A for sale sign is shown in front of west-end Toronto homes Sunday, April 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

A for sale sign is shown in front of west-end Toronto homes Sunday, April 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

As suburban homes get big-city price tags, longer commutes look like better deals

For Al Figueiredo, the scenic drive down highway 116 to Crystal Beach was enough to convince him to leave Toronto.

The school teacher who splits his time between remote work and working in the city, decided to leave Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood in late June for Fort Erie, Ont.

Figueiredo says the extra space, newer home and slower pace of life were worth the punishing one-and-a-half to two-hour drive to Toronto. Even if Zoom classes end and Figueiredo is expected to return to the classroom full-time, he says he prefers the company of his commuting radio station CHFI to cheerless interactions with neighbours in the city.

As prices rise in the suburbs of major Canadian cities, telecommuting workers like Figueiredo are looking further afield than what would be typically considered a “comfortable” commute.

Before the pandemic began, a survey by staffing firm Robert Half suggested that about 36 per cent of commuters felt their commute was too long, with respondents’ commutes averaging 53 minutes each day — far less than the three to four hours of Figueiredo’s round trip.

Telecommuting — normalized by lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic — helps. But the rising cost of buying a home in the suburbs also plays a role.

Brenda and Jeff Suggett prepared earlier this year to move from St. Catharines to Burlington, Ont., to be closer to Suggett’s job. The pandemic meant that more Toronto dwellers were looking to buy in St. Catharines, boding well for the sale of their house. But purchasing in Burlington was another story — the closer to Toronto, the higher the prices, Brenda Suggett said. Instead, they also moved to Fort Erie — thanks to Jeff’s job going to a mostly remote model.

There is some data to suggest that as downtown dwellers look for more spacious abodes in the suburbs, suburbanites, in turn, are seeing home prices rise in their neighbourhoods.

Brokerage Zoocasa estimates that the areas in greater Toronto that set new records in home prices in August were farthest from the city centre: Ajax, Burlington, Brampton, Clarington, Essa, Halton Hills, Innisfil, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oshawa and Scugog and Whitby.

Other major cities are also seeing the affordability gap widening in the suburbs.

Median prices of single-family homes were up 27 per cent year-over-year in August in the North Shore suburb of Montreal, and 38 per cent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, according to the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers.

Montreal suburbs can offer newer builds than homes closer to the city, while chalets are also in demand if they have waterfront access, says Audrey Tam, residential real estate broker at Re/Max Crystal in Saint-Eustache, Que.

In B.C., the areas of Sunshine Coast, Bowen Island, and Burnaby East all saw one-year price surges in August on par with North and East Vancouver. The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board had its best sales numbers in 15 years in August.

Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver chairwoman Colette Gerber says she doesn’t see evidence of a mass exodus from Vancouver, since so many city-centre neighbourhoods are hot. She says that most buyers report wanting to move within their own neighbourhoods.

But Kristy Mattiazzo, an agent at Sutton-Centre Realty in the Vancouver area, notes that’s not always possible.

“With the pricing high as it is, and continuing to rise, people go wherever their money will allow. One municipality will be, ideally, wanting to move to the next, adjacent municipality. Money will dictate that and sometimes it will not work that way, with low inventory and prices continuing to rise,” says Mattiazzo.

With future rail expansions and condo buildings a while away, and telecommuting becoming the norm, Mattiazzo says she does not see the “waves” of people moving farther from the cities as a temporary trend.

“Where are people going to go, with prices on the rise? Why would you sell your house to pay equal or more?”

Back in Al Figueiredo’s new hometown of Fort Erie, average prices are up 28 per cent from last year, owing in part to new developments, says Deanna Gunter, broker and manager at Royal LePage NRC Realty, Brokerage in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls.

“We are seeing competing offers on properties in every municipality across the region … Some of the higher-end are people moving out of Toronto,” says Gunter.

“First-time buyers, a lot of times, are more local people getting into the market … Because the prices are up this year and in the past four or five years, it’s very difficult for young people and first time buyers to get into the market.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has his final meeting of the season with the media at the NHL hockey team's practice facility in Cranberry, Pa., in this Wednesday, May 9, 2018, file photo. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, a Hall of Famer who helped lead to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, resigned abruptly on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Outfielder George Springer is shown in a screengrab from a virtual news conference he took part in on Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021. Springer says he's excited to be a part of a young, talented team like the Toronto Blue Jays, a club he believes has plenty of potential. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tries to fend off Saskatchewan Roughrider Zack Evans during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot (72) tries to clear Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle (83) from in front of Senators goaltender Marcus Hogberg (1) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) knocks a rebound away from Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) and defenseman John Klingberg (3) celebrates a goal by Joe Pavelski against the Nashville Predators during the third period an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith instructs his team in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

Most Read