Neighbourhoods

Where to Buy Now: Condo dwellers on the pros and cons of tower life

Read the full Where to Buy Now feature in the Real Estate 2018 issue of Ottawa Magazine

Historically a low-rise city, Ottawa is growing upward, giving rise to polarized opinions: long viewed as isolating, high-rise towers are increasingly being seen as a way to foster community. Ottawa Magazine talks to condo dwellers — a young couple, a growing family, and a retired widow — about the perks and challenges of condo life.

Marthe Ledoux, 76

Occupation: Retired, former hospital manager at the Civic hospital

Where: 101 Richmond Rd.

Condo: 6th-floor penthouse, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1,018-square-foot condo by Ashcroft Homes

It’s now worth: $550,000

Amenities: Gym, common area, and parking garage

After her husband died in 2008, Marthe Ledoux decided to take a risk.

She longed to stay in her Westboro neighbourhood, but the 2,500-square-foot house she had shared with her husband — a two-storey with five bedrooms and four bathrooms — was far too big for just her and her dog.

Around that time, Ashcroft Homes was announcing plans for a six-storey condo on Richmond Road. Marthe hadn’t lived in an apartment-style building since she was in her teens. But now the idea of downsizing (and getting rid of stuff) appealed to her. The risk? Marthe bought her penthouse condo on spec, having only a rough idea of what the finished product would look like. But her risk turned out to be utterly rewarding. With nary a complaint about her condo, she enjoys breathtaking views of the Ottawa River, Gatineau, and the hills beyond while being mere steps away from the shops she was reluctant to leave.

Photos by Jamie Kronick

What do you love about the condo? “The light. When I first opened the door to my condo, I was most impressed with the light,” she says, remarking on the north-facing wall of windows that frame the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills. Her view is augmented by high ceilings and complemented by an open-space concept, where the living and dining rooms and the kitchen flow seamlessly into one another — everything bathed in light.

The neighbourhood is great for: “Walking. I do all my errands on foot. If I moved from here, I’d have to go to another place that’s on the street. There’s an enormous number of restaurants in my neighbourhood, and I’ve been to almost all of them.”

Biggest challenge: “Living in any condo comes with challenges — one has to feel comfortable with living very close to other people. We have a board — not everyone is comfortable with that kind of decision-making. And there’s turnovers. There’s not much on my floor, but in the building, there’s a lot of people who rent — who bought here for investment purposes and who rent out the condo. Generally, I find people who rent are less concerned about the details and don’t respect the rules.”

Advice for those contemplating the condo lifestyle: “Be very sure you’ve understood what life in a condo is before you buy. There’s noise. There’s parties. There’s rules. And I think a lot of people do not do their homework before they purchase, and then they get in here and are unhappy.”

What do you love about condo living? One of the main reasons why I live in a condo is because I love to travel. In the past 10 years I have visited Morocco, Namibia, Israel, Jordan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, to name a few. I am very happy to live in a beautiful condo because it’s full of light, and spacious. Minimalist as I am, it suited my traveling life perfectly because I could just lock the door and go. Perfect lifestyle house for and retired world traveller.

 

Names: Jenny Nelson, 38; husband Jonathan Nelson, 38; and seven-year-old son, Finn

Occupations: Teachers at public and private schools in the neighbourhood; Jenny also runs an online knitting business, Seedling Yarn, on Etsy

Where: 411 MacKay St. at the corner of Beechwood Avenue

Condo: 2nd-floor, 2-bedroom, 2½-bathroom, 1,226-square-foot condo in Minto Beechwood

It’s now worth: $547,000

Amenities: Party room and a second-floor veranda with communal barbecue

For seven years, Jenny and Jonathan Nelson owned a log home in Pendleton, 45 minutes east of Ottawa. They continued to live there for three years after their son was born, with Jonathan commuting to work in the city and Jenny staying home with Finn.

