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The Smart Home Buyer’s Guide: how to trade up at every stage of life

The Smart Buyer's Guide to Trading Up at Every Stage of Life

Whether buying a starter home, a bigger house or a condo for retirement, every real estate investment comes with a host of unique concerns—not to mention the universal fear shared by all prospective buyers of sinking savings into the wrong property. The ordeal can be harrowing, especially without the right resources. Here, a round-up of case studies, expert tips and neighbourhood recommendations to help you choose wisely, whether you’re a first-timer or an empty-nester looking to downsize. It’s everything the anxious buyer needs to know before making an offer.

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Columns

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Editor’s Letter (September 2013): what makes a great neighbourhood?

Editor's Letter: Sarah FulfordAlmost two years ago, one of my neighbours proposed we have a block party. We’d close the road to traffic and all hang out together. Other streets in our neighbourhood did it, he said, and it looked like fun. Why not us? He called a meeting one weekend morning, handed out flyers and invited everyone on the block to come. I attended more out of obligation than enthusiasm. Frankly, I was a block party skeptic, put off by the organizational effort required. We would need to get insurance, draft a garbage collection plan, rent road closure signs and submit our proposal to the city for approval. Then, once we got the go-ahead, we’d have to decide on a social itinerary. A talent show? Organized games? A group meal? If yes, what would we eat? A block party planning committee has no natural decision-making hierarchy. What if we all disagreed? The whole thing sounded like a big headache.

I came up with a counter-proposal: a group picnic in the local park. It would achieve the same goals as a block party but with zero advance planning. Someone sends out a Facebook invitation, and next thing you know you’re swapping raccoon stories and gossiping about the monster home renovation on the corner. But I didn’t dare propose it; I didn’t want to be known as the lady who thwarted the block party.

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The Informer

Real Estate

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The Best Places to Live in the City: A (Mostly) Scientific Ranking of All 140 Neighbourhoods in Toronto

The Best Places to Live in Toronto

In Toronto, we develop stubborn loyalties to where we live. We grow familiar with a couple of blocks and identify as west- or east-enders, or as the sort of person who can only live above or below Bloor. We brag that our neighbourhood has the friendliest people, the biggest backyards, the most coveted French immersion school, the greengrocer with the juiciest peaches. But what if we’re wrong? In a city with so many great pockets, and many more improving faster than you can say gentrification, the competition for the title of Number One is cutthroat.

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The Informer

Real Estate

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Where to Buy Now 2013: the city’s top 10 neighbourhoods for high-return real estate

Where to Buy Now 2013Ten years ago, it was Leaside. Five years ago, Leslieville. Buyers are always looking for the next hot zone—places with great housing stock, lots of green space, good shops and restaurants and, most important of all, high resale value. Here, 10 Toronto neighbourhoods on the verge of greatness.

All statistics courtesy of Adam Brind, Core Assets Inc. Real Estate Brokerage

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Features

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Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton

The Urbanization of the Burbs

(Image: Getty Images)

I once moved into an illegal basement apartment in Toronto for a newspaper series about working undercover as a maid. At $750 a month, it was the most affordable roach-free dwelling I could find. What’s more, it helped my landlord, himself a cleaner at the Four Seasons, pay his mortgage. Secondary suites are mutually beneficial for renters and homeowners. So I applaud the controversial new legislation that has finally legalized the subterranean world of basement apartments. The province-wide law, which took effect in January, overrides any municipal bylaws prohibiting them—bylaws that were typically passed due to residents’ complaints about traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and, though less often vocalized, there-goes-the-neighbourhood fears.

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Sports

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The Scotiabank marathon ditches the Gardiner in favour of hitting more downtown neighbourhoods

(Image: Vlad Litvinov)

Toronto’s omnipresent anxiety about being a “world class city” has trickled all the way down to the route of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this October. In a bid to make the race a destination marathon, director Alan Brookes has cut out the factories and concrete of the the Gardiner Expressway in favour of a route that will now include Church-Wellesley, Bloor-Yorkville, U of T, Kensington Market and Alexandra Park (and will, like last year, also go through St. Lawrence Market, Swansea and the Beach). Brookes says the new route brings the race close to providing a “New York experience,” with larger crowds and a scenic course that shows visiting runners more of the city. Plus, it should thrill anyone who has to drive on the Gardiner. [Toronto Star]

