by P. Marsden-Dole and the CCCA Seniors Committee
The mystery of the mushrooming condo towers in Centretown is linked to the aging population, migration into the city, more single buyers and the fortunate young who have landed good jobs.
A 2012 condo report by Genworth Canada, a seller of mortgage insurance, suggests that demand for condos will remain firm in Ottawa and prices in 2013 will rise by 1.8 percent.
I spoke to Janny Mills, a Royal LePage real estate sales representative whose smiling face and iconic hair style decorates many pieces of city furniture in Centretown.
Janny started life in west central Ottawa and chose to have her career and family in Centretown. Her daily interaction with condo buyers, young and old, confirms the trend: many people want to live downtown “where the action is,” and close to their workplace.
Her advice comes from her experience. “People have reasons for their decisions. Some of the factors to consider when purchasing a condominium are location, size, view, building height, cost, parking, condo fees and the amenities. You have to make your own choice. Regardless of what we purchase, more often than not there is a compromise. Listen to yourself and trust your own instinct.”
First, I asked Mills about what groups are driving the condo rush. “There are two categories of buyers in the Ottawa housing market—those who will be owner-occupiers, and those who will be investors,” Mills said.
“The first group captures many of the older homeowner couples who are leaving their homes to move into an easier life style in which to age in place,” Mills added.
“In terms of the single buyer, they are of all ages. We are also seeing couples combine their incomes to help qualify for a mortgage. Those who have decided to rent will fill the units purchased by the investors. The advantages of condo living must be weighed with the maintenance and upkeep of a house. Condo units offer many advantages for those who wish for a secure surrounding, no exterior maintenance and a simplified life style. The varied condo fees are reflective of the services by each individual condominium building and the number of units in the building. Some of the self-managed units may have lower condo fees.”
Mills goes on to say that “low-, mid- and high-rise buildings are a personal choice by the buyer, and the range of condo units on the market provide a multitude of housing choices in many neighbourhoods.”
Canada Mortage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimated in 2005 that the 55-64 age group would continue to grow from about 3.7 million persons in 2006 to about 5 million in 2036.
This suggests that housing demand for this group will be strong for many years to come.
This also means that the number of seniors 65 years and older in Canada in 2036 is projected to be almost equal to the current population of Quebec and Alberta combined, and the number of those over 85 will be more than the current population of Manitoba.
Many young senior couples moving into condos in town will lose a partner, most likely male, and the surviving partner may then be left alone with chronic illness in their late aging.
Statistics in a 2012 CMHC report on senior housing back up this statement: young seniors (65-74) enjoy a proportion of men to women of 90.5 men to every 100 women, which declines to 71.8 men to every 100 women in the ages 75-84, and then to 45.1 men to every 100 women from 85 on.
Young senior women might take the hint and plan ahead to make the move into their late life nests while the men are still around to do the heavy lifting!
Second, I asked Mills about a commonly heard comment about the limited interior space of average-priced new condos going up in Centretown.
She said that young “owner-occupied” buyers are minimalists. They are looking for a modern, easy-care apartment with some good amenities.
Their high-tech gadgets support a youthful urban lifestyle. Many have cell phones and do away with the land line. Computers now can be used to watch television. A breakfast bar serves for all meals.
They seem to not need their parents’ much-loved possessions, or perhaps not yet, waiting for a later move into more family-size accommodations.
She said that older buyers must make tough decisions about downsized living, and give away or throw out excess possessions to accept a simpler lifestyle for their later years. What they discard might end up as someone else’s pride and joy, but not in a small condo.
Also, older condo buyers should be considering their future safety and security as they age.
The CMHC provided an excellent list of safety features for seniors in their 2005 report, “Supportive Housing for Seniors.” The condo you are considering should be adaptable, when needed, for safe and accessible bathrooms, kitchens, and indoor and outdoor common spaces.
Important features to consider for future needs are: non-slip flooring; spaces for handrails in the halls; overhead light fixtures with at least three light bulbs (if one bulb burns out, the others will still be working); wide wheelchair-friendlydoorways with very low—or no—thresholds to make getting in and out while carrying groceries easier; lever door handles that can be easily turned; electrical outlets, light switches and other controls that are easy to reach while sitting, and closets usable from a seated position.
“The housing construction industry will make all of this available if the demand is there,” Mills says. She stresses that, as we age, we all have to make decisions and it is important to be aware of the broad range of prices associated with the variety of housing choices.