September 27, 2018 | Hamilton
It feels like almost everyone has been calling Hamilton “cool” for quite some time now. I am sure many Hamiltonians who have lived in Hamilton for years and years are a little bewildered by all the attention it has been receiving over the past decade, but particularly over the past five years. Whatever you like to call the changes that are taking place in Hamilton, there is no denying that change is taking place.
Many Torontonians who feel they have been priced out of the Toronto market, have been moving to Hamilton more and more seeking affordable housing. It’s not just that Hamilton has affordable housing by Toronto metrics, it is also that is it “cool”. What does that mean exactly? Well, a few things I think. First, Hamilton is not a suburb like Oshawa or Mississauga. It is a city. It is a mid-sized city with a growing downtown. The changes in Hamilton also mirror a lot of changes that have taken place in other cities, like Toronto. Many Toronto neighbourhoods have flourished in the past decades with a rebirth of walkable streets and local businesses – coffee shops, bakeries, a new Thai restaurant or an art gallery. We can see this taking place on James Street, Ottawa Street and Locke Street in Hamilton.
Hamilton also has certain events that appeal to city-folk more than the suburban folk. They have, for example, a considerably large art crawl each year that brings many people together – Hamiltonians and tourists alike.
Also, it’s a demographic thing. Hamilton has become a destination for some retiring seniors or Boomers who are looking for a quieter life, but its new migrants are on the younger side. The move to Hamilton has been largely fuelled by Millennials and some Gen Xers who are not looking for the suburban experience of a big house near box stores, but who are looking to put their mark on their city. By and large these demographics are going to be much more likely to want walkable streets nearby. They are much more likely to seek out a store where they can buy beard oil, reclaimed wood tables, and craft beer -though I’m sure buying online would suit them as well.
Of course, too much hype about a cool thing can lead one to wonder if something (like Hamilton) has become too cool. Too much hype could lead to property values that reflect a trendy neighbourhood as opposed to a less expensive place to buy. So, the questions becomes: Is it still worth your while to move to or buy in Hamilton?
The short answer is yes. But things are different in Hamilton than even 5 years ago. Most of the people I come across who are interested in Hamilton are either investors looking to buy income properties or folks who cannot find the space they want in Toronto. So, they re-locate to Hamilton. I find the artists and media folk to be particularly drawn to Hamilton. It has a thriving arts scene and an incubator for many new businesses. It is typical of the rise of many mid-sized cities like Ottawa and Nashville or even Austin, Texas.
The real bargains are in the east. That is where it’s also the most competitive, because there are a lot of people looking with a starter home budget. To buy a house in the west, in many of the established neighbourhoods, prices have gone up beyond what some people are willing to pay in Hamilton.
Still, the comparison to Toronto does highlight some stark differences. For example, a 3 bedroom listing I have in a fairly central location (see it here) is still listed at a price where you can buy most one bedroom condos in Toronto. Again, that’s a three bedroom detached house in a central locations for the price of a one bedroom apartment in a not-so-central location in Toronto. Plus, you can still be close to James Street or Locke Street at a reasonable price compared to Toronto and you are not far from GO transit connecting to Toronto.
The mountain and surrounding towns like Ancaster are expensive by Hamiltonian standards, and I’m not quite sure the average Torontonian interested in Hamilton will want to live here since it’s a lot further from transit if you want to work in and commute without a car to Toronto. Still, places like Ancaster are pretty. Just not a bargain in my opinion.
As mentioned, the least expensive properties are in the east. Depending on where you are in east Hamilton, may dictate how inexpensive it is. Some areas around Ottawa Street, a growing commercial area, still have very entry level prices. They are, however, not very close to the GO train or the bus that will take you to Toronto. So, if you need to commute that way, living in east Hamilton may be less expensive, but it will be a more painful commute. Also, the schools may not be as good, if this is important to you.
I don’t see a future where the changes in Hamilton are going to stop. Whether you see this as a good or bad thing, Hamilton has become part of the larger migration of the GTHA region. It’s inhabitants are not exclusively linked to the city, but are invested in living there. The pressure for affordable housing will still keep coming to Hamilton because it is still one of the least expensive centres to buy property, and the kind of growth in exhibits is very appealing. Neighbourhoods have been transformed, but many of the good things that have existed in Hamilton have been there for years: an incredibly pretty natural setting with the escarpment, waterfalls, and a large number of outstanding parks for a city its size, even though this is no longer a secret shared by Hamiltonians. The word is out. And Hamilton will continue to attract real estate attention whether it is considered cool or not.