Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer where I offer my insights on questions my clients have posed. This month, I’m helping a client who has his heart fixed on one particular aspect of his buy-to-be: a garage.
As I put together my wish list to begin my house hunt, I know that there is one item that is a must-have for me: a garage. I love to repair and restore motorcycles, so this is at the top of my priority list. However, I recognize that the age and design of Toronto neighbourhoods in the central part of the city may not necessarily be conducive to this housing wish. Also, there are other features inside my hopeful home that I desire as well. What are my options? Is this going to require sacrificing something else in order to secure a garage?
Here’s my reply.
Dear Garage Guy:
Yours is an interesting question which touches on two extremely relevant points for Toronto real estate:
Given the dynamics of supply, demand and eroding affordability in Toronto, compromise is almost always a necessity for homebuyers. However, it is possible to achieve that balance between need and want, to make the right buy as it pertains to your needs. The age and condition of a lot of the housing stock that you would likely be looking at might make it challenging to secure a workshop-ready garage, but that shouldn’t necessarily deter you from keeping that criteria on your house hunting list. It’s about framing your wishes in the context of the market, available stock, your budget and level of comfort with building and/or renovations.
(This doesn’t count!!)
Toronto Real Estate, On-Site Parking And A Property With A Garage
First, I want to share an insight which almost always surprises Buyers. Over my 25 years of selling real estate in the central core of the city, I’ve come to learn that a property with onsite parking – whether it’s a city licensed front pad parking space (with an annual fee of just under $300 payable to the City), a spot at the end of a shared mutual drive, or an onsite spot off a laneway, most Buyers value a parking spot pretty much the same. What’s an additional surprise, is that if a house has one or two car parking, Buyers only add a slight premium for the second space even when most everyone knows parking spaces in Toronto condominiums sell for $25,000 to $50,000 each! And what’s even more surprising on top of this reality, is that if the property has a dilapidated garage, a mid-aged open carport, or the grandaddy of them all – a newer concrete block garage – most Buyers don’t appropriate a specific value or premium based on the varying degrees or condition of the parking structure. Essentially, so much focus is directed at the location of the property, the condition and space plan of the dwelling, or even the cost benefit of a secondary unit which can generate income (regardless of whether it is legal, or not), most Buyers see on site covered or uncovered parking as am equal-value benefit. In other words, a house with a crappy one or two-car garage will sell for a similar price as one with a concrete block one or two-car garage on the same street, as Buyers tend to place higher priorities on other aspects of the dwelling. Strange, but true!
It’s amazing the garage isn’t accorded the value premium it’s worthy of. And it’s also often overlooked as potential space that expands usuable square footage for many households, until you come to own one. It can be used for storage, a workshop, band practice, a studio or loads of other things, well beyond parking your car! If you configure the garage to meet your needs, you can effectively improve your quality of life within the limitations of your property. Here is a post with loads of garage conversion ideas.
With a scarcity of stock and skyrockething values, there has been a movement in Toronto lately for homeowners to rebuild or refurbish garages. For homeowners who seek more space, but don’t want the expense or the hassle of moving, or who find the high costs of climbing the property ladder is keeping them in place, a garage can really expand living space. For some homeowners, rebuilding a garage is the optimal way to help accomodate their household’s needs.
According to the stats in this recent Globe and Mail article, “The Garage: Bland Doesn’t Play Here”, there has been an increase of about $30 million on garage projects from Toronto homeowners since 2014 – and this number doesn’t take into account the garage work that is going on that hasn’t been permitted. The vast majority of projects have been focused on repurposing or fortifying the space, rather than for residential use which, in 2014, was before this year’s as-of-right laneway housing policy was introduced.
Given the age of the housing stock in Toronto is at least 100 years old, it isn’t uncommon to find most garages in the city are in need of substantial repair or even rebuilding. Depending on the state of the garage and how the individual intends to use the space, the cost to retrofit it can vary widely. To serve the purpose of a workshop, you’ll want to assess whether it has a solid concrete pad for a foundation, adequate ventilation, insulation for use all seasons, and a suitable electrical service for your specific requirements. Interestingly, lately when showing income properties to one of my clients in the downtown west area, I’ve been finding the concrete block double and triple 3 car garages fitted with electrical service including baseboard heaters are being rented independent of the dwellings for sums ranging from $300 to $600 per month. It signal the demand for workshops and quality storage for cars is strong.
If you’re considering a property with a laneway garage that is a bit of a fixer-upper, you might want to ensure the upgrades you do can accommodate both your specific needs as a workshop but, in the future, be home to a new accessory dwelling. Recently, the City of Toronto has introduced as-of-right laneway housing in the central part of the downtown core. Here’s my post About Laneway Housing In Toronto, By Sustainable And Urbaneer that explores the opportunities and constraints of this new housing option.
Regardless of whether you were to go this route, the existence of a garage offers huge potential.
In your case, you’ve indicated that you have a very specific purpose in mind for your garage: a workshop. In reality, based on what your objectives are the different types of garages we’ll likely find in the downtown area, it might help to really define what your wants and needs as they pertain to a workshop/garage. When you seek an amenity or home feature that is very specific, like this criteria, you should be prepared for the fact that there may be a greater degree of compromise on some aspect of your home search, especially when you are house hunting in high-demand urban areas.
Regardless of what you intend to use your garage for, when this is an item on your wish list, it is a good idea to establish is what your base criteria is a space that you would consider ‘acceptable’. From that point you can determine if the amount of work and available budget would make sense.
