Condo amenities blend practicality and wow-factor to woo buyers

The Eglinton - Billiards and Games Room
The fancy billiards and games room at The Eglinton will be a fun getaway for adults and youth alike. (Rendering courtesy of Menkes Developments)

Condo developers today are pulling out all the stops to attract potential buyers and set themselves apart from the competition in Toronto’s often-aggressive real estate market.

As prospective buyers and renters seek affordable housing options and condo living becomes increasingly synonymous with Toronto living, building amenity features are becoming a key perk distinguishing one property from another.

Designed to woo or to wow, amenities, for many multi-res residents (and for the developers who offer them) can be the difference maker in a “should we or shouldn’t we” debate while hovering over a sale agreement.

While Toronto’s highrise market is the envy of North America for its stability, architecture and design for more than a decade, the city’s leading developers have been pushing the envelope when it comes to cutting-edge, lifestyle-focused options for residents.

From the intoxicating infinity pool at Tridel’s Aqualina condos at Bayside, where swimmers can look out at Lake Ontario from the 13th floor, to the sound studios at Camrost Felcorp’s Imperial Plaza, where late-night drummers can smash the night away without waking the neighbours, to a rooftop observatory at Liberty Development’s Cosmos Condos in Vaughan, no matter what residents’ tastes are, there’s an amenity package to fit a multitude of lifestyles.

And while the pool, the yoga room, or the pet spa no doubt will offer cache to condo living arrangements, they will also offer something else — a hit to your bottom line. It’s the annual maintenance fees, calculated against the total square footage of your unit, that pay for chlorine in that pool, the bolsters in the yoga room, or the shampoo for your (and your neighbour’s) pooch.  And the costs can start to add up.

Condo maintenance fees can run between $0.50 and $1 per square foot, depending on the age of your building, the scale of its amenities, and the number of units to share in and help defray the costs of amenity upkeep.

And don’t be surprised if these annual fees go up — annually.

A theatre room within Imperial Club at Imperial Village is perfect for a special screening of a favourite movie for a bunch of friends or family members. (Photo courtesy of Camrost Felcorp)

While costly, Toronto’s condo market has demonstrated the sales and marketing value of a distinctive amenity package.  Beyond just serving as marketing fodder, most developers believe that a well-tailored menu of amenities should not only add significant value and convenience, but also facilitate a sense of community.

Take for instance Imperial Plaza and its luxurious 20,000-square-foot amenity emporium. Aptly named the Imperial Club, residents benefit from uninterrupted access to an array of glamorous health and lifestyle amenities such as his and hers steam rooms, a media lounge, golf simulator and fully equipped sound studio.

Joseph Feldman, development manager of Camrost Felcorp, says much thought went into designing an amenities package that would not only make great use of the space and provide unique value to residents, but also would also serve to bring residents together.

“That’s what condos are. They’re a giant, vertical community.  And its amenity spaces serve to tie the community together,” says Feldman.

Kevin Crigger, broker and team leader at The Kevin Crigger Team at Johnson and Daniel, a division of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., cites Imperial Plaza as a development that has achieved the right balance.

“It’s the perfect example of a really well-developed amenity offering. The incremental cost per unit owner is quite low, considering they have access to such an incredible span of amenities — a pool, steam rooms, sound recording studios, squash courts — it’s pretty fabulous.”

Crigger says looking at the size of the building is important when weighing amenities and maintenance fees.

“Since the amenities are something that residents are saddled with for their lifetime at the building, developers … need to have a reasonable number of suites to carry the costs long term. In a larger building, there can be a huge list of potential offerings and the costs are spread among many units, leading to lower annual fees.

“If you look at the costs to maintain a large amenity offering … I think there is a tipping point where a high level of amenity becomes more of a detriment than an attribute. In a smaller building, buyers get a lot pickier and a lot more discerning with what they need since the costs per unit would be greater. Sometimes with a massive amenity offering the cost per suite can be so substantial and the cost of carrying the unit becomes rather high,” says Crigger.

The average Toronto condo typically includes the standard package of 24-hour concierge, swimming pool, gym and guest suite. Many condo residents take advantage of these conveniences and gladly chip in for the upkeep, maintenance and use. However, when it comes to more flashy installations, potential buyers might be less inclined to assume exorbitant monthly fees for amenities that aren’t very useful to them.

The Eglinton - Gym
The fitness area at The Eglinton will be spacious and aesthetically appealing, with tall ceilings and a multitude of equipment. (Rendering courtesy of Menkes Developments)

It can be tricky to strike the perfect balance of functionality and singularity — there has been many a condo amenity that, while a great selling point, just isn’t practical and falls into disuse and disrepair.

Shamez Virani, president of Toronto’s CentreCourt Developments, agrees that there are some amenities that miss the mark in terms of being suitable for the large majority of a building’s residents. Virani says that CentreCourt’s approach is strategic, with the goal of creating “amenities that actually get used and that people ascribe value to”.

Case in point: amenities in CentreCourt’s latest projects, which include a 5,000-square-foot fully equipped learning centre in The Grid Condos — a project geared towards students attending the adjacent Ryerson University — and a 4,000-square-foot co-working space and a 6,500-square-foot gym in the Axis Condos, which have more than 10,000 square feet of space dedicated to amenities.

Grid - learning centre
With The Grid Condos’ close proximity to Ryerson University, CentreCourt designed a 5,000-square-foot fully equipped learning centre for students. (Rendering courtesy of CentreCourt)

While condo fees have largely seen a steep increase over the past decade, Virani is hesitant to tie rising costs specifically to the upkeep of condo amenities. He suggests that the city-wide rise in fees can be directly attributed to ascending utility costs, but believes efficient planning and management should keep condo fees stable.

Whether you’re looking for amenities that rival those of a five-star hotel or just the bare necessities, condo living is coveted for its convenience and affordability. The key is to find the right fit for your lifestyle so those monthly payments can feel a little less painful.

Of course, if you’re feeling stressed, you can always go downstairs for a yoga class, take a swim, lift some weights or head up to the observatory for some stargazing.

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