Renovating A Multi-Unit Home

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You’ve been priced out of your ideal neighbourhood but you aren’t quite ready to let the dream go. What are your options? Some folks opt to add a secondary suite to their existing home or purchase a duplex/triplex to provide an income stream that can help with that pesky mortgage. Now we know I’m a big fan of purchasing properties that need a little TLC rather than paying a hefty price for someone else to do that for you. If you’re still following and you’d like to learn a little more about what goes into properly renovating a multi-unit home to code, here are the top 5 considerations to keep in mind when conceptualizing your space:

1) Why Are You Renovating?

Is your long-term plan to stay for many years and enjoy customizing the space to your needs or perhaps to realize the most for your property when you eventually sell? If you’re going for comfort and to suit your taste, then the sky’s the limit. You can play around with your personal living space perhaps by increasing the size and number of bathrooms and walk-in closets rather than adding additional bedrooms if you plan on being around for a while. If you are planning on selling before long and want the most bang for your buck, you should consider maximizing the number of bedrooms in each unit. Investors are going to be looking at income potential and the more bedrooms equals more potential rental income. The more income, the more money they will pay for your property. 

2) How Do You Access the Units?

What’s your vision for entrances to each unit? Do you care if you share an entryway or would you prefer to have completely separate doors? Under new regulations, secondary front entrances have been excluded from what is called “As of Right”. This means you’ll need a minor variance to allow a departure from the regulation. This step requires extra effort and cost with an application before your municipality’s Committee of Adjustment. Rear and side entrances don’t require this extra step. 

3) What Problems (such as sound) can be Addressed While Renovating 

Most people living downtown who don’t have the luxury of a detached home are used to hearing their neighbours above, below and beside them. That being said, if you’re renovating you’ve got the opportunity to consider minimizing this impact. In addition to soundproofing as a solution, think about bedroom location relative to the other units, common hallways and appliances (washer/dryer, dishwasher, ovens, etc.).  Consider other privacy issues such as window coverings while you are at it.

4) How Much Room Do I Have to Play With?

On a more technical level, make sure you, your contractor and/or architect have checked whether you are within your GFA (gross floor allowance). GFA is set by the municipality and limits the amount of liveable space you may have depending on the location of your property, the lot area and its frontage. Recent changes in legislation have made it easier to add a basement apartment without exceeding your GFA. Need more space than your current GFA allows? This may not be a problem depending on the amount of additional living space you are looking for. Budget on taking some extra time for your renovation as you’ll need to apply for a minor variance. Fees may be required for your application.

5) Have I Budgeted Properly?

Mutliple kitchens, bathrooms, appliances and increased fire code regulations are some of the considerations that make multi-unit dwellings very different than a single family home renovation. This usually leads to unanticipated additional costs. Adjusting quality of finishes and level of renovation (e.g. going down to the studs and moving walls) can help balance this out. Make sure you have a good understanding where your hard-earned dollars are going and provide a financial cushion for the unexpected. We all know there is never a problem until there is a problem. I’ll go into fire safety expenses a little more on my next blog.  

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