Ideally, for a garage to be a truly useable and enjoyable workshop (or other high-traffic space like a studio, gym etc.) it should probably be concrete block with double thermopane doors/windows on the garden side and an automatic steel garage door system with remote for security. And should it have electricity with abundant outlets and lighting (perhaps with its own sub-panel), good ceiling height (potentially extra high ceilings), clever storage, depending on your intending use and the ability for counter space or ample storage cabinets and worktop counters with shelving in addition to space for cars/projects. Don’t forget about comfort. It would need to be sufficiently insulated and air-tight to make the workspace comfortable year-round.
So – if this is the workshop/garage ideal, how much are you willing to compromise, if there is a gap between available stock and your dream-come-true garage? What would be your acceptable level of current construction, given that many of the garages that may be available to you won’t necessarily be in this condition when purchased? Consider some scenarios. Would you be ok with a slightly dilapidated frame construction garage which lacks insulation, which will limit the times of year you can use it? Can you work with limited electrical outlets and lighting (or even run a single line from the house to the structure after closing)? If it’s fairly compact, would you use it as a workshop and park a vehicle on the street with a city permit? Or do you have room in your budget to get a garage that needs some work to bring it to your desired level of comfort?
Balancing Needs And Wants To Move Towards A Purchase That Makes Sense
It is noteworthy to mention that, regardless of what your housing wish list contains, there is invariably a degree of compromise that comes with house hunting, particularly in a strong market like Toronto where stock is limited to begin with. Before you get too far along in your search, it is advisable to prioritize your priorities on your house hunt, and to consider what features you absolutely must have, what you’d like to have and what you’d be willing to sacrifice in favour of a higher priority item.
I work a great deal with homeowners to identify and reconcile their own housing matrix. In this post “Dear Urbaneer: Why Is It So Hard To Buy The House That I Want?”, I counsel house hunters who are challenged by finding the home they desire because of challenging market conditions. It’s about aligning your expectations around available stock and your budget – placed against your housing wish list.
In “How To Search For Your Next Property Purchase”, I discuss the homebuyer’s matrix, which sets up a house hunt in the context of budget, as it pertains to a home’s size (or property type), home’s site (what sort of features are available to the home, which in this case, would be a garage – or opportunity for a garage) and a home’s location as well as what a home’s condition is. Invariably, as a house hunter progresses through their property search, they will likely find that they will need to shift position in one of these areas, unless they change their budget. The question is, where is the balance? If you are too rigid in a single feature or area, you are creating challenges for your property search which may be unsurmountable, given supply and demand at a given time. If you compromise too freely, you will wind up with buyer’s remorse. Neither is preferable and both are avoidable. It’s about planning and frequent re-consideration of strategy in your housing hunt.
My Dear Urbaneer series has counselled many Buyers on the frequent necessity for compromise, including:
At the end of the day, every Buyer needs to explore “How will you ultimately define your personal housing matrix?”.
Open To A Garage Fixer-Upper?
Back to your specific wish list regarding a dwelling with a garage. There is benefit in purchasing a property with an existing garage because – even if it is just a frame shack – you can repair and upgrade it discreetly and bypass the need for city approvals. However, while you may repair the existing structure but you can’t expand it. You can also rebuild it using similar materials, but you can’t remove the wood frame walls and replace it with concrete block walls, in part because the concrete blocks would have to be laid on a concrete foundation that is strong enough to support the concrete structure, and it’s pretty likely an old frame garage won’t have a concrete pad of that calibre (though anything is possible).
However, my concern is that if an existing garage isn’t truly meeting your needs – you may discover that as you try to upgrade it to serve your requirements a contractor may advise you that it’s ultimately more efficient to tear the old garage down and build a new one.
So herein lies the rub and the crossroads of compromise in your house hunt. Is it possible you might rule out a dynamite house that ticks all your boxes except for its debbie downer garage because it truly won’t ultimately serve your particular needs, even if the house does? Or, would you consider buying the property reconciling you’ll have to tear down the existing garage sooner-than-later to build a new one in order to fulfill your shelter requirements?
What may tip the balance here is if you have savings to renovate or modify a garage. Given that finding a renovated house that also has a terrific workshop/garage will be infinitely more challenging due to their rarity in the downtown core, it might be a more realistic approach to purchase a property where you have to allocate some of your intended down payment funds into improving the existing garage so it offers you sufficient space and utility.
If you are open to this then, would you consider purchasing a property that ticks all of your boxes except for its lack of a garage, as long as the acquisition price you pay is for a sum that accounts for the capital investment required to build it (about $35,000 to $40,000)? What you’ve done here is re-align your budget to address your priorities within the housing matrix.
Before you decide fully on your change in tack, here is some information about building a new garage in Toronto. It’s a process that can potentially be costly and/or cumbersome, so to ensure that this strategy will result in a smart buy for you today and tomorrow, it is a good idea to do this research pre-purchase.
Here is a post about constructing a new garage in Toronto, and the process it entails “Must-Know Facts about Toronto’s Garage Building Regulations, Laws, & Permits”.
House hunting in Toronto invariably requires a “back-to-the-drawing board” approach often, changing strategy to meet the dynamic of the market. That’s why it is so important to align yourself with someone who can advise you in the trenches to help you see big picture success. We’re here to help!
If you enjoyed this post, check out these posts that explore how our homes make us happy and what we can do to secure the smart buy.
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Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
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