May 27, 2016

Developers are learning to cater to downsizers

Alex-and-Rosemary-horizontalTrading a big house for a condo or townhouse appeals to many people, but it has to be the right fit

REAL ESTATE
BY MICHAEL BERNARD

For well-known Vancouver photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward and his wife Rosemary, downsizing meant playing what he terms “a brutal game of Noah’s ark.”

After 30 years of filling their large westside Vancouver property with rare old roses, many varieties of rhododendrons and more than 500 hostas, among other plants, there was no way they could leave their babies to the bulldozer that would eventually dig up their yard and mow down their old house.

GettyImages-154015001“Being able to move these plants was the reason we were able to leave the house,” says Waterhouse-Hayward. He confesses the couple spent much more on plants than on house repairs before finally trucking them away to replant at a Kitsilano duplex.

Many of the downsizers westside realtor Colette Gerber has helped to move simply want to be freed of enduring yet another kitchen reno, roof replacement or seemingly endless house maintenance.

Despite some media stereotyping, Gerber says many of those leaving the westside have lived on relatively modest incomes. “But they go to open houses and see stainless-steel appliances, six-burner gas stoves and steam ovens, and they want the luxury they haven’t had before. They want the deep bathtubs, they want the views and the concierge and the fitness centre in the building.”

Westside realtor Tim Turner says many of his clients find deciding whether to leave a home they have lived in for many years stressful and traumatic, rather than a golden opportunity. “It is a really difficult time for them,” says Turner. “The biggest issue once they have decided is finding something that is big enough to move into.

“Most of the new product is being built for young people who don’t mind living in 1,000 to 1,200 square feet,” he says, adding that many of his westside clients have lived in homes two to three times that large.

FINDING A NEW HOME THAT’S LARGE ENOUGH TO MAKE THEM FEEL COMFORTABLE IS A BIG ISSUE FOR MANY DOWNSIZING BUYERS

However, there are developers who get this trend, says Turner. One, for example, keeps an architect at a westside condo show suite, eager to help potential buyers “reconfigure” smaller spaces into something they can live with.

Architect and developer Michael Geller says some developers are catering to downsizers by building larger apartments with big balconies. And developers in Richmond, Surrey and Langley are building townhouses with the master bedroom on the main and, in more affluent areas, a den or study to appeal to downsizers.

But Geller says there are many things the downsizer market would appreciate that are still being left out: bigger kitchens, full-height pantries with drawers, lazy susans in corner cabinets and “microwaves you don’t have to get down on your hands and knees to use.” Ceiling lights in bedrooms and closets and on stairways would also be popular as older people have greater difficulty seeing in the dark.

Meanwhile, the plant-happy Alex has never looked back.

“I refuse to go back and look at the old house,” he says. “Now that we have moved to Kitsilano, I have a bicycle with a wicker basket in front. We can walk two blocks to buy our vegetables. People say hello and goodbye, good night and good morning. And I even know my mailman’s name.”

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