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Real Estate

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The newest housing market hot spots are in Scarborough and Etobicoke

(Image: Anthony Easton)

Regardless of whether the Toronto real estate market is or isn’t crash-bound, there’s one fact everyone can agree on: overall, home prices are up. Way up, according to a new report put out by MPAC, the corporation that conducts Ontario’s property assessments, which says prices have jumped 23 per cent since 2008. Interestingly, it’s not much-buzzed about areas like Roncesvalles or Leaside that posted the biggest gains. Instead, values have risen the most in modest neighbourhoods in northwest and southwest Scarborough, Etobicoke’s Mimico and areas north of Bloor Street near the subway. The report also explains that lowly bungalows have become the subject of fierce competition—prices have shot up 50 per cent—because land-hungry buyers want to plow them down and build their dream homes on the lots. That confirms what we suspected, but it still doesn’t make $1 million-plus bungalows easier to stomach. [Moneyville]

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Features

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Editor’s Letter (July 2012): the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Toronto’s condo boom

Sarah FulfordBack in 2004, when I was in my late 20s, my husband and I bought a condo in Toronto for all the reasons young people typically buy condos: we wanted to be right downtown, close to the things we enjoyed, and we couldn’t afford a house in any of our favourite neighbourhoods. Plus, the ease of condo life appealed to us. With no kids and little furniture, we had modest space requirements, and we certainly didn’t want to spend our weekends doing home repairs. Still, it took us a while to find a condo we wanted to live in. Even though many of the buildings we saw were just a few years old, they already looked timeworn, with cracking drywall and battered fixtures. If the finishes were shoddy, I worried there might be structural deficiencies, too. We ended up buying a one-bedroom-plus-den in a 1980s building—ancient by Toronto condo standards. Nothing about the common areas looked cool (in fact, the hallways had dated pink carpets), but the structure was reassuringly solid. In the few happy years we lived there, no infrastructure problems were revealed, the building was well maintained, and the monthly fees never went up.

Since then, hundreds of new condos have risen in the city. The pace of development has been frenetic—and that’s mainly a good thing. For decades, the downtown core was under-built and the city’s skyline remained unchanged. The new skyscrapers are populating formerly empty areas of the city, spawning new restaurants and retail, and creating vibrant new neighbourhoods. Condos can largely be credited with revitalizing Toronto’s core. The vast majority of the 160 or so condos now in development are within a kilo­metre or two of Union Station, which means we can expect Toronto to get even more dense and interesting in the next few years.

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Features

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Q&A: Paul Godfrey, chair of the OLG, is on a mission to bring a Las Vegas–style casino to Toronto


Paul Godfrey

(Image: Mark Peckmezian)

You were a popular politician, brought the Blue Jays to town, resuscitated the National Post and cleaned up the OLG. Does the uproar over your latest crusade—bringing a casino to town—jeopardize your legacy?
Anyone familiar with my background knows I’d never do anything to injure Toronto’s image. This won’t be a few slot machines in a broken-down barn; it’ll be a world-class entertainment centre and a tourist magnet.

What will it look like?
I’m picturing something like the Venetian or the MGM Grand in Vegas—a ground-floor casino with a glamorous hotel and unbelievable shopping. I could also see a permanent Cirque du Soleil show.

Why do we need a casino?
If we don’t build one, our tourists will go to Boston, Cleveland and Baltimore, which are all building world-class casinos.

You live near the Bridle Path. Would you want a casino in your neighbourhood?
I make no apologies for having a very nice house. I grew up in poverty and earned my way. But there’s nowhere to put a casino on the Bridle Path.

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The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: What can we do about our semi-detached neighbours poor taste in exterior paint?

Dear Urban Diplomat

(Image: Jen Bojan)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
An eccentric couple just moved in to the other half of our semi. All was fine until they started to paint their front porch lime green and DayGlo yellow. We’re selling our place, and I’m worried their paint job will lower the value of our half. What can we do?
—Attachment Disorder, The Annex

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The Informer

Real Estate

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A monster condo project could be headed to the St. Lawrence Market area

(Image: chriskay)

