Builders work on the roof of a series of framed low-rise houses.

New home buyers are gravitating towards low-rise housing in outer-city communities for their offerings of space and convenience. Photo by alisonhancock via Adobe Stock

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things about real estate consumer behaviour, especially when it comes to the importance of space.

Having spent the last two years working, schooling and living at home, having more space in and outside one’s property became a greater priority for many home buyers. This prompted some to extend their home search outside of downtown areas where greater square footage could typically be found in more plentiful supply and for fewer dollars.

These buying preferences have also translated to the Greater Toronto Area’s new construction market as pre-construction purchasers gravitate towards more spacious low-rise forms of housing in outer-city communities.

“After 35-plus years in the industry, I had seen it all, then there was COVID-19,” said Mark Cohen, managing ​​partner at TCS Marketing Systems.

“We saw huge trend shifts in the new construction market and people began prioritizing space over proximity to work. This meant two to four times the growth in areas like Ajax, Pickering, Barrie and Burlington. These areas have one thing in common — a sense of affordability with infrastructure in place like GO train access,” he added.

Cohen explained that townhomes and stacked town projects are becoming increasingly popular as they offer more space for new home buyers and “make sense,” to builders. According to the latest data from the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the benchmark price of a new construction single-family home in the GTA, which includes townhomes, increased 31.5 per cent annually in May to $1,814,774.

As working from home and hybrid models become a permanent part of daily life for many Ontarians, Cohen points out that more people are opting to live further outside of downtown Toronto, sacrificing the amenities of the city for space in the suburbs. While consumers look to “live where they want rather than live where they work,” small urban centres are growing around low-rise communities, Cohen noted.

A residential suburb of low-rise single-family homes in Ontario during the summer.

Some Ontario buyers are willing to sacrifice the amenities of the city for more space in low-rise suburban communities. Photo by IceCat via Adobe Stock

“Space is the allure,” said Serena Quaglia, vice-president of strategy at TCS Marketing Systems. “As young professionals grow their families, they are looking for that perfect balance of space and accessibility. With high-rise condo trends continuing to focus on location with less dedicated living space, buyers who want more space are looking outside of the urban centres to get that space they envisioned in their homes.”

Although the convenience of amenities right on your doorstep is a draw for many city dwellers, Quaglia explains that the idea of a backyard and proximity to the sidewalk is what many buyers are looking for these days. Low-rise developments give purchasers who are looking for defined, separated living spaces more options.

“There is also more sense of ownership in the [low-rise] homes, be it a townhome or a single detached,” Quaglia added.

More low-rise developments may be on the horizon for buyers to purchase.

BILD’s latest data shows that remaining inventory for new single-family lots in the GTA increased to 1,954 homes in May, up from the previous month. Although developers are dealing with higher costs to build, Cohen says that this may help the low-rise side of the new construction market, which has shorter timelines and more predictability.

Quaglia explains that TCS Marketing Systems has continued to see growth in many regions outside of the downtown core since the start of the pandemic. Lots of activity has been reported on the west side of the city from Burligton to the Niagara region. New developments that offer a blend of space and accessibility are grabbing the attention of purchasers. This includes a few projects slated to launch this summer, including The Enclave by Wycliffe Homes and Thornridge Homes, a multi-phase urban and ravine townhome project located in East Gwillimbury, and Terrafina, an urban townhome community in Welland.

The Ontario government is also in the process of streamlining the building code, which will help with creating more forms of low-rise housing. In April, the province’s More Homes for Everyone plan received royal assent, a housing bill that is heavily based on the Housing Affordability Task Force’s 55 recommendations. One of the action items of the bill is to facilitate more infill and low-rise multi-unit housing by exploring opportunities to allow for single means of egress — an exterior door — in four- to six-storey residential buildings.

A framed single-family low-rise home in an under-construction suburb under blue skies.

Regions located west of Toronto have reported high levels of buying activity for low-rise developments. Photo by trongnguyen via Adobe Stock

The Task Force’s report is a step in the right direction according to Cohen, especially when you factor in Canada’s future immigration plans and the need for more creative solutions to deliver homes.

“With the new bill in motion, as-of-right zoning will allow up to four dwellings on a residential site and zoning will be in place for mid-rise buildings of six to 11 storeys along streets with transportation infrastructure,” Cohen explained. “Just these two alone should signal that there is more supply on the way.”

Ultimately, Cohen said that he believes the dream of homeownership will always be a high priority for Canadians. While affordability may determine the type of home someone can buy, Cohen said that the industry will continue to see low-rise homes as the end goal for many consumers.

“I expect the popularity of stacked towns and regular towns will continue to grow, and we are already seeing more of this product in the city,” said Cohen. “The Places to Grow Act has set boundaries for sprawl and that will mean developers focusing on high-rise in urban centres but the volume of townhomes and mid-rise should continue to grow along major arteries across the GTA.”

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