By tweaking expectations and perspectives, can families live in condos?
Full disclosure: I don't have kids so I am clearly not an expert on the subject of living with kids in a condo. I do, however, know many families in Vancouver who happily live in condos.
Is a condo a stepping stone?
Without a doubt, a house is a great place to raise a family. Everyone can have their own room, a playroom, a basement, an attic, garage, and a yard. But affording a house within the city is, for some, just a dream because of the cost. And for some, the compromise of living further outside of the city isn't ideal when it means leaving friends behind, long commuting times and access to amenities is only possible by car. If a house is the goal, a condo can certainly act as a stepping stone to help families get closer to their dream home. Once in the housing market, it's possible to fix up places and sell them and move up in the market. But does a house with a yard have to be the pinnacle for every family? Can condo living, with their walkable neighbourhoods and close proximity to parks be the goal for some families?
Different perspectives. Think European.
Families in cities all over the world live in densely populated urban areas in multi-story buildings. Comparing Vancouver to Paris or Manhattan is hard to accept but cities like Lisbon, Amsterdam, Milan, Prague, Barcelona, Copenhagen, all of which have similar populations to Vancouver, makes it easier to draw comparisons. Vancouver's downtown peninsula is very much like those cities with its densely populated neighbourhoods, parks, cycling paths, amenities all within easy walking distance, many distinct neighbourhoods with their own charms and a definite lack of a need for a car. Vancouver, in many ways, is more European feeling than Canadian.
It's rare to hear Europeans saying that kids need their own backyards. Why do Canadians believe a family needs a yard? Is it still a realistic goal to want all that space when we are all struggling to find ways to reduce our carbon footprints?
How do Europeans do it?
Vancouver is well ahead of the Canadian curve when it comes to a being a livable, dense urban core in Canada that is home for many families. Parents who believe kids need a backyard will say that kids like to run and play and burn off energy, so they need their own outdoor space. European kids living in dense urban areas also run and play and need to burn off energy.
How do Europeans raise kids in multi family dwellings in city centres? While traveling in Europe, I certainly notice families out together in the evenings, walking and sitting in squares. They seem to spend time together outside; sitting and playing in parks. Kids are often playing in outdoor recreation centres with soccer and basketball.
Creative use of small spaces
As for the smaller space in condos, how do you fit a family into a two bedroom condo? Well, creativity comes in handy. When kids are small, walk-in closets in the master bedroom can certainly fit a crib and be big enough for a child up until 4 yrs old. Dining rooms can be converted into bedrooms and the living room can double as a dining area. Curtains can be used to partition off areas to create privacy. Small bedrooms can have bunkbeds.
Kids have lots of stuff!
Do kids really need a lot of stuff? Can stuff be shared with other kids in the building and as they age out of toys and games, do they need to be kept, or can they go to other kids?
Tiny home or big condo.
How small is too small? Well, it depends on how a condo is laid out and designed. Tiny homes are becoming more mainstream even for families, and a lot of the same space saving ideas that are used in tiny homes can be used in condos. Many tiny homes run in the 250- 500 sqft range so they are still smaller than a regular 1 bdrm Vancouver condo and an 800 sq ft two bedroom condo is a mansion by comparison. Built-in units are great for storage. Using built-in banquettes in the dining area add tons of storage where there would normally just be chairs and empty space. Wall beds are an efficient use of space because some of them also have storage or built in sofas, and some wallbeds even desks that don't have to be emptied when the bed comes down. Even a 600sq ft space with one bedroom is big enough for a small family if they pare down to just the essentials. I know parents who give the kids the bedroom because of the mess and the parents have a wall bed in the living room, or the parents get the bedroom for privacy and the kids get the living room. As long as there is plenty of storage and the toys can be put easily put away a small place can work but it takes discipline to not want to add more stuff all the time.
Kids make noise! Neighbours don't like hearing kids playing.
Kids running around on condo floors when your neighbours are home is really annoying. But what if you were to get to know your neighbour's schedule? Are they out at work during the day? Do they get home at 6pm?
The possibility of buying a ground floor suite means no issues with noise because there is no one living underneath. Also, ground floor units tend to have a bit more outdoor space.
Carpeting and underlay
If a ground floor suite isn't possible, carpeting is a great sound insulator. The thicker the carpet and underlay, the more the sound is absorbed. A good quality carpet and investing in a carpet cleaner is also a good idea because, let's be honest, carpets get dirty when kids are young. Hardwood and laminate floors are not great when it comes to kids living in condos with units below. But even if you absolutely must have wood or laminate flooring, investing in a good sound proofing underlay is essential. Not all underlays are created equal so it's good to do your research. Area rugs for high traffic areas are also a must, especially if a strata has a bylaw stating that high traffic areas need to be covered by area rugs.
Townhouses or condos with multilple levels will also help with keeping the noise from children from impacting neighbours. A playroom could be on an upper level, while the lower levels, that impact neighbours, could be for quiet activities.
Go ahead. Try a condo. You might like it. Or use a condo as a stepping stone until you can afford to buy a house. Either way, while you're living in a condo you'll be able to enjoy all the great parks and scenery in beautiful Vancouver!