I’m Moving Out Of The City!

Stories! | July 20, 2020


Yeah, lame, I know.  The headline of today’s blog – did it get ya, even for a second?

I was just in that mood.

I called a colleague on Sunday night, who had submitted an offer on one of my properties, and said, “Sorry Dee.”  She sighed, but I quickly interjected with, “…is what I would have said, if we didn’t accept your offer.”

No response.

“That’s lame,” she said.  “It’s like, a dad-joke.”

Well, if the shoe fits…

While I’m fairly certain that I will never be moving out of the city of Toronto, given my occupation is geographic in nature, I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had so far in 2020 that have called or emailed me with some form of, “I’m moving out of the city!

This is a popular topic right now, for several reasons.

First, I would suggest that the exodus from Toronto has been ongoing for years now.  I’ve written about this in the past, and I believe that I labelled it one of my “top stories” in a year-end blog in 2018 or 2019.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that many people work, and thus a lot of individuals, couples, and families are figuring they can have a better lifestyle in a different city or town.

And last but not least, the topic has been written about very recently, with articles seriously “trending.”

This weekend, the following appeared in the Toronto Star:

“Torontonians Are Fleeing The City For Cheaper Homes, More Green Space, And A Balanced Life”

I saw this article on my Instagram feed from a few different sources, but it also appeared on my Apple News feed as well as the “Top Stories” on my iPhone, whatever the heck that’s called…

Then add to the fact that two clients asked me about it, as well as my wife, and I think it’s fair to say that the story got noticed!

The crucial element to a story like this is the “colour,” ie. names, faces, and life details.

Here’s the excerpt:

Before COVID-19, Ana Stephenson seldom took a break during the work day. Now, she steps away from her computer for a swim and picnic lunch on a boat with her husband and daughter.

Stephenson was already working from her 2,200-sq.-ft. Oakville home 70 per cent of the time before her tech company employer closed its offices.

But with daughter Addison, 9, missing her activities and playmates and husband, Rob, now also free of the office, the family moved to the Haliburton cottage they bought last September.

Now Rob is looking for a job in the area and, if there’s no school in the fall, they expect to winterize their cottage plumbing and downsize to the 550-sq.-ft. lakefront home permanently.

“It’s not that I’m up here looking for a way to not work. Even if I won the lottery I would want to work. That’s how much I love my job,” said Stephenson.

“It’s having that balance. I’m still able to enjoy this part of my life and have this downtime.”

So this got me thinking: stories like this have legs when the people described are real.  Reading about them – their ages, occupations, places of residence, and in this case – photos, are what gives the topic longevity.  And given how many of my own clients this year have moved, or will be moving, out of the city, I figured I would provide some colour of my own.

I can’t use my clients’ real names, or addresses.  That goes without saying.  But here’s an idea of what I’ve experienced through eight months in 2020 so far…

 

1) R & P

R & P first approached me about three or four years ago to purchase a larger home in Toronto.  They had been in a 3-bed, 3-bath, semi-detached for five years, and were outgrowing it.  The search stalled when the market went up and down in 2017, and they shelved their plans.

Fast-forward to the end of 2019, and they called on me once again, but this time it was with a different plan in mind: to move out of the city.

With family in Burlington who could help with the kids (don’t we all know how important this is??), a lower cost of real estate, a completely different lifestyle, and working in two fields that would allow them to work anywhere, the decision was made.

We planned to sell the house in the spring of 2020, and they would look for a house thereafter.

The pandemic threw a wrench into our plans, but ultimately we sold the house a couple of months later than originally expected, and for a lot more money!  Having sold first, they were armed with a better understanding of their personal finances, and were able to be more aggressive with offers.  They’ve now purchased a house and will be moved in for the start of the school year!

2) M & N

M & N were long-time blog readers, long-time Torontonians, but will now be new-Burlingtonites.

Geez.  Is everybody moving to Burlington?

M & N were like oh-so-many late-30’somethings who moved to Toronto for work, bought condos, then bought houses and started families.

Sounds familiar, right?

I have a lot of clients who fit this description.

Sidebar here, but I have one client to whom I leased her first condo back in 2007 when she finished school, then to whom I sold a condo in 2009, and finally sold she and her fiancee a home in 2011.  Nine years later, and they’re currently looking for their “forever home.”

A lot of people in their late-30’s or early 40’s can currently relate, and M & N are no different.

Growing up in Mississauga, and now having careers that make them extremely mobile, they decided that rather than “buy-up” in Toronto, which would probably get a few hundred more square feet, they decided to buy a small castle in Burlington.

