An article in a local newspaper this past week-end got me thinking about the proliferation of real-estate regulations, bylaws and housing labels, and how they can confuse new home buyers.
The article in question dealt with a new class of residential construction that the city is looking for input on, that is; Coach Homes – a special category of infill development. Now, before I describe what a Coach Home is, I must confess that even though we are in the business of infill development I was initially confused about what a Coach home is. I had heard the term before, but I really didn’t recall, and there are just so many terms and labels that are loosely tossed around that it can get quite confusing. And that is the point. The many labels that are used out there – some based on bylaws and regulation, and others based on popular or proprietary terminology – can mislead the new home buyer.
Proliferation of Housing Terms and Labels
A quick survey of labels used to describe different types of housing within the city revealed literally dozens of terms. Some used to describe styles like ‘Craftsman’ and others intended to describe the level of independence from, or relationship to, adjacent homes such as a ‘Row’ home, ‘Detached’ home, and ‘Apartment’ dwelling. It is this latter set of classifications that is most interesting to me, since it can have huge implications for lifestyle and it is these labels that can be most misleading.
For example; the term condominium is often used synonymously with apartment dwellings when in fact it simply refers to one legal form of ownership that involves common elements among the home owners.
A Coach home refers to a small dwelling with separate foundation, that is placed in the back yard or side yard of an existing residence. The intention is to provide a smallish independent space to accommodate aging parents, a nanny, or even provide some rental income from the property. So, what then is the real difference between a Coach home and Garden suite, Granny flat, Nanny suite, In-law suite, etc.? In some cases there are technical / legal differences, in others there are real material differences in benefits, and still in other cases, they represent differences in name only. The problem becomes when the narrative focuses on one of these labels, it can become the de facto solution for meeting a particular need, to the exclusion of other (possibly more suitable) options. So, for example; in the case of Coach homes, there may be other potentially better solutions for handling the needs to accommodate extended family members, and/or additional income. A secondary dwelling unit which includes what is commonly referred to as a Nanny Suite (an apartment included in the foot print of an existing home) could be more practical and convenient, and could allow for changing use as a family evolves through the typical life cycle. Yet options like this can be overlooked because of a growing focus and obsession with Coach homes. We typically don’t build secondary dwelling units into our homes, but we are big believers in flexibly accommodating evolving needs within the footprint of a new home. We almost always build a suite/room on a separate floor that has an adjacent bathroom and often includes a separate entrance, that can serve as a separate bedroom and living space or an office as a family’s needs change.
Detached Single Family Homes
Similarly, people looking for greater independence from their neighbour virtually always search for Detached Single family homes, or if they are very in tune with building terminology and labels they might include Detached Linked homes in their search (although this type of construction is very rare). Paradoxically, we are building two new homes in Westboro that are classified as semi-detached, but which offer more of the features that provide greater independence from your neighbour than most Detached Single homes. Our homes would more accurately be described as Linked Singles as they are just linked at the garage. They provide approximately 24 feet of distance between the living quarters of each of the homes. Compare that to less than 8 feet of separation between the living spaces of most Detached Single homes in a suburban environment. These homes also have significantly more street frontage at almost 60 feet of frontage when compared to about 45 feet for your typical detached new home in the suburbs. These homes are also adjacent to a quaint city park, yet this ideal family home would have been completely overlooked by anyone searching for a single family home and using the label most commonly associated with family oriented living – Detached Single home.
If you want to better understand just how misleading these labels can be, go take a look at a few sample new detached single homes being offered in the suburbs, and then come visit us at our new home development on Athlone ave., in Westboro. Compare for yourself, and I think you will be surprised.