Modern Living: The upside of downsizing

Before launching Forest Hill Private Residences in 2020, Altree Developments conducted several years’ worth of market research – a routine step for condo developers. But Altree president and CEO Zev Mandelbaum spent even longer doing something he calls “parent research.”

Mandelbaum started paying close attention to the property predilections of his parents and their friends a little more than a decade ago. That’s when his father, Lanterra Developments co-founder Mark Mandelbaum, ended up designing a unit for himself in one of his own towers – the 32-storey One Bedford. He and his wife had decided to sell their detached home and couldn’t find what they wanted elsewhere.

With luxury condo projects proliferating across the GTA, there’s no longer any shortage of options for well-heeled empty-nesters who are “downsizing but not down-pricing,” Mandelbaum says. “On one hand, I discovered that they all want more or less the same thing: a boutique condo unit with two bedrooms, 10-foot ceilings, an area where they can entertain in style, generous outdoor space and plenty of luxury amenities. On the other hand, they tend to ask for a lot of customizations because they want everything to be the way it was in the home they lived in for 30 or 40 years.”

This upscale approach to downsizing is gaining momentum across the GTA, given the widening price gap between detached homes and condos, and the growing number of new condo projects catering to the preferences of older residents.

According to a December 2020 market report from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), GTA prices for detached homes rose by 17.7 percent year-over-year, the biggest increase in any housing category. Condos, meanwhile, experienced a 2-percent price dip. “While the housing market as a whole recovered strongly in 2020, there was a dichotomy between the single-family market segments and the condominium apartment segment,” says Jason Mercer, TRREB chief market analyst. In short, the GTA remains a seller’s market for single-family homes but has become a buyer’s market for condos.

Real-estate agents, in turn, are framing this trend as an opportunity for empty-nesters to downsize in style. “Baby-boomers are looking for reasons to downsize, and now, with real-estate prices going the way they are, they have a once-in-a-lifetime reason to do it,” says Transitions Realty co-founder Vincent Côté. “Our message is to leverage the equity they’ve built to downsize their home early and upsize their life.”

The message appears to be resonating. Two-thirds of the buyers at Forest Hill Private Residences are over the age of 55, according to Mandelbaum. Slated for completion at the south end of its leafy namesake street in 2023, the nine-storey building will be home to about 80 units ranging in size from 1,000 to 4,000 square feet and priced from $1.8 million to more than $6 million. Luxury amenities include valet parking, concierge services, temperature-controlled wine storage, and an indoor pool with adjoining wet and dry saunas. Pre-construction unit customization, meanwhile, can accommodate anything from changes to kitchen islands and bathroom vanities to the combining of several units into one.