COVID-19 and Urban Flight: GTA Cities That Were Winners

By: Steven Liambas
January 29, 2021

According to a new report from Statistics Canada, more Canadians were “opting to live outside of Canada’s largest urban centres” between July 2019 and 2020, contributing to ongoing urban sprawl. The report cites that this trend continued “in spite of” the pandemic; likely a reflection of shifting lifestyle priorities including the ability to work remotely, and the need for green space, as well as swiftly growing real estate prices in major urban centres.

We looked at home sales and average sold price data from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) for the period between April 2020, the first full-month after COVID emergency measures were implemented and December 2020, to quantify this trend of urban flight during the pandemic within the GTA.

For this report, we looked at sales and sold home price data for houses (semi-detached and detached properties) and condo apartments for municipalities across the GTA between April and December 2020, and calculated the change in sales and average sold price compared to the same period in 2019.

Our findings indicate that there was  a higher rate of sales and price growth for low-rise homes versus condo apartments in nearly every region. For the GTA as a whole, this translated to an 11% increase in detached and semi-detached house sales but conversely a 10% decrease in condo apartment sales between April and December 2020 compared to 2019. The average house price rose 13% or $132,736 to $1,123,618 year-over-year (y-o-y) during this period, and the average condo apartment price rose just 4% or $26,056, to $621,637.  

Further, there was clear evidence of the trend of urban flight taking place. Although there was an increase in sales and average sold detached and semi-detached house prices across every GTA region other than Dufferin County in 2020, the increase in sales and prices was most prominent in regions outside of the City of Toronto – municipalities furthest from the City of Toronto generally saw the largest jumps in the growth rate of house sales. In the condo apartment market, condo-dense regions like the City of Toronto and Peel Region experienced declines in condo apartment sales, however prices noted a slight y-o-y increase.

Simcoe County Had the Highest % Increase in House Sales Among GTA Regions

Within Simcoe County, detached and semi-detached house sales grew 21% y-o-y for the period between April and December 2020, with 2,393 houses changing hands. The average sold price grew 17% annually to $766,083. Within Simcoe County, Innisfil recorded a 36% increase in detached and semi-detached house sales – the highest for the region – with 829 sales.

Following Simcoe County was Durham Region, where there were 1,143 more detached and semi-detached house sales between April and December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019; a 17% increase y-o-y. The average house price rose by $117,263, to $775,213. Within the Durham Region, Scugog (+35%) and Brock (+32%) noted the highest rate of increase in sales.

According to David Micek, a Zoocasa agent in Durham Region, “housing activity is off the charts in Durham Region. Following a brief lull at the beginning of 2020 and through April, buyers returned to the market in full force, and a lot faster than sellers did.” As such, Micek notes that inventory has been slow to catch up to growing demand, resulting in competitive market conditions and upward pressure on house prices.

Indeed, the average detached and semi-detached house price in Durham rose 18% or $117,263. The average price in Scugog and Brock where sales growth for houses was highest, increased $170,535 and $84,013 respectively.

Elsewhere in the GTA, smaller and less populous municipalities experienced a higher increase in detached and semi-detached house sales on a y-o-y basis. For example, the York Region municipality of King recorded an impressive 75% increase in house sales y-o-y and a 20% annual increase in the average home price to $1,798,590 between April and December 2020. Similarly, Georgina in York Region noted a 36% spike in house sales during this timeframe and a 24% increase in the average house price to $710,758. Within Peel Region, Caledon experienced the largest increase in annual house sales – rising 29% y-o-y. The average sold price for detached and semi-detached houses in Caledon grew 21% to $1,224,675.

Notably, while positive, sales growth for detached and semi-detached houses was relatively more subdued within the City of Toronto. House sales growth was relatively flat y-o-y, with just 99 more houses selling between April and December 2020 compared to the previous year, a mere 1% increase. The average sold price during this period was $1,404,498, an 11% increase y-o-y.

City of Toronto Condo Sales Down 12%, While Simcoe County Records 108% Annual Increase in Sales

For the City of Toronto, where there is the highest concentration of condo apartments across the GTA, condo apartment sales dipped 12% y-o-y to 11,634; however, sold prices remained relatively steady with a slight 3% increase to $662,959.

Across all GTA regions, condo apartment sales noted the sharpest decline in Peel Region. Sales across Peel Region declined -20% y-o-y for the period between April and December 2020. Despite the drop in sales, however, the average home price for condo apartments grew 9% to $515,801 in Peel – possibly driven by buyers seeking  larger units with more square footage due to pandemic-driven lifestyle shifts. Within Peel Region, condo sales declined 22% in Brampton and 20% in Mississauga, while prices rose 13% and 8% respectively in both municipalities.

Elsewhere across the GTA, perhaps surprisingly so, condo apartment sales grew y-o-y, and average sold prices followed suit. Notably, Simcoe County stands out once again with an 108% increase in condo apartment sales y-o-y, and a 14% increase in the average sold price for condo apartments. It’s worth noting however, that the total volume of condo apartment sales in the region during this timeframe was relatively low, with just 106 condos being sold. In Durham Region, sales increased 22%, while in Halton Region and York Region, condo apartment sales eked out small 3% and 4% increases respectively.

Check out our infographics below that highlight year-over-year increases in house (detached and semi-detached properties) and condo apartment sales and average sold prices for the GTA for the period between April and December 2020. Further below, find a round up of the municipalities with the highest and smallest increases in sales for houses and condo apartments.

Municipalities with the highest % increase in detached and semi-detached house sales, April to Dec 2020 compared to April to Dec 2019

1. King (York Region)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 379 (+75%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $1,798,590 (+75%)

2. Innisfil (Simcoe County)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 829 (+36%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $703,386 (+16%)

3. Georgina (York Region)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 824 (+36%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $710,758 (+24%)

Municipalities with the smallest % increase in detached and semi-detached house sales, April to Dec 2020 compared to April to Dec 2019

1. Orangeville (Dufferin County)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 365 (-6%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $691,983 (+15%)

2. Adjala-Tosorontio (Simcoe County)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 124 (-4%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $899,252 (+32%)

3. Toronto (West)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 3,340 (-3%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $1,226,987 (+12%)

Municipalities with the biggest % decrease in condo apartment sales, April to Dec 2020 compared to April to Dec 2019

1. Orangeville (Dufferin County)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 17 (-35%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $394,618 (+17%)

2. Halton Hills (Halton Region)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 15 (-35%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $459,320 (0%)

3. Newmarket (York Region)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 40 (-23%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $488,725 (+10%)

Municipalities with the biggest % increase in condo apartment sales, April to Dec 2020 compared to April to Dec 2019

1. Innisfil (Simcoe County)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 73 (+265%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $443,990 (+17%)

2. Whitchurch-Stoufville (York Region)
April to Dec 2020 sales: 31 (+107%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $636,584 (+30%)

3. Aurora (York Region)

April to Dec 2020 sales: 64 (+56%)

April to Dec 2020 average price: $552,480 (+12%)


Source: Zoocasa

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