Welcome to my blog on Housing, Culture, and Design in Toronto! This is where I share my insights and experiences on almost every aspect of the Toronto Real Estate Market – and life here in The 6ix!
As I move into my 34th year as a realtor – trading in property across the central core from The Beach west to The Kingsway, and from Harbourfront north to Hogg’s Hollow – I’ve witnessed an enormous change in the 42 city neighbourhoods which encompass my business. I’ve experienced this change in theory – through my undergraduate research and graduate thesis – and by experience in the real estate trenches. ‘Shelter’ in Toronto continues to morph and evolve, which is part of what makes my career so fascinating and of interest to me. In fact, I wrote a piece a few years back about Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate to illustrate how the city has evolved due to the pressures of growth as well as socio-economic shifts, particularly in the life cycle of neighbourhoods.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the price escalation we’ve seen in over the past decade in neighbourhoods located east and west of the financial core, which share Queen Street as their major arterial road and streetcar route. I thought I would explore a little more in-depth in this piece.
*The following blog (and property examples within) was originally posted in 2018, however, the dynamics and patterns I explore below have continued to trend and compound through to 2023 – even through the real estate ‘wild years’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.*
The Evolution Of Queen Street
Part of the evolution of cities includes the changing dynamics of neighbourhoods, which at any given time have their own life cycles shaped and moulded by the social, economic, civic, and physical dynamics in play in a community, in addition to how consumer tastes and trends in culture also influence their evolution. As each of these factors fluctuates, so too do the character and composition of the area. While some urban neighbourhoods can be relatively stable in their flux – others may undergo more pronounced declines. For example, if the housing stock deteriorates, or is converted into multiple rental units that aren’t owner-occupied, it can spurn a cycle of poverty where property values deteriorate. However, when this location is central, it’s more likely a candidate for a rebirth, driving home the truth of the real estate mantra, “location, location, location”.
In Toronto, Queen Street – both east and west – serves as a great example of how our real estate landscape continues to change. Both Beaconsfield Village and Leslieville – two neighbourhoods which straddle the downtown core on their west and east sides and share Queen Street as their major arterial road – that has been home to the working classes for the past 100 years – are now seeing properties garner sums which exceed the more established and traditionally middle-class neighbourhoods in proximity – like Riverdale and The Annex.
In the case of Beaconsfield Village located north of Queen West to Dundas West from Dovercourt Road west to Dufferin Avenue, this 1880s neighbourhood comprises some pretty and substantial Victorian housing stock. One of Toronto’s early streetcar suburbs that catered to the growing merchant class, the residences in this neighbourhood – in particular Beaconsfield Avenue – were pretty swish in their day. But with the expansion of industry along Lake Ontario, including the construction of the rail lines and roads to move all the materials and products to the south in addition to the mass migrations waves of labourers arriving for a better life and available employment, the neighbourhood’s elite migrated north of Bloor to Rosedale and beyond, as well as west (like The Kingsway), shifting it from highly desirable to working class for the next century.
Incidentally, the same occurred in Parkdale – another merchant-class neighbourhood just west of Beaconsfield Village – which would also see a shift in its composition. Once home to the well-heeled, and coveted for its direct access to the sandy Beaches of Lake Ontario and soiree central – Palais Royale – the construction of the QEW and the subsequent Gardiner Expressway – which required a significant portion of southern Parkdale dwellings to be demolished – castrated the neighbourhood and its decline as a posh early suburb. Click here to read Eclectic, Elegant and Cool: The Housing Stock of Parkdale.
On Queen West of Ossington, it was the restoration and opening of the hip and happening Drake Hotel – which opened its doors on Valentine’s Day in 2004 – that had a strong impact on the neighbourhood’s gentrification, as did the rejuvenation of The Gladstone Hotel a few blocks west. This is a great example of how specific places of commerce can spur change throughout a larger geographic area. Read this story “No Hard Feelings For Owners Who Lost Store To Queen West Gentrification” which talks about how The Drake Hotel had a role in re-inventing the neighbourhood and driving property values up. The arrival of The Drake Hotel effectively set the tone for a significant building boom. Along with the renovation, rejuvenation and restoration of the existing housing stock, Queen Street West has seen a massive amount of mid-rise condominium development occur, in addition to more condos to the south on King West and Liberty Village, and the conversion of lofts like Argyle Lofts at 183 Dovercourt Road.
But it’s how property values along Queen Street are skyrocketing at a pace far faster and greater than more established ‘coveted’ locations that initially caught me by surprise. I attribute the west side’s explosion in value in part to the character of the housing stock – and our growing love for Bay & Gable Victorian Architecture In Toronto – but I’m ultimately inclined to peg the high values being set along Queen Street for its proximity and ease getting to the Financial District. As our economy booms in finance, information and technology – and its white-collar professional players reap the financial rewards – the housing stock closest and easiest to get to and from this geographic centre has skyrocketed in value. Take for example this Urbaneer Listing In Beaconsfield Village – seen below, which previously sold in July 2012 for $1,200,000. Just 5 years later, in 2018, my Urbaneer team and I Sold It In 48 Hours for $2,100,000 (a 75% increase in value) with only a modest 20k having been spent upgrading the lower level at their initial purchase. And, in a not unusual circumstance, despite it being in top-notch condition the new Buyers subsequently gutted the entertainment level to suit their own particular taste. There are a lot of affluent buyers keen on downtown housing!
Here’s another example from 2018. This Modern Masterpiece In West Queen West (below) is an example of a new build on a working-class street a few doors west of Ossington Avenue north of Queen Street West. When I showed this to my Buyers they sniffed at all the junk in the neighbour’s yards. They said they couldn’t understand why this was such a high price, and yet – listed for $2,695,000 – it sold over asking for $2,855,000. Again, Ossington has emerged to hold court right now as the trendiest street for food culture in the city. It’s another reflection of the non-conformist on on-trend affluent buyer who is happy to live steps from Böehmer, showing how neighbourhood amenities like 5-star restaurants can fuel gentrification.
