What Canadians Want in Housing

Canadian House in WinterWinter (and the threat of it) drives Canadians south of the border, not displeasure with their communities or way of life.

Why don’t we build more housing attached to covered areas like shopping malls, entertainment centres, and urban underground shopping concourses so we can stay home and get out in all weather? Why aren’t Canadians masters at creating housing that includes space for year-round gardens and room to stretch our legs and connect with neighbours without having to jump over snow banks?

This is one case of housing demand that is running ahead of housing development. As travelling and living outside the country becomes more expensive and less secure, we’ll see more people who’d like a connected, all-weather Canadian lifestyle.

Newly-emerging demands go hand-in-hand with modifications to the way homes are built and used. One significant driver of change is the “new” retirement or unretirement, which represents, for the first time in history, decades of active, involved extended living with 21st-Century, technology-rich style. Related shifts in thinking and life-stage abilities will dictate changes in home design and ownership approaches, for example:

Bye Bye, Stairs Ask real estate professionals in any community if there is local unsatisfied demand for one-floor homes, and you’ll usually unleash a tirade of pent-up emotion over another target for frustrated consumer demand. Owners of two-storey homes, who want to stay in their neighbourhood or community, can rarely find spacious one-level living without leaving the area. Highrise condominiums are not an alternative in every area, nor does the lifestyle appeal to everyone.

Although bungalows may not be cost-effective for developers, one-floor living represents a popular accessible design. Technology provides a “great equalizer” solution to remove the problem of stairs—affordable residential elevators.

Ageism or prejudice against age–often your own–has suppressed the potential of this viable alternative to one-level living, as it has for so many barrier-free modifications. Residential elevators have traditionally been lumped in with stair- and wheelchair-lifts as equipment earmarked for individuals with disablities or for the “frail elderly.” With this stigma, residential elevators have not become standard roughed-in equipment anymore than grab bars and levered handles–all practical universal-access design features that are avoided by those stuck on ageist stereotypes.

Gradually forward-thinking consumers and developers have realized what a luxury it is to have choice in how you move through your home. Although stairs can be good exercise, lugging heavy equipment or yourself from level to level can be exhausting and dangerous. Experience a temporary injury or long-term mobility change, and the elevator can become the essential element in your continued enjoyment of that multi-level house, or in forestalling an unwanted move. Those who are not ready to spend the C$15,000 plus for a new elevator when they build can have this mobilizer roughed-in to facilitate future installation.

Time Is the Rare Commodity What do you run out of most days? Time. This finite commodity becomes more valued as the years go by. Do you really want to spend your precious time on home maintenance or worrying about your property when you’re away?

Unretirement may also change the way we consider property ownership and, therefore, what we own. If you want a home to live in for only part of the year, why incur a full-year of cost and responsibility? Fractional ownership and related part-year, shared-ownership alternatives will be the answer for increasing numbers, and not just for recreational purposes. Fractional ownership is simply that—registered ownership of a unit or a house for a fraction of the year. Having your name on the deed makes this a more secure investment than timeshare programs where you buy the right to occupy a specific unit for a few weeks. Fractional ownership projects have popped up in most Canadian resort and recreational areas. Buy in and you can receive the full measure of fun, status, security, and investment-return you’d expect from owning a cottage or vacation home. As a bonus, gone are year-round responsibilities and worries, as well as the physical demands of maintenance . Expect to see these shared-ownership options appear in traditional residential settings, too.

This ownership variation can also save you money by doubling as a world-wide travel vehicle. Most fractional ownership resorts belong to an international exchange network like RCI or Interval International that may allow you to swap time at your Whistler or Muskoka home for a visit to comparable accommodation in the south of France or on a California beach.

Instead of withdrawing from life in 20th-Century retirement, this housing model ensures access to great living in unretirement. In fractions of 1/10th to 1/4, there’s room to own two or three completely-furnished, full-service “homes” in which to spend your year, here or in a growing range of locations around the world. Eventually, fractional resorts will provide direct transportation for residents and you’ll be able to make the circuit from one resort to another as your interests and the seasons change.

Even if your current home seems a comfortable place to continue your life, get out there and see what choices you have. If you were to consider a different neighbourhood, a different lifestyle, or a different focus for your life, where might you end up?

The best developers and real estate professionals expect consumers to learn as much as they can about any project or property they visit, even if they don’t expect to move in. The knowledge you gain from investigating one development may help you appreciate another’s unique offering or enable you to suggest a great location to a friend or family member. You’ll get hooked on the depth of vision and creativity that builders and developers bring to today’s real estate projects.

Consider what each development and housing alternative might help you decide about your ideal future. Explore as many differing views on how to live and where to live as you can find. You’ll clarify your needs and wants while expanding your thinking beyond what retirement used to be.

Welcome to unretirement, extended living that takes you decades into a never-before-experienced future. What are you going to do about this shift and the changes to “home” it brings with it?

Written by PJ Wade