Even the Tiniest Condo Can Feel Big: Read on…  

As urban dwellers scramble for affordable living space, apartment sizes are generally shrinking. As research company Urbanation suggests, the average size of a new Toronto condo is now 739 sq. ft. (69 sq. m), and some are even as small as 300 sq. ft. (28 sq. m).

Driven by this reality, residents of urban centres across North America are trying to squeeze into the smallest spaces they can to keep their downtown addresses. And they need to use their space creatively.

Designers are answering the call with mind-boggling space solutions. Here are a few that could make your 632 sq. ft. (56 sq. m) condo feel almost spacious:

  • Movable walls – Sitting less than an inch off the ground, these are attached to runners on stationary walls. They can be moved around like furniture to create rooms at will. IKEA is currently testing them on Swedish families.
  • Sliding pantry – This extremely narrow rack is on wheels or sliding tracks and fits into otherwise unused space, like the gap between your cabinets and refrigerator. Slide it out, grab a can, and push it back.
  • Drawer stairs – Why waste all that space under the stairs? Efficient designers have converted each step into a drawer.
  • Picture frame table – Your large wall hanging is no longer just art. It’s also the dining room table. A hinge on the bottom allows you to pull the top away from the wall, making it parallel to the floor. Legs snap into place along the frame’s sides and fold out to reach the floor. Voila…dinnertime!

Online Estimates: Informative or Misleading?  

Online real estate information sites are routinely used by homeowners, home buyers, real estate agents, and developers as gauges of a home’s market value.

Some of these sites use automated valuation models (AVMs) to provide information on estimated market value, usually for homes currently on the market. The information is available on many home search websites across North America.

AVMs are often proprietary, but generally these use algorithmic calculations that take into account characteristics such as square footage of both home and property, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, footprint of the structure, and property tax information and prior sales prices for nearby homes. The factors are weighted differently according to the specific geographical location.

Consumers often rely heavily on AVMs – sometimes too heavily. According to industry executives, some have median error rates of 8 percent. Of course, the accuracy of the information varies according to the individual website.

In fact, AVM error rates vary widely, and in some places they far exceed the national median. In large urban areas, as well as in desirable suburban and waterfront locales, AVM estimates may be off by tens of thousands of dollars in either direction. Sometimes online valuations are higher than actual on-the-ground selling prices, and sometimes they are significantly lower.

There are several reasons why AVMs can be off. For one thing, an algorithm can’t determine the actual physical condition of a residence. Sometimes homes have specific characteristics that add to or detract from value, such as a poorly located bathroom, a tiny bedroom, an unusual layout, or an obstructed view. Moreover, AVMs don’t take into account title issues, such as concern over surveys or boundaries.

Many agree that AVMs can be a good place to start when you’re in the research stage of house hunting. However, once you’re in search mode, forewarned is forearmed: ask your real estate agent for more detailed comparatives.