Chapter 7

Choosing a Neighbourhood, Finding a Home

You’ve hired your team, figured out how much you can afford, secured a mortgage pre-approval and determined what kind of home you want. The next step is to identify your ideal neighbourhood, and then you can start shopping for houses. This chapter will walk you through the process.

How to find your ideal neighbourhood

How To Find Great Neighbourhood

You’re no doubt tempted to start house shopping now, but it’s important to start by identifying the right neighbourhood. You can always change the shag carpets and the outdated kitchen in your new home, but you can’t change its location. Neighbourhoods matter.

You want to make certain your first home is close to the amenities you value most at this stage in your life. For some, that will mean proximity to great restaurants and entertainment venues. For others, it will mean excellent schools and big, kid-friendly parks. An artist might be happy to live in a smaller space to be closer to Queen West, while a new parent might be willing to trade a longer commute for more space. There’s no right answer. The goal is to find a neighbourhood that works for you.

Toronto has more than 100 neighbourhoods to choose from, each with its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Choosing a neighbourhood is so important that we took the time to develop the most comprehensive neighbourhood guides in all of Toronto. We pooled our in-house expertise here at TorontoProperty.ca and even canvassed our previous clients to come up with guides that cover everything from schools and commute times to entertainment and community history plus, of course, a review of average house prices. After you’ve decided which areas are your top contenders, you can focus your home search on them, so you won’t waste time looking at homes in neighbourhoods that won’t work for you.

Here are some of the most important things to think about as you embark on your quest to find the perfect neighbourhood.

Affordability

Home prices in Toronto differ significantly depending on the neighbourhood. Gilded neighbourhoods like Rosedale and The Bridle Path will be too expensive for all but the wealthiest first-time home buyers, no matter how small or run-down the house is. On the other end of the spectrum are transitional neighbourhoods, where housing can be more affordable and you can build equity – and a lovely home – with a little bit of time and effort. Most buyers will want to buy in the best neighbourhood they can afford.

Our neighbourhood guides will give you a sense of how much it will cost to buy in each area, and give you lots of other information, too. Toronto Life and Canadian Business provide unbiased neighbourhood rankings as well.

Transportation

Most prospective home buyers want to buy a house that’s as close to work as possible. For drivers, this means easy access to major corridors and highways, and for transit riders this means proximity to subways, streetcars and bus routes. The Toronto Transit Commission provides detailed route maps and a trip planner that you can use to evaluate your options for getting to and from work. Cyclists can use Ride The City to assess potential routes, along with the City of Toronto’s cycling map. Our neighbourhood guides estimate downtown travel time for drivers, transit riders and cyclists.

Schools and daycares

If you have children, or hope to have them, you will want to consider the proximity and quality of the schools and daycares in the neighbourhood. Our guides provide an overview of elementary and high schools in each neighbourhood, and we’ve included the Fraser Institute school rankings where available. Ontario’s Ministry of Education has a searchable database of public and Catholic schools; for neighbourhoods, search by postal code. There is also a list of private schools on the ministry site, and you can find a list of private schools at Our Kids as well.

Daycares licenced by the province are listed on the ministry website. Some home daycares are listed on GoDaycare, which also offers reviews.

Parks and recreation

If you like to get outside, you’ll want to research what kind of recreational opportunities are available in each neighbourhood. Toronto has neighbourhoods that cater to everyone from sailors and surfers to cyclists and runners. There are tennis clubs, golf clubs and swanky invite-only gym facilities with Olympic-level coaches. A nearby playground can help you get the kids out of the house and can serve as a great place to meet your neighbours. The City of Toronto offers an online guide to parks and trails, and we’ve collected all kinds of recreational information in our neighbourhood guides.

Food, shopping and entertainment

Generally speaking, the closer you are to downtown, the more access you’ll have to the best restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping and entertainment. However, neighbourhoods scattered around the city have local hotspots and unique local retailers. If you’re out on the town every weekend, you’ll certainly want to be close to the action, but older couples and those with children might want to look for neighbourhoods with kid-friendly recreation options and family-friendly eateries. Those with babies might want a deluxe neighbourhood coffee shop, while those who like to entertain might want to be close to high-end grocers. We’ve got all the local details in our neighbourhood guidesYou might also consider checking out your neighbourhood’s Walk Score.

Crime

If you’re interested in understanding crime rates in your prospective neighbourhood, start with the Toronto Police Service’s major crime indicators map. Another resource when assessing the health of a neighbourhood is the Neighbourhood Equity Score, assembled by the City of Toronto.

Neighbourhood demographics

Your neighbours will play a big part in your life for many years, so it is wise to find out who lives nearby. The City of Toronto publishes an excellent assortment of in-depth demographic data on every one of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. We’ve sifted through that data for you and published the results in our neighbourhood guides.

Real estate trends

When you buy a home, you’re making a big investment. It’s important to consider what is happening to house prices in the neighbourhood, and why. Your agent will help you understand the real estate trends in each prospective neighbourhood.