It’s generally agreed that urban planners have done a good job of organizing the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood. With its eclectic mix of condos, subsidized apartments, restaurants, shops and hang-out spots, it’s an example of successful urban renewal, and that’s one reason why it made our “Where to Buy Now” list this year. But now there are rumblings of a new mega-condo project  that could give even pro-development types reason to pause. Urban Toronto reports that the Pemberton Group has submitted a proposal to the city to build 1,663 units on an entire city block at Front Street East and Sherbourne. The development would consist of two towers, of 33 and 34 stories each, atop bases of 13 and 17 stories, with retail space on the ground floor. Internet commenters have already started to rage over the project’s scale, so we expect some vocal opposition at public meetings in the coming months. [Urban Toronto]

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Real Estate

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The Chase: a young couple finds a place to party in the west end

The BuyersThe Buyers: Joel McConvey, a 33-year-old freelance writer and producer, and Amy Butoiske, the 33-year-old manager of the Worldwide Short Film Festival.

The Story: McConvey and Butoiske, who lived in a small apartment at Bloor and Ossington, never thought they’d be able to afford a house in Toronto. Then, about a year ago, McConvey finished work on The National Parks Project, a popular documentary series, and the couple found themselves with a windfall (he got paid, unusually, for all 13 episodes at once). “We thought, ‘Who knows when this will happen again? Let’s put the money into a good investment,’ ” McConvey says. The couple loved their neighbourhood, with its cool bars and restaurants, and hoped they could find something nearby. They wanted a place big enough for McConvey to have an office (he works from home) and with a good-sized backyard for hosting summer barbecues. The couple set a budget of $465,000 and started their first-ever house hunt.

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The Informer

Random Stuff

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Which Toronto neighbourhood has the most cheaters?

(Image: ashleymadison.com)

Ashleymadison.com, the “infidelity dating site” (and, it would seem, Centreville zoo fan) has revealed that, in Toronto, the Beaches, Forest Hill and High Park have the most people looking for a little extramarital action. (All three are blue chip real estate neighbourhoods: coincidence?) According to data compiled from the adultery-enabling website’s 400,000 GTA users, Rosedale, Etobicoke, Downtown, North York, Midtown, Leaside and Scarborough round out the neighbourhoods with the most cheaters. Other tidbits: Leaside members had the most affair partners, while Etobicoke had the fewest, and Scarborough members had the most overall encounters. We’ll bet that, right now, someone in the Beaches is snooping through their spouse’s computer history.

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Reason to Love Toronto: because Regent Park’s The Citadel dance theatre is now a reality

Reason to Love Toronto: because we like to bet on long shots

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

At Dundas and Parliament is a gleaming 60-seat dance theatre called The Citadel. It’s the best thing to happen to Regent Park since the colossal $1-billion neighbourhood revitalization began in 2006, and it almost didn’t happen at all. In 2007, when Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux, the husband-and-wife founders of the dance troupe Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie, bought a former Salvation Army soup kitchen, their enthusiasm blinded them to the fact that they couldn’t afford it. The building cost $750,000 and needed at least $300,000 in renos; they were earning $30,000 a year combined. They begged and borrowed enough for a down payment, and maxed out 11 credit cards to cover their living expenses. AmEx was hassling them daily by the time Mitch Cohen, the head of Regent Park redeveloper Daniels Corporation, heard their tale. He’s a sucker for a feel-good story, but also a businessman who realized that the presence of a renowned dance company could persuade prospective buyers that the area would gentrify. He connected them to his tradespeople, and $300,000 in aid started rolling in: windows from Toro Aluminum, engineering design from SNC Lavalin and more; Diamond Schmitt supplied architectural designs pro bono, and an investment banker named David Banks and media-shy arts patrons Gretchen and Donald Ross chipped in much-needed cash. Now, The Citadel is open, and professional dancers and area kids (who get free classes on Saturdays) have a beautiful, high-quality performance space in which to hone their craft. And while finances are still shaky, the venue is booked into the summer, a sign that Coleman and Lemieux’s flying leap might just work out, after all.

The Informer

Real Estate

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Would-be home buyers are trolling the streets, eyes peeled for storage pods

(Image: Jim Keller)

Overly aggressive Eager buyers have started prowling Toronto’s most desirable neighbourhoods for storage pods—a telltale sign that the owners are emptying the place before putting it on the market. (Then again, they might just be renovating the kitchen.) Though we knew things were cutthroat, we’re horrified to hear you’ve actually got to patrol the streets to get ahead in Toronto’s competitive market. Read the entire story [Globe and Mail] »

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