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COVID-19 already influencing new home and condo design – experts

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COVID-19 already influencing new home and condo design – experts

COVID-19 is challenging all kinds of things about life in Canada – including the way we live and work. Our panel of experts share their insights on the new home and condo design changes already taking place.

M2M Spaces, Aoyuan Canada
Photo: M2M Spaces, Aoyuan Canada



COVID-19 has transformed our homes into our offices, classrooms, gyms, and playgrounds. Our homes need to encourage physical and mental health. To support the growing roles of our homes, flexibility in design will be key. For remote workers, we’ll need to prioritize flex spaces which offer natural light, plus acoustical and visual privacy to maintain separation between work and homelife.

Building amenities such as the coworking space offered in Broccolini’s River & Fifth and upcoming LeftBank projects can make this possible for residents with less space. For material selection, we’ll continue to prioritize durability and cleaning ease, incorporating choices such as quartz countertops and porcelain tiles in residences and amenity spaces.

Megan Collins
Design Manager, Broccolini


Dunpar Homes

There’s no question that moving forward people will continue to work from home if they’re able to, and that decision will greatly affect how people choose to design their new homes or condominiums in this new normal. Our space will have to be very functional, livable and afford us the room we need to work. There will be great emphasis on building out multi-purpose rooms that have the ability to work smarter for us and take full advantage of square footage.

There’s great power in good design. A living room equipped with bookshelves and a console table could function as an office, whereas a guest bedroom could also have built-in desk and storage solutions to offer the same value. It’s less about dedicating a specific room as an office and instead making certain rooms offer dual functions.

Lisa Rogers
Executive Vice-President
Dunpar Homes
Etobicoke, Ont.


Flato Developments

Flexible spaces are a great way to reconcile livability with affordability. In response to the working- from-home reality, we have started exploring the idea of co-ownership condo suites with a shared flexible zone that would allow two potential owners to share a home office space.

In multi-unit condo design where space is typically very efficient, we are looking beyond the four walls of each suite in order to find flexible and cost-effective design solutions through cost sharing. We think shared indoor and outdoor amenity areas with generous, strategically located flexible spaces designed with functionality, wellness and technology features would be very marketable. This way, a potential buyer might opt to pay more to buy into a building where there are options to work from home, but not always within the confines of the walls in his condo suite.

Eduardo Ortiz, for Flato Developments
Principal, Architecture Unfolded


Gairloch Developments

We have been seeing the trend in work-from-home increase over the past decade. Urban professionals long to eliminate a commute to gain more time for family and personal pursuits. There is also a desire to work in a more informal environment with comfort of home conveniences. Our clients are looking for uncluttered living spaces, timeless design and large windows affording views and plenty of natural light.

We understand that a condominium amenity space is an integral part of a building. A well-designed amenity should remain flexible, be attractive to many and facilitate future ways that we will work and inhabit our homes. At our 1414 Bayview project, the flexible amenity space is realized within a series of grand rooms, including a large communal table, for formal and informal lounging and working.

Our firm believes that a well-designed living space continues outdoors. Private, open-air retreats remain a top priority for our clients, especially in these unprecedented times. Several of the upper units at 1414 Bayview have access to large private terraces which will allow for outdoor lounging, entertaining and even working, from the comforts of home.

Stephanie Vermeulen & Kelly Doyle
for Gairloch Developments
Sixteen Degree Studio


Georgian Communities

An open concept floorplan has generally been the defining characteristic of new home design for years. The possibility of the new norm remaining suggests that flexible private areas such as home offices, gyms and playrooms with acoustic insulation are no longer a luxury but a necessity. In lowrise homes, functional finished lower levels offer additional space at an affordable price while eliminating impact to main floor principal rooms. Extensions to the outdoors from traditional living spaces will become more valued. Enlarged windows, covered porch and patio areas, walkouts when possible all help provide a sanctuary without leaving the home.

Danielle Jaques
Interior Design Coordinator
Georgian Communities
Barrie, Ont.


Heathwood Homes

In the new reality of a COVID-19 world, more people will be working from their home. This isn’t necessarily new, it’s just going to become so much more prevalent now.

In most homes, the trend towards the more open concept designs over the last decade does allow for flex space on the ground floor, but that same design comes with distractions in the form of noise and other people.

