Originally published on October 28, 2020; last updated on January 18, 2021.
There’s no debating that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our day-to-day lives, and it’s also influenced not just how we live, but where we live — especially for Canadian city-dwellers.
Thanks to social distancing requirements recommending that anyone able to work from home do so, many people are working from home now — and for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, with millions of Canadians no longer regularly commuting to offices, there has been a paradigm shift within Canada’s real estate market: homeowners in highly populated areas are heading to the suburbs, or even further away to less-populated regions of the country.
As The Globe and Mail points out, this has led to a surge in home sales in the suburbs — a phenomenon that can be seen throughout the country. In greater Toronto, for example, the hottest areas have been those furthest from the city centre, such as Ajax, Burlington and Brampton. Similar trends can be seen in Quebec and British Columbia, with real estate surging in outside-the-city locales like Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast.
According to a new Statistics Canada report, Toronto and Montreal witnessed record-breaking losses of people between July 2019 and July 2020 as city-dwellers packed up and moved to rural areas or smaller communities for more affordable housing. To be more specific, the report reveals that a jaw-dropping 50,375 people left Toronto in that 12-month span, while Montreal lost 24,880 people to rural areas in Quebec. Meanwhile, Oshawa, Ont. (just outside Toronto) saw its population grow by 2.1 per cent — the fastest growth in the entire country.
This demand has been driving up prices of suburban homes from coast to coast. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average price of Canadian homes has risen by 17 per cent over the previous year — an all-time record, and one that is largely being driven by sales of detached homes in the suburbs.
An American survey by The Harris Poll similarly points to a significant widespread trend towards the suburbs. According to the poll, nearly 40 per cent of adults living in US urban areas said they would consider moving “out of populated areas and toward rural areas.”
Wide Open Spaces
“Space now means something more than square feet,” Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema told Axios. “Already beset by high rents and clogged streets, the virus is now forcing urbanites to consider social distancing as a lifestyle.”
A recent report in the Toronto Sun indicates Canadians are feeling the same way, citing a MoveSnap poll in which 10 per cent of Canadians currently living in an urban environment say they’re planning a move to the a less densely populated area, farther from a city’s urban core.
That same survey also found that 25 per cent of respondents were not going to wait it out, and considering making a move during the pandemic. In fact, the poll found 19 per cent have actually gone ahead and done it.
Urbanites No More
One of that 19 per cent is Heather Marczynski. After years of contemplating a move out of the city, she and her husband, Tomasz — both in their late 30s, and parents of young children aged 8 and 5 — recently made the big decision by moving from Etobicoke, ON to a far more rural locale near Milton, ON, about 40 minutes outside of Toronto.
As Marczynski explains, they’ve transformed their urban existence into a home on the range after purchasing a former horse farm sitting on 15 acres of land. The property, she says, “literally took our breath away when we first saw it.”
The fact that her job — which had required commuting to downtown Toronto — is now a telecommuting position for the foreseeable future, had a lot to do with their decision. When trips to the office no longer became necessary, an occasional 40-minute commute was not seen as a deal-breaker.
While her husband had long pushed the idea of moving out of the city, Marczynski admits she was a bit of a tough sell. “I grew up in Toronto, we live in Toronto, I work in downtown Toronto — the idea of moving to rural anywhere was way too uncomfortable for me.”
However, there was more at play in the decision, what she describes as “a rather unfortunate set of circumstances.” Those circumstances include a 2019 break-in and then, in February 2020, Marczynski was held at gunpoint in her own driveway by two masked men attempting to steal her car.
Along with the anxiety they’d already been feeling due to these circumstances, the onset of the pandemic offered the chance for a fresh perspective. Also contributing was a unique confluence of circumstances that presented themselves when her husband, who owns a construction company, suddenly found three projects on hold. With time on his hands, he began fixing up what they’d intended to be their “forever home” to prepare it for sale.
COVID Made it Possible
From there, things moved quickly; they listed their home in July, sold on August 14th, and purchased their new home on August 29th.
“My husband grew up on a farm in Poland, that’s why we are comfortable moving from city to farm,” says Marczynski. “It’s been his dream for a long time to get a big piece of property. It’s comfortable for him,” she says, admitting she’s not “completely comfortable” with moving out of the city but definitely “so excited to move to this new place” in the country. “Had COVID not happened, we wouldn’t be moving out to a rural area,” she says.
Looking ahead to her new life, Marczynski declares: “Are we scared? Yes. Do we know what we’re doing? Definitely no. Are we doing it anyway? Absolutely.”
Images courtesy of Getty Images and Unsplash