Thursday, 14 August 2014

Traffic and Toronto Real Estate: A Dysfunctional Relationship

Sometimes in Toronto we need to be grateful. We didn't have a real estate crash like most cities in the world back in 2008 and 2009. We were not dragged down to half our population from the 1950s like other nearby post-industrial cities such as Detroit or Buffalo, and we are considered one of the smartest, most livable, most future-proof cities in the world. Of course, not all cities can be so wonderful  and successful without having their downsides.

As Toronto changes from big city to a mega-hub of a city, we are going to experience some growing pains. And one of the most painful results of of this growth is traffic. As a real estate salesperson who spends a great deal of time in his car, I have to admit that driving in this city is worse than it has ever been. Don't believe me? Well, maybe you will believe Forbes Magazine that places us as the 6th worst city in North America for traffic this year. On average, we are 27% slower at arriving at our destination than without traffic.  In the mornings we are 49% slower. During the evening commute home, we are 62% slower. And the scariest thing of all: Our standing as the worst North American city for traffic is moving up in the ranks. Just a few years ago, we were in 9th place.

Clearly, this is not the kind of top ten list where you would like to reach the top. If  the city, the province and the federal government could get their act together in the transportation department, we might be able to get off this list and live a little better. Still, I think we are going to see more traffic. And this traffic is going to effect how people make real estate decisions in this city. In fact, it already has.

So, with traffic going nowhere soon,  you may want to buy close to something that is not affected by traffic. Namely, the subway. Even if you never use the subway, it will make a difference to your sale price when it comes time to sell. Can't afford near the subway? Well then, you need to be a forward thinker. Look to locations around the Eglinton Crossways (currently under construction) that will be able to usher you downtown with relative ease. It's not a subway, but most of the light rail route is underground and therefore, not subject to automobile traffic.

Also, keep an eye on new subway plans like the relief line, though allow yourself to be cynical on this one. Make sure the work has started before you buy close to a new subway line here. We've all seen how much governments can change their minds on transit in this city the past ten years.

If you work out of the city, you may want to locate yourself near the highway like the Gardiner or the DVP. Still, just because it is close to the highway, does not mean you can get on it easily. Take the City Place condos that are right by the Gardiner. Getting on that thing from Spadina, at the best of times, is an exercise in waiting.

Of course, if you are looking to buy in downtown Toronto, the need for a car is less of a concern for more and more people. In fact, traffic is, in part, responsible for making downtown and local neighbourhoods better because people don't need to leave their six block radius to live their lives.You can walk everywhere in many neighbourhoods - walk to work, the gym, the grocery store, the farmer's markets, the bakery, the butcher, the health food store, the yoga studio and to your fave brunch hangouts. Traffic has strangely had a positive effect here. More people will be giving up their auto because you don't need one downtown. It's hard to believe there was a time when you could not find a grocery store downtown because the demand wasn't there. You may not need to leave your enclave. And if you do, you can rent a car.

Even in neighbourhoods outside of the city's core like Mimico or Danforth Village, they are becoming self-contained entities with their own coffee shops, restaurants, and local events. This is the reason why I am seeing the walk score appear a lot more in Toronto listings. Walking is important to many Torontonians. People want to be able to walk to where they want to go, and they only want to drive if they must. Why? Because driving drains the life force out of you. It is a soul crushing event. A little driving here and there is very manageable, even fun, but after 3 or 4 hours a day, it will take its toll. Walking allows you to easily exercise and bump into your neighbours and interact with your shopkeepers.

Of course, the biggest effect of traffic does not have anything to do with downtown and its surrounding villages. The big change has been in the suburbs which rely on easy access to the downtown.When Toronto was just a regular city, it was easy to leave work downtown and drive home to the green suburbs in time for dinner. Those days are gone. People don't want take up a big chunk of their day traveling in and out of the city. They lose too much quality time with their significant other, their kids, their pets, their gardens, their bowling teams or their TVs.  It's wasted time in a busy schedule. So nowadays, the further out of town you go, the less expensive most suburbs become. You exchange cheaper housing for more time in the car.

Even in the suburbs themselves,  the GTA's traffic woes ha
ve led to better real estate prices around the GO stations. So, keep that in mind if you are buying outside the city in the future. Near a GO station is often a good place to invest, especially if the GO station is under construction.

All in all, traffic is not going anywhere, even if there are improvements and serious long term commitments from all levels of government. Even with improved transit, this city will continue to grow. So, the best plan is to know how traffic is going to affect this city. And then you can make wiser real estate choices when the time comes to buy and sell.

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