Low-rise, high life: Dream home with money left to decorate

National Post | Lisa Van de Ven

on February 22, 2012

You want the backyard, master suite, big kitchen — maybe even the white picket fence. All this in a new low-rise home. But where can you find one?

The truth is, low-rise means low inventory when it comes to finding new homes in the Greater Toronto Area. According to numbers released earlier this year by the Building Industry and Land Development (BILD) Association, low-rise made up only 38% of new- home sales in the GTA in 2011, compared with 75% of the market in 2000. A record-low four months worth of supply was left to sell as of January 1.

Market shifts aside, there are still new low-rise sites to choose from. You may just have to go a little farther out for them, or find an infill community by a developer willing to think small.

“We’ve seen an increase in activity over the last year in interest in our homes, and we’re selling a lot more,” says Richard Aubry, architect with Preston Group. “The availability of product … is not the same as it once was.”

Preston Group is seeing that success in Newmarket, a town once considered on the edge in terms of acceptable commutable distances to Toronto. There, they’re selling homes at Copper Hills, a project of 45-, 50-, and 52-foot lots; with homes ranging from 2,470 to 3,667 square feet and starting at $639,900. Even Newmarket, almost an hour north of Toronto, is reaching build-out, Mr. Aubry says.

“My opinion is that more and more of these towns are reaching build-out,” he says. “The opportunity for greenfield development such as this are narrowing, and there’s pressure to intensify, to create higher densities.”

But while “higher density” can mean condominium growth, it doesn’t have to. Some developers are finding interesting ways to intensify while still offering the low-rise product their buyers are after. Take Geranium Homes. The developer has a project in Pickering of 26 45- and 50-ft. lots on two culs-de-sac, called The Courts of South Rouge. The lots have been carved from older, longer lots in the mature neighbourhood, in an effort to intensify the area. Homes at the site range from 2,743 to 3,818 sq. ft. and are priced from $689,900. “It speaks to the need for intensification and to make use of everything you’ve got available,” says Sue Webb Smith, Geranium’s marketing director. “And it’s not something that’s imposing on the existing neighbourhood, it’s something that fits right into it.”

Endeavour, a Whitby site by Opus Homes, is another small infill project. It has 28 lots in total, of 40 and 50 feet. The site, located in a mature neighbourhood, backs on to forest and ravine land, and features homes ranging from 2,266 to 3,573 sq. ft. and starting at $459,990.

There are still some new opportunities for low-rise growth, says Opus president Andrea DeGasperis-Ronco. “If we can’t find new developments, I think we’re going to eventually have to do redevelopments,” she says.

Or, developers — and buyers themselves — will have to move farther out, to new markets. That’s happening already, at Branthaven Homes, which is currently selling Bravo! By the Lake in Grimsby, outside of Hamilton, and is seeing people coming from the western GTA —namely Mississauga and Etobicoke. They’re willing to make the commute, says Branthaven president Steve Stipsits, especially considering the price points at the townhouse community. Homes there range from 1,365 to 1,657 sq. ft. and start at $223,990.

“Townhomes of similar sizes and a similar look in Oakville were selling for $500,000 recently,” he says. “That’s a big part of the draw, for sure. Plus, Grimsby’s a nice place to be.”

Like Ms. DeGasperis-Ronco, Mr. Stipsits still sees opportunity in the low-rise market surrounding the GTA; while developable land is harder to find, he says, there are still properties awaiting municipal approval that will open up some low-rise growth in the near future. In the meantime, he’s exploring new markets. Besides Grimsby, the builder has three low-rise projects in Kitchener-Waterloo: Nestings, Doon Creek and Joy in Kitchener. Again, price points are lower than they would be in the GTA, and buyers from as far off as Mississauga are willing to make the commute to achieve that affordability.

“Drive a little, save a lot,” is the phrase Dan Flomen, broker with TFN Realty, uses. “People have been commuting from Barrie and Aurora and Newmarket forever,” he explains. “And the traffic going north to south is much more than it is to go west to east…. Plus a lot of people take the GO Train.”

Mr. Flomen is working with Empire Communities, selling their low-rise sites west of the GTA, in locations such as Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford and Hamilton. Those sites include Summerlea in Binbrook (where semi-detached and detached homes range from 1,309 to 2,799 sq. ft. and start at $254,990) and Riverland in Kitchener-Waterloo (homes range from 1,178 to 2,817 sq. ft. and start at $284,990). Secondary markets such as these, Mr. Flomen predicts, will continue to build up as the greater GTA continues to grow.

Leave a comment

Please login to leave a comment. Optional login below.