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Montreal real estate: Buying — in this economy? Millennials must compromise

The growing popularity of condos in Montreal and other urban centres has led some to declare that younger generations are simply not interested in suburban living. The cool kids want to raise their kids in condos, within walking distance of the métro — preferably around the corner from some place serving locally roasted pour-over coffees and avocado toast. Right?

As an “elder Millennial” myself, I’ve always thought that idea was a bit of a sham. Have you ever tried taking a stroller on the métro? You try hauling a baby, a toddler and a fully laden stroller up all those stairs to get from street-level to platform and back again.

Young families without kids may appreciate the simplicity of low-maintenance condo living, especially when they have the money to enjoy the restaurants, nightlife and energy of urban living. But for the majority of those with kids in tow, there’s a lot to be said for living in a place with room to store boxes of sibling hand-me-downs and being in the kind of quiet neighbourhood where kids can safely play outside on their own or with the friends next door.

So it wasn’t a surprise to me that the results of a recent report from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada focusing on home ownership trends among urban Millennials and younger Gen-Xers found that it’s a myth that most Millennials prefer condos. The reality is that many younger buyers simply can’t afford more.

The survey, which was released at the end of October, polled homeowners aged 20 to 45 living in Canada’s largest cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Almost half of those surveyed owned a townhouse, plex or condo, yet more than eight in 10 said if money was no object, they would prefer to live in a detached single-family home.

According to Sotheby’s International Realty Canada president and CEO Brad Henderson, the challenge is that there are a limited number of properties that tick all the boxes on Millennials’ wish lists.

“What was a bit surprising to us was when we asked the question, ‘Regardless of price what kind of home would you want,’ that most people in this younger demographic said they would prefer a single family detached home,” Henderson said. “The challenge is there’s a limited supply of those types of homes, particularly in metropolitan areas like Montreal. That’s forcing people into condos or to move further from downtown to get the kind of home they’re looking for.”

Recent market trends tell a similar story. Last quarter, condo sales increased 46 per cent year over year, according to Altus Group’s most recent market overview. In the single-family home market, the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board reported that the biggest sales increases were at the perimeter of the city: up 14 per cent in the South Shore, 13 per cent in Vaudreuil-Soulanges and 12 per cent in Laval.

In Montreal, only five per cent of those surveyed in the Sotheby’s report said they would choose a condo over any other type of housing, while 84 per cent said they wished they could own a single-family home (the rest preferred townhouses or plexes).

In addition to a preference for a single-family home, the survey found Millennial and younger Gen-X buyers were price sensitive, but also hoped for a newer or move-in ready home requiring little renovation, the right number of bedrooms for their family, a yard and a garage.

Many of our parents were able to have all that in their first home. But as prices rise, buyers have to compromise. Unlike Vancouver or Toronto, you can still find a well-priced single-family home … but it may be far from the city. You can also find a well-priced condo downtown, but it won’t have as much space and no yard. You can also find a beautiful and spacious single-family home close to downtown, but you can expect to pay a half million or more.