In the Greater Vancouver real estate market, a condo is the first step on the equity ladder for most buyers. The current benchmark price is $375,100, just over one-third of the price of a detached house. And depending on size and location, there are plenty at lower prices.
But that's still a lot of money, so buyers want to be blown away. For developers, the design and feature options they offer can be the difference between instant sellout and the dreaded "unsold inventory."
These are the hot-button features for condos that sold in the last half of 2011. They either sold much faster than average or fetched a higher-than-average asking price according to the Condominium Market Opportunities Report (CMOP), prepared by industry consultants Strategics and MPC Intelligence. Clean and sleek was definitely the preferred look.
High-rise condo buyers salivated over these features:
. Laminate hardwood kitchen flooring
. Viking and Liebherr kitchen appliances
. Quartz kitchen countertops
. Vinyl bathroom flooring
. Glass door bathroom cabinets
. Quartz bathroom countertops.
Low-rise buyers wanted:
. Engineered hardwood kitchen flooring
. Stainless steel kitchen appliances
. Bosch, Samsung or Fisher Paykel kitchen appliances
. Glass door kitchen cabinets
. Quartz bathroom countertops
. Glass door bathroom cabinets
Meanwhile, the 2012 TD Canada Trust Condo Poll interviewed people who recently bought or intend to buy a condo. Vancouver respondents were almost unanimous about the elements that help them decide to buy a condo:
. Low condo fees (97 per cent)
. Good building security (96 per cent)
. Attractive interior design (95 per cent)
. Energy-efficient building (93 per cent)
. A balcony (92 per cent)
The TD study found differences between men's and women's condo-shopping preferences. More men than women want a newly constructed condo. Women are more likely than men to look for environmentally friendly features and a balcony.
An earlier TD study estimated that single women make up 30 per cent of first-time home buyers, and they overwhelmingly choose condominiums. According to Mark Belling, of Surrey-based Fifth Avenue Marketing, "Single women are now a power in the local condominium market. They easily outnumber single men." He adds, "Young women seem to become financially mature earlier, with the ability to save for a down payment."
Witness the new HGTV show Buy Herself, with Realtor Sandra Rinomato guiding single women to a home purchase. Rinomato says that making a smart investment is the primary driver. Women say to her, "Well, you know it's time for me to buy a condo as an investment that I can make money off of, that I can also live in, that I can nest in- I can paint it and decorate it to my taste- Why not do it?"
Safety, a balcony and entertaining space are important to women, she says. Condos offer greater security, which is a top concern among women living alone. A balcony gives them safe, private outdoor space for chilling out. And a party room or rooftop deck lets them entertain more people if they have a matchbox-sized living space. Developers are listening. An example is the Meccanica project in False Creek South. Hani Lammam, VP of development for Cressey, talked about it with Business in Vancouver's Strategic Marketing columnist, Judy Bishop.
"Meccanica incorporated feedback from women about design, floor plan and exteriors," said Lammam. "We've placed major emphasis on qualities women value."
The result was functional layouts and stylish design features including polished floors, highgloss cabinets, closet space, spa bathrooms and high ceilings. And overwhelming response from women.
But location still rules. A year ago, it wasn't unusual to see lineups of prospective buyers when new projects went on sale. Now that only happens when the condos are smack up against a transit line and in a neighbourhood loaded with amenities. An estimated 7,800 new condo units in high rises are expected to become available this year. Prices of both new and MLS® condos are not expected to return to their mid-2011 highs anytime soon. In a stagnant market, condos with the right mix of design and features, price and location will find owners.
REW.ca is a real estate search website for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.