Dear Urbaneer: Should I Replace My Vintage Windows When My House Is Considered A Teardown?

Dear Urbaneer

Welcome to this month’s instalment of Dear Urbaneer where we open up our virtual mailbag to field real estate questions from our clients. This month, I’m responding to the owner of a 1960s home who is trying to determine the merits on replacing her favourite but failing bow feature window, and whether the potential expense is sensible given its likely when the time comes to sell, the property will be purchased for land value and a new executive (monster) home constructed in its place.



Dear Urbaneer:

After weathering many years, the original 1960s feature five-by-five pane bow window in our living room overlooking our wooded ravine garden has been causing some headaches. Several of the seals are broken, which has resulted in condensation, fogging, paint damage and seemingly more maintenance than is worthwhile. We are considering replacing this window, which I love, but it seems the only option available is unappealing, in part because the proposed window solution fails to complement the architectural integrity of our house, and because the new window frames are substantial which reduces the amount of glazing and obstructs our panoramic view. Do you know of any alternative suggestions? We’ve been advised when we sell the house and downsize, within the next 5 to 15 years, the buyer of our property – which is located on a generous 25 x 255 foot treed ravine lot in an established downtown east neighbourhood – will likely tear our house down and build a luxury residence.


Window Worries




Here is my reply:


Dear Window Worrier:


This is a very timely question given there are a lot of homeowners who have owned their dwelling in the original City of Toronto for 2 decades or longer, and they’re consciously mapping their future, including when to sell their existing house, and where and how they’ll downsize. And unless they’ve completed a substantial renovation in the past ten to fifteen years, they’re discovering when the realtor assesses the property they’re being advised it’s approaching the end of its economic life, and that its value is predominantly for the parcel of land their house sits upon. This won’t be news to them, for they’ll only have to look somewhere on their block to see a recent newer larger more luxurious dwelling, considered today’s ‘higher and better use’. Knowing this, it’s not uncommon for the existing homeowner to exercise financial prudence moving forward when it comes to spending money on the property. And if an integral building component like a window, or a bathtub with shower enclosure, fails and requires replacement they’ll opt for the most economical solution to resolve the deficiency. Why? Because they believe if their future buyer is going to substantially alter or rebuild the house, that Buyer will deem all the more recent capital improvements invested in the dwelling to have little or no value, regardless of their actual cost. As a result, why would one pay any more than the cost associated with the easiest fix?

Well, as you’ve expressed, you don’t like the window solution presented to most homeowners with a failing 1960s bow 5×5 pane window because it doesn’t honour the style of your home, it decreases the amount of natural light compared to the existing window, and it compromises the sightline of the garden. And, if I may add, these vinyl clad units are ugly with little design consideration. Isn’t it worth spending the additional capital for a product that you like, and wouldn’t you be happier if you invested in a solution you consider more beautiful to enjoy to whatever the balance of tenure? Or do you think beauty in design is money wasted if it isn’t going to last for as long as its intended? 

Given windows are an integral part of a home’s facade which impacts the exterior appearance, the interior feel, and frames the views of a property’s landscape (they’re the eyes from which one can see, and be seen), I do believe the replacement window you choose could have bearing on the resale value of your home, even if it may ultimately be knocked down. Like all property owners who face replacing a major building component, the cost you incur to complete the upgrade will vary depending on the quality, the design, the materiality, the necessity or choice of customization, and the installation. And I get that sometimes the best solution may also be the cheapest solution if the alternatives are really expensive.

However, I do think it bears thinking through. Even if your tenure is not going to exceed 15 years, as a property owner you have to reconcile that if you opt to replace your pretty vintage window with the new manufactured vinyl unit you propose, although you’ll enjoy the practical benefits of reducing maintenance while improving energy efficiency (if the product has low-emissive coatings, argon gas, and double or triple pane construction), you’re risking altering the appearance in a manner that detracts from the home’s existing vintage charm while compromising on the very qualities you enjoy that will be diminished with the new window. This is a challenge evey property owner has to make as they weigh the costs of replacing or upgrading existing building components. Is it worth improving your comfort and ease with the economical new window option at the expense of the beauty specific to its original aesthetic? As with all things housing – and regardless of whether the house will be torn down or not on resale – every property owner has to weigh out the price tags on the replacement of existing building components with new products which range from cheap and cheerful to costly and custom and, often reflected in the price tag is the degree to which quality, performance, design, and beauty is achieved. As a result, it is prudent to consider options before making a decision.



