Real-estate brokers explain why the quest for more space has buyers heading to the suburbs.
It’s 2021 and with the world still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, the suburbs are being seen as a haven from the city’s clamour and close quarters — value-laden, wide-open spaces with increasing appeal. A move out to the ’burbs has always been a personal choice, but with urban density reaching new heights, figuratively and literally, many residents in Canada’s largest cities are finding that trading in a busy city home for a quieter one is a decidedly smart decision.
The suburbs of Vancouver, among the most expensive cities in Canada for owning property, have become not a choice but, at times, actually the only option for homeowners coveting a larger footprint. Even then, the classic suburban dream can remain just that. Instead of the traditional suburban house ,buyers are being offered an alternative. “We’re seeing a townhome development sprawl, which provides for more affordability, allowing every-day people to upsize from a condo to a more inviting home,” says Shazhil Karim, Senior Vice-President of Sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Quite simply, affordability has broken away from the ‘big lawn, driveway and white picket fence’ cliché.” Those seeking more interior and exterior space can expect standard four to five bedrooms, sizeable mud rooms and basement entrances that lead into separate living quarters, plus plenty of space for outdoor toys like ATVs, Jet Skis and canoes. And contrary to popular belief, going suburban isn’t about compromising one’s social calendar. “The general [thinking is] that amenities will be more spread out or will not be as upscale as urban living,” Karim points out. “But this gap is closing in suburban communities such as Port Moody Centre, South Surrey–White Rock and Tsawwassen, which now offer what was once only found in urban centres. Craft breweries, coffee shops, gyms, restaurants, hair studios and nail salons are migrating and making it easier for consumers to relocate to a suburban environment.” Neighbourhoods like North Vancouver, Port Moody and North Burnaby have stand-alone homes that average $1.5 million to$1.6 million, with townhouses going for$650,000 to $1 million. But, like so many big markets, patience, awareness and timing are key.“ It’s really about understanding a buyer’s budget, then narrowing desirable neighbourhoods based on the family’s needs, lifestyle and goals,” notes Karim. “The [worst] oversights are moving [the buyer] too far away from their loved ones in an effort to get more value or not knowing [the buyer’s] true budget.”
Having gone through a period of transition over the past decade — moving from oil to tech and health care–based markets — Calgary remains chock full of cultural amenities and new developments, all surrounded by nature. And while the city slowly recovers from its reliance on oil, the current economic uncertainty is a gold mine for home purchasers. “The buying opportunities across all product types and geographic areas in Calgary are significant,” says Barb Richardson, Senior Vice President of Sales at Sotheby’s. “A typical two-bedroom, two-bath condo in a newer concrete build in Calgary would be in the$350,000 range. In Toronto or Vancouver, that would be at least double. The same applies for larger estate homes in suburbs like Springbank and Bearspaw.” Calgary also offers buyers the expected suburban bonuses — large lots, two-to-three-car garages — and with upgrades over yesteryears. “The biggest difference is probably the amenities and, in some cases, almost ‘mini-town cores’ within the city,” notes Richardson. “McKenzie Towne is a great example and there are others — not just big-box shops but ‘small-town feel’ centres. ”The city’s range of available homes is broad, from new developments to older bungalows and established communities. The result is a variety of price points. Recently built attached homes in southwest communities like Killarney and Glamorgan go from $600,000 to $800,000. Meanwhile, on Calgary’s west side, family homes are in the $650,000–$850,000 range. Moving up to new luxury builds in Aspen Woods and West Springs, expect prices to head upwards, to $1 million up to $1.5 million. In addition to the transitioning economy, Richardson reports that many desirable neighbourhoods — such as Signal Hill, Springbank Hill, Crestmont, Valley Ridge, Cougar Ridge and Strathcona Park — have remained flat in value for many years. “I believe these communities are well poised to appreciate with new transportation options, and the number of homes being renovated or rebuilt will allow buyers to take advantage of such fantastic locations.”
Perhaps no Canadian city exemplifies the suburban exodus like Toronto. Surrounded by a tumbling sprawl of communities that fringe Lake Ontario east and west (as well as to the north), this city offers nearly limitless options tailored to every budget. “People are now leaning into what the suburbs have to offer,” says Daniella Quattrociocchi, a Broker at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Provincial lockdown measures highlighted the upside of suburban living — big lawns, large driveways and urban sprawl. People want space and the suburbs are here for them.” Some communities like Burlington and Oakville — which offer close proximity to both Toronto and the Niagara region, as well as lake access and countless nature trails —rank among the top places in Canada to live in, according to Quattrociocchi. Not surprisingly, good value doesn’t remain a secret for long. “The recent trend to move out of the city has only pushed values higher here,” she says. “Milton and Halton Hills are now see-ing this trend as well.” A typical detached home in coveted Oakville communities such as Bronte and River Oaks will cost around $1.3 million. Quattrociocchi lauds the community vibe in the suburbs but recommends buyers to be cautious. While a house may look grand on the outside, keep in mind that you should always be concerned with what’s inside. “Pay attention to the details of a listing,” she advises. “For example, you wouldn’t have to worry about a home in Toronto with a septic tank. But there are areas as close as Mississauga where homes are still on a septic system. Even if you have a city agent you trust, get a local agent’s perspective — they have the inside scoop on the communities and what is going on.”
Not all trends are meant to be followed, of course, and Montreal is a city that moves to its own beat. According to Liza Kaufman, Certified Real Estate Broker and founding partner at Sotheby’s International Realty Québec, buyers are digging in and investing in the city. This means popular neighbourhoods like Mount Royal and Westmount remain among the city’s most desirable. And with a median value still less than half that in Toronto or Vancouver, market growth in the City of Saints is bound to increase. Montreal’s geography as an island city also contributes to this desire to stay put, with its rivers creating a natural barrier against migration. There’s also the well-apportioned collection of renowned universities, hospitals and other amenities that make Montreal living so irreplaceable off-island. But then, last August, the city witnessed the record sale of a Mount Royal Park home for$18 million and real estate exploded. “Montreal has become the new place internationally for people to invest in,” explains Kaufman. “Whether[they’re] escaping pressures economic or political, I’m fielding calls from America, across Europe and beyond.” According to the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers (QPAREB),Montreal’s new boom extends beyond the metropolitan area with home sales increasing 31 percent in suburban regions. Buyers are looking at these regions as alternatives, making a purchase of a larger or a second home outside the city core a foreseeably sound investment.
This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living, Spring 2021 issue, The Leaders Issue. Written by John Crossingham