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Condominium builders battle for the middle ground

High-rise projects sandwiched between downtown and the suburbs have to offer more to compete effectively

By Derek Raymaker – The Globe and Mail

The vast choice in new high-rise condominium suites in central Toronto has wedged prices and demand in a nice equilibrium, if temporarily.

At an average price of $331 a square foot across Greater Toronto, condominium prices are not spiralling out of control in the same way as new detached homes, even though four high-profile super-luxury projects, including one under the Ritz-Carlton banner, have been launched, driving up the average price.

And Torontonians should be surprised and satisfied to know that condo prices here are in line with most other Canadian cities, and actually a bargain compared with Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary.

When you pull yourself away from the economic analysis (which shouldn’t be too hard) and visit the sales centres of new downtown projects, you’ll find finely tuned marketing machines aiming directly at the lifestyle-oriented instincts of buyers looking for convenience and trendy design.

But it’s location that will always trump these other factors, and a hot corner can be worth all the granite countertops in the world. There are over two dozen condo sales centres currently open in central Toronto, and there would seem to be something for everyone .

The new projects competing with them in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough need to offer more.

Developers in this grey area of the high-rise market — not quite downtown, not quite suburban — have also gravitated to particular locations featuring either scenery or convenient transportation.

In Etobicoke, the western lakeshore straddling the mouth of the Humber River continues to hit the right notes with buyers. The subway — and subway extensions — have guided North York’s high-rise development. And the Scarborough Town Centre transit and highway corridor is the site of pretty much all of the high-rise projects in that former borough. Of course, these all come with the discount you’d expect for being out of the trendy loop that exists south of Eglinton Avenue.

None of this is rocket science to any savvy marketing team. But there is one key advantage these traditional low-rise neighbourhoods have over the trendy downtown projects that bodes well for future high-rise development. That is the prevalence of tens of thousands of older couples who want to sell their large maintenance-intensive houses, but not leave their neighbourhoods.

There’s also the added bonus that many of these older buyers are able to buy a high-end two-bedroom suite priced at $500,000 or so with no mortgage after they sell their family house for $750,000 in pockets like Lawrence Park or The Kingsway.

Bayview Avenue has been a particularly popular spot for new empty-nester buyers looking for a well-appointed suite with larger square footages than you’d find in downtown Toronto‘s shoeboxes in the sky to handle all the family heirlooms.

Daniels Corporation’s Kilgour Estates, just south of Lawrence Avenue, has been a huge hit with homeowners from the immediate area, with prices starting at $474,000 and going up to $1,586,000 for between 1,072 and 2,293 square feet.

Further north on Sheppard Avenue is Shane Baghai’s St. Gabriel Village, on a site to be shared with a church and to feature an emphasis on energy conservation. It has been on the market for a year with prices at $479 a square foot.

The overall price picture outside of downtown features many projects with fairly expensive suites like those mentioned above, and loads of traditional high-rise condos catering to the first-time buyer on a budget, but not much in between.

The early data for 2006 indicates it’s been a soft market overall in these areas, with a lot of building going on but not much buying.

In west North York, the average high-rise suite price reported for February was $269 a square foot, up a modest 3.8% from February, 2005, according to data compiled by RealNet Canada. The North Yonge Street corridor reports a price of $316 a square foot, up 1.6% from February, 2005, while Scarborough was at $276 a square foot, up 6.1% from February, 2005.

Etobicoke average suite prices are actually above the Greater Toronto average at $359 a square foot in February, up 3.1% from $348 in February, 2005.


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