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How to Raise 5 Kids in a Condo with Adrian Crook of 5kids1condo.com

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5kids1condo-Adrian-Crook-Interview

Adrian Crook lives with his partner and 5 kids in a 1000 sq ft condo in downtown Vancouver. We talked about the benefits of urban living for families, and discuss the challenges that cities like Toronto and Vancouver face in getting more families to make the shift to downtown, high rise living. Condo investors should be aware of this trend and start adding larger 2 and 3 bedroom units to their portfolios.

Adrian Crook Interview Highlights

0:12 Who is Adrian Crook and What is 5kids1condo.com?
4:20 How Did Adrian Get to Where He Is Today?
6:30 Why Did Adrian Start 5kids1condo.com?
8:57 How Big is the Condo?
11:25 What Sort of Transportation is Used?
12:30 Why Do People Care So Much?
14:57 What Does the Rest of Adrian’s Family Think?
17:03 The Challenges Adrian Faces
19:08 Going Against the Grain Alone
21:40 What Will It Take to Get More Families Downtown in High Rises?
24:00 What are the Challenges in Truly Urbanizing the Way Families Live
29:00 Environmentalism in Urban Living
31:38 How to Reach Adrian?

Adrian Crook Interview Transcript

Welcome to the true condos podcast with Andrew la Fleur. The place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market and condo investing in Toronto.

Andrew la Fleur: Hi, welcome back to the show. On today’s show we have a very special guest, Adrian Crook. Adrian is the founder and creator of the websit 5kids1condo.com. Adrian lives in Vancouvr BC and he is the father of 5 children. He lives in a condo downtown with his 5 kids, and obviously his blog and his website is all about that. Adrian’s been featured in a lot of media outlets lately. A lot of people are very interested, obviously, to hear his story and learn more about he experience of living downtown in a condo with children. Other reasons why I wanted to interview Adrian, other than the fact that obviously it’s a very interesting thing to hear about. Not obviously a usual situation for most families.

It’s obviously going to be a big trend moving forward in our cities, in Toronto, and Vancouver, and many cities across North America is this shift towards urban living for families. Affordability has become a big problem. Commuting times is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Sustainability, the environment, these are all factors that are driving families back into the cities. They are looking for affordable housing solutions for themselves and their children. I feel like we need to have more conversations about affordability, and about raising families in cities, and about building cities for families. I want to be part of that. I’m going to use this podcast in someways to be part of that conversation.

I think it’s also good to learn from Vancouver itself as a city for us here in Toronto, because Vancouver is probably about 10 years ahead of us in terms of urban development, in terms of their city’s progression, and certainly in terms of condo market. I think it’s important to look at Vancouver and what they are doing not, and to say okay, how do we learn from that? How can we a a city here in Toronto get there quicker, where we can learn from somebody who’s come ahead of us. Another reason I want to interview Adrian is just, again, for condo investors, the condo investor who’s listening I’ve been saying this for a while.

I think it’s time to really start to take a serious look at adding 2 bedroom units, and 3 bedroom units to your investment portfolio. In the core of the city, because that, I believe, is going to be a very big and growing market in the future as more and more people are shut out of the low rise housing market, or who are delayed longer and longer in terms of getting into the low rise housing market. Based purely on affordability and the lack of new supply in that market. With a growing city there is just are fewer and fewer people are able to afford to get into low rise housing.

Condo living for families will at some point in time become the norm in the city. It may not happen in 5 years, it may not happen in 10 years, but at some point in time that will be the norm in the City of Toronto. Okay, let’s get to the interview with Adrian Crook. For all the show notes on this episode and, links to Adrian’s website, and his Twitter account, and everything you can go to truecondos.com/5kids1condo. The number 5, kids, the number 1, condo. All right here is the interview with Adrian Crook.

Andrew la Fleur: It’s my pleasure to welcome to the show Adrian Crook. Adrian is the father of 5 and he is in Vancouver BC. His website is 5kids1condo.com. Adrian welcome to the show.

Adrian Crook: Thanks for having me Andrew.

Andrew la Fleur: Adrian why don’t you, for those who aren’t familiar, tell everybody a little bit about yourself, your story, how you became a celebrity in some circles on the Internet these days.