They bought first, and decided to sell second.

They sold their east-end home in June, and as is becoming the theme here, got way more than initially expected.  They went from planning on a small mortgage to having virtually no mortgage, in what can only be described as a dream scenario.  They too will be in the new home for the upcoming school year.

3) D & A

I’ve known D & A for many years.  In fact, I used to play touch football with D back in the day.  Exceptional quarterback, let me tell ya…

Toronto born-and-raised, they’re now semi-retiring to Stratford, Ontario, and not because they are huge Justin Bieber fans, but because this is where they want to raise their children, and this is the lifestyle they desire.

They came of age in a small, 1-bedroom condo in the midtown area, then spread their wings a little bit in a larger 2-bed, 2-bath condo for a few years.

For the last six years, they’ve been in a large, detached, 4-bedroom house in the midtown area.  Great school district, steps to the main drag, TTC accessible, and a safe, family-oriented community.

What’s not to love?

Well, that isn’t quite the point.

Every person moving out of the city has his or her reasons, and they could very well be the complete opposite as another person’s reason for moving into the city.  Or the very same.

There’s no “right or wrong,” but rather what’s right for that individual, or couple, or family.

This is where the conversation about moving out of the city becomes downright fascinating!

4) C & P

C &P were living in a really cool, funky hard-loft that is the envy of many would-be real estate buyers.

They had more square footage than they “needed,” as the place is deceivingly large.  Three different levels and a layout that just about gets you lost.

What was a bit of a “fixer-upper” when they bought three years ago is now literally magazine-worthy, since it was, in fact, featured in a magazine.

But with the pandemic rendering C’s job work-from-home forever, there was absolutely nothing tying her down to the city anymore.  P can work from anywhere as well, given his line of work, and thus a decision was made to move to…………..wait for it…………Collingwood!

A dream?  Yes, for many.

But for C & P, this is a reality.

They lost in multiple offers on a house last month, which was oh-so-fitting, considering how many people move to Collingwood and other areas out of the city to get away from the red-hot Toronto real estate market, with all it’s “offer nights” and such.  But the second time was the charm, as they just purchased a massive, beautiful home, on acreage, for the same price as a Leslieville 4-bedroom would sell for here in the city.

They’re going to spruce up the loft and head to market next month, then pack up the car and move to paradise in mid-September.

5) L & P

I sold L & P a west-end soft-loft six years ago, and they’ve been living all that King West has to offer since then.

A couple of months ago, L emailed me to say that they’d found their dream home – in a small town I had never heard of.

Actually, I had read her email as, “We’re moving out of the country,” so when I Googled the place they were moving to, it showed up in Africa.  THAT would really take “moving out of the city” to another level!

But she had actually written, “We’re moving out to the country.”

That made more sense…

They went and visited their “dream home” only to find that it was a ramshack with a scary basement.  This is quite common in rural areas of Southern Ontario: a seemingly-perfect dream-home, on paper, in photos, turns out to be a haunted house in person.

They ended up making an offer on another property, which was a true dream-home, only to lose in competition to a bid for far less money, because the very religious owners of the home wanted to sell to the other buyers.  Now that is something you don’t expect to see in Toronto!

Looking out in the country, L & P have been forced to learn a whole new world of real estate norms.  Searching for listings that are sold conditionally, and then waiting for those sales to fall through, is very common out there!  Actually targeting a listing that’s sold conditional on the sale of the buyer’s property is a strategy among many.

L & P, as you can imagine from the theme in these stories, are also in jobs that will allow them to work from home, and thus live anywhere.

If they find a place in the country, great.  They’ll sell the condo and move out of the city.  If the inventory doesn’t pick up out there, and they don’t find what they want, then maybe they’ll stay.  Who knows!  Maybe not even L & P themselves!  They’re easy-going, in no rush, and happy to take what comes to them.

I have another client just starting the process right now, but their plans aren’t quite complete yet, so we’ll save that for another day.

In previous years, I would write about how two or three clients moved out of the city, that year.  In 2020, I’ve already got SIX, and we’re only in July.

And that’s just me, folks.  What about other agents out there?  What about all the other stories that remain untold?

The irony is: if too many people have the same idea and look to move to a place where the real estate is cheap, then that only pushes up the price!

Case in point, this article from three weeks ago:

“They Are Buying Everything: Cottage Sales Surge As Much As 25% As Torontonians Flee The City”

I’ve heard this first-hand from a family member who says, “Honey Harbour has never been hotter.”

