Ontario real estate: Where you live is just as important as what you live in

That old saying that real estate is all about “location, location, location” has never been truer than it is now. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, more Canadians are rethinking what location means to them in their search for the perfect place to call home.

“These days, home buyers want to be surrounded by things they like to do and that give them joy,” says Cailey Heaps, president, chief executive officer and broker of record for Heaps Estrin, one of Canada’s top real estate firms.

Heaps, whose firm has a combined 150 years of real estate experience, says being known as a tourist destination can make a community more desirable from a home buyer’s perspective. “There is typically better access to transportation, dining and entertainment, and it usually means the local economy is strong.

“All of this creates a thriving community that attracts like-minded people; people who share common beliefs and values they can connect with on an emotional level,” Heaps says. “It can also open more opportunities for education and employment. I think it can make life easier for all those reasons.”

An example is No. 7 Dale, a collection of 26 luxury condominium residences by Platinum Vista Inc. in the coveted Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale. “People who make No. 7 Dale their home get the best of both worlds,” says Hunter Milborne, president of Milborne Real Estate. Milborne shared a vision for the project with structural engineer Boris Shteiman, his partner in Platinum Vista. “It’s safe, private and quiet with an abundance of outdoor space. And it’s a walk or bus ride away from Toronto’s world-class restaurants, entertainment and sporting venues,” Milborne says.

Emerging from the effects of a global pandemic, Toronto made the cut as one of Time Out’s 53 Best Cities in the World 2022, ranking above iconic cities like Rome, Paris, Lisbon, and Athens. Time Out is a global media and hospitality brand influencing how tens of millions of people go out around the world. This year’s list of the best cities acknowledged Toronto’s bustling food and drink scene, community spirit, thriving night life and progressiveness.

Shane Baghai of Baghai Development Ltd. has been building progressive communities in the Greater Toronto Area for decades, drawing on his knowledge of European style and influence to create innovative luxury residences such as Leaside Manor. Baghai says Leaside Manor, located at 3 Southvale Dr. in the midtown Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, appeals to families who want to experience a European lifestyle. “The majority of people in Europe go out for lunch, dinner or coffee and they’re more likely to take the bus or subway to get there.”

Baghai says the investment in infrastructure to grow tourism in an area can translate to more sophisticated and sustainable transportation options. “Toronto is great for those who are environmentally minded with its plentiful bike lanes and public transportation,” Baghai says. With just nine of 38 stunning suites remaining, Leaside Manor offers a rare opportunity to stay and play amid one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Mimi Ng, senior vice-president, sales and marketing for Menkes Developments Ltd., agrees the advantages are endless when living in an international tourism destination such as Toronto. “Toronto is home to one of the longest urban shorelines in the world. A development like Sugar Wharf, for instance, is situated in a prime location in East Bayfront on Toronto’s waterfront near endless amenities and popular tourist spots such as Sugar Beach and the Toronto Islands,” Ng says.

Sugar Wharf Condos by Menkes Development Ltd. will include an office tower, commercial retail space, a multi-storey residential community and a two-acre community park. “With a neighbourhood like this, residents get the benefit of incredible lake views and all that downtown has to offer including the nearby entertainment district,” Ng says. “When it’s complete, Sugar Wharf will be a mini-city in and of itself.”

Chuck Thibeault, executive director of Central Counties Tourism, covering the regions of Headwaters, York and Durham, says wherever you live in Ontario you’ll find tourists visiting and that’s a good thing.

“Whether it is your family or friends coming for a visit or your local hockey association hosting a weekend tournament, there are people in your community bringing new money into the shops and restaurants that you adore,” Thibeault says.

“In many cases – especially in smaller communities – those visitor dollars make a huge difference. It is when a community embraces tourism and works with business owners to create new experiences and events that the residents really benefit,” he says. “And that is because if there is something cool enough to convince someone from several hours away to visit your community, lots of residents get to enjoy it too, creating a pride of place.”

The County of Oxford in Southwestern Ontario beckons to tourists and home buyers who are searching for a vibrant culinary scene and a place to commune with creators and crafters. Nicole Langlois and her family own and operate a 70-acre farm in the village of Embro in Oxford County. Inspired by a community that values innovation and creativity, the Langlois family have embarked on an exciting venture to build a series of six townhomes on the edge of their farm that will meet Passive House standard. Known as Langlois Eco Homes, the climate-friendly construction is part of a vision to convert the farm into a “net-zero” community of houses.

Langlois Eco Homes is located near shopping, museums, parks and playgrounds, and the internationally known Stratford Festival. An array of dining choices can be found in the neighbouring towns of Ingersoll, Woodstock, St. Marys and Tavistock. “When you live among farmers, you have a front-row seat on food production and first dibs on so much locally grown produce and locally made delicacies,” Langlois says.

Meredith Maywood, tourism specialist for the County of Oxford, says the new development fits well with Oxford County’s commitment to sustainable tourism. A long-time resident of Oxford County, Maywood says there are perks to living in an area loved by tourists and known as a thriving arts, cultural and culinary community. “The culinary is phenomenal here,” Maywood says. “It’s incredible to be able to walk out your door and find really amazing food.”

Oxford County is home to the world-famous Oxford County Cheese Trail, cute cafes like Embro’s own Kintore Coffee whose locally roasted beans and cold brews are now available at grocery stores throughout Ontario, and the ever-popular Udderly Ridiculous near Bright, where locals can enjoy goat milk’s ice cream, do goat yoga, or cuddle a goat. People living in Oxford County can explore new hobbies like making their own soap at Wild Comfort Body Care near Woodstock, or craft their own charcuterie board from local hardwood forests at the award-winning Ottercreek Woodworks.

As home buyers rethink what matters to them most in a post-pandemic world, tourist cities and towns are an exciting alternative, offering firsthand access to world-class food, entertainment, and vibrant and thriving neighbourhoods.