“Double, double, toil and trouble.” Written over 400 years ago by the Bard, this phrase from Shakespeare’s infamously dark play, Macbeth, could just as easily describe Canada’s real estate market in recent years.
On one side, there are international economists—and their much publicized reports—declaring the market to be overvalued and due for a sudden, corrective crash. Then there are the local analysts who oscillate between doom-and-gloom predictions and the potential for a soft landing. Caught in the middle are prospective homeowners and real estate investors who are just trying to negotiate a good deal.
That’s where MoneySense can help. While we don’t believe anyone should rush to get into the real estate market, we do think there are still good deals to be found. To help identify those deals, we performed a groundbreaking analysis of the real estate market to find out which neighbourhoods are set to soar in value in five of Canada’s largest cities.
Photo gallery: 15 Best value neighbourhoods
The first thing we looked for was value. Armed with detailed data from local real estate boards, we identified neighbourhoods where home prices are cheap when compared with adjacent areas and the city as a whole. Next we looked for momentum. By drilling down into one-year and three-year price appreciation statistics for various neighbourhoods—numbers that in some cases weren’t previously available—we were able to identify which areas of the city had the fastest rising home prices. Of course, just because home prices have been on the rise, doesn’t mean they will continue to do so, so we turned to those who know each city’s markets best—local real estate agents—to find out where each neighbourhood was headed.
Our realtor panel, consisting of more than 35 experts (listed on p. 45) helped us factor in the countless intangible factors that will impact these neighbourhoods over the next three years. These local real estate experts are up to speed on projects such as the building of new transit lines (Toronto), the construction of a sports arena (Edmonton) or the creation of a new university campus (Calgary). These agents have a good sense of the mood in each neighbourhood, and told us which places are headed for further gains—and which ones have already crested as buyers move on to lower-priced hot spots nearby.
Our research will cheer up any house hunter, as it means that despite a capricious market, you can still find real estate bargains. But it comes with a caution: as with the stock market, past results are not always indicative of future returns. Regardless of what professionals and the media may say, no one knows with absolute certainty what a city’s economy will be like in three years, whether a development plan will be scrapped, or if some other key factor will dramatically change.
Still, we think our analysis makes a great starting point for all Canadian house hunters. Our list should give a leg up to real estate investors and prospective homeowners across the country. There are still hundreds of thousands of people across the nation actively looking to buy, and those who manage to purchase a home in a neighbourhood that’s on the rise will be in luck. Years later many will look back at their purchase and realize it was one of the biggest single factors in building their wealth.
We all know how expensive real estate is in Greater Vancouver. But does it mean buying a home there is a bad investment? Not necessarily. At present, Vancouver’s unemployment, at 4.5%, is significantly better than the national average of 7%. While prices in the city have dipped, there are still neighbourhoods that are headed up.
Communities in New Westminster, Burnaby and Coquitlam all showed excellent long-term value, but the five neighbourhoods we feel will gain the most in the next few years are all inside the City of Vancouver. Best bets are Mount Pleasant (West and East), Fairview, Main and Fraser.
While the average price point for West Mount Pleasant (the area west of Ontario Street) was over $1.3 million, our realtors felt there was room for further increases. The west side of Mount Pleasant borders on Cambie Village and the SkyTrain’s Canada Line. It also has easy access to downtown, by transit, car or bike. “Those reasons alone make this area desirable,” says Patrick Weeks, a realtor with Re/Max Select Properties. But when you add in eclectic stores, heritage buildings and artistic residents, you have a recipe for further appreciation.
Kevin Poskitt, a 28-year-old operations director, agrees. Poskitt bought his 540-sq-ft loft in West Mount Pleasant two years ago, using realtor Gina Rossi, and loves his home’s exposed concrete design. “It’s both stylish and convenient,” he says. “My fiancée Kristen and I love it here.”
East Mount Pleasant, our number five neighbourhood, is also worth exploring. Houses just east of Ontario Street are typically 20% to 30% cheaper, with the average sale price in 2013 just over $800,000.
Those wanting to move closer to the beaches—but not pay Kitsilano or Point Grey prices—should check out Fairview. Located between Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, Fairview’s average home price is 36% less than comparable homes directly to the west. This potential value and its proximity to downtown has meant an almost 6% appreciation in the last year alone. “This area is very walkable, which is a big attraction,” says Weeks. Many of the buildings are older, which gives people willing to work with fixer-uppers an opportunity to add a bit of sweat equity. “Anyone buying an older home would certainly see an upside in the next few years.”