But when it came time for preschool, they moved to a one-bedroom-apartment rental in New Edinburgh, close to the school where Jonathan worked. They spent the next three years hunting for a house — and then they finally checked out the condo being built across the street: Minto Beechwood, which had been under construction since they moved into the neighbourhood. They found their home in a second-floor unit. The location allowed them to stay in New Edinburgh, so their son didn’t have to move to a new school and they could maintain a 10-minute walking commute to work. “And we could live in a space that didn’t need serious renovations or complete gutting, as do many heritage homes in the same price range,” says Jenny.

They moved in July 2017, and while they are still settling in, the Nelsons are comfortable with their big jump.

Photos by Jamie Kronick

What do you love about condo living? Spending no time on building or yard maintenance.

“Life is so easy here,” says Jenny. “There’s no shovelling, no repairs. We used to live in a log home heated with a wood stove and baseboards, and I don’t think Jonathan misses waking up at 2 a.m. to feed the fire.”

“There is no challenge to living here,” says Jonathan. “We used to survive off 10 face cords a year, all piled in a woodshed. It’s a little different.”

The neighbourhood is great for: Proximity to work, schools, and parks. “We’re one block from biking and walking paths and the river,” says Jenny. “We can walk to numerous parks, skating rinks, the library, grocery store, restaurants, and we’re a 20-minute car ride, door-to-door, to Camp Fortune and the Gatineau Park.”

Biggest challenge: “Giving up outdoor space,” says Jenny. “Knowing Finn can’t open the door and run around outside … but the pros outweighed this for now. Our priority was to stay in our neighbourhood, and doing so without our own patch of land was worth it to us.” Jonathan does miss his workbench, and storing sports equipment can be a trial, as can cleaning a dirty mountain bike.

 

Names: Jessica Doyle, 31; fiancé Richard Rehder, 32; and their calico cat Calliope

Occupations: She’s an adviser for a federal government  department, and he’s a full-time student, part-time cook and podcast producer

Where: 429 Somerset St. W.

Condo: 14th floor, 1-bedroom, 1-den, 1-bathroom, 800-square-foot condo in The Strand Condominiums by Claridge Homes

It’s now worth: $285,000

Amenities: Gym, parking garage, and games room. Nearby, there’s Massine’s Independent Grocer, an Avis car-rental location, community-sharing vehicle drop-offs, and many bars and restaurants

In January 2014, Jessica Doyle made the big move. After years of renting, the single professional bought herself a one-bedroom unit in The Strand Condominiums at the intersection of Kent and Somerset. Although she had fallen for another condo development on Elgin Street, Jessica decided the building with a west-facing balcony — on a high floor, with lower condo fees and larger space — was right for her.

“You really hit the jackpot with this place,” says her fiancé, Richard Rehder. Although Jessica didn’t expect to share the space with someone when she bought, the pair live together comfortably in the one-bedroom condo. (After all, she had previously lived in a 500-square-foot bachelor; he was most recently in a 300-square-foot bachelor.)

“We repurposed the den into a room with a pocket door to give us a few more years here,” says Jessica. It works as an office and could become a nursery for their first child. They are saving up to buy a freestanding house but also love to travel — and they’ve seen how some friends find house ownership so expensive.

“Plus there’s no shovelling, no big repairs — it’s all so much more convenient,” says Jessica.

Photos by Jamie Kronick

What do you love about condo living? “The convenience, the location, and the low maintenance,” says Jessica. “It has also inspired me to pare down my possessions and only buy what I truly need. It’s freed up my time and money for more travel and experiences.”

“An amazing sunset every day,” says Richard.

Biggest challenge: “The condo fees are one thing, but also how little control you have over the design unless you’re purchasing in a new building,” says Doyle. “I wanted to change my bathroom and kitchen around before I realized you can’t without high costs and approval from the condo corporation. It’s also hard to find vendors who will work with you, as the jobs are smaller and not as worth their time.”

For Richard, it comes down to storage. A lack of closet space, and especially storage in the kitchen, can be a challenge.

What do you love about the condo? Jessica says her favourite room is the living room, with its cozy furniture, dreamy wallpaper, Philips hue lights, and an amazing westward view from the 14th floor. “The layout of the main area allows us to entertain, preparing things in the kitchen and making drinks, while interacting with our guests.”