North of the border, home buyers consider house location more important than size

gta study cover
© Pembina Institute

TreeHugger recently discussed a study that showed how most Americans wished they didn't live where they had to drive so much. North of the border, a new survey by Environics for the Royal Bank and Pembina Institute (PDF Here) finds that people in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are voting with their feet, and are trading house size for "location efficiency", defined as:

  • Walkability: the ability to walk or cycle to stores, restaurants and other amenities
  • Mixed-use neighbourhoods: a mix of residential homes, businesses and amenities all within walking distance, rather than just one or the other
  • Convenient access to rapid transit and shorter commute times, along with realistic opportunities to travel to work and other key destinations without a car

Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

The GTA includes Toronto and the four big suburban regions around it, and has a population of over 6 million people, a fifth of Canada, with a mix of the dense urban core, inner suburbs, endless sprawl and small towns.

Young buyers and seniors will pay more for location efficiency.

© Pembina Institute

This differs from the earlier American study, where boomers and seniors wanted to stay in their suburban houses. In the GTA a surprising proportion of older homeowners would choose a costlier smaller location efficient home, although interestingly, a smaller proportion of them than two years ago. More importantly, for the same number of dollars,

All age groups would choose a smaller home that reduces transportation costs

© Pembina Institute

Most respondents chose a location with access to rapid transit, making the trade-off for a smaller home. This preference was visible among all age groups, although it was strongest among seniors, possibly because they have lower driving and car ownership rates.

This differs from the earlier American study, which showed that boomers and seniors wanted to stay in their suburban homes and keep driving. The study comes to interesting conclusions, so forgive the block quotes:

Where you live is as important as the house you live in

While a detached home is still a high priority for many homebuyers, their preferences are also strongly driven by location. GTA homebuyers are thinking about where to live, and not just what to live in. A large house with a spacious lot is not as important to homebuyers as living in a location-efficient neighbourhood with all of the benefits that it provides.

GTA homebuyers would trade a large home and yard for a location-efficient neighbourhood

The results of our survey show that a large house and spacious lot are not as important as living in a neighbourhood that is walkable, mixed-use, transit-connected, and that offers shorter commute times. GTA homebuyers would choose a more modestly sized home to enjoy these attributes, both in the suburbs and in the city.

The largest and fastest-growing demographic groups prefer location-efficient neighbourhoods

All of the demographic groups we analyzed prefer location-efficient living. These preferences are not necessarily reflected in the housing development market. Seniors are the fastest-growing age demographic in Ontario, whereas large families are growing most slowly. The results of this survey therefore raise questions about whether we are building the kinds of developments and neighbourhoods in which people want to live, and which reflect the region’s current and future demographic makeup.

GTA residents want their suburbs to be more like city neighbourhoods

Our findings show that preferences are not driven by a neighbourhood being in the city versus in the suburbs, but rather by attributes available in both areas. There is a strong preference for location-efficient suburbs over those that are car-dependent.

Both the American study and this one come to the same conclusion: People don't necessarily want to live in the downtown cores of big cities, but they don't want to spend their lives in their cars either. They want those attributes of the streetcar suburbs designed a hundred years ago: good transit, main streets with local shopping in walking distance. A that huge cohort of boomers turns into seniors, they are going to demand it.

Download the pdf of the study here

Tags: Toronto | Urban Life | Urban Planning


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