It's time to invest in Durham real estate

By Sam R on Jun 13, 2017

For a long time, home prices in Durham Region lagged behind the rest of the GTA. Oshawa in particular was the place to go to find a bargain to flip or a starter house you’d have to stay in for several years to build some equity. But are those days gone?

Durham Region Association of Realtors president Roger Bouma reports that the average selling price reached $652,963 in May 2017, a 23% increase over the same period last year. That’s down from $702,768 in April, likely due to an increase in new listings in May — up to 3,271 compared to 2,433 the month prior, and significantly higher than the 1,790 new listings in May of last year.

In the past, Uxbridge had bolstered average new home prices, as it alone had kept pace with other areas of the GTA, but that has definitely changed, says one enterprising young sales rep with whom I had a long chat recently.

Nick Moretti of Keller Williams Energy in Oshawa says that higher-value areas like Mississauga are “growed out,” and that both builders and buyers are increasingly looking to Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa to realize their homebuying hopes. “There’s just so much land here that we still haven’t touched,” he says.

North Oshawa — dubbed “Poshawa” by those in the know — has seen a lot of development in the past few years and now boasts some big, beautiful homes, but south of the 401 it’s been another story. Moretti says that, too, is on the brink of change. “Oshawa isn’t something to be scared of. It’s got some great pockets now, and those pockets are getting bigger,” he says.

In the northern part of the city, he points to the Winfield neighbourhood as an example of how mixed development is benefitting the area. “At Simcoe and Conlin, there are detached houses, semis and townhomes so that buyers who are ready to move up can stay in the neighbourhood and still get into a bigger house. If you wanted to do that in, say, Pickering, you couldn’t. You can move your equity without taking the kids out of school. People want to stay where they’ve been building their lives.” Because of its proximity to UOIT and Trent University, the area’s a hit with investors too.  

Orchard West in Bowmanville by Treasure Hill Homes Orchard West in Bowmanville by Treasure Hill Homes

Although he says many of his buyers are still commuting to downtown Toronto, he is increasingly seeing entrepreneurs who can work from home or who are choosing to open businesses in their communities. I’ve long been a proponent of entrepreneurship myself — it’s a great way to employ people close to where they live and make money for yourself instead of a big corporation, while having the added bonuses of cutting commute time and helping to ease traffic congestion.

“I would encourage anyone entrepreneurial to get into sales,” Nick says. “You learn how to deal with rejection, and it helps you find yourself. It’s a great lifestyle.”

The local rental market is hot, hot, hot, he adds. Even last month, you could find a whole house for rent in Whitby or Oshawa for about $1,600/month, but now the same rent or more often gets you a one- or two-storey apartment on the main level while another tenant occupies the basement.

Moretti says he has seen some clients cash out their equity at the height of the market with the intention to rent for a year or two until prices settle down, but he doesn’t recommend the strategy. “If you’re going to do that, why not live in the basement yourself and rent the upper floors? Why pay someone else’s mortgage?”

As we shift into what is already being described as a more balanced market bordering on a buyers’ market statistically, he says it’s a great time to think about moving up. Recent growth in the areas closest to the GTA is pushing buyers even further out, pointing to Bowmanville, Cobourg, Newcastle and Orono as the next hot spots.

“Prices have been driven up so much, it’s hard to get into your dream home,” he says, “but when it comes to building equity, the best way to start is still to start.”