01/12/2017 02:16 EST | Updated 01/12/2017 02:16 EST

Why The Urban-Suburban Debate Rages On For Home Hunters

Roy Ritchie via Getty Images

by Lydia McNutt

The urban-suburban debate continues in the search for the perfect home -- particularly in the face of Toronto's rising real estate prices. Indeed, affordability hit an eight-year low in the third quarter of 2016, according to the latest Housing Trends and Affordability Report from RBC Economics Research.

The skyrocketing price of homes may be old news in Toronto, but it's now spreading into the suburbs.

Oakville, for instance, saw the average home price rise 15.4 per cent to $894,696 in the third quarter of 2016, according to Royal LePage's House Price Survey. The story's the same in Oshawa and Whitby, which saw the average home price increase 26 and 21.5 per cent, respectively. Meanwhile in Richmond hill, prices were up 25.7 per cent.

How's that for "urban sprawl?"

With the suburbs gaining speed in price appreciation, how far is too far?

A chat some time ago with Empire's co-founder and executive vice-president of industry relations, Paul Golini Jr., enlightened me to an old saying that rings true today, more than ever: drive till you qualify. But with the suburbs gaining speed in price appreciation, how far is too far?

The choice between location, lifestyle and housing type all play into the decision of "where?"

"Is it important to be able to walk to work? On the other hand, would you mind commuting if it means you'll have a detached home with a backyard? Or, are you looking for low maintenance and on-site amenities? Homebuyers need to determine which factor is most important to them," Golini told YP NextHome.

Driving decisions (pun intended):

Location is one of the strongest drivers when it comes to finding the right home. A lot of it has to do with the three Ts: traffic, time and tolls -- Toronto Mayor John Tory's plans to bring road tolls to the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. They're all common concerns among home hunters who are seeking more affordable housing outside of the city limits.

Golini pointed out that those who commute will happily continue to do so if it means they'll get more home for their money. "In our industry there's a saying, 'you drive till you qualify,' which is based on the size of the mortgage you can afford as you move further away from the GTA."

Location is one of the strongest drivers when it comes to finding the right home.

"There is a segment that embraces the work/live/play/shop lifestyle and opts to live in the downtown core. They often abandon the car until the weekend, because they can take transit, the streetcar or walk to work," Golini added.

That being said, lifestyle is increasingly becoming a significant factor in the home search -- particularly in the condo market, Golini said. "We see that people are spending less time at home and more time at work or outside of their home, whether it's for entertainment or going to the gym. These purchasers are OK with a smaller form of housing where little maintenance is required."

Density: yea or nay?

Aside from commute times and price, Golini highlighted density as a key factor in the home hunt.

"Some people want to be close to their neighbours and living in a condo gives them the chance to meet in the gym, at the pool or even in the elevator." On the flip side, low-rise communities are less dense and offer more privacy. "If someone is determined to fulfill their dream of the white picket fence, they may be driven further outside the core. Alternatively, they can go the route of a townhome, which is a great way to enter the housing market.

"Once you determine which of these factors is the most important to you, as well as what you can afford, this can then act as a filter to direct your home-buying decision."

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