'A great place to hang your hat': Inside Brantford's real estate boom
Published Monday, April 23, 2018 3:46PM EDT
About a year ago, when Caswell Allen decided it was time to leave Toronto, he first thought about moving north of the city.
He checked out homes in communities like Alliston, but found that house prices were still higher than he was hoping for. Traffic was a problem too.
Eventually, Allen turned his gaze in another direction. Instead of looking north of the Greater Toronto Area, he looked west. That’s when he found Brantford.
“It’s not as congested. It’s not as stressful,” he says of his new city.
“The entire city’s pretty much like one big family, and I like that. You get more space – more bang for the buck.”
Allen is hardly alone in leaving the big city for the comparatively slower pace and more affordable real estate of Brantford.
While house prices in the city have been rising steadily for decades, the pace of the increase has picked up sharply in the past few years.
Allie VanDyk, the president of the Brantford Real Estate Association, says the biggest factor driving the rising price increases is people like Allen realizing they can sell their home in Toronto and get something much nicer in Brantford for the same amount of money.
“They’re driving down the highway until they can get good value,” she says.
VanDyk is an example of this herself. Growing up in Hamilton, she moved to Brantford when she got married. Now, she’s a big booster for her adopted city – quick to talk up its schools, its amenities, and its proximity to bigger cities like Toronto and Hamilton and smaller communities like Paris and St. George.
“It’s a great place to hang your hat at night,” she says.
Out-of-town buyers might be driving up house prices, but one new report suggests the city remains a strong investment opportunity. MoneySense magazine has ranked Brantford as the best place in Canada to buy real estate, noting that the city’s housing prices remain well below those in other communities near the Greater Toronto Area – even though they’ve been rising faster than prices in the GTA over the past decade.
Brantford finished third in the MoneySense ranking last year. Chris Friel, the city’s mayor, calls the ranking a sign that the city’s “steady, progressive growth” is yielding results.
“We knew we were going in the right direction,” he says.
“I think it’s probably a surprise for people outside of our community who still view us as we were in the 1980s.”
Back then, Brantford was a manufacturing town, dominated by farm equipment giants like Massey-Ferguson and Cockshutt. As those businesses disappeared, Brantford focused its economic development efforts on two main goals: bringing post-secondary education to the city, and attracting investment from growing European and Japanese companies.
“We had reached the bottom as a community. We were going to try everything to make it work,” Friel says.
It wasn’t an overnight success. Wilfrid Laurier University created a campus in the city in 1999. Procter & Gamble and chocolate-maker Ferrero established operations in Brantford a few years after that. More than a decade later, Friel says, those and other efforts are paying off – as evidenced by the MoneySense ranking.
“I don’t think there’s any single thing. I think it’s, overall, how much we’ve transformed as a community in a short period of time,” he says.
The MoneySense ranking notes Brantford’s rental market as another factor making the city attractive for investors. VanDyk says the city has a “very low” vacancy rate, which means landlords can charge higher rents than they might be able to in otherwise comparable communities.
“It’s a very good place to invest, because the renters are out there,” he says.
According to VanDyk, a home of 2,000 to 2,500 square feet typically sells for $500,000 or less in Brantford, while first-time homebuyers can get something smaller in the $250,000 to $300,000 range. Many new houses are being built in the city’s west end, while a recent boundary adjustment has opened up new space for future development.
With reporting by Virginia Wright