Photo: James Bombales
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, homeowners have had a lot of time to reassess what they need in a home. For some, this has meant considering a new property outside of the city, somewhere that might offer more space for fewer dollars.
While there’s been much discussion within the real estate industry about homebuyers wanting to relocate to communities outside of Toronto, some experts say that this won’t necessarily translate into a boom for suburban growth, or waning interest in city-living.
“I would still prefer to have and enjoy the downtown, or what any urban centre has to offer, versus living in the suburbs and getting into my car and only being able to drive to Walmart,” said Naama Blonder, a Toronto-based architect, urban planner and co-founder of Smart Density.
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Blonder explained that there’s been much discussion around the perks of suburban living versus city life during the pandemic. This dialogue often touches on how city homeowners tend to lack large, private backyards — a resource that urban dwellers have craved after months of lockdown — and may face more space-related challenges when working from home.
However, Blonder pointed out that if home office culture is here to stay, city homes, even without access to a yard, offer proximity to a wealth of park and public amenities that exist outside of the home that suburban and rural residences wouldn’t.
A proponent of family-friendly housing, Blonder explained that city condos and units can do more to accommodate families by addressing their needs in tandem with public spaces. For instance, condos don’t necessarily need to be the size of a house, but can offer smart layouts with more bedrooms and amenities within the building that can’t be included in the unit itself. One analogy she uses is Paris — young families thrive in the European city without private backyards.
“I know as someone who advocates for family-friendly housing and high-density for working families, this product currently does not exist, or is not enough,” she said. “And it’s something that I’ve been talking a lot about. I think that the demand is here, and the people won’t give up the city.”
Along with the convenience of a shorter commute time that Millennial buyers often seek, and the independence cities can offer for growing teenagers, Blonder believes the suburbs will not necessarily flourish post-COVID while the desire to live in Toronto continues to grow.
“I don’t think we will need to face that, the question of cities, not just Toronto, but cities declining,” said Blonder. “I think we now understand, for decades, even if we’re not there yet, that building compact cities is better for the environment.”
Real estate agents have noticed that homebuyers have used the pandemic as an opportunity to analyze what’s important to them. Agents in outer-city communities are receiving higher-than-normal levels of buyer inquiries. Kori Marin and Ralph Fox, Toronto real estate brokers and managing partners at Fox Marin Associates, have noted buyers weighing their options more and strategizing for the long-term.
“I think real estate is a very large component to that obviously, but we just don’t see people, in our experience, throwing caution to the wind and saying, ‘That’s it, we’re out,’” said Fox.
The pandemic has forced us to live in new ways, whether it be going outside less and being around family more. Similarly, Marin said that the same scenario is happening for owners about the perspective of their homes — the idea of living in a rural setting may seem dreamy at the moment for city residents, but the appeal could wear off over time.
“I do think [it’s] kind of a temporary romanticism of what it might look like only because of the state that we’re in right now,” explained Marin. “I’m one of those people that does that all the time. I can see why people are attracted to it, but I don’t think it will be a long-lived trend. I can’t anticipate that it will last forever.”