Yes, The Highest & Best Use Of Land Dictates The Value Of Toronto Property Today 

As you acknowledged, there is a good chance that your ravine property – by virtue of the dwelling’s obsolescence and the desirability of the site – will either be radically renovated or torn down when the time comes for you to sell the dwelling. While the single-family property market in the original City of Toronto has included substantially gutting, topping up (adding another floor) or tearing down existing structures over the past two decades to create the on-going demand for luxury single-family homes. However, as Toronto has moved into a housing crisis, with skyrocketing demand and a lack of affordable housing options, the City has been under growing political pressure to implement as-of-right options for property owners to add additional units on their property. Here is my co-authored post on the City’s recent as-of-right by-law approving Laneway Housing In Toronto, By Sustainable And Urbaneer, while this piece called Toronto Real Estate, Yellowbelt Zoning & The Missing Middle: Part One, explains how it’s time for politicians to allow multi-unit dwellings in single-family neighbourhoods as long as they complement the existing neighbourhood fabric. What’s also trending? As I wrote in Ten Toronto New Builds That Recently Sold Between $2M And $10M, Toronto’s luxury real estate market is no longer confined to long-established affluent neighbourhoods, but now encompass any neighbourhood spanning the central core. The post includes an example in the neighbourhood your ravine property is located.



Located North of Queen East, West of Victoria Park in The Beaches – MLS District E02
Bought: October 2014 / $950,000  •  Sold: April 2018 / $3,600,000


How The Six Essential Layers Of Property Comprise Total Market Value

As I wrote in Understanding The Six Essential Layers Of Property, it’s important to understand how the Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Space Plan, and Stuff (the furnishings) each contribute to your property’s overall value. While the percentage of value I list here do not reflect the value of all Toronto real estate, they do serve as a guide in establishing how the different layers each factor into the price you’ll garner when the time comes to sell.

The Site: When it comes to establishing the value of a property’s site, in the original city of Toronto the parcel of land your house sits on represents about 85% of its market value. Given this is the most valuable asset, I would recommend in advance of selling you determine what a future buyer could build on the site, and potentially resolve any mitigating issues a future buyer might have. This would include any restrictions because it’s on a ravine, as well as completing an arborist report identifying which trees are protected.

The Structure & Skin: If the structure and building envelope have maintained their integrity, or require only minor repairs, it’s value is worth in the ballpark of 7% of the value of the property. If the foundation is severely compromised and suffers for structural issues, or there are significant water management issues (like flooding in the basement) it would likely make better financial sense to knock the shelter down and construct a new one. However, if it has some utility, your future buyer will keep as much of the original foundation and structure as feasible and then add/extend onto it. By taking this course of action, the property becomes a ‘renovation’ rather than a ‘new build’ which is easier for getting approvals, permitting while saving on costs.

The Services & Space Plan: If the services – roof, windows, heating/cooling, plumbing and wiring – of your house are newer to mid-life, there can be a real value of around 3% for these building components, as long as they’re at but not much beyond mid-life to obsolescence. Even if the space plan does not align with the way people prefer to live today (here’s On The History – And Popularity – Of The Open Concept Space Plan ) a property which is habitable will appeal to the Buyers who would live, or rent, the dwelling while they go through planning/design, approvals/permitting, material/sourcing, and costing. This can take at least a year or two for a developer, and for the end user usually 4 to 10 years while they save the capital necessary – before undertaking the renovation/rebuild. It’s important to keep in mind that even if your property is purchased with the intention of tearing down the house, a buyer will pay more money if the residence is sufficiently habitable for the next 3 to 8 years while the design, approvals and permiting process is completed. After all, if a buyer can offset the acquisition cost by generating an income, or personally occupying the dwelling, it becomes a more attractive purchase. Furthermore, dwellings which are unihabitable can be harder to finance, often requiring larger down payments. 

Stuff: The final 5% of value in a property is in its presentation. In other words, an old decaying house that comes to market as an estate sale in ‘where-is as-is’ condition – that presents as ‘overwhelming’ – will lose the majority of buyers who don’t want to undertake a huge project. If a house lacks charm, feels like every surface needs some attention to make it livable (let alone upgrade), then the pool of end users shrinks, leaving only the renovators and opportunists to bid on it. The same goes if the interior is stuffed with contents, or there are too many mismatched styles. This piece explains Why Home Staging Is Important When Selling Real Estate, as well as some of my challenges with this sales strategy.



Selling Livable Rather Than Land Value

If the dwelling hasn’t tipped into the ‘sad and forlorn’ zone – to the point where it really is worth just land value – even if it needs work, as long as it presents as ‘livable’ it will have its audience. In fact, given the rise of the shelter media, it’s not unusual for buyers to request that I find them a house with decent building components but a really old kitchen and bath they can renovate and put on their personal stamp. This is because the 24-hour loop of television home makeover shows – Behold The HGTV Effect On Toronto Real Estate– have convinced buyers renovation is really fun, an easy way to personalize your home, and profitable to do in the process.