Finally, consider Main—a residential area located a few blocks east and west of the popular Main Street strip. Like Mount Pleasant, homes on the east side sell for $300,000 to $400,000 less than their west-side counterparts, but both areas have great access to good schools, tons of independent shops and restaurants and Queen Elizabeth Park.
Don’t let the threat of long, cold, dry winters deter you from buying and investing in Calgary real estate. Like the Chinook winds that warm the city’s winter days, this city’s growing population and steady employment options make it a hot spot for professionals, young families, and those interested in cashing in on a steady real estate market. “The city definitely provides great neighbourhoods for families as well as communities that attract young, urban professionals who want to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle,” explains Nancy Ball, a realtor with CIR as well as a professional home stager.
The first on our list in Calgary is the Southwest (SW) community of Lakeview. “The homes in this community are in a phenomenal location,” explains Ball, who grew up in the community when her parents were house-flippers in the 1970s. Nestled between Glenmore Trail, Crowchild Trail and 37th Street (the westerly border of the Calgary city limits), the neighbourhood was originally named because of the view that area residents had of the Glenmore Reservoir—a large, artificial reservoir on the Elbow River that’s a primary source of drinking water for the city. The southern tip of the community is bordered by the Calgary Canoe Club and the Calgary Rowing Club. Numerous biking and hiking trails are scattered throughout the 2.3 square kilometres of mostly single-family, detached homes. Despite everything this area has to offer, housing prices are 4% lower than the average home in the Southwest quadrant of the city, lending value to an already established neighbourhood.
The next neighbourhood on our list is Spruce Cliff. Established in 1950, Spruce Cliff is also located in the SW quadrant of Calgary, with its northern boundary touching a swath of train tracks and the Bow River, and the southern tip bordered by Bow Trail. Unlike Lakeview, almost half of the dwellings in Spruce Cliff are condos or townhomes—testament to the amount of development and growth this area has experienced in the last decade.
One of Spruce Cliff’s newest residents is Craig Dougan, who recently accepted a three-year job contract that took him from Vancouver to Calgary. A construction foreman, Dougan wanted to buy in the downtown core, but wasn’t thrilled at the smaller spaces and bidding wars. Instead, Dougan settled on a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the Spruce Cliff neighbourhood. “I’m minutes from downtown and the building has a pool, shopping nearby and a brand new Light Rapid Transit (LRT) station right across the street,” says Dougan. He bought the place to live in, but is considering keeping the condo when he moves back to Vancouver in a few years. “It’s a great investment spot and a chance for myself and my wife to build up some equity.”
Realtors like Ball have known for years that Spruce Cliff was a high-value area. And today, given the recent completion of the nearby LRT west line and the neighbourhood’s proximity to Westbrook Mall, a golf course and downtown, Ball anticipates a further jump in prices. “Last year, there were 28 sales in this area. To date this year there are already 60 sales—and counting.” The appeal is that you can walk to everything, says Ball. From a financial perspective, the neighbourhood offers homes that are, on average, about 9% cheaper than comparable properties in neighbouring communities.
Next on our list is Varsity Village—voted the best community to live in by local media in recent years. Located in the Northwest quadrant of the city, this pedestrian-friendly development was built 50 years ago. The result is a neighbourhood with park-like settings and rear walkways that connect neighbours, streets and green space. Varsity Village is close to the University of Calgary and Foothills Hospital, as well as the new Alberta Children’s Hospital. “This family-oriented neighbourhood also boasts one of the few truly organic markets in the city,” says Ball.
While Edmonton is not exactly a flashy city, it’s enjoyed unprecedented growth in the past decade thanks to the resource industry and infrastructure projects, such as the building of a new ring road. The boom brought Randy Spenceley, a pipe-fitter from Red Deer, Alta., to Edmonton. Twelve years later he doesn’t regret his decision. “I like to invest in real estate in some of the rougher neighbourhoods,” explains Spenceley. His preference is for homes in North Central Edmonton, like Elmwood and Parkdale (in Zone 5) and Spruce Avenue and Queen Mary Park (in Zone 8).
