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Condos in Toronto

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Charting Toronto’s housing bubble Pt. 2: Houses vs Condos

Houses haven’t always been the better investment in every neighbourhood

Tamsin McMahon – Macleans

Comment: First off, why are you saying “bubble” when there is very clearly no bubble? That is dishonest to your readers and gives them the wrong idea.

A few weeks ago I mapped out what has been happening to home prices in the different neighbourhoods across Toronto since 1996. Readers pointed out the major limitation of that analysis, which is that the average home price doesn’t distinguish between different types of housing, such as condos or detached homes.

Comment: Nor does it take into account renovations and the higher prices houses fetch when they are fixed up. It doesn’t account for infill housing. And yes, it does not differentiate between housing types.

Anyone reading the real estate news these days will know that detached houses are becoming a rarity in the city and prices are soaring as a result. Meanwhile, condo prices haven’t risen nearly as fast thanks to the onslaught of new construction.

So what has been happening to prices of these two very different types of housing at a neighbourhood level?

Toronto real estate
First the condos (Click around on the map for more details about price changes): CLICK TO OPEN MAP

Clearly some neighbourhoods have been very good for the condo buyer. (All figures in these maps been adjusted for inflation.) Granted, not every area of the city has seen an explosion in condos. Many of those areas that have seen condo prices more than double, like Riverdale, have relatively few condo developments, especially compared to downtown. By contrast, neighbourhoods, like Rosedale, the Bridle Path and the Junction have seen some pretty lackluster gains in condo prices, but are also home to comparatively few condos. Many of those neighbourhoods also had very few condos back in 1996.

Comment: But the map is also skewed to where the majority of new condos have been built. Comparing downtown to Scarborough is meaningless, the amount of development is orders of magnitude different. This is an even more useless comparison than all housing types.

Much of the recent condo boom is centred around the downtown. Neighbourhoods like C1 (which I’ve called Downtown West) has seen prices nearly double over the past 14 years, meaning downtown condos have largely been a good investment so far. Prices haven’t grown nearly as quickly in condo-heavy suburban areas like W6 in Etobicoke, which I’ve called Mimico, where prices are up just 36%.  The same can be said for the condo boom along the subway line in North York, where prices have risen just 40%.

Comment: So condo prices have risen the most where the most condos are being built? Wow… shocking…

Now for detached houses: CLICK TO OPEN MAP

Here, the downtown-suburban divide is much clearer. Houses in the core have done much better than those in the suburbs. Houses in neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown (Downtown East on the map, or C8) Leaside (C11), the Annex and Yorkville (Yonge-St. Clair, C2) are up more than 200%. Prices there have risen even faster in those areas than in more exclusive neighbourhoods like Forest Hill, Rosedale and the Bridle Path. Meanwhile, house prices have been rising much slower for neighbourhoods in north Scarborough and Etobicoke.

Comment: Again, what a shock. The more downtown you go, the more houses are worth. And those along the subway lines are worth more than those in more remote areas. This is not news. Remember that stupid cliche about location, location, location? And expensive areas with fewer sales rise slowly as well. Could be because they see one sale a month.

Maybe that’s not surprising given that some of the neighbourhoods that have seen the strongest growth are kind of trendy areas that inspire stories about bidding wars. But obviously buying a house isn’t guaranteed to be a great investment even in a city with a strong housing market, like Toronto.

Comment: Popular areas have fast-rising house prices? Who knew?

Take this as an example: In 1996, the average house in Leaside went for $308,000 (or roughly $436,000 in today’s dollars). The average house in Rexdale (W10) was $178,000 (or $252,000 in 2014 dollars.) That’s a pretty big difference for someone trying to afford a house back in 1996. But, if a buyer had managed to stretch their budget enough to buy in Leaside instead of Rexdale, his home would be worth around $1.4 million today rather than $439,000 if he’d stuck with Rexdale.

Comment: Right. Buy in a nice neighbourhood and your house will go up in value more than if you buy in a less desirable neighbourhood. We all know this already.

Of course, Rexdale and Leaside are two very different neighbourhoods. But it underscores that the Toronto housing boom is not a citywide phenomenon and is largely driven by homes in central neighbourhoods close to amenities and transit.

Comment: But wait, back in 1996 Leaside was still worth more than Rexdale. It is not about the past 18 years, “better” neighbourhoods have always been worth more.

Now let’s compare how house and condo prices performed in the same neighbourhood: CLICK TO OPEN MAP

It would be easy to expect that a rising tide lifts all boats: when buyers flock to neighbourhoods for the amenities and the transit, prices of all types of housing should rise at roughly the same rate, even if condos cost much less than detached homes.

Comment: Huh? Have you ever taken an economics class? Or just stopped to think about it? House prices rise faster than condos because there is limited supply.

Clearly that isn’t the case in most parts of the city. In fact, it’s only really true in the Beaches (E2) and Islington (W8), the two neighbourhoods shaded in light blue. For instance, in the Beaches detached houses are up 158%, while condos are up 152%. In two neighbourhoods – Queensway (W7) and Riverdale (E1) condo prices are actually up slightly more than prices of detached homes.

Comment: Those are the anomalies, not the areas where house prices are rising faster.

Interestingly, if a buyer back in 1996 had been given the choice between buying a condo in the downtown (C8) and a suburban detached house in Scarborough (E9), the condo would have been the better investment.

Comment: And the house in Leaside the even better investment. But people did not think about it that way, it wasn’t the massive topic of discussion it is now. Real estate wasn’t such big and all-consuming news.

However, in most neighbourhoods, it’s clear that houses have been the better investment for buyers who could afford one. That’s also true in the downtown, where condo prices have nearly doubled – but house prices have risen even more.

There will inevitably be criticisms of this analysis, given its limitations. Much of the condo development has happened only in recent years, which makes it difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the condo market today and back in 1996.

Comment: My only criticism is that all you did was illustrate what is pretty much common knowledge. None of this is news, it is all the same stuff us realtors have been saying for years. I would like an explanation into why some areas have faster rising condo prices. That is odd and news further investigation.

Unfortunately the kind of data that would allow for a granular analysis of the Toronto housing market isn’t available to the general public.  But the sales data that is released monthly by the Toronto Real Estate Board is enough to paint a picture of a city where all houses – and condos – are not created equal.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Charting Toronto's housing bubble Pt. 2: Houses vs Condos
Article Name
Charting Toronto's housing bubble Pt. 2: Houses vs Condos
Granted, not every area of the city has seen an explosion in condos. Many of those areas that have seen condo prices more than double, like Riverdale, have relatively few condo developments, especially compared to downtown.