Does a commute to work dampen your dreams of a backyard? Does instant access to amenities win out over sharing a wall with your neighbours? With real estate sales in Canada's urban centres imploding, it could be an opportune time for potential home buyers to venture into the heart of the city. But the dollars you put down on your next abode, are just one of the many factors that will influence your purchase.
Eight-in-10 GTA residents (79 per cent) highlight affordability as being the major factor that influenced where they chose to live, according to an RBC-Pembina Institute study.
If cost were not an issue, 81 per cent of respondents indicate they would give up a large yard for a smaller lot within walking distance to amenities, easy access to rapid transit and less time behind the wheel. Over half (54 per cent) say they would choose this type of location-efficient neighbourhood even if it cost more to live there.
"I think a lot of people pay attention to their commute time these days," remarks Claude DeMone, director of client strategy for home-equity financing, RBC in Toronto. "There can be quite a bit of cost associated with that whether you're maintaining your own vehicle or taking the GO Train into work. If you're choosing to live somewhere where that isn't a factor, you have to consider what that might mean to your cash flow.
"You may pay more to live in a walkable community but maybe that's offset by savings in terms of how much you have to pay to get there."
Last March, the City of Toronto released a report on the subject of public health in "The Walkable City: Neighbourhood Design and Preferences, Travel Choices and Health" report. The report states people in Toronto are significantly more likely to prefer living in a walkable neighbourhood rather than a car-oriented one. In Toronto, 74 per cent strongly prefer walkable in principle versus only six per cent preferring car-oriented, while in the GTA it's 46 per cent to 21 per cent respectively.
But don't tell Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday about any of it. The politician laughingly declared downtown Toronto a bad place to raise a family recently despite the fact that families do wish to live in a more urban setting versus car-dependent suburban neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, the results of the RBC-Pemina survey indicate that there is a clear desire for more compact and family-friendly homes that are close to where people go everyday, the report reads.
Farhaneh Haque, director, mortgage advice with TD Canada Trust in Toronto, notes condo owners find affordability is the primary driver behind homebuyer decisions.
"Affordability is the biggest consideration across all age groups, but in addition to that we do find a customer's life stage to be a factor. For example, if they're young and just starting out, they tend to work in major urban centres and they want to live in the same area," she says. "People prefer not to spend money on cars and car insurance and prefer to live close to work. It's quite common."
Whereas young families may shift to the suburbs due to affordability and/or "neighbourhood feel." For retirees and Boomers, TD Canada Trust finds they want to live in a more urban setting.
"These people are finding they don't need the same amount of space they once did while raising children so they're 'right-sizing' as opposed to downsizing," Haque says. "They want to be able to take advantage of the newer buildings (downtown) with better amenities … they also don't want to be living out in the suburbs due to the drive into the city."
GTA residents polled for the RBC-Pembina survey aged 60-and-over show the strongest preference for living in walkable and compact neighbourhoods (70 per cent), despite the higher home costs in this type of area. In contrast, 59 per cent of families with two or more children strongly preferred large detached homes in car-dependent neighbourhoods with lower housing costs.
"Traditional views of suburban and downtown neighbourhoods are changing. Location and life stage matters when deciding the type of home you live in and where you live," DeMone adds. "It's a smart decision to take in all factors when you're making the decision on where you're going to live. Our recommendation is to always work with a mortgage specialist to determine what's best for you in both the short and long term."