Affordable Housing: Is it worth it to “Drive until you Qualify”?

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0412.JPGBy Penelope Graham, Zoocasa

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

It’s an affordable housing conundrum for many downtown city dwellers: is it worth it to trade the convenience of urban living for suburban sprawl? As Toronto real estate prices continue their ascent, the only affordable way to own a detached house seems to be packing up and moving beyond city borders.

Hence the term “drive until you qualify”: the practice of moving far away to a region where real estate is still affordable. Doing so often means assuming a long daily commute to and from a bedroom community to an urban business hub – and the need to drive to the nearest corner store just to pick up some milk.

An Urban Exodus

But logging more time behind the wheel doesn’t seem to be deterring buyers in the GTA; according to recent numbers, they’re heading to the burbs in droves.

Sales are soaring in the municipalities surrounding Toronto – 3,586 houses sold in the 905 region in August, up 24% from the previous year, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). Townhouses are also in high demand, with 1,154 units sold. By contrast, a scant 863 houses and 357 townhomes sold within Toronto proper.

Condos were the only housing type that remained stronger in the city than on the outskirts: 1964 compared to 822 in the 905.

But is moving out of the city always an affordable decision for those looking to upgrade their real estate, or accommodate their growing families? There are a number of areas to consider.

You Won’t Escape the Bidding War

While it’s true that GTA housing prices are cheaper than their inner-city counterparts, they’re hardly a bargain-basement deal. TREB’s report finds prices are well on their way to hot market territory. You’ll still pay nearly an average of a million dollars for a detached house in the 905 – $964,002, compared to $1,206,637 in the 416. That’s up 21.5% since last year – a faster pace of price growth than Toronto’s 18.3%.

Competition for homes in Halton, Durham and Peel regions is amping up, as Toronto buyers edge out locals residents for homes – so much so that an Ajax-based agent told the CBC that demand is the highest she has ever seen.

Prepare for Higher Commuting Costs

One of the dreariest realities of suburban living is all that extra time spent in traffic. Whether you choose to drive your own vehicle or take transit, it’s important to factor higher commuting costs into your household budget.

For those who drive, prepare to pay more for everything from gas to insurance to maintenance; a greater distance travelled each day causes increased wear and tear on your vehicle, and more time on the road raises the risk of being in an accident, hiking premiums. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic will also wreak havoc on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency – not to mention your patience.

It’s also important to factor in downtown parking rates, which can run hundreds of dollarsper month – an expense bypassed entirely by those who can walk or bike to work.

You’ll Pay a Premium On Your Time

Economics aside, the decision to move is often an emotional one. Many suburban buyers are motivated by family needs – they desire more space, a safe place to raise their kids, and to spend more time as a family unit. But some of the main complaints of daily commuting include a decrease in after-work personal time, as well as fatigue.

Anecdotal feedback from families who’ve made the switch reveal they actually have less time to spend together, as they’re home hours later and must now jam household errands into their weekend schedules.

 An Individual Lifestyle Decision

Whether or not you should be a city or suburban homeowner isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s just as important to take your lifestyle into account as it is your budget. Increasingly, Toronto families are choosing to stick with sky-high condo living in order to access to conveniences of city living – so be sure to assess the pros and cons before you make a break for the burbs.

penelope-head-shotPenelope Graham is the Managing Editor of, a leading real estate resource that uses full brokerage service and online tools to empower Canadians to buy or sell their home faster, easier, and more successfully.






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