Adrian Crook: Obviously, I have 5 kids in a downtown condo, hence 5kids1condo.com. A lot of that was after having tried, trying, a lot of other living configurations. I used to own a big home in the suburbs. I’ve lived abroad with the kids as well. We lived in the Caribbean for a few years. We’ve also lived in even smaller places downtown when I was just having a single kid at the very beginning of building a family. I had a chance to sample a lot of different living arrangements, and the vibrancy of, especially Vancouver, it’s dense downtown core, and how accessible everything is, how walkable everything is, the cultural density of it.

It’s unparalleled and it’s such a great opportunity. The kids could be immersed in that, and free to live a healthy life style. Just to keep things simple and show them a different set of values that quality of life is more important than quantity of stuff. I think what’s more important to them is their experiences with you and the time you’re able to spend with them. As opposed to [inaudible 00:06:09] commuting, what have you. That’s what drove me to the current configuration and I don’t foresee myself moving out of the downtown core. I’m sure we’ll go through permutations of condo living, but everyone really loves the simplicity of it and what’s at our doorstep.

Andrew la Fleur: What spurred you to start the website, and start the Twitter account, and everything? You’re really sharing your story, and in way spreading the message of what you are living and what you think is a great way to raise a family. Why did you decide to start the website in particular?

Adrian Crook: It’s funny, I turn 40 this year. I think as you go through your 30s and you’re building your family, and you’re doing stuff, and then you creep into that just past middle age part you start to think about what you’re values are I think crystallized, at least for me, a little more than before. In my 20s and 30s I think I kept an open mind almost to a fault, where you’re trying everything and thinking maybe this for me, maybe this is for me, in terms of living in the burbs or what have you. Then at a certain point you just realize that there are just something things that are important to you, like being immersed in a city and being immersed in civic activities if you will. The politics of the city, but also just showing your kids a good role model in terms of sustainability. You’re not occupying too big a footprint on the planet. To me it just made sense.

I’ve had blogs and websites since the 90s pretty much. I just started writing about it. There really is a pretty solid under current of people who feel exactly the same way. I think the issue is the whole standard narrative is buy a house, throw you’re wealth that way. That’s a gold standard for success. That’s a very North American thing, bigger is better. Get that man cave and that’s how you’ll know you’ve made it. I really feel that society, at least in North America, really reinforces that perspective. The fewer voices that are actually talking about alternatives to that need to get heard a little bit more because we can’t all have, nor should we, a big house.

Andrew la Fleur: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your set-up and everything. You kids, how old are your kids again? You have 5 kids, what are the ages?

Adrian Crook: It’s boy, girl, boy, girl, boy. It’s 8, 7, 6, 5, and 3.

Andrew la Fleur: 8, 7, 6, 5, 3.

Adrian Crook: We called it the count down before.

Andrew la Fleur: You just missed one in there. How big is your condo itself? What’s the dimensions, what’s the size of it? The square footage is …

Adrian Crook: There are two towers here that are twin towers. Construction was finished in 1994. This is in Yaletown, which is in Vancouver it used to be a textile and warehouse district. It went through a period in the 90s and early 2000s where it was more style over substance, very trendy. Now a lot of young 20s people that inhabited … Myself included, in the late 90s I lived here as well in Yaletown, inhabited Yaletown in those times have coupled up and started to have families. This building that I’m in is 30 stories. It’s got I would say if I had to estimate about 160, 170 units, 5 or 6 units a floor. I think there are, by my building managers count, about 60 kids in this building.

That is mostly due to the fact that the floor plans of the [inaudible 00:10:27] building as constructed were slightly more generous than what was built in subsequent years in Yaletown. It’s a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, but 1,053 square feet, with a small deck. We’re on the 29th floor. Great view, we’re right on the corner south west facing predominantly. From a heating perspective I think we cruise through the winter with the highest utility bill for electricity, we don’t have gas, was $40. I remember living in … Certainly when I was in Mexico, and when I lived in North Vancouver in a house, we would have $100s a month worth of utility bills, it’s pretty well set up for family communal living settings.

Andrew la Fleur: You still there?

Adrian Crook: Yep, still here.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay great. Okay so it’s just over 1,000 square feet. Do you own a car? Do you have a bus? What do you do?

Adrian Crook: We have a bus, totally.

Andrew la Fleur: What do you do for transportation?

Adrian Crook: Most of the time we walk. There are 4 different car share organizations in Vancouver. Modo, Car To Go, Zip Car, and Evo. We have memberships to all of those. If you’re ever out and about and you need a car to get somewhere, just fire up an app and grab it and go. We have a really junky old mini-van that’s mechanically sound and safe. I think I paid about $2,800 for it a couple years ago. We use it to get the kids to and from school, because they go to school just across the bridge in North Vancouver because there is a real shortage still of downtown school space. That’s something the city is trying to address, but schools don’t get built quickly. They’ve got to go to school somewhere.

