East York real estate attractive

Linda Reid loves living on the western edge of East York.

“It’s a fabulous neighbourhood,” she said, citing its diversity, good schools and nearby transit.

Reid likes exploring local shops and catching up with neighbours.

“It’s almost like a small town,” she said.

This sense of community, along with recent trends in the real estate market, is what’s attracting people to East York.

This month the National Post reported on a neglected two-storey house next door to Reid that fell into disrepair after its owners took ill. Though potential buyers who toured the house encountered peeling paint, piles of clothes and the smell of cat urine, the house sold for $1 million.

Reid says the new owners are already planning big renovations.

Linda Ing-Gilbert is a realtor, based in East York.

“A lot of people move for location,” she said. “Everything else in a home can be changed.”

Reid knows this well. She said her neighbourhood has been under “constant renovation” over the last 10 years. While she’s enjoyed meeting new neighbours, she knows house prices – and her own taxes – are going up drastically from when she moved in three decades ago.

“I could afford to move here then; I couldn’t now,” Reid said. “I’m one of the few that are left.”

Like the rest of the city, East York house prices have recently been on the rise because of a shortage of homes on the market. Last week, the Canadian Real Estate Association announced that the cost of a single-family home in Toronto hit $606,600 as of January, a 50-per-cent jump in six years. That’s $100,000 higher than the Canadian average and slightly higher than the surrounding GTA.

These rising costs are making East York’s Second World War-era bungalows attractive, as buyers can build onto these smaller homes to fit their needs.

“What East York offers is more land,” Ing-Gilbert said. “There are lots of World War II bungalows with a lot of space. That can be hard to find.”

While some people choose bungalows to accommodate reduced mobility, many homeowners add and extend floors at a lower price than buying a large house.

Madeline MacKay lives in a three-storey build-up down the street from Reid.

“You’d never know you were downtown,” she said. “It feels like a real community. You get one-of-a-kind businesses and lots to see. My son loves the parks and the attractions.”

MacKay says she can hear streetcars rolling by from her third floor on quiet Sundays.

“It’s magical,” she said.

Jane Pitfield, head of the East York Historical Society and former city councillor, says she welcomes a mix in housing, but feels it’s important to preserve the area’s identity.

“People choose a neighbourhood because of the character of the neighbourhood,” she said. “When the character begins to change it does affect real estate values potentially and all of the sudden it doesn’t feel like the neighbourhood you chose to live in.”

Ing-Gilbert agrees that a community’s feel is important for homeowners and suggests concerned residents form preservation groups.

“I think that history’s important for our neighbourhoods,” she said. “Houses have to conform to the streetscape to maintain the feel of their neighbourhood.”

Pitfield remembers pioneering real estate guidelines for Leaside when she served as councillor for Ward 26/Don Valley West. The community’s suggestions included maintaining most of the houses’ height, materials and distance from street. The guideline was “consulted like a Bible” by the city’s adjustment committee and promoted to residents.

“If you had property sold beside you, you could make sure the developer knew about the guidelines,” Pitfield recalled. “Ninety per cent of the time, just by talking about it, I found that builders and private citizens who owned the land tried to get it right because they wanted to conform and build something that would fit into the neighbourhood, knowing it was important.”

Reid says she’s confident about her neighbourhood, regardless of house prices and building norms.

“No matter how it changes,” she said, “I’m sure this will still be a special place.”