The easiest solution would be to carve out some “office space” in an existing bedroom or the basement area where daytime distractions would be minimized.

Bedrooms can be modified to have a desk niche, in lieu of a closet or have a murphy bed setup that allows for lots of additional daytime space. Also, in some homes, the laundry room could be moved to the basement, and that space becomes ideal office space.

Of utmost importance is that you have your Internet connections and modems of the highest speed and quality – so that you can ensure connectivity everywhere in the house. That way you can move around the home as needed – so that morning meeting can be had with a coffee on the front porch. Good technology is key.

Bob Finnigan
Chief Operating Officer
Acquisition & Housing
Heathwood Homes


Minto Communities

Within condos, technology must be elevated to offer keyless entry, parcel drop-off and virtual platforms which can keep residents connected. Amenities should include breakout rooms and pods that facilitate continued amenity independent use, with greater emphasis on easily disinfected surfaces. There will be value to designs that can prioritize private outdoor spaces, and offer provisions for full-time work/study for multiple people, separating work and personal life within a single space.

We must use the events of COVID-19 to think about the resilience of systems and spaces, without losing track of the importance of designing spaces that promote well-being through community and connection.

Matt Brown
Director, Product Development
Minto Communities


National Homes

Remote work spaces can take many forms. In larger homes, a dedicated office can work for one or two members of a household. For smaller homes, an alcove off a hallway with pocket doors for audible separation, similar to an office cubicle, may be all that is needed.

Glass partitions can be incorporated to allow a parent to keep an eye on their little ones, while still having a noise separation. If distractions in the home are not an issue, the main living space can be used as a flex space. Built-in desks with accessible outlets, such as National’s signature “Family Centre,” can be the perfect space to work from.

Wayne Cassidy
for National Homes
Cassidy and Co. Architectural Technologists
Ajax, Ont.



In Conversation With Vince Santino, Senior Vice-President of Development, Aoyuan Canada

GTA homebuilders upbeat about post-COVID-19 recovery

The Power Seat – building industry CEOs call for government change

Outlook 2020 – 5 things you need to know about real estate this year


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How buyers can prepare for the busy buying season – post-COVID-19

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How buyers can prepare for the busy buying season – post-COVID-19

Spring is typically busy season in real estate, but this year, COVID-19 has brought the market to a slowdown.

One day soon, though – and we hope very soon – things will return to “normal,” and consumers will be back looking for new homes and condos in the GTA and elsewhere, driving the housing market and the economy.

In the meantime, prospective homebuyers can take advantage of this expert advice from a who’s who of new home marketing executives.


Before COVID-19, the spring market was shaping up to be very strong, based on early sales results so far this year. With historic lows in inventory, especially in the GTA, new lows in interest rates and changes to the mortgage stress test, sales are already very brisk.

The outskirts of the GTA will continue to provide affordable options. Locations such as Brantford, Ancaster, Hamilton, Newcastle and Barrie will continue to offer lowrise alternatives for homebuyers. In Toronto and elsewhere in the GTA, lowrise homes will continue to become available in the form of stacked, back-to-back and traditional townhomes. In the city, the future for lowrise alternatives will continue to be the redevelopment of potential B and C class mom and pop commercial plazas along transit lines.

In the highrise market, we will see a major uptick in 905 sales, as end users and investors see greater value in price per square foot, with continued concerns about pricing in the city. Developers will continue to make units smaller to drive sales in the core, and a new market will emerge north of Eglinton, with better availability of two- and three-bedroom condos for first-time buyers and families wishing to stay in the city.

At the end of the day, always buy within your means and with your family’s best interests at heart.

Joseph Bozzo
Spectrum Sky
Vaughan, Ont.

More than 60 per cent of annual new home sales usually occur in a four month period in spring, and with the right preparation, you could experience the joy of buying a home.

1. Eliminate emotion through preparation
A new home purchase will be one of the biggest events of your life, and often an emotionally charged situation. We spend more time preparing to buy a new pair of $100 shoes than we do $1-million property. Uncertainty causes confusion, and confusion leads to indecision and inaction. Knowledge, on the other hand, leads to confidence, and confidence leads to power – so get prepared.

2. Set your priorities
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Focus on your target by creating a Motivation and Housing Needs chart. On the left column, list your (and your partner’s) motivations, such as marriage, family or a new job. On the right column, list your housing needs, noting how your life changes affect your housing needs. This isn’t a wish list, but a very real and practical definition of your current and maybe anticipated housing needs. This step will clearly define your priorities.