Of course, net migration in Toronto is still showing more people moving into the city than moving out, but maybe now that it’s happening to people we know, or in my case, clients I’ve had for a decade or more, it seems all the more real.

What does this mean for prices in Toronto?

And what does the “work from home” movement mean for where we’re all going to live, and what that will do to various real estate markets in the Golden Horseshoe?

Ah – look at the time!  Maybe those are topics for another day…

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21 Comments

  1. Francesca

    at 8:33 am

    We are actually contemplating the opposite move, leaving the suburbs in Markham to move back to the city next summer when my daughter finishes grade eight. My husband works in construction so can’t work from home and is on a different site all over the GTA but currently midtown. My ageing parents are in north york with no plans of moving. We want to be closer to his work and closer to my parents and give my daughter more opportunities for independence than what is afforded in a very bubble wrapped and car culture of the suburbs. Living here was great when she was younger but now we are always driving to the city for things to do and better places to eat at. I don’t think people realize how your needs change as your kids get older. We are also thinking long term at university and how convenient it would be to commute to Ryerson or U of T via subway vs via go train and subway. If we were to leave the GTA entirely we would move to the west coast to Vancouver ( where my MIL lives) or Victoria both cities…we’ve had enough of the suburbs and have no interest in small town living. I know you can save a ton on money by doing so. We are planning on downsizing since we realize we don’t need such a large house anymore and figure we will break even once we trade our detached house in markham for a condo in Toronto. It would be interesting to follow up David we these clients five-ten years later and to find out if they are still happy with their decision to leave the city and if any have moved back.

  2. Clifford

    at 8:52 am

    They’ll move back when thry realize the suburbs are boring. The traffic sucks and transit is non-existent. E will get back to normal and companies will expect employees to be in the office. There is nothing worse than commuting on a packed go train. It will suck the life out of you.

    They’ll be back.

    1. J G

      at 3:54 pm

      RE transactions are big decisions, at least 4% commissions for agents when you buy/sell. Once people leave it’s not easy to reverse the trend.

      Interim July number is lower than June in the 416.

        1. Fearless Freep

          at 9:29 am

          Hey, he just said “interim July number.” Surely there’s one number that’s lower. Why ask the poor guy to specify what that number is? What do you think he is, an expert?

    2. Izzy Bedibida

      at 4:05 pm

      I don’t think all of them will be back….
      1. Many companies have realized huge savings by not needing much office space to accommodate employees. Employees can pay for their own internet, coffee etc from home.
      2. Those employees will not see a need to live in cramped poorly designed condo’s to be close to work. Condo’s are now seen to be breeding grounds for all sorts of germs.
      3. People with kids will want backyards for the kids and pets to run around without fear of picking up germs in crowded downtown parkette’s.
      4. Living along a transit line will not be as big of a deal as going into the office will be a weekly/monthly thing.
      5. All of this will change the nature, type and make up of real estate

  3. Johnny Chase

    at 1:00 pm

    i spoke to an HR head of a mid size tech firm about a month ago. He was flabbergasted by the amount of millennial’s who have purchased homes outside of the city (Burlington and Hamilton) during the pandemic. She has to sign the employment letter so she knows.

    She is surprised because although the company is accommodating everyone working from home, they have not made it permanent. Nor have they said it could even be done part time.

    Furthermore, layoffs are likely coming and employees don’t seem to think their jobs are on the line.

    He felt it was just waaay to early to be making such big decisions.

    1. J G

      at 3:58 pm

      Just a matter of time. My wife’s company has confirmed wfh until at least end of the year. It’s a medium size company with multiple offices across gta.

    2. Shana

      at 4:18 pm

      I agree that leaving the city can limit your options, and it’s too early to tell how the work-from-home culture will play out long term. Taking mass transit every day is very unsafe during a pandemic, and may contribute to worsened car traffic in the future.

      We bought a house in April in Toronto, even though neither of us are location-dependant for work opportunities. I feel more secure knowing that leaving the city is a contingency plan and always an option. If we bought in a small town now, I doubt we could ever make a lateral move back to the city later.

  4. DT

    at 1:39 pm

    I’ve been thinking of Ottawa for a while. Much cheaper than Toronto, and it doesn’t have the sprawl that Toronto has. Good transit, good cultural life, great cycling, great cross country skiing. You can easily live downtown and then be in the countryside with a 40 minute drive. Wouldn’t do it till after my kid moves out, but it would likely shave a few years off my retirement date.

