Last week Darrell Haber of San Francisco asked for help in finding an under-valued neighbourhood in Toronto. He's moving to the city and would like to buy property in an up-and-coming area that may appreciate over three to five years.
I made a few suggestions and then threw the question out to readers, who tackled the topic with gusto. Professor Richard Harris at McMaster University's School of Geography and Earth Sciences already had his students working on a similar question and he will forward some of the best responses.
Meanwhile, I also asked Mr. Haber to provide some more details so that we can better steer him toward a neighbourhood that suits his life. I know, however, that thousands of people in Toronto are wondering the very same thing so perhaps our crowd sourcing will inspire others.
Turns out, that it's romance – not work – bringing Mr. Haber to Toronto. He's moving to be closer to his girlfriend, Jackelyn Ho. The pair would like to be in a neighbourhood of young professionals. They don't care to be surrounded by kids so neighbourhoods with good schools and playgrounds hold no appeal.
In his price range of $350,000 to $400,000, Mr. Haber knows he's most likely going to buy a condo. He'd prefer a unit with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and parking.
"I like the idea of condo living in Toronto but I don't need all the extras. Anything more than a gym is too much and adds fees."
As an aside, I also wondered how Toronto's real estate values appear compared with San Francisco's. Mr. Haber says that condos in San Francisco are typically larger old homes that have been split into flats. They often have two or three bedrooms in buildings not higher than three stories. These units tend to start at $1.5-million (U.S.) and rise from there. They are also not downtown but in surrounding neighbourhoods such as the Avenues, the Mission District and the Marina District.
"In some cases, it can still take up to an hour to get to downtown from these locations," he says.
Mr. Haber says that five (five!) or so condo developments have gone up in downtown San Francisco in the past few years. These newer developments tend to be very, very pricey, he adds, with a one bedroom on a lower floor selling for about $800,000. Anything larger or with selling features such as a nice view will fetch more than $1.2-million, but can easily go as high as $4-million.
All of which is to say that Toronto prices do seem reasonable in comparison. But Mr. Haber says that salaries in San Francisco are also more in line with the higher real estate prices.
"I suspect you could consider that there is a one-time bonus for moving your money from San Francisco to Toronto, but that's about it."
Mr. Haber has done a lot of reading on the forecasts for Toronto's condo market. He knows he's coming into the market close to what could turn out to be its height. That's part of his strategy in looking for an area that could improve in value with the help of better transit or new businesses.
One reader echoed my suggestion of Eglinton West. She and her husband are young professionals who bought in the area in 2012. She says they got a great deal on their house and it's still possible to find one for less than $450,000. Bidding wars are less common than in more trendy locations, she added. She likes the friendly neighbours, the nearby Beltline and the eclecticism of the area, but also believes its ripe for revitalization.
Another reader from "uber-trendy Leslieville" points to more affordable St. Clair and Caledonia in the city's west end, where some young cousins recently purchased a house. The reader says the light rapid transit line has improved access to the area and lots of new townhouses are under construction.
I also floated Little India as a possibility, prompting a reader to suggest continuing a little farther east. The area bordered by Woodbine Avenue, Victoria Park, Kingston Road and Gerrard Street East – sometimes known as the Upper Beaches – is a pleasant pocket, the reader says. New shops are appearing along Kingston Road all the time.
A real estate agent who specializes in the east end recommends the slice of East York known as Woodbine-Lumsden to first-time buyers and investors. It's close to the Bloor-Danforth subway line, she points out, and younger people moving into the area are creating demand for new bistros and cafés.
Also to the east is Highland Creek. The reader who suggested it points out that it will be home to the pool and sports complex currently under construction for the Pan American Games. Cyclists can follow the bike paths all the way to Lake Ontario. The Metro Toronto Zoo and Rouge National Park are just to the north. The detached houses on 50-foot lots may not suit Mr. Haber, but for people with kids it has a lot going for it.
On the other side of town, someone suggested the Junction – as long as Mr. Haber doesn't pay too much, because the area is still developing. Given that we now know about his preference to be in a condo without amenities and kids in the neighbourhood, this area could work well. The developments here tend to be smaller and there's very cool nightlife for childless couples.
A reader from Hamilton suggests that Mr. Haber forget about Toronto and head to that city, which has affordable real estate and more authentic funk than people realize.
Thanks to everyone who contributed. Don't hesitate to keep the suggestions coming to email@example.com or @CarolynIreland on Twitter.