Part 1: First-time homebuyers flocking to downtown Kitchener

A house in the suburbs, a nice lawn, a white picket fence and two or three kids.

For decades, that was the nuclear dream for generations of young Canadians.

But now, things are changing.

“My generation was totally in love with the automobile and couldn’t wait to get to the suburbs,” says Kitchener realtor Ian Brown.

“Now it’s more of an urban attraction.”

Today’s twenty-somethings in Waterloo Region and beyond are increasingly flocking to downtown cores where automobiles are less integral to everyday life – if they’re necessary at all.

Nathan Flanagan is an example of that.

He’s not about to give up his car – he too works as a real estate agent – but having amenities close at hand provides ample reason for him to plan on making downtown Kitchener the site of his first purchased home.

“My office is two minutes driving and my gym is literally about a two-minute bike ride away,” he tells CTV.

Uptown Waterloo is also a possibility, but Flanagan is set on one thing – wherever he buys will be in an urban core.

In an effort to compete with Waterloo, the City of Kitchener has spent $110 million to attract downtown development – something city officials view as necessary for an area that still carries a rougher reputation in some circles.

It’s a reputation that may not be deserved– according to the Waterloo Regional Police Service online crime mapping tool, uptown Waterloo has seen twice as many crimes (assaults, break and enters, drug offences and graffiti) as downtown Kitchener so far this year.

Flanagan ended up making an offer on a downtown Kitchener townhouse only a week after it went on the market.

He says in addition to everything else, it’s a strong financial investment, as the townhouse has increased in value by $100,000 over the past 10 years – and similar trends are seen elsewhere in Kitchener.

“I think the umbrella here is not fully opened, and I think we’re going to see a lot of appreciation in the future,” he says.

Still, real estate in urban cores is often more expensive than in other neighbourhoods – something that can be a sticking point for many young professionals.


Part 2: Guelph's north, south ends a tale of two neighbourhoods

In south Guelph, commuters are gobbling up new homes almost as fast as they’re built.

There aren’t as many real estate options in the city’s north end, but residents there say they love the neighbourhood and couldn’t imagine anywhere else.

“I’ve said to my husband (that) I don’t want to move, ever,”says north Guelph resident Cindy Ridi, who bought a house in the area more than 10 years ago.

Since moving in, the Ridis have had two kids, and they say the neighbourhood’s open green spaces and high-quality education make the north end desirable for many young families.

“When a house goes up for sale here, it’s usually gone very quickly,” says Ridi.

Deals are closed quickly on houses in the south end too, but a building boom means there are plenty of homes to go around.

Realtor Krystal Moore says south Guelph homes – closer to the 401 and access to Toronto – are often newer and bigger, as well as pricier.

“People will pay a little bit more to get more modern and more spacious,” she tells CTV.

But while the homes are bigger, the parks are smaller and less mature than counterparts across the city like 80-acre Riverside Park – enough for some buyers, but not as many young families.

“The parks at this end of town … are amazing,” says Steve Ridi.

According to the Fraser Institute’s yearly rankings, Guelph’s north and south ends contain the city’s two highest-performing schools.

But while Sir Isaac Brock Public School in south Guelph comes in at a respectable 220th out of more than 2,700 schools across Ontario, north Guelph’s Edward Johnson Public School is tied for first.

And while buying property with easy access to Toronto is rarely a bad bet, house prices in north Guelph are rising fast on their own – the Ridis say they’ve roughly tripled their investment in a little more than 10 years.


Part 3: Empty-nesters want Stratford; Stratford wants empty-nesters

When looking at which communities in southwestern Ontario are best-suited for empty-nesters, one city stands out.

Not only does Stratford have affordable homes and easy access to health care, but it’s even made a conscious effort to reach out to older citizens looking for a new home.

“To have new projects come up the way they have, it’s certainly indicative of a community looking for retirees,” says real estate agent John Wolfe.

Those new projects are an effort to play catch-up with Waterloo, which build senior-friendly living in its uptown a decade ago.

Downsizers with an eye on Stratford are still waiting for development to catch up with their desires – but it is happening, as evidenced by three new condo projects underway in the Festival City.

There’s another major advantage to retiring to Stratford – price.

“(Retirees) are selling their big home and they’re realizing that for less money, (they) can get a whole lot more,” says Wolfe.

Stratford also has easier access to doctors and other medical care than larger centres.

While Waterloo Region has 1.6 doctors for every 1,000 people, Stratford’s rate sits at a robust three doctors per 1,000 people.

There are more than 90 physicians registered in the city, including radiologist Hankie Nguyen, who says Stratford has an MRI machine and other big-city medical facilities, but without the wait times that usually accompany them.

“I can’t see a place this size that has better health care than we do,” he says.

The combination of health care and a small urban feel worked on Don Beasley. The retiree says there’s nowhere he’d rather spend his golden years.

“Great spot to live. There’s always something going on,” he tells CTV.