Vancouver Condos Get Big, Thanks to Boomers

The trend among boomer buyers is to combine units, recreating the sort of space they had in their single-family homes.
The trend among boomer buyers is to combine units, recreating the sort of space they had in their single-family homes. Here, a 3D model of a three-unit floor at The Charleson.

Boomers asked for more space—and Vancouver condo developers, only too happy to cash in, are increasingly delivering, bucking the trend toward smaller and smaller shoeboxes in the sky

Developers in the Lower Mainland haven’t exactly given up on their “small is beautiful” mantra, with an ever-increasing number of 500-square-foot one-bedroom condos hitting the market in 2013 to feed consumer demand for a slice of downtown living. But something is changing in the marketplace, at least on the high end of condo sales, and Jim Case thinks he knows what.

“When you become an empty nester, the energy you derive from family—once the kids go away, you have to create a different kind of energy. Living downtown, it supplies that energy,” says the 54-year-old CEO of Travelers Financial and a father of three grown sons. But empty nesters, says Case, also don’t want to give up a lot of the space and the amenities that they’ve enjoyed through their peak earning years.
For the busy executive, that has meant combining three units in his current building on Seymour Street, creating a three-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot space with a four-car garage. “We came out of an almost 7,000-square-foot home in West Van, so downsizing was tough,” says Case. “But functionally, we now have the same amount of regular living space. I still have a four-car garage. I have lots of room for all my bikes. All we did is get rid of the stuff that didn’t matter anymore: the overall size of the room, the entrance hallway.”
The trend of baby boomers like Case demanding to, essentially, transport their single-family dwellings downtown is a shift that developers such as Wall Financial, Cressey and Onni have all cottoned on to in recent years. Onni, in fact, is the developer of the building where Jim Case now lives, The Mark—and based on an increasing number of similar customization requests, Onni decided to launch a project across the road, called The Charleson, that specifically targets this demographic.
All the homes at The Charleson are over 1,000 square feet, with three units per floor. In each case, the units are designed to be combined—for those seeking 2,000 or 3,000 (or more) square feet of space. “We had a bunch of events and lunches with realtors and downsizers, and asked them what they wanted,” says Nic Jensen, Onni’s vice-president of sales. “What they said was, ‘We want lots of usable outdoor space. We want walk-in closets. Large bedrooms. Full-size appliances. Private two-car garages.’” Other amenities include pay-per-use services such as a walk-in cooler for grocery deliveries and a walk-in closet for dry cleaning, both available at the concierge desk.
The Charleson, while the same height as The Mark, will have, at most, 117 homes (depending on how many buyers decide to combine units; the project is currently being previewed), while The Mark has 350. “The downsizer wants the space in the patio and the appliances, but they also want the exclusiveness: you know your neighbours, there’s a sense of security,” says Jensen.
Anne McMullin, president and CEO of Vancouver’s Urban Development Institute, agrees that the supersized condo is a trend taking hold across the region. “Today’s baby bomber isn’t looking to ‘downsize’; rather, they are looking to move into something with plenty of space, and the security and ease of condo living. Some are calling it the ‘Year of the Three Bedroom.’ Buyers are looking to make the lateral move within their existing community.”