Canada's Condominium Magazine
Unless you’ve firmly decided on your future home’s neighbourhood (and assuming you can afford that neighbourhood), you will probably spend a lot of your “home hunting” time on location. The old real-estate cliche of “location, location, location” remains true today — perhaps all the more so because of the high value placed on Toronto neighbourhoods. Of course, to keep costs down, some people look outside of their “perfect” neighbourhood. Assuming you haven’t already researched the neighbourhoods you’re considering, we’ve put together our Condo.ca guide on how to evaluate your prospective condo neighbourhood.
Condo community brochures and websites are a good place to start but go beyond. The best approach is a four-step process. It saves you time if you follow this order:
- Prepare your priority list: rate what’s important to you, then rank your communities based on your own list. For example, distance to schools, hospitals, police, grocery, transit and parking, and so on.
- Research online: check out everything with all the tools Google (and others) have to offer.
- Walk, cycle, drive and bus the neighbourhood: All of them, preferably, but definitely get out and walk it, no matter the season.
- Ask questions: Based on what you learned online, and in your walking tour, ask questions of the city, the neighbourhood associations and the condo community developer (or real estate agent, if resale).
Prepare your priority list.
It’s useful to rank things. It may seem like common sense, but many home buyers forget things in their excitement over the wonderful homes they are considering. (For instance, after you move in, you discover your street is a school bus pickup hub. Great for your kids, but can you get out of your parking to get to work?)
Make your list in order of importance. If school location is the most important, place that at the top. Assuming you have three communities on your short list, make a list of the things that matter most to your lifestyle. Decide on a ranking system (for example 1-5, where 5 is “couldn’t be better” and 1 is “forget about it” or whatever works for you.)
For example (shuffled up to show how it should be ranked according to your needs:
- School location within walking distance
- School reputation
- Insurance rates (you forgot about this? Some insurance companies charge more for home and car insurance in certain neighbourhoods.)
- Child playgrounds and park
- Closest bus stop
- Internet service: today, increasingly important: what’s the reported speed of your local services?
- Sound: get outside in the neighbourhood a few times of the day and rate the “city noise”
- Walkable shopping district
- Church, temple or synagog. If you’re considering attending, try a service or event out.
- Nearest off-leash dog park
- Price per square foot in this neighbourhood.
- Walking routes: take a walk around the community and rate how it feels
- Nearest hockey rink
- If you drive to work, time to work. If you transit to work, try it out — how long did it take?
- How close to grandma and grandpa (or how far away, depending how you feel)
- Community centre activities (how close, what activities?)
- Daycare within walking distance
- Walkable restaurants that I like
- Nearest swimming pool (i.e. if your condo doesn’t have one, or if you want formal swimming lessons)
- Bicycle lanes nearby
- Closest hospital
- Nearest library
- Crime rate
- Culture: very subjective, but you rank it yourself
- Hot nightclubs nearby (this might be a DISADVANTAGE if they play loud music all night long)
- Neighbours: how close and how friendly?
And the sky’s the limit. Bowling? Sure, put it down. Neighbourhood cafes, pubs or clubs put it down.
Research the neighbourhood
Now that you have a list, and before you visit and fall in love with a few home prospects, now is the time to research the things you’ve listed. Google can help with nearly everything on the list except the subjective items and the walking/biking/transit tours. Crime rate? Search “Toronto YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD NAME Crime rate” in quotations. There are also some awesome resources, such as research on Community services by neighbourhood. For example, St. Michael’s Hospital researchers did a research study on community services. (See this link>>)
It’s useful to run a neighbourhood-side Google Map and print it. Then convert it to satellite view and start zooming in on the streets. Google Earth allows you to do even more “virtual touring.” Research average price per square foot through real estate sites.
Google’s tools are very advanced for pre-visualizing neighbourhoods. For example, say you were interested in the new Auberge from Tridel near Bayview in Leaside, a Google map would show you the nearby park, the shopping centre, the street stores, the schools. You’d know where the transit was. You’d see the nearby Granite Club and the array of bakeries nearby. By switching to satellite view (below) you’d get a sense of how it looks:
Walk, cycle, bus and drive the neighbourhood
All of them. At least, all of them if you will use all four modes of transportation — you, or your guests/visitors. Walking the neighbourhood includes walking around the facilities in your condo community, such as the barbeque patio and the fitness facility — assuming you are permitted, of course. Walking the neighbourhood can tell you a lot. If you walk down one street over, and everyone on the street is out cutting their lawns, you know something. If you say “Hi” to the man shovelling his driveway — remembering, with a smile, you won’t have to in your condo — and the man doesn’t answer, you learned something else. It’s anecdotal and subjective, but nothing beats the walk-through.
If you cycle, go for a spin. Are the roads nearby traffic friendly? Bike lanes and parks with bike-able paths? Other people out on bikes? Don’t forget to drive to work from their neighbourhood. How long did it take? Then, take the bus, LRT, streetcars and/or subway. How was each experience?
Now, ask your questions
You’ve shortlisted your communities and prospective homes. Now, armed with all this info, ask questions — the ones you have that weren’t answered — of the developer, salespeople, city, and others.
By now, you’ve probably made up your mind.