Condo Living

Ten years ago condo living was more popular amongst the younger set, but these days, people of all walks of life are living in condos.

So says Craig Rushton, a realtor with Century 21 In Town Realty. Eighty per cent of Rushton's business is in North Vancouver, but he has clients all over the Lower Mainland, and says condos continue to be popular for a number of reasons.

"Affordability is a big one," he explains. "There are more stages in home ownership now. You start out with a one-bedroom, gain some equity, save some more money and move up to a two-bedroom condo or townhouse, then eventually to a detached home if that is your intention."

Condos are also a great starting step for anyone seeking to crack into the North Vancouver market in an affordable way, says Rushton.

He says he is also seeing a lot of people in North Vancouver who are starting to downsize from a detached home to a condo.

"This is becoming popular for empty-nesters who are looking to do more travelling or make a change in their lifestyle and they want the lock-and-leave security a condo offers," says Rushton.

He adds that people who don't want or can't handle the maintenance of a detached house are also opting for condos as a way to make life a bit easier as they get older.

And although the 2010 Olympics are just around the corner, Rushton says he hasn't seen a huge influx of people buying for the Olympics yet, but expects to see more in the next year or so.

While condos may be cheaper than a detached home, and offer certain amenities houses do not, such as exercise rooms, it's not all wine and roses.

"One of the hardest things to adjust to for both downsizers and young buyers is not having a yard or garden," says Rushton. "Developers are doing a great job, however, of helping with this by building ground-level and terrace-level suites, often with substantial outside living space."

Storage can also be a concern, especially when moving from a house, where it's hard to replace a garage with a four-by-six storage locker, he adds.

"This is, however, a great excuse to purge unused, or unneeded things you have been collecting over the years. Let's face it, we all do it," says Rushton.

Small-space living

Rushton isn't the only one who recommends a little purging for those downsizing to a condo.

Eyoalha Baker is the owner of Urban Remix, a company that specializes in interior arrangements. She says trying to stuff house-sized furniture into a condo-sized space doesn't always work. She recommends first-time homebuyers moving into condos resist the urge to buy too much for their new space. And she recommends those downsizing from a house face the reality of their new layout and sell or give away larger furniture saving only those pieces that are extra special to them.

Keep the layout of the condo in mind when choosing what stays and what goes, says Baker. For example, it may be time to pass on the 10-person heavy mahogany dining table, and replace it with some comfortable bar stools for the new kitchen nook.

The key to interior design for condos is duel-purpose space," she explains. That means using spaces for more than one job. So, ottomans become an extra seat or a TV dinner tray. Many ottomans, coffee tables and other furniture pieces are available with extra storage space potential (such as hidden drawers).

Baker also suggests separating spaces in a room if the layout permits.

Many condos feature a combined living room-kitchen space, and she says inserting a thin screen or hanging fabric screen will help create the sensation of separate spaces. Slipping a large, leafy plant between a work desk and a couch could also accomplish the same task. Plants help to improve the air quality of the room, and act as a reminder of the outside world for those living high above it on the upper floors.

"I'm a big fan of plants," says Baker.

Shelves can also help separate space. A high shelf across one wall can display vases and personal items in a way that adds the illusion of space.

Baker notes that it is important to group smaller items to avoid a cluttered look. For example, instead of lining up pencils, paperclips and bobble-heads across the top of a desk, group four or five of the items in one part of the desk, and hide the rest inside the drawers. Same goes for decorative pieces, such as candles.

Colour can also help create space in a condo, says Baker.

While there are no rules for choosing colours for interior design, lighter colours generally give a sense of space, she explains. Colour is all about preference, however, and darker colours are not necessarily a bad choice, she adds.

But patterns on walls and drapes can look too busy, so stick with solid couch fabrics and drapes, and lightly textured materials.

Most importantly, when buying items for a new condo, make sure they are items you can live with.

"Wait until you find the items you really love," rather than just picking items to fill space, says Baker, even if it takes months to find them. You'll quickly tire of the items you really didn't want, and may get stuck with them for years.

"If you're going to do it, you might as well do it right," says Baker.

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