  5. Steve

    at 4:32 pm

    2 questions …… one, how many jobs which don’t require you to be in the office will soon end up becoming jobs that don’t have to be in the country (hint: India?) ….. and two, who is then buying all the downtown properties now ????

    1. Clifford

      at 7:56 pm

      Yea I think people aren’t seeing the big picture here. The last thing we should want is for WFH to be permanent. What’s stopping the company from finding someone somewhere else for cheaper? Or even in a different province who will work for cheaper?

      This whole thing about people buying in different towns thinking they will forever WFH can backfire. I think we are going to see businesses trying to get back to normal. Zoom calls are cool and all but impersonal.

      Permanent WFH will be a nightmare. Best bet is to just have a more flexible work schedule. Maybe WFH once, twice a week which is what I have.

      1. J G

        at 11:16 pm

        Exactly, companies will hire more from India and countries In South America (similar time zone) because it’s cheaper!

        Yes it means less jobs and more competition for locals but that’s where it’s headed. Outsourcing has been happening for last 20 years but now it’s easier than ever.

        People who refuse to recognize this will just get left behind.

      2. McBloggert

        at 9:24 am

        If your job can be replaced by someone cheaper – then that will happen regardless of WFH. Some companies have sliding compensation scales to reflect where the person is living – a cost of living index that is tied to your pay scale. A job could pay $80K in Hamilton and $120K in Toronto for the same work. The employee can decide, what they value more.

        If knowledge based industries (finance, law, engineering etc.) can remain productive and profitable during the pandemic – hitting all their deliverables – the way we work will change. If profits and employee engagement reveal there is a benefit to this way of work – again – things will change. It may not be complete – but I hope a lot of the best practices we’re seeing now stick.

        However, housing in the GTA and core will be just fine. If you have the money, upgrading to a bigger house, in a leafier area, with more space is every bit as good as moving out of the city – it just costs a lot more.

        1. Kyle

          at 10:36 am

          Bang on McBloggert.

          Offshoring of jobs, will happen wherever equivalent talent can be found elsewhere for cheaper, regardless of WFH. It’s been happening for years: manufacturing, call center, QA, basic coding, etc. Meanwhile jobs that require specialized skills and talent: Finance, Management Research & Development, Law, Medicine, etc; have actually been concentrating in the large hubs for years. This is in large part what has been driving real estate prices higher in Toronto.

          1. Bal

            at 12:42 pm

            The latest news condo market is crashing

          2. Kyle

            at 6:02 pm

            @Bal

            Condos are not “crashing”, they’re just becoming more of a balanced, market. But they are still actually in a Seller’s market.

            Scott Graham has measured the MOI at 2.5 for the last 4 weeks. According to Zolo, prices haven’t reattained the pre-covid high, but the price trajectory is definitely recovering and moving up, not down.

    2. Libertarian

      at 1:55 pm

      I agree about the downtown properties. I think it’ll be even more than that. Last week, David talked about the “missing middle.” I understand the philosophy behind that and how other older cities thrive with those, but I don’t think it’ll work in Toronto because there’s no demand for that type of housing (or at least, not a lot of demand). I don’t think there was demand for it before COVID and there won’t be going forward.

      Toronto is a newer city and was built with detached houses. The “demand” that everybody always talks about is for those detached houses (front and back yard, white picket fence, garage, etc.) in the central core. But we can’t build any more of those in the central core. Building condos, low rise, laneways, etc. won’t do anything to change that.

  6. Kramer

    at 12:02 pm

    “Now, she steps away from her computer for a swim and picnic lunch on a boat with her husband and daughter.”

    How nice. I hope you enjoy your winters in Haliburton just as much.

    I have friends who are taking the leap, mainly because they’re outgrowing their small urban semis and cannot afford to upgrade enough in the city to make it that much higher a living standard. Everyone has their priorities, and that’s fine, to each their own… but nothing is free, especially “space”… you’re gonna pay for it one way or another… in commuting, in time away from your kids, in snow shovelling, etc. (This is obviously speaking about people who still work downtown or close to it.) So my only gripe is: don’t romanticize it. You’re not the first person to discover moving out of the city. Things aren’t gonna be PERFECT now that you moved. You don’t love nature more than other people who decide to stay in the city (I guess that would mean I love my kids more because I will have more time with them and less commuting? Of course not). You just have your own unique situation and you’re improving it. Good for you. Don’t make an instagram post of your life choice.

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