When you think of Pickering, a casino resort, luxury hotel and flashy entertainment venues probably don’t come to mind. But if all goes according to plan, the city is about to undergo a radical transformation that may leave it unrecognizable.

Developers have been working on a 240-acre district known as Durham Live, meant to create Pickering’s definition of a downtown core. While most residents have traditionally made the trip to Toronto’s downtown for work and entertainment, the hope is that this glimmering mixed-use space will brand Pickering as a destination of its own.

But much like Pickering’s ambitious development plans, its real estate market has seen a renaissance of its own. Strata.ca data shows the eastern city is showing signs of a rebirth; one marked by surging property values and electrifying anticipation of what Pickering could become.

Since the start of last summer, condo values here have soared. The average cost per square foot (PSF) went from $440 in June 2020 to $614 currently for an increase of about 40%. On average, a Pickering condo will cost you around $599,000, up from $489,000 a little over a year ago. Despite this increase though, the city is still cheaper than Toronto, which has an average condo price of $726,000.

All comes down to a numbers game

Investing paperwork with laptop

Pickering is one of the top places in the GTA that’s best positioned to give you the best return on your investment, according to Strata.ca’s Broker of Record, Robert Van Rhijn. For potential homebuyers, he says it all comes down to a numbers game that just makes sense.

“You’re getting in on a housing market that’s about 17% cheaper than Toronto’s. And yet, Pickering condo owners have seen gains more than double that in just 12 to 13 months alone.”

Although Strata.ca data shows bidding wars in the GTA have largely cooled since April, homebuyers in Pickering have been consistently paying more than 6% above the list price for the past four months. Compare that to Toronto, where people are paying just 2% over the list price, on average.

Cliff Liu, a broker at Strata.ca, says it’s not hard to understand why Pickering is hotter than Toronto in some respects.

“My clients see Pickering as a good middle-ground. Compared to other suburban neighbourhoods, it’s a pretty short drive or train ride to Toronto’s downtown. It’s one of the reasons Pickering has enjoyed healthy real estate values over the past 10 to 15 years.”

Closing in on Oshawa

Pickering Frenchmen's Bay Marina

You could say the nearby city of Oshawa has become one of the biggest breakout characters in the drama of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June last year, it has seen condos surge in value by 48% with little signs of slowing down. But Pickering, largely living in the shadows of Oshawa’s red-hot ascent, is quietly closing in on its neighbour.

Since the start of last summer in June 2020, the two cities have been leading Durham in terms of highest appreciation rates.

“Whitby and Ajax have been trailing behind at 29% and 17% respectively. But still, the Durham Region as a whole has proven to be a solid investment for homebuyers looking to escape Toronto,” says Van Rhijn.

Durham Townhomes Dominate List of Highest-Ranking Properties

Oshawa Atria Condo

Liu says he was recently examining data within Strata.ca’s condo ranking reports for an investor client interested in Pickering and its surrounding areas.

“I was specifically looking for GTA condos that had seen the greatest value increases in the past 12 months. Out of 20 properties, I was surprised to see seven of them were actually in Durham.”

Interestingly, the highest appreciating properties were townhome complexes, most of them built in the 1970s:

Pickering

Bayshore Mews Townhomes | 32%

Oshawa

Wentworth Gardens Townhomes | 37%

540 Dorchester Townhomes | 36%

222 Pearson Street Townhomes | 36%

Whitby

Sprucedale & Palisades Townhomes | +38%

Salmon Way Townhomes | +33%

Liu says he isn’t surprised though that these older townhomes are rising the fastest.

“Yes, the finishes might be dated. But these units offer some of the biggest layouts in the GTA. If you can’t afford a freehold in Toronto, a townhome in Durham is really a fantastic compromise.”

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