Buyers Love Trees, Ravines & Privacy

For every property owner, it’s important to itemize the unique qualities, in addition to your favourite features of your home as they’re likely to be equally compelling and alluring for buyers. As you acknowledged the window in question overlooks the mature tree canopy of your ravine garden. Given a site with a view like yours is highly desirable, the property’s intrinsic value is tied to how well you showcase, and your realtor promotes, keeping your prospective Buyers’ focus on this priceless aspect of your property. In fact, I recently sold an enchanting fairy tale cottage in The Beach on a 25 x 169 foot lot ( A Hide ‘N Seek Sanctuary In The Beach Offered For $1,799,000 ) perched on top of a hill overlooking the old riverbed that is Kenilworth Avenue today. During the 30 days it was for sale I discovered there are a large group of buyers who have long been casually keeping an eye on the market awaiting the right generous parcel of land that offers quiet, privacy and a treescape view. I underestimated how many people covet a centrally-located property with a natural landscape, and how intangible a premium it is given how rare it’s offered for sale. While a ravine lot is rare, every property has its own unique and best features, so it’s important homeowners keep their eyes on this prize when it comes to future resale.




Window Replacement Options: Reconciling Cost, Quality & Design

In your specific circumstance, the issue is what to replace your 1960s feature five-by-five pane bow window in your living room overlooking your wooded ravine garden with.

Here are five options:


Option 1 – Replacing With The Conventional Vinyl Bow Window Option


With respect to your bow window, there’s no question the most economical option is to install a new manufactured vinyl window, pictured above. However, like you I have concerns regarding the incongruity of the vertical and horizontal lines of the window as it relates to the interior decor, which is contrary to the envelope of true 1960 design. I also think the thick window frames obstruct the view and diminish the amount of natural light you currently get. This replacement option is less attractive than the original and, by default; I don’t see it adding any value to your home. In fact, not only would you have a window that you don’t love, choosing it may negatively impact resale.


Option 2 – Install A Custom Replica

You could explore getting an exact custom replica installed. Yes, it would be significantly more costly than Option One, but it would provide you significantly more enjoyment, continue a familiarity with space and environment. I’m fairly confident the next buyer would either incorporate it into their redesign or they would find a happy and appreciative place of prominence in another property (it would get snapped up at Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore).



Option 3 – Repair Existing Window

You mentioned you’re planning to stay in the house for 5 to 15 years. One way to reconcile your desire to maintain your home’s exterior charm, but make your lower maintenance is to have your bow window repaired and restored, if it is not compromised beyond repair. However, not any one can tackle an endeavour like this. In fact, I reached out to architect Paul Dowsett from Sustainable. who suggested Franz Truppe at Synergy Windows And Doors in London, Ontario, as he’s one of the last window experts who can execute something this custom. Investing in window repair/restoration would let you preserve the look that you love regardless of its cost, while extending its lifespan.


Option 4 – Rectangular Box Bay Window


Another option is the installation of a new rectangular box bay window. This would require framing out the existing curved base and top detail under the eaves (but keeping it under the existing eave), whereby it would retain the same width and height as the existing window, but would have a larger expanse of uninterrupted glass (in the sample image above I wouldn’t even have the centre frame). I presume it would be made off sight, and on the day the original window is removed this pre-fabricated unit would be installed. I’m suggesting this option because I believe the value of the property is highly dependent on your buyer standing at this window and surveying the vista. The more natural light, the better the panorama, and the increased opportunity to create the moment to grab your buyer’s attention with their heart, the more likely you’ll secure a sale at a premium price.


Option 5 – Sliding Glass Doors


The more I processed your circumstance, balancing your personal enjoyment for upwards of 15 years and achieving top dollar on resale (even if your buyer intends to tear the house down), another solution might be to remove the bow window in its entirety, along with its wood base and top, and replace the original window with an expansive wall of sliding glass doors. Yes, you would have to reconcile the loss of the existing uniqueness of the bow window and to some a flat wall of glazing may seem a step down as an architectural feature. However, the gain of improving the indoor/outdoor circulation while increasing the amount of natural light and elevating the view of your wooded ravine could enhance the resale value of your property (I actually believe you would recover the cost to execute this) while potentially converting more prospective purchasers into Buyers.



If you enjoyed this blog, try:

Dear Urbaneer: Should I Renovate My House In Stages Or Do A Full Gut?

Dear Urbaneer: Help! We Want to Renovate, And Keep Our Relationship Intact

How To Assess The Value Of Outdoor Living Space


I get it. As a homeowner, it can be hard to reconcile balancing budget with resale value when it comes to choosing the most suitable building component, both as it pertains to how you value your own quality of life during your tenure, and how a future buyer might perceive your choice. With decades of experience in the real estate trenches, I cannot exclusively make these decisions for you, but I can expertly counsel you on which improvements are best and the most impactful specific to the property in question.

May I be of help to you, or someone you love?



Thanks for reading!


Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000

– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –


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