November 13, 2020 | After Covid
It may be far too early to start dreaming about an end to this pandemic, but with positive reports coming out about a potentially successful vaccine that could be ready for us in early 2021, my thoughts have shifted to life in Toronto after the pandemic. I don’t want to become too rosy here. We are still in the midst of a growing second wave, and I suspect our current restrictions are not going anywhere any time soon. There will likely be more. We still have limited contact with one another. There are still businesses that are struggling. Despite all this grimness, it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned back on. We can now look to the not-so-distant 2021 as a time where we may have the shackles of Covid removed. We may have a long winter ahead of us, but there is promise on the horizon.
So, what if the vaccine is effective, and Covid is no longer a threat? What will happen to the Toronto real estate market then? Will we just go back to how we were before the pandemic? Well, many things will go back, but we have also been sent in a direction that there is no turning back from now. Even if it may be no longer with us in the future, Covid has changed us.
In some ways, the changes have been simple. Covid accelerated people’s plans that were going to happen anyway. Instead of happening in three years, Covid moved those plans along much faster. As an example, if you were planning on buying a larger home to start a family, then Covid may have triggered that move much sooner. During this pandemic, most of us just had more time to think. Without the commute, thoughts turned to big picture ideas. “What am I doing with my life?” questions became much bigger with my clients. And let’s be honest, a pandemic does have a way of having you drill down to what you think is important.
But that’s not the only reason people’s real estate patterns shifted during this time. Space became a huge issue during Covid, especially since many of us began working from home. The place where you sleep and make dinner has now become an office and a possibly a school. The home you live in has a much bigger function than it did before Covid. And maybe it no longer works for what you need out of a living space.
A new term has popped up on the real estate industry – “Zoom Towns”. These are the popular boom towns where people have moved during Covid for more space and cheaper home prices. It’s also a place where you can work from home, and subsequently participate in a many zoom calls. People have re-evaluated their priorities, and space has become a bigger issue. Interestingly, this has not become the case in many Asian and South Pacific countries where the virus did not take hold for so long. Neither Japan, South Korea nor Australia has followed an uptick in people looking for more space out of their big cities (that often have smaller living spaces than us and more expensive rents/mortgages).
Regardless, working remotely from home is a trend that will continue after Covid for many of us here in Toronto. It’s a trend that was already happening, just sped along by the pandemic. In some ways, we’re not entirely prepared for this change. Though our current government has plans to usher in an era of high speed broadband internet to all Canadian small towns and remote areas by 2030, there are still towns just 45 minutes from Toronto with only dial up. Not exactly zoom call paradise. So, if you’re moving a zoom town, make sure you can Zoom!
With all this to consider, we are lead to the next question: Will small condos downtown be difficult to sell in an age of more-space-required and remote work? Will no one want to live in the city? Well, I’d say that is unlikely. I do have a number of first time buyers who are giddy about the reduced interest in starter home condos, and these giddy buyers may not have considered buying if prices in some larger condos did not come down a little. But there are other factors that will keep the city thriving. After Covid, the things that draw people to live in this city and pay higher rents and have higher mortgages has to do with living here. Though some people live in Toronto because they have to work here, many live here because they want to live in this city. And after Covid, all the things that make cities enjoyable – huge sporting events, film festivals, adventurous restaurants, creativity and diversity -it will all come roaring back. It’s an easy place to be single. There’s a larger pool of people to date if you don’t wish to be single. It’s an easy place to be gay. There are amazing local community groups for families in our neighbourhoods including some of the best schools in the country. It’s an easy place to be anything you want to be. And it’s an easy place to find something new to do almost every day of the year. Tourists will return. Businesses will reopen. Yoga studios, gyms, soccer, basketball, galleries, and your favourite indoor brunch place – will all be back.
Even before Covid, I had clients coming to Toronto because they want to live here. I had a couple sell their larger suburban house and move to a condo in Toronto. In Toronto, they were closer to their adult kids. They had a bike trail at the foot of their condo. They were foodies, and they liked to explore the city. No regrets from them, even during Covid. To be clear, they gave up the pool and the backyard, and the shovelling. They wanted less space in Toronto.
My point: It’s not all about the proximity to work. Yes, there will be permanent changes to Toronto’s real estate landscape because of Covid, but living in Toronto is not always about having a short commute. It’s about living in the place where you want to live. If you’re the kind of person who wants/requires more space out of the city, I get it. Prices are better. Space in important. I do see the appeal. If you want to live in a big city, then all those good things about living in Toronto will be back soon. It’s not over.