A few years back, I bought my current St. Lawrence Market condo, the highlight of which is a sprawling terrace overlooking St. James Park. Upon hearing the news, my office’s resident Debbie Downer said, “Yeah, great outdoor space—too bad you can only use it three-and-a-half months a year.” I couldn’t argue with her logic, but with summer upon us, my terrace is going to multi-task like any detached home’s large backyard: home office, lounge, entertainment space.
Many condos in the downtown core don’t offer any outdoor area, but some don’t really need to. If you own a funky loft in Kensington Market with 15-foot ceilings and soaring windows, you’re probably not itching to step outside onto a four-by-six slab of plain concrete. But for run-of-the-mill apartment-style condos with more spartan interiors, any added outdoor space merits a pretty hefty price tag, and buyers are especially likely to pony up in June, July, and August. It’s relatively rare to see a bidding war erupt over a million-dollar condo in Toronto, but I can recall a unit at the Candy Factory Lofts on Queen West where the amenities included a great terrace, complete with hot tub and cabana. After multiple offers flooded in, it sold for $115,000 over asking.
Prospective buyers—those who might want to purchase a house downtown but can’t afford it—are now seeing condo terraces in a new light. So long as they can fit in a decently sized table and a handful of chairs, many buyers will make do with smallish outdoor spaces rather than the bigger lawns in freehold homes. They can step outside for some fresh air, there’s a smoking area (if need be), and there’s room enough for a barbecue with guests. Why drop a bunch of coin drinking on a Queen West patio with four friends when you can host at your condo for next to nothing?
If you’re lucky enough to find them, there are some incredible terraces ranging in size from 200 square feet (check out The Berczy on Front Street) to over 2,000 square feet (on the rooftops of 533 Richmond St. and 500 Wellington St. W.). In my real-estate travels, I’ve seen hot tubs, waterfalls, fully stocked bars, pool tables, gazebos, and putting greens. I even had one client looking to install a batting cage on his balcony in Yorkville. If you’re buying into an asset that can only be utilized for a quarter of the year, it follows that you’ll want to make the very most of it during the summer. Just because space is limited doesn’t mean your creativity has to be.
For current owners looking to sell their outdoor space–equipped condos, let me offer three pointers to beautifying your balcony, based on my own trials and tribulations. First, replace all your dead and dying plants. The last thing you want to hear a potential purchaser say is, “Wait a minute! Those aren’t Mexican orange trees! Those are dead cedars!” Buyers want to see paradise, not a tomb. Second, you’ll need to maintain that space every day. The wind is going to blow your seat cushions all over the place. Petals will be scattered to and fro, but this isn’t a wedding—keep it clean. Finally, some neighbours just seem to love tossing their cigarette butts from above. Instead of getting frustrated, take it as a sign of terrace envy, sweep the butts up, and let buyers see the space, not the neighbourly headache.
A well-manicured, spacious outdoor area is certainly a luxury, and there’s no doubt you’ll pay for it, but it’s really no different than investing in a third bathroom or a newly renovated kitchen in a detached house. As the number of condos in Toronto continues to increase, buyers should look for something to differentiate theirs from the pack. Because of the tighter squeeze, you may even make better use of a condo balcony than a homeowner would a rambling backyard.
If you do happen to own a detached home, you might be inclined to laugh at us condo-dwellers counting up our piddly square footage. But just think back to your first downtown apartment. Aren’t some of your best memories from that time, hanging out on your balcony with cheap beer, better food, and a great group of friends? Welcome to summer, folks!