3. Dare to compare
If you have selected potential locations and housing types, it’s time to create a spreadsheet and write it all down. List the builder, site and home type on the left, and across the top note the location, home size, financing, price, features and finishings. Give each of these key points a score from one (the least desirable) to five (the most), and come up with a total score for each selected home. The objective is to narrow your favoured choices to two.

4. Know your costs
This is the most fundamental part of the homebuying process, but it’s also the one where people are the most unprepared. The mortgage stress test adds a significant variable to the approval process. How much can you afford? Will you have to “drive till you qualify”? What are your anticipated closing costs? Do you have all the funds necessary? That’s a lot of questions, but the good news is that all of the major banks can help you through this process. Take advantage of this guidance and prepare yourself – well before you attend any open houses or new home openings.

5. Take action
Finally, don’t be indecisive. Once you have conquered the first four steps, you are ready to take action – with confidence.

Andrew Brethour
Chairman & CEO
PMA Brethour Realty Group
Markham, Ont.


Considering the way prices are these days, it is essential that prospective buyers, as a first step, get pre-approved for a mortgage. And be aggressive about finding financing. If you don’t have the full deposit, you can always go to a B lender for a second mortgage or line of credit. Some buyers are fortunate enough to be able to obtain funds from the “Bank of Mom and Pop.”

If all else fails, look at purchasing a unit with a friend or family member for co-ownership. You can both live in it as roommates, or sell it outright and take the profit as your seed deposit money for your own individual units.

My point is: Move heaven and earth to get into the market. Prices are going up, and supply is still very tight, which bodes well for owners. If you postpone, as the years pass, prices will be even higher, and you’ll wish you’d gotten into the market years ago. Think about how happy homeowners who bought several years ago are today, having seen their financial investment grow.

Remember, too, that whether you buy a condo, townhouse, semi- or single detached house, it doesn’t have to be in Toronto or the GTA. Keep an open mind and you’ll find great affordability in markets such as Hamilton, Kitchener and even Picton.

Expand your horizons and be prepared to try alternative methods for attaining homeownership. In the end, it will all be worth it.

Debbie Cosic
Founder & CEO
In2ition Realty
Mississauga, Ont.


New home sales were off to a great start this year, and developers are working hard to offer more affordable housing solutions and incentives. If you’re in the market for a new home or condo, it’s definitely a great time to buy.

Just make sure you know what you want (or really need) and have shopped the competition to ensure you’re investing in the right neighbourhood, product and builder.

Consider locations outside Toronto and elsewhere in the GTA that are close to transit. Places such as Hamilton and Milton are especially hot, with some exciting new projects geared toward first-time buyers. Meanwhile, pockets of Pickering and Ajax still offer exceptional value for growing families.

We’re also seeing a lot of empty nesters eyeing cottage country in locations such as Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Huntsville, where you’ll find beautiful, four-season lifestyles, complemented by the same urban amenities you’d find in the city.

Tami Kenwell
Madhouse Advertising


In Toronto and elsewhere in the GTA, demand will continue to exceed supply for the foreseeable future. We are looking at ongoing population growth from immigration and migration, as Toronto continues its role as an international city and economic hub. Market prices will only increase as time goes on. With the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto already more than $2,500 per month, a new condo is still a wise and likely lucrative investment.

Carefully selecting the right location is a key starting point; location, location, location has long been the mantra for real estate. Choose a building in an up and coming area for a better price point, or in an established neighbourhood where you’re likely to pay a little more. Either way, buy the best condo and suite you can for the money, keeping in mind your lifestyle. Proximity to transit is also important; consider that investors usually purchase close to mass transit, since that’s a feature that appeals to renters. It’s all common sense.

This market will not change overnight, and may never change. We are still in a low-interest-rate environment… and who knows how long that will last? If you are in a position to get into the condominium ownership market, my advice is to buy now, rather than later.

Barbara Lawlor
President & CEO
Baker Real Estate Inc.


Friends often ask me where the best value in the GTA is, since I have been marketing new homes and condos for 25 years. What area has the best opportunity for appreciation?

