The next hot neighbourhoods

Finding the sweet spot of good schools and affordable homes in Toronto

For buyers who have young children or are planning to start a family, the quality of a neighbourhood’s schools is often the number one priority when looking for a new home. A 2017 Leger survey commissioned by RE/MAX found that 84 per cent of Canadian buyers who have kids want to check out a prospective area’s schools.

In Toronto—where selling prices in 2019 have soared to an average of $820,000, up 1.9 per cent from last year—that can be a tall order, particularly for first-time buyers. So how do you find that sweet spot where the homes are affordable and the schools are great?

For one, look at adjacency: specifically a few up-and-coming areas that directly border cresting hot spots. Along the Bloor-Danforth subway line, there’s East Danforth, toward Main Street, and Gerrard Street, just north of hip Leslieville, which is seeing retail growth and diversification that agents believe will turn it into the next Queen Street East within the next five years. Although Toronto’s east end remains far less developed than the west, transit infrastructure along the Danforth is a good indicator that the area will grow. And the east end is home to plenty of schools with rankings of 7 out of 10 and above.

Alex Beauregard has been an agent in Toronto since 2009. In that time, he’s seen prices triple. The vast majority of his clients are families with kids, and for them, he says, “School is always number one.” (The commute to work, he adds, is a “distant second.”)

The presence of good schools is enough to send an area’s prices soaring. One recent study revealed a home price premium for the GTA’s top schools of 20 to 36 per cent. That translated to an average premium of $317,000 for parents who want to live in a good school zone—and that was four years ago, when the average sale price in Toronto was nearly $200,000 less than it is now.

Beauregard says most of his clients would consider it a deal breaker if a neighbourhood’s schools were below par—that is, unless the parents are lucky enough to secure placement for their kids in a school outside their catchment area. But, he adds, the rate at which Toronto’s neighbourhoods are changing affects the quality of the city’s schools.

When families with young kids move into an area with an older demographic, schools start to fill up quickly. Parents might get involved and help organize or even fund extra-curricular programs and events. Often, the schools change along with the community. To determine the potential of a school to improve, he says, “We have to take a look and see what’s happening in the neighbourhood in terms of sales.”

For families looking to buy a long-term home in a neighbourhood with good schools, all this change can be scary. It’s hard to predict what any given area will look like in five or ten years, and parents don’t want to roll the dice when it comes to their kids’ education.

Beauregard points to zones that are adjacent to more developed—and more expensive—areas. Both agents singled out Bloordale, along Bloor Street west of Ossington, as a neighbourhood that’s just slightly below the radar (for now). Beauregard also sees Rockcliffe-Smythe, northwest of the officially high-priced Junction, as one to watch.

“If there’s nice green areas, it’s close to transit or amenities such as grocery stores, you can kind of tell when a neighbourhood is just about to jump over that hurdle and become a family neighbourhood,” he says.

Another indicator is the quantity of new housing in the works, which is why Dupont Street between Spadina and Lansdowne is a promising pocket. There are a number of new condos and townhouses being built there, notably a massive redevelopment of the Galleria Mall at Dupont and Dufferin.

So yes: finding an affordable home near a top-tier school in Toronto isn’t easy. Some buyers might be willing to sacrifice a backyard and buy a condo, or move slightly outside the city. But with a little patience and foresight, and a good real estate agent who knows the area well, you might not have to make such bargains.