Andrew la Fleur: Why do you think you’re seeing so much media attention lately, and interviews? I think you just mentioned you’ve got 3 or 4 interviews just today alone. Why do you think people are so interested in your family, and your story, and your life?

Adrian Crook: Yeah, well, I can speak to this local market in particular, and there is a real hue and cry in this local market about affordability. A lot of it is very justified concerns about foreign ownership. A lot of times we need to debate the effect of that. A lot of people saying the average house price is over a million, I can’t afford a house in Vancouver. There’s a lot of pressure from that side that we should be able to have a house in Vancouver. I represent the other side of that spectrum where the problem is mostly between our ears. It’s mostly to do with expectations. In North America, again, like our expectations, we get a house, and a big house, and that’s how it goes. You’re somewhere on that spectrum towards owning a house and there is no other end goal. If you have a family then you’ve got to go out and get your house and your yard.

There’s a whole different way to do it, it’s not terribly unique. It might be slightly more unique in North America, but in the rest of the world you go to big cities and 70% of Europeans rent. You look at the square footage of new houses in the UK, it’s about 1/3 of what a new house built in America would be. We’ve gone big in out society. I think that’s now clouding our expectations of what we should be able to afford when reality is the cost of maintaining those things either from a civic level, servicing with fire, and police in large distributed suburbs is just not economical anymore. Or on an individual level it’s maintaining a house, and then commuting into work. When you add up all those costs a lot of people are finding quality of life is more what they’re concerned with. Living outside of that house and building a giant castle.

Andrew la Fleur: Absolutely. I’m curious, I read one quote in an article. I think it was in the Globe, I’m curious, what does the rest of your family, your parents, or people in your immediate family think about you and your choice to live this lifestyle?

Adrian Crook: I think what a lot of people think, in general, and I won’t speak necessarily of say my parents in this case, but I think they think that an adult living downtown is still trying to lead a bachelor’s lifestyle. You live downtown because you just want to party. It’s a really antiquated notion, especially when you look at what Vancouver’s downtown is like. It’s predominantly residential. So many parks, so many green spaces, and art galleries, and the aquarium, just an incredible diverse mix of things to do for families and individuals. It really is a much more rich environment for families than if you go to … When you go out to the burbs it’s very much a mono-culture. It’s a lot of people very similar to you.

You’re not really seeing the full spectrum of life. The poor, to not poor, to middle class, and all that. You’re going to see that in cities. I think that’s important for kids to be exposed to. The downtown Eastside is the poorest postal code. We frequently walk through there just in the course of our day. The kids are able to see that everyone is not as fortunate as they are. My parents come from a generation that was really happy to have a house and to be able to … Felt fortunate to fill it with stuff. That’s just not the reality we live in anymore from and environmental perspective. This generation is the first that’s going to do worse than their parents by most measures. You can’t expect to have all those trappings of material success if those are the facts, that’s what we’re facing.

Andrew la Fleur: You talked a lot about the advantages, and things you love about it, and obviously the lifestyle aspects of it that are very appealing obviously. Some of the myths around it, like you said, people think it’s about partying and those kinds of things, but what are some of the challenges though that you do have? What are some of the things that you do miss, or wish you had from living in a house? I’m curious.

Adrian Crook: That’s a tough one. Obviously I have a strong bias towards this type of living, so it’s hard for me to see the cons. Sometimes the idea of having a yard, where you just open the back door and the kids go play out there, yes and no. We have a courtyard down in the … Between the two buildings that we live in. There is no reason why they can’t go down there. As far as cons go, not too much. I really love the fact that everything we own is within these walls. We don’t have a storage unit somewhere, we don’t even have a storage unit down in the parking level like a lot of the condos do. We have an ensuite storage unit. We turned that ensuite storage unit into an art room for the kids, because they don’t even own enough stuff to fill that.

