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Ditch The House

Vancouver has become a city of condominiums. Is there a condo in your future? What’s it like, exactly, to give up a house and join the suite life?
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Vancouver has become a city of condominiums. Is there a condo in your future? What’s it like, exactly, to give up a house and join the suite life?


Demographics explains two-thirds of everything. So says David Foot, the University of Toronto economist whose book Boom, Bust & Echo was one of the bestselling titles of the 1990s. Foot argues that the past is better understood and the future made more predictable by the study of human populations. To him, phenomena as seemingly disconnected as the health care crisis, ecotourism, the price of vacation properties and the popularity of minivans all came together through a demographic lens.

In the 1980s, North American baby boomers—the bulging cohort born during, roughly, the two decades between the mid 1940s and mid ’60s—were having children of their own. (“Bust” describes the intervening generation, people born between the mid ’60s and mid ’80s.) Nobody plans, at age 30, to take up leisurely pursuits like golf and birdwatching and packaged travel when they hit their fifties and sixties. But the boomers did just that, and the predictability of their behaviour made a lot of people wealthy (Foot among them).

In the Lower Mainland, one manifestation of the power of demographics has been the proliferation of condominiums. Parts of our city would be unrecognizable to someone who hadn’t been here in the past 20 years. Some 90 percent of downtown condominium units have been created since 1990, when less than 25 percent of the population lived in condos. Today, more than 40 percent of Vancouverites live in them, and the proportion can only keep rising.

Factors other than demographics are at work, of course. Transportation hassles, the scarcity of buildable land, and the environmental benefits of denser living are all conspiring to force growth up, not out. Ten years hence, many more people will live in condos and townhomes and fewer will live in detached houses.

For many members of Foot’s “echo” generation—those boomer children now entering the real estate market—a small condo is the only affordable option. At the other end of the scale, the boomers who raised these kids have regained a measure of independence and are turning (as Foot predicted) to travel and birdwatching and golf. For many empty nesters and retirees, this involves downsizing to a condo.

We asked people who’ve moved from a house to a condo to talk candidly about the pros and cons of the transition. What surprised them? What do they miss, enjoy, regret? Is a condo confining when you’ve had your own house? Is your strata council right out of an Orwell novel? What do you do if you share a wall with the neighbour from hell? You’ll be illuminated—and surprised—by their answers.—Jesse Spencer 


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Condos are a great choice when you're starting out. Now I want a weird house like one of the ones on that site.

by AppleSD on May 4 2010 at 3:22 PM