The Best Way to Experience Urban Living

Right behind ‘Carefree Living’, the number one reason that was cited for the decision to move into the urban centre, and often to move into a condo tower, was the desire to enjoy the convenience of urban living.   That is; a life style that puts the home owner in closer proximity to the amenities and communities that he/she/they enjoy.   One that enables them to engage in a more socially and physically active life; that doesn’t waste the time and expense required of automobile travel.

Automobiles are expensive, and that expense is directly proportional to the number of kilometers that you are required to put on the car each year.   Besides this substantial expense, the necessary commute can add a great deal of stress to one’s life, wasting hours each week that could be spent doing something more fruitful, and negatively impacting your health.   In addition, all this commuting adds tonnes of climate altering carbon into the atmosphere and depletes scarce resources – not exactly what we would consider a sustainable lifestyle.  A recent study by UC Berkeley researchers showed that the carbon footprint of families living in the suburbs was significantly greater than those living closer to the city core.  Not surprisingly, the main source of disadvantage of suburban living was due to emissions from transportation related sources.

So when you move into the urban core you should congratulate yourself on choosing a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, as well as one that is more convenient and will save you stressful, wasted time behind the wheel of your car(s).   Last year the British publication, MailOnline, reported that the average British commuter spent 10,600 hours commuting to work alone, and that in turn would cost him/her approximately $100,000 for that ‘privilege’.  Of course Ottawa is not exactly the same as an average British city, but you can expect it to be relatively similar in terms of time and cost.

Now, if you choose to trade your suburban home for a unit in an urban condo tower, you will be trading the frustration and cost of a long commute for condo fees, association politics, more noise and elevator wait times.   This can be a reasonable trade-off for some, but we believe that there are better options.  We already looked into condo fees in a previous post and discovered that they could be pretty costly. Remember that given current mortgage rates, it would be possible to purchase a $700,000 home for what it could cost in condo fees alone in a comfortable sized luxury condo.   We did not however, consider the many non monetary considerations that need to be accounted for when comparing condo living with semi detached or detached accommodations.   Perhaps the biggest difference with condo living boils down to the issue of the communal living that it implies.  Specifically, when you live in a high-rise condo building you are typically surrounded on 2 sides and usually above and below by other units – and you don’t get to pick your neighbours.  The results can lead to a clash of lifestyles, with young families, young singles and elderly couples all in very close quarters.   This in turn can lead to noisy sleepless nights and/or numerous restrictions imposed on your freedoms by the condo association.    The condominium is registered and runs as a corporation in our province, with a board, formal meetings, elections and the like, and it is this board that manages the building and related maintenance and repairs.  When you consider how important and costly these decisions can be for the residents, and the fact that often board members (the executive) have no relevant work experience to guide them, you can understand why condo owners frequently have major conflicts with the condominium association.   Besides the risk of conflict with condominium associations, their very existence takes control away from the resident for financial decisions related to home repair, maintenance and up fitting – something that many find stressful.

Another draw back of condo living that I alluded to above results from the inherent issue of shared resources.  Many key resources are shared in a design to improve cost efficiency.   The cost of these shared facilities is borne by all the unit holders no matter how much they may use it.   In some older condominiums electricity and other services are considered community services that are paid for out of the condo fees.   This sharing of costs leads to higher usage (waste) and exploitation which in turn drives up condo fees and the individual unit holder is next to powerless to reduce this ‘tax’ that he must pay.  In times of rising hydro costs, this can create significant additional cost of living pressures.  Another shared facility – elevators – creates a different set of challenges.   Sharing of this costly service – that is only used a few times a day – just makes good economic sense.   Unfortunately, traffic patterns are not evenly distributed, thus leading to periods of congestion and long wait times when you can least afford the time.  And what if there is a power outage?!

Single family and detached homes in the urban environment don’t share these issues.  Moreover, these homes are typically located, as infills, in established communities with mature tree lined streets.   As such, they are closer to parks and many community amenities that families and mature couples are looking for.  Rather than being constructed in the commercial core – which is often the case with condominium towers – they are built in urban residential areas that better support the active urban lifestyle that many young families and mature couples are seeking.

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