Many of these neighbourhoods are still in transition, and “this attracts more interesting renters,” he says with a laugh. “But even if they are more interesting, they still pay their rent, because in Alberta even interesting people make money.”
According to our analysis, the best neighbourhoods to watch fall within the North Central and Northwest regions just outside the city’s downtown core. Topping the list is an area known as Zone 7, which includes the communities of Inglewood, Kensington, Westmount and North Glenora. On average, homes in these neighbourhoods were priced almost 8% cheaper than the rest of the city and in the last three years have appreciated by almost 13%. “There’s a lot of character in these western neighbourhoods,” says Todd Millar, president of real estate firm Glenn Simon Inc. “It’s a funky, hipster area that attracts professionals with some money.” Its appeal is the lower price point for single family homes and established amenities, Millar says. “It’s not as rough as the downtown core, but it’s relatively close, and residents have access to local schools, medical clinics and stores.”
That’s exactly what Allison Betton, a 48-year-old government worker, and husband Kevin MacMillen, 52, liked about Inglewood when they bought their 1,100-sq-ft, 1930s bungalow there earlier this year. “It needed a bit of tender loving care,” Betton says. “We love that we can bike to our jobs downtown and that there’s a park just around the corner.”
Immediately to the east and closer to the downtown core is Zone 8. Known as Central Edmonton, the neighbourhoods with the most appeal include Prince Rupert and Queen Mary Park. “It’s an area where people moved to in the 1940s and 1950s and, now, decades later, rarely sell,” explains Wally Fakhreddine, a realtor with Re/Max. That’s because the neighbourhoods are close to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, meaning many homes rent out basement apartments to students. It’s also close to the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Kingsway Mall, the second largest mall in Edmonton.
On paper the zone’s real estate prices dropped over the last three years, but this was due largely to a large number of newly built condos hitting the market and lowering average prices. While this may skew the numbers a bit, it’s also a great sign that the area is growing in popularity and value. “You will see density grow in this area. It’s only a matter of time,” says Fakhreddine.
If you’re more interested in Edmonton’s South Side, you’ll want to consider our next selection—Zone 15. Known colloquially as ‘University,’ the best neighbourhoods, in terms of future appreciation, are Garneau and Allendale. This area has appreciated almost 7% in the last year and homes sell for 10% less than surrounding areas. Don Sutton, a realtor with Homes & Gardens Real Estate, believes this is one of the most attractive areas to buy in Edmonton. “It’s popular because of its proximity to the university and access to downtown.” This also means many of the homes are rental units rather than single family homes, so those interested in investing some sweat equity could realize strong appreciation.
If you’re looking for a city with rock-bottom real estate prices, then keep driving. Despite endless chatter about an overheated market, Toronto housing prices have continued to climb, with some homes attracting multiple bids and selling for $100,000 or more over list price.
While our top two Toronto neighbourhoods—Wychwood and the Junction Area—are no strangers to bidding wars, we still feel these areas offer great opportunities for near-future appreciation. Why? Despite Wychwood homes selling for almost 63% more than the average-priced Toronto home, these properties are still 19% cheaper than homes in neighbouring areas. That’s because Wychwood is nestled next to two of Toronto’s more expensive urban communities, Casa Loma and the Annex. Close proximity to wealthy neighbourhoods, access to transit and the downtown core, excellent green space, and a newly built community space (known as Wychwood Barns) all make this an under-appreciated area. “There’s a lot of inexpensive housing in this area that people are only just starting to discover,” says Laurin Jeffrey, half of a husband-and-wife realtor team that works out of Century 21 Regal Realty. These days even a smaller, two-bedroom house will cause a bidding war before being sold for around $550,000. “But to live so close to downtown, the price tag is still cheap,” Jeffrey explains.
If the average price in Wychwood, at just under $827,500, is still a bit much, consider further west in the Junction Area. Average prices for homes here were a smidge over $534,500 as of mid-2013. Aleksandra Oleksak, a realtor with Sage Real Estate, believes Junction homes will continue to appreciate because of their proximity to High Park and Roncesvalles—two west-end Toronto neighbourhoods that have experienced dramatic appreciation over the last five years.
