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Campaign to lure Toronto residents to London banks on growing interest in Forest City

Ontario's provincewide stay-at-home order is set to end May 20, but sources tell Global News it may be extended into June. Andrew Graham / Global News

The London Economic Development Corp. says it has received plenty of interest in the Forest City since the launch of an advertising campaign that aims to lure skilled workers from Toronto, but a local realty expert says the attention should come as no surprise.

“Don’t tell Toronto” was launched in late February with the goal of attracting experienced and skilled talent to help fill London’s growing industry sectors, such as tech and health.

Read more: London among Canadian markets expecting most growth in Q2: ManpowerGroup

The campaign’s website opens with a simple, “Hello, Torontonian,” before remarking on why it’s “tough out there” for those living in Toronto — “tough to find affordable living, tough to find a bit of green space, tough to find parking when you need it.”

The website promotes London’s increased green space and reduced population density compared to Toronto. It notes that London has “homes with backyards and driveways, room for a family and a Great Dane,” and boasts the city’s music and theatre scene, combined with international cuisine and an array of festivals.

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“Your next career can be here — and don’t worry, we won’t tell Toronto if you don’t,” the website says.

The website for the ‘Don’t Tell Toronto’ campaign opens with a simple greeting for its targeted audience. Donttelltoronto.ca

Kapil Lakhotia, president and CEO of London Economic Development Corp., said the campaign has already garnered attention, with coverage from Toronto-based media outlets and more than 900,000 advertising views recorded since its launch.

On top of “hundreds” of inquiries, Lakhotia said LEDC has also been contacted by several businesses looking to make a move southwest.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had companies like ANVO Pharma and others that are Toronto-based companies that are looking at investing in the London region,” Lakhotia said.

“Certainly, these types of advertising campaigns get the attention of not just skilled talent, but also investors and companies looking at location decisions.”

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The attention garnered by the campaign comes as no surprise to Jack Lane, a London-based realtor who serves as president for the London and St. Thomas Association of Realtors (LSTAR).

“Although I can’t really testify to the fact that the campaign has caused this, I think this has been happening for some time and I think part of it is a combination of things,” Lane told Global News.

Lane said one of those factors includes a baby boomer population filled with people looking to retire who see London as an affordable market compared to Toronto.

That sense of affordability in the Forest City is likely also felt by most people living in the Greater Toronto Area, even after LSTAR reported average home sale prices that surpassed $600,000 for the first time ever to start off 2021.

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Read more: What you can buy in housing markets across Canada for $500K, $1M and $1.5M

“For London residents, they look at it and say, ‘Well, prices have increased dramatically in the last three years.’ But if you go back 40 years ago, there wasn’t a big difference between Stoney Creek and London. Now there’s a huge difference,” Lane said.

“London is really playing catch-up and we’re still way behind Kitchener-Waterloo and those markets to the east.”

Another factor that’s influencing interest in London can be found in the COVID-19 pandemic and the closures and restrictions that accompany it. Lane said this has caused people to “rethink a lot of things.”

“When these things and closures hit, they tend to hit larger markets like Toronto harder than perhaps they might in London,” Lane said.

Read more: Behold, the Canadian condo market joins the COVID-19 real estate frenzy

The pandemic influence is also being noticed by Jeremy Odland, a broker with the Odland and Blair Real Estate Group under Royal LePage Triland Realty.

Odland said a local boom of Torontonians migrating to London started about four or five years ago, but has since grown to encompass new buyers.

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“At that point in time … they were buying purely for investment, it seemed like, or for personal reasons — maybe they had family here or something like that,” Odland said.

“But it was very rare to just have a random phone call from someone who had just decided to pick up roots from Toronto” he said. “Now, the buyers that we’re seeing coming down here from Toronto are primarily moving down here to start a life.”

Odland said a number of clients from Toronto have reported changes to their jobs that allow them to work from home for part of the week. Given Toronto’s increased COVID-19 restrictions compared to London, this has prompted them to move to the Forest City for what they see as a better quality of life.

“We have moved … and these are just our clients, but probably five families down here who have decided to make that shift since the start of COVID. A lot of our colleagues are dealing with the same things,” Odland said.

“There are also other people (whose) roles have been moved entirely online, so really they are free to go wherever they would like and London seems to be a destination that a lot of these people are choosing.”

Read more: Restaurants in Ontario regions with grey lockdown COVID-19 restrictions to be allowed outdoor dining

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Lane, the president of LSTAR, told Global News he expects the Torontonian migration to London will continue even after pandemic restrictions start to ease across Ontario, albeit at a slower rate than what’s been observed in the past few months.

As for the future of housing prices in London, Lane also expects a slower increase than what’s been observed before an eventual levelling off sometime after 2021.

“June will mark my 45th year in the business, so I’ve seen a lot of different markets. Eventually, we’ll see a bit of a change, but I think we’re in for some good markets for some time to come,” Lane said.

“I believe London’s finally come into its own.”

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