Queen Street East Today
A similar circumstance is occurring on Queen Street East across the Don Valley. I began witnessing this phenomenon around ten years ago when Buyers were opting to bypass Riverdale to the north (which is on the subway line and has high-calibre schools) and instead request Leslieville as their preferred neighbourhood. Why? Certainly, it’s because at least one of the prospective purchasers was most likely going to hop on the Queen streetcar to the central core for work, but what they often articulated was their desire for a neighbourhood with more ‘edge and grit’. In some ways, this surprised me as it counters the traditional idea of ‘location location location’, where housing is coveted for its quality, consistent homogeneity in style and condition, and overall status desirability (clearly a divide by the now antiquated old school standards of ‘class’). However, having come from 15 years specializing and spearheading the growth of the loft market – including a Graduate Degree interviewing its residents where I discovered loft dwellers were – by and large – progressively liberated non-conformists who sought to live in factories as a reflection of their counter-culture selves (of which I was once one, too). If you’re interested in market segmentation here’s my post on the evolution of the loft market including the difference between hard and soft lofts which serve as the basis for my theory there are generations of house Buyers of all ages who simply prefer to live in areas which are ‘cool, hip and with their own kind’ rather those which are ‘established, traditional and mature’, even when prices are not a factor.
No longer do we gauge city neighbourhoods as being more valuable than others when a new build or substantial renovation comes to market. Why? It seems that there is sufficient wealth in the city such that, regardless of the location – which may have once been considered ‘working class’, or ‘transitional’ – there are Buyers qualified and keen to buy dwellings which represent the best of the best. Here is my post on establishing value in Toronto real estate Exploring Toronto Real Estate Property Values, which attempts to demonstrate that tear-downs or houses requiring substantial work still attain a value that’s not based on location but on land value and opportunity. Whereas individual neighbourhoods were once accorded their own premium based on their desirability against neighbouring locations, this is now evaporating. No longer is there a clear distinction in value in the central core. At one time being north of Bloor got higher values than south but this is no longer a certainty. Even the divide between the east and west of Yonge is shifting. The prices are now aligning with each other, though arguably one is getting a house in better condition on the east side than the west (for now), but it’s almost hit and miss now, versus a certainty. In the span of my career values are shifting from disparate based on location to equalizing. No longer are specific neighbourhoods gentrifying in the central core, but the entire core is undergoing transformation. No location is being dismissed as ‘not ready for reinvention’.
Here are two examples of homes on the east side south of Queen East that recently sold between Lake Shore and Eastern Avenue which has long been considered fringe locations – basically the hallmark of undesirable. Once upon a time, you could get a pretty significant discount for a property that was close to highly desirable but still suffering from proximity to urban blight, like industrial sites and sewage treatment plants, but these recent transactions show that – with their precedent-setting sales – this former value proposition has now evaporated. In my Dear Urbaneer post About Holdbacks On Offers, Bully Offers & Bidding Wars For Buyers” I cited this listing on Morse Street. Purchased for $875k in November 2016, it underwent a substantial flip over the course of 16 months and was then relisted for $999,000 and sold for $1,380,000 in April 2018. On its heels was another flip on the same street which sold in March 2017 for $900,000 and 14 months was relisted for 1,188,000, selling for $1,461,000 in June 2018. These values actually surpass what similar houses in Riverdale garner!
As neighbourhoods gentrify, the concept of value shifts as well. We are seeing more commonly houses in mediocre condition that are effectively selling for ‘land value’ and, in their reinvention, setting new price precedents across the entire central core. This shift has enormous repercussions for those seeking freehold housing in the lower price points, as it’s essential evaporating as flippers can now pick up dwellings in once marginal areas and garner a reasonable return. This has consequences for the natural filtering of housing stock, as we need buyers and sellers moving up and down all price points and housing types to keep a market healthy. Without question, it’s getting tougher to secure a reasonably-priced property no matter what your budget.
Here’s a BlogTO link sharing a real-time 1hour 13 minute video by Ze Han of the Queen streetcar journey from the Humber Loop in the west to Neville Park in the east, passing through Parkdale, West Queen West, the Entertainment District, the Garden District, Moss Park, Regent Park, Leslieville, The Beaches and so on. Neat!
Wouldn’t it be a dream to invest in Queen Street-adjacent real estate? Would you relish the opportunity to build a custom dream home for your family – or perhaps a multi-unit investment property?
Check out this listing at 55 Laing Street, located just a block and a half from Queen Street East! This detached family dwelling nestled on an exceptionally deep lot offers a grand opportunity for redevelopment. We call it: An Opportunity For Refreshment & Reinvention On Laing In Leslieville. It is now SOLD!
Here are a few great reads from Urbaneer.com, if you missed them above:
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Since 1989, I’ve steered my career through a real estate market crash and burn; survived a slow painful cross-country recession; completed an M.E.S. graduate degree from York University called ‘Planning Housing Environments’; executed the concept, sales & marketing of multiple new condo and vintage loft conversions; and guided hundreds of clients through the purchase and sale of hundreds of freehold and condominium dwellings across the original City of Toronto. From a gritty port industrial city into a glittering post-industrial global centre, I’ve navigated the ebbs and flows of a property market as a consistent Top Producer. And I remain as passionate about it today as when I started.
Serving first and second-time Buyers, relocations, renovators, and those building their long-term property portfolios, our mandate is to help clients choose the property that will realize the highest future return on their investment while ensuring the property best serves their practical needs and their dream of “Home” during their ownership.
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-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
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