Emily Wilkinson, a 48-year-old entrepreneur, bet that the Junction would continue to rise last year when she bought a storefront property with an upstairs apartment, with the help of Realtor Katrina McHugh of Junction Realty Inc. “I’m going to live upstairs and am in the process of renovating the Caboose café downstairs,” Wilkinson says. “I see a lot of potential here.” Another draw is the local food scenesters who have made this area their home. “There are great parks and local markets and a fabulous organic health food store,” says Oleksak. “All this has made the area trendy.”
The Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood—the third community on our list—is also seeing price momentum because of its proximity to wealthier neighbourhoods. Despite its steeper price tag—average homes cost just over $1.1 million—the area has realized a 30% price appreciation in the last year. “Buyers know this area is well-established and well-serviced by local restaurants, plus it has access to public transit, parks and amenities, but the price point to get in is much cheaper than Lawrence Park to the north and Rosedale to the south,” Oleksak says. The real value in this area is in new condos and older, under-renovated homes, explains Daniel Bloch, a Harvey Kalles realtor.
Two other neighbourhoods to consider are Englemount-Lawrence in the northwest, near the Allen expressway, and Moss Park, an area going through massive gentrification. Englemount-Lawrence is right beside the popular, and very expensive, Forest Hill neighbourhood. That means residents here can purchase a good-sized bungalow, on a fairly big lot, for as little as $600,000, as opposed to a Forest Hill semi for around $950,000. Based on our statistics, homes in the Englemount-Lawrence area were priced 40% lower than Forest Hill, on average, but with similar access to schools, shopping and transit.
For near-future appreciation Moss Park is the neighbourhood to buy. Every realtor we spoke to considered it an excellent area to invest, mainly because there’s been so much development, with more being planned. In the last year alone property values have appreciated by almost 12.5%, while the average price for homes in this area is still 27% less than the average-priced home in the City of Toronto.
A small slice of Europe on this side of the big pond, Montreal has been dubbed Canada’s sexiest city. With a jam-packed festival season that includes the highly rated Just For Laughs comedy festival and the Festival International de Jazz, along with an array of local boutiques, restaurants and bistros, Montreal offers something for everyone—as long as you can find a job. While the national unemployment rate hovers at around 7%, Montreal’s unemployment rate sits at 8.2%. Still, the city saw a 4% rise in its population from 2011 to 2012 and announcements of inner-city rejuvenation—including the new McGill University Health Centre—are helping bolster property prices. Real estate is still cheap compared with other major Canadian cities—the average price of a home on Montreal Island is $481,386, and if you broaden the boundaries and look at the Greater Montreal Area, including the North and South Shores, the average home price is $324,595. “It’s comparatively cheaper than say Toronto or Vancouver, but we also battle to attract jobs,” explains Jeffrey Baker, a realtor with Royal LePage Dynastie.
The best real estate opportunities right now are on the island itself. First on our list is the Rosemont/La Petite Patrie area, known locally as Little Italy. “This area is very, very hot,” says Baker. A big reason is that the neighbourhood is on the northern border of the Le Plateau/Mont-Royal area—a vibrant, popular and expensive place located near downtown. “Rosemont/La Petite Patrie isn’t a Plateau want-to-be,” says Baker. “It has its own distinct character. But many people who start out renting in Plateau end up buying here.”
In fact, this is what Matthew Taylor, 50, and his 40-year-old Rosa De Leon did earlier this year. “We bought in mid-December after living and renting for 20 years in Plateau-Mont-Royal,” says Taylor, a CEGEP teacher at Dawson College. While the couple originally wanted to purchase in Plateau, they found they were priced out of the market. “Everything we looked at within our budget was far too small for a family of four,” says Taylor. That’s when the couple started looking at other neighbourhoods, eventually settling on a duplex in La Petite Patrie. “We really love checking out the local restaurants,” says Taylor.
They aren’t the only ones. In the last three years, as the neighbourhood has become popular with buyers, prices have zoomed up 23%. “This is a high density area with lots of picturesque homes,” Baker says. In recent years many older textile buildings were converted into lofts, explains Amy Assaad, a Royal LePage Heritage realtor. This provided great first-time buyer opportunities, while helping to gentrify the neighbourhood.
