commitment is to provide it.”Jay Libfeld sees the same trend in high-rise. “Certainly over the last decade, average suite sizes have decreased. In the 1990s, we used to build condominiums with an average suite size of 1,000 sq. ft. or more; today that number is closer to 700 sq. ft. And with construction costs rising and affordability a big issue, size will continue to decline. In cities like Paris, New York and London, a typical starter condominium may be only 400 sq. ft. or even less.”Smaller homes and suites present a particularly challenging décor environment for the homeowner, and Corey Libfeld has designed the Conservatory Group’s Home Décor Centre to meet that challenge. “We’re set up to make the most of any space, and we are especially adept at maximizing spaciousness in small areas by helping the homeowner choose finishes that make the smaller space feel larger.”
Large still possible “Mansion-style homes will remain a custom undertaking,” says Sheldon Libfeld. “There is still a large number of people who want a bigger move-up home in the suburbs, and they can’t be ignored. Therefore, we always try to incorporate a small number of larger lots — 45, 50 or 60 ft. wide — in smaller enclaves within our communities to satisfy this demand. We have 50-ft. lots in our Main Street community in Stouffville and 45-ft. designs in our Oakdale community.”Another trend is to maximize value by putting a large home on a smaller lot. “In our Dunvegan community, we have homes over 4,000 sq. ft. in size on 40-ft. lots that incorporate every possible amenity imaginable,” says Corey Libfeld. “It’s a designer’s paradise!”The same trend is visible in high-rise, says Jay Libfeld. “As single-family homes become more and more expensive, the homebuyer will turn to high-rise as a less expensive alternative. Traditionally, high-rises have been for couples, but today families are also being accommodated with larger three-bedroom suites and amenities such as childcare facilities in condominiums. In our Infinity community, for example, we’ve built a Montessori centre for children, and we have a good selection of family-designed suites available.”