A local realtor’s perspective on how the city is adapting to ‘mass pilgrimage’ of Torontonians to Hamilton
There was once a time when Torontonians would never dream of living in cities like Ajax, Mississauga or Vaughan because it was simply ‘too far’. But of course that era is long gone as homebuyers explore their options further and further outside city limits; an exploration fuelled by that desperate search for affordability.
No doubt this ongoing quest for cheaper housing has brought many people to the city of Hamilton. A former blue-collar steeltown whose economy was once famously dominated by Stelco and Dofasco — Hamilton is now seen as simply an extension of the GTA suburbs.
When it comes to property values, Hamilton has seen some of the highest appreciation rates in all of Ontario. Right now, the average cost per square foot (PSF) on a Hamilton condo for sale is $641. That’s a far cry from the humble $388 PSF back in April 2020, indicating an overall price increase of 68%. Like elsewhere in Ontario, this jump is largely attributed to a drop in supply — yet an exponential increase in the number of homebuyers trying to make The Hammer their new home.
Until now, headlines have largely focused on the Torontonians moving to Hamilton, taking advantage of relatively cheaper housing and a different pace of life. But we want to know — what has this migration meant for the people already living in Hamilton their entire lives?
We checked in with Christopher Climie, a partnering agent at Strata.ca who specializes in Hamilton real estate. Here are his insights.
1) First off, what do you think is behind this stunning increase in Hamilton property values?
Christopher: I’d say Hamilton originally gained some momentum in 2017, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when several Toronto-based magazines were featuring Hamilton as an up and coming city. Reliable GO train service plus word of new housing developments is what made Torontonians realize en masse that Hamilton was the next Oshawa, Mississauga or Vaughan.
Essentially, Hamilton was one of the last places to find affordable housing with relative accessibility. For sure it’s still a long commute into downtown Toronto. But it’s doable. And that’s what mattered most to people.
2) So what changed then when the pandemic actually hit?
Christopher: When Ontario’s first lockdown happened in March 2020 and people started working from home, many Torontonians began to realize the $3,000 they’re paying in rent could easily get them a purchased home in Hamilton with minimal down payment. I saw this realization play out over and over again with my Toronto-based clients looking to make the move out here. That’s when a mass pilgrimage to Hamilton began, triggering that steady increase in property values.
We saw this influx again in 2021 as the ‘late adopters’ (uncertain if they were ever going back to the office in-person) also decided to make that pilgrimage. At the same time, Hamilton was making headlines for its rising property values. And this definitely pushed even more people into the Hamilton market, largely driven by a ‘now or never’ mentality.
I want to add that the pandemic has also brought a lot of ex-Hamiltonians back to our city. Generally people who want to be close to family again, and use their buying power to purchase a house rather than rent an apartment in Toronto.
3) So what has this meant for those originally from Hamilton, who are trying to purchase real estate in their own city?
Christopher: I’ve talked to a lot of Hamiltonians, and they feel prices here are just too high. Much in the same way that Torontonians have looked outside city limits for affordability — those born and raised here are being pushed into the ‘Hamiltons’ of Hamilton. I have clients who are now looking at properties in Beamsville, Cayuga, Paris, London and even further beyond.
4) And what’s the sentiment among those who have already owned a home here for decades?
Christopher: A lot of them are empty nesters, and they’re cashing out because they never believed their house could ever be worth a million dollars. You have to remember, anything remotely close to that price point was always seen as a ‘Toronto thing’. Nobody ever imagined this would happen in Hamilton.
5) Where do you see Hamilton real estate headed over the next few months and beyond?
Christopher: I think we’re going to see a repeat of 2017. That’s when prices jumped right before the spring market, but then settled during April and May. Things were then quiet over the summer months. But if you want to look ahead to, say, the next three years — I can’t predict what’ll happen because even the past three years alone have shocked a lot of us.
6) How do you see Hamilton adapting to the ongoing influx of buyers from outside the city?
Christopher: The truth is, many of those born and raised here are feeling pushed out. So they’re pushing back by demanding our governments provide affordable housing and more rent controls. In fact, the community just succeeded in pushing through a pilot project in three Hamilton wards in response to their concerns on illegal rental units. This is one example of an initiative that may help cool an overheated market, albeit indirectly.
But even outside real estate, Hamilton has seen a tremendous revival during the past 10 years. This was always a blue-collar city, but many people have accepted that things have changed. Our neighbourhoods have evolved, and there’s a profound entrepreneurial spirit that now runs through our communities. It’s not hard to see why Hamiltonians take such pride here. Many of us are anxious, yet very excited, to witness what’s next for this great city.