I usually recommend heading east, to Courtice, Ajax, Bowmanville, Oshawa… really anywhere in Durham or Clarington is a great option for new-home buyers today. East GTA offers very affordable pricing compared to the west, as well as every feature you could ever need, including regular GO Transit service to downtown Toronto, easy access to the lake and beautiful conservation areas for hikes. There are excellent schools, tons of shopping and a great family lifestyle. The east is where it’s at!

I would also advise prospective buyers to explore the federal government’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive program which offers a down payment boost of up to 10 per cent. It doesn’t need to paid back until you sell your home, at which time the government will share in the equity you have built up over time. It’s an excellent opportunity that not enough people are taking advantage of yet.

Lianne McOuat
Vice-President, Strategy
McOuat Partnership
Markham, Ont.


Spring is typically the busy season in real estate, and this year the market in southern Ontario looked like it was really going to heat up. But this area is so popular year-round it’s unique: Traditional seasonality is quickly blurring. High demand, combined with a shortage of housing supply, ensure this trend will continue. In resale, for every house listed for sale there is a buyer ready and waiting. The best thing buyers can do to ensure they get what they want, when they want, is to get themselves in the ready position.

Despite mainstream media suggesting it is next to impossible to purchase a home here, opportunities present themselves all the time, especially to those who are ready to go. New homes provide a great option. By signing up for mailing lists of reputable builders in your areas of interest, prospective buyers will be the first to know when a community is coming, what the housing options are and what the price points will be. This process, and the information that comes with it, gives buyers knowledge to make informed decisions, better positioning them for their next move.

Fraser M. Wilson
Senior Vice-President
International Home Marketing Group
Toronto, Ont.



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The Power Seat – building industry CEOs call for government change

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The Power Seat – building industry CEOs call for government change

The Power Seat is a new feature series in which we put one pointed question to a select, specific audience.

We asked CEO level executives among the homebuilding community:

“You have been invited to a meeting with representatives of municipal, provincial and federal governments, and it’s your turn to speak. What do you say to them?”


This year is one of continual growth, which presents the opportunity to respond to the current and future challenges Ontarians face. All levels of government project an increase in Ontario’s population of 2.6 million #homebelievers by 2031. Change is where need meets opportunity.
We need more housing supply and choice across Ontario, and that means housing can be a cornerstone solution to climate change, the employment skills gap and the economy. Instead of viewing growth as a problem, let’s view it as the change opportunity for the type of future, communities and neighbourhoods that Ontarians want to call home.

Joe Vaccaro
CEO, Ontario Home Builders’ Association


All three levels of government need to work collaboratively, rather than in silos, and with one agenda, rather than competing ones. With a housing affordability and supply problem impacting the GTA, we need solutions-oriented collaboration.
We need to make it simpler to bring new homes to market by streamlining the process, faster to build new homes by reducing approval times, and fairer by making sure fees and taxes are equitable

Dave Wilkes
President and CEO, BILD


Help us do our job to create new housing. We have a shortage of housing because of the lack of supply. Don’t look at new housing as a golden goose that you can keep laying on more and more municipal charges. Right now, about 24 per cent of the cost of all new housing is going to some level of government in the form of taxes, levies, charges and fees.

Gary Switzer
Chief Executive Officer MOD Developments, Toronto


The three levels of government, as well as builders and developers, may all have different constituencies, but our objectives are remarkably similar.

Affordable housing works for all of us. Good planning works for all of us. Good design works for all of us. Building Green buildings works for all of us. Governments working together with developers works for all of us and can help facilitate all of this.

At The Rose Corporation, we accomplished exactly this, working with York Region, the Town of Newmarket and the federal government (CMHC). Together, we are now building a sustainable, complete and better overall community for having worked in close consultation with each other.

Daniel Berholz
President, The Rose Corporation


The largest issue surrounds climate change, GHG emissions and resilience in new housing. Over the next decade, these may be some of the biggest changes our industry will face. Our building code is about to be changed to begin steering the industry towards net-zero homes.

Government needs to support the R&D side of the construction industry so that new and better products can be developed. Net-zero homes are achievable. There are a number of builders that have already constructed a discovery home and are looking at the ability to market this in a production capacity. Although from a technical perspective this is achievable, it will come at a significant cost. Net-zero homes will not be cheap.