Consider: Is the area transitioning, or already mature? Buying in an up-and-coming neighbourhood can mean the value of your home will increase faster than average, but it also means you’ll compromise on conveniences in the short term. A more mature neighbourhood will be more expensive, but comes with well-established community infrastructure.

Also ask: What is happening with neighbourhood real estate prices? Are they expected to follow the overall GTA averages? Will they lead the pack, or is there a possibility of decline? The housing market is stable in Toronto, if and when it cools, some neighbourhoods will see steeper declines than others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy in transitional neighbourhoods, only that you should be aware of the possible risks.

Our team at TorontoProperty.ca would be happy to provide a detailed market overview for you, free of charge. Contact us at christina@torontoproperty.ca for more details.

How to choose the perfect home

How To Choose Perfect Home

Now that you’ve identified a handful of ideal neighbourhoods, you can start looking for the perfect home.

Needs and wants

Buying a house is an exercise in weighing needs and wants. You may want a sizable four-bedroom home in downtown Toronto, but if that’s out of your price range, you’ll have to weigh which is more important: location or space. This balancing act can be the most challenging part of real estate shopping, and your agent can help you navigate the process.

Value features

In addition to needs and wants, you’ll want to consider the “value features” of your prospective home. Things like dual-pane windows, high R-value insulation, perennial gardens and high-quality hardwood flooring add value to a home by making it more efficient, durable and beautiful. It can be helpful to keep real value in mind because good-quality finishings, environmental efficiencies and other value features will last longer, reduce the cost of home ownership over time, and add to your quality of life.

Price

For most first-time home buyers, price will dictate where and what type of home you can purchase. If you’ve followed the advice in Chapter 5, you’ll have a pre-approved mortgage in hand and you’ll know exactly how much you can afford to pay for a home. Shop within your means. There’s no point in looking at homes you can’t afford.

Our neighbourhood guides will give you a sense of how much it will cost to buy in each area, and give you lots of other information, too. Toronto Life and Canadian Business provide unbiased neighbourhood rankings as well.

Location

Some say location is the most important part of buying a home. The first part of this chapter is dedicated exclusively to identifying ideal neighbourhoods, so hopefully you’ve already done the hard work of selecting two or three perfect locations for your first home.

Bedrooms

The size of your family and the way you use your home will dictate how many bedrooms you will need. Consider how many children you have (or hope to have) and whether you’ll want each to have their own bedroom. If you regularly host guests, you may want a guest room. If you or a partner works from home, you might consider an extra bedroom to serve as a home office. If you’re planning to rent out part of the home or if you expect to care for elderly family members later in life, you’ll want to factor these plans into your deliberations as well.

Square footage

The size of your ideal home is a personal choice. Some prefer larger spaces, in which family members have their own bedrooms, use private bathrooms and enjoy separate spaces for entertainment, recreation and play. Others prefer smaller homes, where family members share spaces and learn to compromise on bathroom time and entertainment choices. When deciding on square footage, consider how many people will live in your home, how you will use the space, how much you are prepared to spend on furniture and decorations, and how much cleaning you want to dof

Structural Features

Next, consider what structural features you can and cannot live without. Do you want a two- or three-story home so the bedrooms are up and away from the common areas, or a single-story home where you can age in place? Do you need a basement, and if so, do you want it to be finished? Do you need a garage for your car, your bikes, your hobby or your business? Should it be attached or separate? Heated or not? Do you need a shed for your gardening tools? Looking at your ideal home through a structural lens can help identify critical and non-critical features.

Exterior features

Come springtime you’ll want to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you’re looking at a condominium or a single-family home, pay close attention to exterior features. Most people will be looking for a deck, patio or porch that can hold a barbecue, and those with kids or pets might want a fenced-in yard. A condominium might have a rooftop patio for parties. Green thumbs might be looking for space enough to grow a garden or a container garden, and possibly a shed as well; condominiums may have a community garden you can use. A hot tub or pool will be a boon to some, and a liability to others.

Consider the type of exterior finishings on the home: brick is a high-value item, wooden clapboard is stylish but will need to be scraped and painted, and siding can be high-quality or low-quality. A steel roof is a value feature, as these can last for many decades; a new roof will last longer than a roof with curled, windswept shingles. Windows and doors have a significant impact on energy efficiency, so you’ll want the best you can afford. Look at the eavestroughs, exterior grading and any other features that will affect the efficiency and durability of the home. Your real estate agent will help with this.

Interior features

You’re unlikely to find a home that already has every single feature you want, but consider what’s easy to change and what’s not. Paint, appliances and fixtures like lights and faucets are easy to swap out. Flooring, cabinets and tile are more complex, but can also be changed without too much upheaval. Knocking out walls and replacing whole kitchens and bathrooms may look quick and easy on home renovation shows, but these are major renovations that come with big price tags. If you’re looking at major changes, be sure you fully understand what you’re in for, and have a good home inspector and a contractor come through to estimate how much time and money you’ll have to spend to get the results you want.

Heating and cooling

You’ll need to heat your home, and the most economical and energy-efficient way to do that is with forced air heat from a natural gas furnace. Some homes will have baseboard heating, which can be expensive and is typically considered a liability; other homes will offer a fireplace or wood stove, usually as a secondary heat source or for cozy winter enjoyment. Be aware that any kind of fireplace will likely increase your home insurance costs.

