Toronto's capricious spring real estate market has lots of people feeling perplexed.
Sales have been tumbling for months in a row but prices have held on or continued to climb.
Some houses draw 11 bids; others see their offer dates come and go.
Buyers question whether prices are finally on the verge of a decline, and they only have to look as far as Vancouver to see people who bought last year only to see their new house slide in value in 2013.
Move-up buyers don't have it any easier: They may buy a grand new property and get caught in the uncomfortable squeeze of not being able to sell their current house or condo.
So for people who want to buy or trade up now, one strategy that makes sense is to put a greater emphasis than ever on finding a stellar neighbourhood. These pockets tend to hold up better in a market slump and are likely to rise higher still if prices resume their climb.
Golden neighbourhoods have attributes that make them great places to live, regardless of what the market is doing.
Their solid schools, good housing stock, desirable shopping and proximity to a pleasant park or a stretch of shoreline will make them comfortable places to ride out any potential downturn.
We asked John Pasalis of Realosophy to help us find six safe harbours for anxious buyers in a variety of market segments.
Republic of Rathnelly
A few choice streets make up the Republic of Rathnelly, which is a cossetted pocket west of Avenue Road and north of Dupont.
"It's a tiny, tiny neighbourhood," says Mr. Pasalis.
The rolling and curvy streets of Rathnelly Avenue, Poplar Plains Crescent, Cottingham Street and McMaster Avenue make up the counter-culture republic, which was founded on July 1, 1967. On a lark, a band of residents declared independence from the rest of Canada after helping to successfully stave off the Spadina Expressway. They still mark the anniversary with a street party.
These days, more earnest parents are eager to pack their kids off to Brown Junior Public School, which offers English and French immersion classes, and has a reputation for academic excellence. It's also a platinum-certifited eco school that promotes "anything but car" days and litterless lunches.
The houses are mostly solid, but unpretentious, detached and semi-detached brick dwellings from the Victorian era.
Even the climate is rarified in parts of the republic: Houses built part way up the escarpment formed by the shoreline of the ancient Lake Iroquois have reverse ravine lots which benefit from a slightly warmer micro-climate that allows flowers to bloom a little bit earlier than they do in surrounding gardens.
This little corner of the city is still quite bucolic considering how quickly one can hop onto Highway 401 from here.
"It's also up-and-coming," says Mr. Pasalis.
The area is just above the expressway, with Yonge Street to the east, Bathurst to the west, and Burnett Avenue running along the northern boundary. The Don River Valley cuts through the area and separates it from the well-known Earl Bales Park, where legions of kids have taken to the bunny hill for their first run on skis.
There's still an abundance of greenery, despite the fact that many small bungalows have been torned down and replaced with newly built dwellings with main floor family rooms and cathedral ceilings.
"Some of the houses even have ravine lots," says Mr. Pasalis.
Residents can walk to bustling Yonge and Sheppard to eat, shop and yawp at the construction of fast-rising condo towers.
Schools include the private Little Owl Preschool Elementary, University Preparatory Academy, Don Valley Preparatory Academy, the Toronto Cheder and Cameron Public School.
Dufferin Grove Park and the nearby Dufferin Mall had a pretty nefarious reputation in decades past but they've long since undergone remarkable transformations. But even while the park was the site of sketchy activity and the mall was rather tattered, the imposing Victorian and Edwardian houses to the east tended to attract upstanding urbanites who liked the lovely, leafy streets and the proximity to College Street.
For years the solid housing stock drew writers and university professors who could afford property values that lagged behind those of the Annex and High Park. Today, hordes of young families are attracted by more moderate prices around the $600,000 mark.
"It's still a great investment," says Mr. Pasalis. "It's a very good neighbourhood."
Meanwhile, the hippest boutiques, galleries and cafes of have migrated farther west and now sit just a short stroll away.
"Those sections of Bloor, College and Dundas are gentrifying and changing so much," he says.
The sweet spot of Leslieville
For people who crave French brioche, vintage coffee tables and the softly poached eggs of free-run chickens on Sundays, Leslieville is neighbourhood gold and the intersection of Queen and Carlaw is at the centre.
"It's more of the heart of Leslieville," says Mr. Pasalis.
Streets running north and east of the intersection of Queen and Carlaw are considered the most desirable, says Mr. Pasalis, who is so sure of the area's merits that he bought his own house on Boston Ave.
Avenues such as Boston, Brooklyn, Bertmount and Coady provide quick access to a stool at the window of Te Aro Coffee Roasters. Parents can stop in after the daily run to Morse Street Junior Public School.
Allenby Junior Public School is a big draw here. According to the Toronto District School Board, the documented history of this slice of Toronto dates back to the 1400s when a tribe of Huron Iroquois settled in a longhouse village. The school is popular for its French Immersion program for kids in Grades 3 through 6.
If you stand on the northwest corner of Avenue Road and Eglinton, then venture into the mannerly blocks north and west, you're in Allenby, where families vie to buy Tudor-style houses on such streets as Briar Hill Avenue, Roselawn Avenue, Willowbank Avenue and Castle Knock Road.
Many of the houses have been enlarged but the neighbourhood retains a traditional feel.
The shopping strip along Eglinton West is packed with upscale boutiques.
Sitting atop the Scarborough Bluffs, Fallingbrook is a niche within the neighbourhood of Birch Cliff, which is in turn a pocket within Scarborough. This area is replete with curving streets named Fallingbrook: If you're invited to dinner there, either rely on the GPS or leave extra time to distinguish between Fallingbrook Road, Drive, Woods and Crescent.
Fallingbrook Road runs just west of the rolling golf greens of the Toronto Hunt Club and south of Kingston Road.
The houses lining the promontory above Lake Ontario range from gracious 100-year-old mansions to renovated mid-century dwellings and newly built architectural wonders. Houses on streets such as Courcelette, Blantyre and any of the Fallingbrooks are highly sought-after.
In many ways, the neighbourhood seems like an extension of The Beaches, just the other side of Victoria Park.
But, Mr. Pasalis points out, residents of this area have quick access to Queen Street East shopping but fewer day-trippers to contend with on the weekends.