I think what a lot of people don’t understand is the overhead of owning stuff. That saying that your stuff owns you is more true than I think a lot of people realize. Once you get rid of a lot of that stuff that you spend all your time and mental energy maintaining then you can relax and enjoy what’s around you. I’m standing in our bedroom right now with the door locked so the kids don’t barge in, and I’m looking out all the way from the University of British Columbia out there at Point Gray, all the way to East Vancouver on the other side. It’s just that huge big city in front of you that you can walk to. To me that’s priceless.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay, what about is it lonely, in the sense of is it lonely for … Do you feel moments of being alone as a parent, because you feel like you’re a trailblazer? You’re doing something that not many people are doing. You don’t have many peers, or people in the immediate area that are living the same thing. Also, for your kids, people would say oh well in the burbs, in a house, a neighborhood, you just walk out your front door and there’s lots of kids you can play with on the street, and things like that. What would you say about that in terms of is it a lonely experience at times, or is that not true?

Adrian Crook: Yes and no. I think people can be insular no matter whether they’re in the burbs or the city. I remember when I had a house in the burbs and everyone pulled into the back alley into their enclosed garage and went into their house. It wasn’t that ideal everybody saying hi neighbor across the fence in the front yard scenario. It could be like that, obviously downtown even though there are 60 kids in our particular building it still takes some effort to reach out to them. When you see them in the elevator you’re writing down your email address, and coordinating getting together. Eventually, our family has made those friends where they’re over all the time at each other’s place in the same building. Or, close by they’ll come over and hang out.

I think no matter what environment you’re in it just takes a bit of effort to reach out of your bubble and make those connections. It’s really easy not to, but then you just don’t have any friends. As far as lonely, as if I’m doing something trailblazing, I think only the number of kids would be the trailblazing aspect, at least in this neighborhood. Like I said, there’s just so many families down town. It’s not really a new concept. Obviously the predominant model is house outside of the city core, but for those of us who are living downtown and raising a family here this is normal.

Andrew la Fleur: What do you think it would take in Vancouver specifically, but probably a lot of what you’re going to say would apply to Toronto as well downtown, but what do you think in Vancouver it’s going to take to get more families living downtown, and more families living in apartments and in high rise living?

Adrian Crook: I think we do a pretty bad job of accessing how happy we might be in a particular situation. I know I’ve done this in my life, just blindly followed a particular narrative in the past and wound up at various stages of my life in place where it took me a while to figure out I wasn’t happy. I think one of those decisions, at least for me, was when we had our first kid, then we had a second kid, and we decided we were going to move into that … Like so many downtown couple do now, this downtown life has been fun, now we’re going to move into a house in the burbs and we’ll have 2,500 square feet available to us. Then when you get there you realize what involved in that, with the commutes, and now you’re renovating or maintaining a huge house.

As far as walking goes, yes it’s technically possible to walk places but you won’t see any other humans walking with you. There will be cars moving past you. You really don’t foresee that. You just jump on that path. I think if people could get … If the map could be drawn out more clearly to people to really envision what they were giving up vs leading a more content life. Focusing on living, and experiences, and being out in the world, and enjoying what’s around you as opposed to building a big giant castle, like I said before. I think that’s really showing people those alternatives. That will hopefully drive more people to try it. A lot of people just don’t think it’s realistic. They’re told as soon as you have those one or two kids it’s time to head out of the city. Your time in the city is done. I’m just too young to just pack it in like that. There’s a lot of life left.

Andrew la Fleur: Absolutely, yeah, that’s from a philosophical, ideological perspective. There needs to be that shift in people, but thinking about a city building in perspective. What are the challenges you see? I know you’re very interested in urban issues, and city building, and things like that. You mentioned schools. For me that’s probably the biggest thing. Even me personally, I would live downtown in a heartbeat with my family if there was a good school close by. There are some schools in downtown Toronto, I don’t know about in Vancouver. There are schools, but they are generally small or their just really poor performing schools in generally poor or less advantaged neighborhoods.

Adrian Crook: School is obviously a big one. Even in our neighborhood the school, the elementary school, had 150 person wait list, kindergarten or grade 1, the wait list shrunk as the grades progressed. By grade 2 is was 60 people, by grade 3 it was 20 people. That’s just what’s happening. People start finding they can’t, or for what ever reason they’re deciding to move out of downtown as their kids get older. There has to obviously be more investment in schools to show parents that K through 12 solution for kids downtown.

Also the mix of types of units that are being built by developers that’s trended very heavily towards investment class units. 600 or 500 square foot one bedroom apartment. It’s probably one of the better ways to maximize value if you’re building a condo building if you’re a developer, but it doesn’t really serve families that need 2 and 3 bedroom units with a bit more space, a couple bathrooms. That’s gotten more difficult to find as they’ve gone on. I’m trying to help a friend of mine and her kids find a place in the downtown area. When you look on Craigs List looking for a 2 bedroom and den let’s say with a decent amount of square feet, like 850, 900, there are six results. There’s [inaudible 00:26:37] shortage.