If the average property price of $468,000 is a bit daunting, consider our next top neighbourhood of Villeray/Saint Michel/Parc-Extension. Directly to the north, this large area has a population of 142,000 residents. The main draw is the neighbourhood’s affordability. Average property prices are more than $100,000 cheaper than neighbouring communities and the area is experiencing dramatic growth. “Lots of condo conversions are taking place in this community,” Assaad says. David Schneider, a Sutton Group Immobilia realtor and history-buff, explains that historically the neighbourhood has been one of the poorest urban communities in Canada. “Cheap rents meant students have been living here for decades. This, in turn, has made the area cool.”
The third neighbourhood in our Montreal ranking was South-West (also known as Sud-Ouest). Homes in this area are 11% cheaper than the average Montreal Island home, but area prices have appreciated 40% in the last three years. “I’ve been buzzing about this neighbourhood for the last five years,” says Schneider. “Property values here are undervalued.” It’s an opinion shared by Nikki Tsantrizos, 29, and her partner, Steve Lavigne, 34. Two years ago, the couple started looking in the St. Henri district of South-West for a place to buy. “We’d rented in the area for 10 years and despite being a rough area, just loved it.” That was two years ago. Now, a full reno later, the value of their home has risen 40%. “When we bought there were strip clubs, hotdog stands and poutine shops,” says Tsantrizos. “Now these have been replaced by trendy cafes and boutiques.” But despite being close to downtown, the canal and the Atwater Market, this area’s reputation has been marred by social housing projects. Even so, recent developments are starting to put the community on the map. For instance, a high-tech hospital—slated to open in 2015—is prompting speculation on future home prices.
Two other neighbourhoods to consider are Verdun and LaSalle—both on the southern tip of the island. While Verdun is an older neighbourhood (originally settled by the Irish) it’s got a lot of potential. Despite a three-year appreciation of 22%, families may be leery of the area, given its high crime rate. Still, with its close proximity to the canal, downtown, the Métro (Montreal’s subway system) and Concordia University, it’s only a matter of time before the area experiences true gentrification. Homes in LaSalle are also rising, with an 11% increase in the last year alone. “Though it’s much more suburban than the other four neighbourhoods—and not as well-served by transit—it provides a less dense community that’s very family-oriented,” Schneider says. It’s also a place known for having some of the best shopping in the city.
—Additional research provided by Allan Tong and Julie Cazzin
Crunching the numbers
To develop our Where to Buy Now rankings, we crunched raw data provided by the real estate boards of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Then we polled and interviewed the following local real estate experts to find out which neighbourhoods would continue to increase in price.
Vancouver Naz Allahyari (TRG-The Residential Group Realty), Donna Leyland (Re/Max Select Properties), Judy Sehling (Sutton Group West Coast Realty), Brian Vidas (Sutton-Centre Realty), Patrick Weeks (Re/Max Select Properties), Ken Wyder (Re/Max Select Properties)
Calgary Nancy Ball (CIR Realty and First Glance Home Staging), Cody Battershill (Re/Max House of Real Estate), Jared Chamberlain (Royal LePage Foothills), Kirby Cox (Royal LePage Foothills), Monika Furtado (Royal LePage Foothills), Mike Leibel (CIR Realty), Jim Sparrow (Royal LePage Solutions)
Edmonton Wally Fakhreddine (Re/Max Real Estate), Kerri-lyn Holland (Re/Max River City), David Luong (Liv Real Estate), Todd Millar (Glenn Simon Inc.), Don Sutton (Homes and Gardens Real Estate)
Toronto Mark Albert (Re/Max Realtron Realty Inc.), Daniel Bloch (Harvey Kalles Real Estate), Chander Chaddah (Sutton Group), Whitney Jorgensen (Real Estate Homeward Brokerage), Hashim Ali Khan (Re/Max Legacy Realty), Laurin Jeffrey (Century 21 Regal Realty), Tania Malak (Home Land Plus Realty), Aleksandra Oleksak (Sage Real Estate), Gaelen Patrick (Sutton Group Realty Systems), Max Wynter (Re/Max Realtron Realty)
Montreal Amy Assaad (Royal LePage), Jeffrey Baker (Royal LePage Dynastie), Ayfert Barak (Re/Max), Bernard Chan (Royal LePage Champlain), David Klingler (Londono Realty Group), Christina Miller (Profusion Realty), Andrew Mitchell (Vistacor Realty Group), David Schneider (Groupe Sutton Immobilia)
Photo gallery: 15 Best value neighbourhoods