With so many amenities shut down during the pandemic, putting up with Toronto’s sky-high real estate prices and often cramped living conditions is seeing many eschewing urban life for more rural settings.
While the housing market saw a relative pause in March, in recent weeks data has shown a surge in home sales outside the city. Many of the area’s buyers have been choosing to go beyond the traditional bedroom communities in the 905. The boom has been caused, in part, by the flexibility afforded to those working from home.
“(In) the top seven municipalities that saw the biggest growth, sales are up 40 per cent over last year, over the past six weeks,” said John Pasalis of Realosophy Realty.
The areas of those sales, he said, were on average about 86 kilometres away from Toronto.
Pasalis said the early signs of urban exodus were being driven by those who had a person working from home while their partner also had a flexible work status.
Durham Region and other areas within a close drive to Toronto have been an affordable alternative for many in the past, but Pasalis said areas seeing sales growth were far outside those areas.
“Areas like Caledon, Innisfil, King, like, just these outer, outer suburbs that are kind of not even the typical 905 — like Markham, Richmond Hill,” he said.
Jeff McKay and his wife Breanne Drennan have been dipping their toe in the rural market for the past several months. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, they were living in a two-bedroom apartment near Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue West. With two children and McKay working from home, the lack of space proved too much for their family.
McKay works for an insurance startup, which he said was set up so that remote work made a lot of sense. When the community workspace on Front Street shut down during the pandemic, he said the two-bedroom they were living in for commuting’s sake no longer made sense.
“We kind of looked at ourselves, at each other, and we were wondering, ‘Why are we in Toronto?’” said McKay.
“We were losing our minds,” said Drennan.
“We never expected to all hunker in and have a workspace and a household in a two-bedroom apartment.”
Drennan said they were among the lucky ones because her maternity leave gave her the ability to spend more time watching their sons, who are five and 18 months old. But with McKay’s ability to work from home, the pair decided to make a major change.
Now the family is living outside of Flesherton, located about a 40-minute drive southwest of Collingwood. With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, they decided to lease rather than buy. But with their $1,500 rent on a modest home on a one-acre property versus $2,400 for a 1,000-square-foot apartment, the couple is considering a more permanent move.
“Something that seemed impossible before now seems like, you know, it can work,” said McKay.
“It’s kind of a decision that’s dynamic and it’s changing, you know, as the situation changes with COVID.”
Pasalis said many others aren’t playing it quite as safe when it comes to choosing more home and space over larger debts.
“I guess they’re confident that this is going to go on for years and I guess that’s the big bet that they’re making,” he said.
But while there has been a boom in some regions, he said the traditionally low sales volumes in those areas also need to be recognized. The test, Pasalis said, will be to see how long the trend continues.
“I think it’s hard to say how long these trends will last, but we’re certainly seeing these early signs of people moving to the suburbs,” he said.