The bigger question, then, is, will such initiatives be affordable? This is what governments will have to balance. When they regulate such a high minimum standard, our industry will be forced to meet the requirements. This is where R&D pays back. We need materials and products that are approved and available at the best price points possible to adopt into our building program.

Government should keep a close eye on the timing for mandating high standards of construction, and be mindful that affordability must be a top priority in the implementation.

Johnathan Schickedanz
General Manager, FarSight Homes, President, Durham Region Home Builders’ Association


Housing affordability is one of the most important issues facing Canadians today. TREB remains diligent, along with other real estate boards and associations across Canada, in urging all levels of government to remove barriers and reduce the cost of homeownership.

With all levels of government in Canada, plus reputable international bodies acknowledging that we have a housing supply problem, and specifically the affordability pressures facing the GTA, it’s imperative for the growth of our city and region that we have flexible housing market policies that will help sustain balanced market conditions over the long term.

The time is now and policymakers need to translate their acknowledgment of supply issues into concrete solutions in 2020 to bring a greater array of ownership and rental housing online. As always, TREB will be there to help policymakers have the right impact on the market and Canadians.

John DiMichele
CEO, Toronto Real Estate Board


The bottom line is this: Unless we can shorten the time it takes to bring developments through the approval process and to market faster, demand is going to continue to outstrip supply.

There have been some very positive enhancements the provincial government has put through to try and reduce these timeframes, by reducing red tape and other changes, and we’re grateful for that.

But in many cases the Province and the municipalities do not see eye to eye on how policies should be applied, and this constant fighting continuously thwarts the positive efforts and mires the process.

We have to work together – the politicians, building industry and public – to accept growth, have growth pay for growth, and not for unrelated municipal spending as well. We need to plan to have adequate supply of all types of housing, but especially what is missing in our urban areas today – the two- and three-bedroom midrise condos – the “missing middle.”

 cl_feb2020_the_power_seat_bob_finniganBob Finnigan
Principal and COO of Acquisition & Housing, Herity, Toronto


It’s vital that all three levels of government work together to address the housing affordability issue by increasing the supply of housing to meet demands of growth in the GTA for decades to come.

Sustained infrastructure growth requires multi-level government support partnering with private enterprise to foster innovation in procurement and delivery and that the planning approval process is streamlined to avoid increased costs which impact housing affordability.

The cities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe need to actually adopt and implement provincial policies on development densities near transport nodes. Ultimately, the homeowners carry the burden of the increased costs from a lack of land supply, approval delays and development charge increases.

Niall Collins
President, Great Gulf Residential, Toronto


Canadian economists and politicians have spent the better part of the last decade sighing with relief and sharing kudos for having skirted the U.S. housing crisis. Meanwhile, north of the border, Canadians are on a rollercoaster ride, as a result of government intervention and other factors. We’ve experienced record-high housing prices, record-low interest rates, economic downturns, and domestic speculators and foreign investors pushing people out of their homes because they can’t afford to live there anymore. We’ve seen housing inventory drop, and new development hindered by red tape and mounting development fees.

We need to keep up with housing demand to maintain sustainable housing values. It’s a complex issue with many moving parts.

To Mayor John Tory: Eliminate the municipal Land Transfer Tax, or at the very least, cap it. With Toronto’s ever-increasing property values, this tax is prohibitive in an already unaffordable market. The prospect of having to pay double LTT is deterring some move-up buyers from listing their homes, further straining the already low housing supply. How do you intend to stimulate housing market activity?

To Premier Doug Ford: Domestic and foreign immigration to Ontario is critical to a healthy economy, but as you work to continue attracting the biggest and best businesses to the province, where will you house the employees and their families? Housing supply is critically low, with developers stuck behind red tape and buried under development fees, preventing them from building the homes Ontarians so desperately need.

To Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Canada needs a National Housing Strategy that addresses inventory and affordability in our cities. Many Canadians, especially Millennials, new immigrants and those employed in the so-called “gig economy” feel homeownership is becoming less tangible by the day. While politicians of all stripes acknowledge the mounting urgency of affordable housing, few are offering any timely or compelling solutions. Focus on creating supply and affordability in a sustainable way, instead of continuing to support corrective measures that have constrained Canadians from participating in the economically beneficial practice of homeownership.

Christopher Alexander
Executive Vice-President and Regional Director, ReMax of Ontario- Atlantic Canada



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