Air conditioning is optional for most people, but central AC might be high on your list of wants. Remember that you can always add a window-mounted air conditioner if your home doesn’t have central air.

Architectural style

You’ll find just about every kind of architectural style in Toronto, from Tudor and Georgian revival to mid-century modern and ultra-contemporary. Architectural style is a personal choice. From a practical perspective, simply consider how you’ll use the home: For example, a skinny four-story home might not be the best choice if you expect to be installing baby gates at the top and bottom of each staircase. Similarly, some architectural styles will be out of reach financially: A turn-of-the-century Tudor estate or a sprawling ranch-style home may not be affordable in urban Toronto, where land is at a premium.

Age

Generally speaking, newer homes require less work than older homes. If you purchase a pre-construction home, the house will be built and decorated to your specifications, and a home built in the past five years isn’t likely to need anything but a coat of paint to match your tastes. Go back 10 years or more, and some interior and exterior features will start to seem dated; further than that and you may find yourself replacing major appliances or undertaking significant renovations. Older homes will reflect the styles of the era in which they were built: Homes from the 1950s, for example, will typically be smaller, with separated cooking, dining and living spaces, so you’ll have to knock down walls if you want an open-concept space for entertaining.

If you’re in the market for a fixer-upper, you’ll probably be looking at older homes. You will certainly be able to save money on an older home that needs some elbow grease to make it sparkle again. Be mindful, however, that repairs and renovations are costly and time-consuming, and that first-time home buyers often underestimate the costs and time involved. If the home is run-down, be sure to hire an experienced home inspector and even a contractor to evaluate the structure and systems: You don’t want to get caught with a cracked foundation or leaky roof that will see any savings go up in smoke.

How to find your first home

How To Find Your First Home

There are many ways to find your dream house. The methods we’ve listed here are only the most common and effective techniques.

Online search

The first stop for many first-time homebuyers is TorontoProperty.ca, where we provide all current MLS listings drawn from the Canadian Real Estate Association.  You  Here you’ll find most homes on the market at any given time. You may want to also check our Condo Guides.  Increasingly, however, sellers are also using alternative channels like Kijiji and Facebook to advertise homes for sale. Many real estate brokerages also list home for sale on their website, so be sure to check out agents who work in your preferred neighbourhoods.

Tour your ideal neighbourhoods

Take a weekend afternoon, jump in your car or on your bike, and take a tour through your ideal neighbourhoods. You might see a “For Sale” sign for a property not yet listed online (or a “Coming Soon” sign), and beat other buyers to the punch. If you have your eye on a certain street or pocket, try chatting up the locals out working on their lawn or weeding the garden – they just might know of a neighbour getting ready to sell. Attend open houses to get a feel for the size, price and character of homes in the neighbourhoods you love. Keep your ear to the ground.

Unlisted homes

A good real estate agent is plugged into the market in a way that even obsessive market observers are not. Their network includes dozens of other agents who are always at various stages of listing new homes. Many homes are bought and sold without ever having been formally listed, and your real estate agent can help you tap into that market.

Foreclosure, judicial sale and power of sale listings

You may have heard stories about people who got a great deal by purchasing a home in foreclosure. These tales are typically inspired by American reality TV shows, but the laws concerning foreclosure are very different in Canada. These types of deals are extraordinarily rare in Toronto’s overheated market, if not entirely unheard of. We advise first-time home buyers to focus on other methods.

What to do when you’ve found a home you love

What to do when you’ve found a home you love

When you or your agent have found a home that meets all (or most) of your criteria, the next step is to set up a tour. Your agent will contact the seller’s agent to set up the tour, and will go with you to the appointment.

Touring a home with your agent allows you to leverage his or her knowledge and experience. A good agent will help you stay focused on your list of needs and wants, and will be able to identify value features you might otherwise miss.

A good agent will also be able to flag problems and highlight opportunities. Agents are not home inspectors, but the best agents are familiar with Toronto architecture and construction practices and can spot potential areas of concern for your inspector or contractor to assess. Similarly, a good agent will be familiar with housing styles and will be able to make suggestions or offer advice on remodeling and renovation possibilities.

Most importantly, your real estate agent will help you remain objective throughout the home buying process. Looking at homes can be an emotionally charged process for many reasons, and there’s a lot on the line, financially and otherwise. You will have to make tradeoffs, and your real estate agent will help you sort through the options and find the best house at the best price, with as many of your needs and wants as possible.

Our team at TorontoProperty.ca would love to help you through this process. Let us know how we can help by contacting christina@torontoproperty.ca.

A note on language

Under the Ontario Real Estate Business Broker’s Act, an agency relationship exists between yourself and the real estate company of your choice, otherwise known as the brokerage. The individual you choose to represent your interests in the purchase of your first home could be either a broker or sales representative acting on behalf of the brokerage they are registered with. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to refer to these people as real estate agents, because that’s the term most people use. But remember: Legally, your agent is the brokerage, not the person.