I think there is a role for this city to play. The city already plays this role with developers where they negotiate the mix of market housing vs social housing in some developments to ensure there’s social housing available for people who need it so the developer is not just building a bunch of really high priced units in their new condo tower. The city already plays that role of helping developers make the right decisions about what type of units would benefit the city vs just he pockets of the developer. I think that’s probably a big one in there.

Across the board affordability, which is a really giant issue to unpack everything [because it’s towards so many different places 00:27:23] whether it’s trying to curve speculative buying of units for any number of reasons, because it’s driving up prices, or because it’s leaving units empty. Coal Harbor it’s slightly more … I would say that’s a slightly higher vacancy rate. That’s a neighborhood downtown here in Vancouver, because of that exact reason. It’s a lot of maybe non-resident owners that have them as investment properties, or only occupy them for a portion of the year. That really hurts the neighborhood feel of certain parts. It’s not like how it is in Yaletown. Yaletown is quite the opposite.

Affordability, back to that, it’s just so many things that factor into that. You can class income growths over the last 30, 40 years, it’s been relatively flat and below inflation. In a city like Vancouver, where housing is relatively expensive, it’s not like San Francisco, but you to to San Francisco and you’re wages are doubled and in the US of course. Yes housing is more but you’re also being paid a lot more. Whereas in Vancouver our wages are probably what they are in Toronto. I know in Toronto the market’s heating up a lot too. Based on housing prices we should probably have higher wages. That’s a tough thing to change over night.

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, absolutely. Adrian, thank you very much again for your time today. One last question before we go, and that is, like I said, you’ve been interviewed a lot. Just today you’ve got multiple interviews. I’m curious, is there one question that no one has asked you yet about your life, or about urban living with kids? One question that nobody has asked you but you wish they would, and what would that question be?

Adrian Crook: This morning I was on morning news but that was a 5 minute bit. Then I went to the CDC Radio One and did I think a 7 minute bit where I was on with one other person. It’s very superficial, you’re mostly getting what’s being thought there, sound bites, scratching the surface of the curiosity. Oh, 5 kids in a condo it must be crazy. That’s cute, but I think what people get to a little bit of the minimalism aspect I like, because obviously I don’t believe in over consumption of just needless things. You should buy experiences vs things, and all that stuff. I think nobody quite gets to the environmental aspect. I think I’ve got maybe an hour long panel this afternoon at the downtown campus of one of our universities. I’m not the worlds biggest environmentalist or anything, but I just can’t in good conscience go own giant housing, consume all those resources.

I’ve obviously chosen to have a big family, so I don’t believe that over population is the issue. I believe that over stuff is the issue. It’s in my power to solve the over consumption issue for myself as a family and show my kids that we can be completely happy and positive members of our community, global citizens if you will, by making a few decisions about what we need and what we don’t need. Being able to show the spectrum of from poor all the way to … We’re middle class, the middle class. I think really to me it’s that environmental aspect, that we’re going to continue the way we’re going and I’ve got issues if you will. We have to make some decisions about how we live that are slightly more responsible than just blindly pursuing the biggest, and the most we can possibly have.

Andrew la Fleur: Great. Great way to actually wrap it up. I appreciate your time Adrian, again. If people want to get a hold of you, or learn more about you obviously I’ll include links to your website, and your Twitter account. Is there anything else, any other ways you want to be reached on line or otherwise?

Adrian Crook: The best way is the 5kids1condo contact form. Obviously I’m always on Twitter, so 5kids1condo, and those are numbers, 5 an 1. 5kids1condo on Twitter, I’m all the time on that. We haven’t set up a Facebook page or anything like that. It’s just a matter of what you want to spend your time maintaining [crosstalk 00:32:16]

Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, that’s great. Again, thank you Adrian for your time and all the best.

Adrian Crook: Thanks a lot Andrew, take care.

Andrew la Fleur: Okay, there you have it. That was my interview with Adrian Crook from 5kids1condo.com, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. I hope you took something from it and found it interesting. Once again for all the show notes on this episode just head on over to truecondos.com/5kids1condo. There you can find links to Adrian’s website, and to his Twitter feed and so on. Thank you very much for listening. Thanks for supporting the show. If you found it interesting why don’t you go ahead and share this episode with a friend, or a colleague, or someone in your family, or a fellow condo investor. I look forward to coming at you again with a new episode next week.

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