Real Estate

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"There's roughly 3200 houses in Riverdale, and the amount of housing transactions in the area numbers around 120 a year (less than 50 detached houses), so supply and demand becomes even more magnified here than in other parts of the city."

Like many neighbourhoods in Toronto, Riverdale real estate brings out extreme emotions in people. Everything that makes this area great–schools, safety, green space–is what makes finding properties here often difficult and expensive. Competition is intense, bidding wars common, like everywhere. So we thought we would turn to the area's rising star agent to understand what it takes to crack the real estate code in Riverdale.

Suzanne Lewis of Lewis + Company is by turns shrewd, sensitive, tough, and generous. In a very short period of time, she's managed to vault herself from rookie door-knocker to one of the Keller-Williams highest grossing agents in Canada. She did it by keeping herself perfectly tuned to the unique rhythms of the Riverdale, and servicing the heck out of her clients. She also believes in sinking real time, energy and money into the community that she lives and works in. She truly loves Riverdale, and it shows. 

BestofRiverdale: First off, people always complain about real estate commissions. Smart people know that a good agent uses their contacts and marketing to drive prices often six figures above what it might have been otherwise. What's your take on that?  

Suzanne Lewis: I'll say what most agents won't say: An inexperienced agent will always make a client feel like they could have replaced them or cut their commission by some means. But a highly experienced agent will always SHOW you why you needed them, rather than tell you. While this can never be measured but only felt, a skilled agent makes you feel like you would hire them again in a heartbeat. 

A perfect example: I see every single house that is sold in Riverdale. I mean I actually go there, not just look at pictures on MLS. A good agent can feel when pricing is wrong, either too high or too low, and work their clients interests into the mix in the most strategic way. As well, I often see the same buyers in line for my client's house and I know *exactly* what their budget was on the last house and have that in my pocket when advising my clients on current offers. Additionally I'm constantly working my international networks where you have people who are looking for properties in Riverdale and willing to pay above top dollar. All these little details add up where I'm able to either save my client (a buyer) a ton of money through my expertise or pad a my client's (a seller) bottom line knowing what people will pay.

When you have intense bidding wars amongst ten or so bidders, you need a skilled agent, and you'll never question the commission once that pro lands you your dream home. Regret flows like water in Toronto's real estate market and cutting corners on an agent or thinking you can do what we do every day all day is just naive. I understand the impulse behind it, but it's flawed logic.. 

BestofRiverdale: The recent sale of a run down semi for more than $1M, as reported in Toronto Life, has marked a new level of pricing in Riverdale. Will this become the norm, or are we looking at a new sweet spot for a neighbourhood showing itself to be underpriced for too long?

Suzanne Lewis: Well, here's the thing: There's roughly 3200 houses in Riverdale, and the amount of housing transactions in the area numbers around 120 a year (less than 50 detached houses), so supply and demand becomes even more magnified here than in other parts of the city. People who want to live in Riverdale really want to live here, and they'll unearth every last dollar to do so. Add in the fact that there are literally no new homes being built in the area on any sort of scale, and you have so little inventory to bid on. It's not growing, and yet the pool of buyers always is. 

BestofRiverdale: In your opinion, where is the value in the area and why? If you're supposed to buy the worst house on the best street, what's the street version of that? Buy on the worst street in a great area?

Suzanne Lewis: There's a huge premium on schools in Riverdale, and families make emotional purchases when buying. Homes near good schools always fetch higher prices. So typically people buy west of Pape Ave. in so-called "Prime Riverdale" in order to gain access to better schools. Some of that is wise, but some of it is also paying a premium because some people have a perception of some schools as being lessor than others. I'm not sure how much of that is true, and so I would argue that the extra $100,000-$200,000 you're going to pay for the same house west of Pape instead of east assuming elementary schools aren't important to you isn't where the "value" is. The streets east of Pape vary in degrees of quality for sure, but some of them feel like Prime Riverdale in every respect.  

BestofRiverdale: Leslieville has been on a tear for years, but so too Riverdale north. Are there any differences in strategies or approaches between these two distinct markets? More bidding wars in one or the other. Younger buyers south and older north? Unique strategies for buying or selling in the separate hoods?

Suzanne Lewis: They're distinctly different buying experiences: Higher price points, better parks, and more school age children in Riverdale. Leslieville houses are typically smaller, there's less access to subways, but more streetcars, obviously. People who buy in Leslieville are more prepared for the grittiness of the area, including good and bad. Riverdale buyers are of course older and want their homes to be retreats. People always pay more for quiet. To some degree, if you include condos, Leslieville has some measure of expanding inventory, where Riverdale doesn't. So by extension, you're just going to have to work harder to find a home in Riverdale, given supply and demand. 

BestofRiverdale: Obviously one of the main reasons that Toronto real estate continues to smash records is because of so much global capital being comfortable with Toronto as an exceedingly stable place to live and work. Riverdale seems to be a microcosm of this sentiment. What is the key do you think to the continued appeal of this area? Could anything derail this optimism about Riverdale real estate? 

Suzanne Lewis: Paradoxically the lack of inventory is part of the appeal. To live in such a safe place with expansive green space and top-flight schools is the ambition of so many families. Low density is another. Dating back to the neighbourhood rebuke of the development of a high rise where Carrot Common now stands, the tendency of neighbourhoods to grow vertically just doesn't happen in Riverdale, at least not yet. So people feel more expansive in their homes and therefore there's higher demand. I don't think it will change because the area has such a strong ethic around protecting the neighbourhood via The Riverdale and Leslieville Historical associations. There's a long history of preservation here. 

BestofRiverdale: You yourself live with your family on a terrific street in Riverdale. On your company website you even highlight the long, history of some individual streets in Riverdale? What's your favourite street in Riverdale and why? 

Suzanne Lewis: I love so many streets for so many reasons, so can we negotiate down to two choices, haha? One is Hogarth, because of the historical significance. The other would be Carlaw opposite Withrow Park, because the houses on the west side of the park have magnificent views of the park on one side, and then equally amazing views of The CN Tower and downtown on the other. Very unique. They represent exactly what people love about living here: close to downtown but away from it all. 

BestofRiverdale: Now that the city and the province have announced funding for a TTC relief line that might wind its way down Pape Avenue in the heart of the area, what will this do to investment in the area? It seems a no-brainer that in the coming years, investment in real estate here will have even more dramatic returns for people who buy here.

Suzanne Lewis: It's not like the area needs any more reasons to buy, but this probably tips things: A Pape line will have a ripple effect of pushing home buying further east, and all the tributaries running off of Pape in Riverdale will become even more highly sought as a result. A relief line will mean people will put more money into their home in place of a car when it comes to commuting. Again: there's no increase in inventory, so Riverdale homes will become even more valuable. The fact that the relief line and the main line will be so close to both Withrow and Riverdale Park means people will do anything to have both the beauty and the convenience. It will have a dramatic effect on prices in my opinion.