With the average price of a detached home in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) hovering around $1.4 million, and prices in the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods reaching even higher, many families are having to shop elsewhere. Toronto’s affordability crisis is no secret. Residents and policy makers are certainly aware of the problem.
In 2017, Ontario’s provincial government took steps to ease the problem and cool off the overheated market. Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan enacted numerous measures to stabilize the market and promote affordability. Economic regulators also hiked the interest rates as a way to slow things down.
Two years later, most observers now seem to agree that these steps were more or less effective. But at the same time, Toronto remains one of the most appealing major cities in North America. So long as the demand is high and the city’s economy remains strong, the chances of real estate prices moving significantly downward are slim.
Alternatives to Toronto
It’s a well-known fact that Canadian real estate gets less and less expensive as you get away from the city centre. Therefore, it’s not surprising that families, young professionals and immigrants are looking to the suburbs and the outskirts of the GTA to find more affordable housing alternatives.
If you want to live in the countryside, you can drive far away from the GTA to find plenty of wide open spaces with very reasonable housing prices. But if you want to stay close to the throbbing metropolis—whether for work, culture or entertainment—you’ll have to make some compromises.
Weighing out the costs and benefits of living closer to the city can be difficult. And it will depend entirely on your own preferences and circumstances. But if you’re trying to save money on housing, or just looking for something you can afford besides a little condo, your best option might be to head for the suburbs.
At the far western tip of Lake Ontario, Hamilton has become one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country. The city’s popularity has everything to do with its proximity to Toronto. At 60 km away, Toronto is close enough to visit on a frequent basis, but far enough to make a real difference in the cost of living.
Keep in mind, if you need to commute to Toronto on a daily basis, the money you save on housing may not make up for the time and money you spend getting back and forth. That stretch of highway connecting Hamilton to Toronto will take you through some of the most congested roads in all of Canada. If you can find work in Hamilton, you’ll be better off, but the salary probably won’t measure up to the pay scale in Toronto.
A lot of Torontonians look down on Hamilton like the little city that wishes it was Toronto. Indeed, it’s trying pretty hard. But it’s got a long way to go. The young upstart simply lacks the soul and the scope of the big city. Although Hamiltonians can be thankful they aren’t in one of the more immediate suburbs like Mississauga, Brampton or Oakville, struggling to find any real sense of identity.
For a better sense of community and suburban charm, you might consider some of these other towns to north, between Toronto and Lake Simcoe.
About 80 km up the road from downtown Toronto, on the western shore of Lake Simcoe, the rural town of Innisfil has a variety of appealing communities, like Stroud, Alcona and Cookstown, comprising a population of roughly 33,000. Many find the small town life up here to be a perfect halfway point between Toronto and the wilderness.
The average home price in this area is around $600,000, a substantial savings over what you’d pay for something smaller inside the city limits. But if you still work in Toronto, the daily commute probably won’t be worth it.
A few minutes west of Innisfil, the town of Essa sits in the center of a healthy agricultural area. It’s also the main access point to the Canadian Forces Base Borden, giving the rural area an interesting mix of military and farming influence. Open spaces and a generous supply of older homes combine with low housing prices to make the area especially popular for young families.
The 8000-person community of Angus, in particular, has received a lot of attention lately. The average house in Angus costs about $500,000, considerably less than nearby Barrie and other parts of Simcoe County. But as the word gets out, and as more homebuyers are looking further outside of Toronto, these great prices may not last long. Homes values in Angus are already rising quickly.
On Lake Simcoe’s southern shore, the town of Georgina is made up of several quaint little communities. Housing prices went a little off the chart here during the GTA real estate boom, around 2015 and 2016. But with the mild correction of 2017, prices sort of went off the cliff. For some of the best values on real estate, check out Sutton & Jackson’s Point. The communities of Keswick, Sutton and Pefferlaw are also worth a look, especially if you’re in the market for a cute cottage with tons of rustic character.
The township of Brock, immediately to the east of Georgina, includes the villages of Beaverton and Cannington. In addition to the basic amenities, like schools, shops and restaurants, each of these communities has its own distinct charms that you can only find in a small town. Beaverton, along the Trent-Severn Waterway which leads to Lake Simcoe, is also a popular tourist destination for water sporting enthusiasts.
At the eastern edge of the GTA, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, the city of Oshawa was historically the home of General Motors Canada. But today the lakeside city has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. The up-and-coming communities of O’Neill and Lakeview offer some of the best real estate values in the GTA, at about 60 km from downtown Toronto. Don’t be surprised to find homes in these neighbourhoods selling for less than $400,000.
Continue east for another 10 or 15 minutes, and you’ll pass through some picturesque farmland before reaching Bowmanville, also situated on Lake Ontario’s north shore. With Toyota building a parts plant here, job opportunities are on the rise. Housing prices, however, are still about 40% less than in other parts of the GTA.
Before you give up on the city, be sure to take all the important factors into consideration. Think about how much time and gas you will be spending on your daily commute. Consider where most of your friends live and whether it will be harder or easier to spend time with them. Think about how much you value having access to nature, as opposed to the stimulation of urban life. And of course, financial circumstances are bound to play an important role.
If you really want to own your own home, it might not be possible in central Toronto. But there are still plenty of opportunities in the surrounding towns. So head up to Lake Simcoe, drive past the potato farms on a country road, and grab a sandwich from a small town deli. Life outside the city might not be so bad after all.
To learn more about real estate issues in Canada and Toronto, check out some of our other informative articles.
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