Ottawa Housing Market: Up or Down?

The spring housing market is upon us, and I have some friends who are now looking to buy property, and I thought I’d turn this discussion to thoughts on Ottawa’s real-estate market.

Garth Turner, who has just published, “The Greater Fool: The Troubled Future of Real Estate” says no-one should be buying a home now. Others disagree. Loads of economic forecasters say the market will keep rising, although perhaps slower than before. Others say we could be in a condo bubble. Others that condos are solid because of our aging population base. Others say the U.S. economic meltdown will soon hurt our own housing prices. I also find myself wondering about all those people who rushed, as speculators, to buy in Calgary/Edmonton. Forecasts now are that these markets have flat-lined.

It’s a gamble. An old house on my street (Central Ottawa) just sold for well over $500,000, and I thought it was worth about $350,000. These new owners must think it’s worth it.
Well, for those of you who want to buy, but really, really don’t want to lose money – and are not made of it -- here’s my thoughts (okay, I’m no expert, but nonetheless):

First, don’t go into the suburbs. Everyone’s into minimizing their carbon footprints, and that means inner-city neighbourhoods are in. For several years now the city core neighbourhoods have been climbing in value faster than the outlying areas, and I think this trend will continue and intensify. (Besides, studies tell us that suburb life makes people fat and a little less happy than they would have been, country homes excluded).

Second: if you can at all manage it, buy a house that actually has a yard. There are $600,000 properties out there with no yard, and there are $300,000 ones with beautiful back yards. As the city grows, that urban yard will become much more valuable, plus it gives you room to expand (when you can afford it) without having to move.

Third: If you must buy a condo, see #1 and be even more stringent. That’s uber-urban core, and by this I also mean the hip-urban core of areas like Westboro and the Glebe. Places where there’s not a lot of crappy homes/old warehouses that could get torn down for future condos to compete with yours (and glut the market). I’d say, make sure your condo is within a 10 minute walking distance to three coffee shops. Let’s say that two will suffice if said condo is also within a five minute walk to water.

Fourth: Try not to be directly on a busy street. Don’t buy on Main St., or Parkdale, or Holland, or Scott, if you can avoid it. It might seem like a good deal now, but it’ll be hard to sell in the future, especially if there’s a downturn, plus all that carbon-monoxide and extra stress will take years off your life. Not a good deal.

Fifth: Don’t buy somewhere where you can clearly hear the Queensway hum. Again, it’s not just noise pollution, it’s also that carbon monoxide stuff taking years off your life.

Sixth: Do buy in the “annex” neighbourhoods, the poorer cousins to the rich ones. So: Dow’s Lake, Bronson-West/Little Italy/Hintonburg (Mechanicsville), which annex the Glebe and Wellington Village/Westboro. Preferably seek out a neighbourhood that has a cool and already vibrant “High Street”. A main drag that looks like it could develop further. For the strong-willed and smaller budgeted, I’d also suggest Vanier, but close to Beechwood, not MacArthur.
What do you think, are prices going up or down? What Ottawa neighbourhoods are the best ones to buy into now?


Milan said...

Do you have any advice for renters? My lease is going to expire in August and I want to find somewhere better.

The Chair said...

Some interesting points, Conchie. And nice to you posting again.

Point 1 -- don't go to the burbs. I agree. Not only on the carbon footprint front, but who wants to spend their life in their car getting fat. The problem with the burbs is the seduction of space one gets for buck. I used to call the burbs anything outside of the postal code K2P but I've relaxed that somewhat.

Point 2 -- I must admit, pple should avoid yards if they're not into taking care of them. But the expansion option is something to consider.

Point 3 -- yes, definitely be careful where you buy a condo. That market has moved up the fastest in price and is likely to have more risk.

Point 4 -- The discount related to nearness to the busy street is becoming outrageous. A 2 story detached on Main St. near the canal probaly sells for 100 K cheaper than the same place around the corner. But, if you want to buy a place you intend to die in, and not resell in the near future, I'd say don't ignore such places as long as you can stand the noise.

Point 5 -- QW hum is sometimes louder a few blocks away than it is right beside it because of the sound barriers.

Point 6 -- the problem with Ottawa's market is that by the time something is defined as an Annex to the hip area, it is already become over-priced. Hooker infested neighbourhoods are the new chic. Mechanicsville is now considered the East (Wellington) Village. Puh-lease!

bob said...

I think i agree with all of this, although am a little peeved that your thoughts are similar to mine, which means there are other like minded people out there, and that alone drives prices up!! Damn annexish neighbourhoods.

I will be looking for a home in some of those annexish neighbourhoods over the next few years. When i was first looking for a home 5 years ago, mechanicsville homes were 150-200 at the most. Now it seems this is not the case. And it doesn't seem any nicer. However, with lebreton flats redev, i really think the area north of scott deserves some attention. All they need is an additional commercial strip with an ethnic/organic food mart and a restaurant or two and that'll be gold because right now its a little far to walk for that kind of stuff (just my opinion). And mabye to get rid of some of the hookers (altho i spend little time there i have no real vision into how prevalent they are).

One final thing about the theory that buying home now is a really bad idea - while you may suffer down the road if the fan hits the shit, are you really going to rent for the rest of your life just because of this risk? Thats like saying "i'm not going to smoke now because it may harm me in my old age"!!! And who does that!!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap what are you doing? An entry about something other than effete navel gazing! The irrelevants must be beside themselves wondering what to do.

Conch Shell said...

Anonymous: this is still, kind of, about us. At a recent ESI Emergency Meeting we thought we'd branch out into Ottawa housing topics, and yoga, and Larry O'Brien, as a way to increase local readership of our blog. We thought about local sports, but none of us cares enough about that. Audrey and I are both into housing stuff, so we'll see if others are too.

Woodsy said...

So, Conch Shell, any advice for me who is trying to sell her condo situated on a main road in an Ottawa suburb? Oh, and I can hear the hum of the Queensway in the summer when the windows are open...

Aggie said...

Milan: I see your renting question has been ignored. Screw them! There is no shame in renting. And you don't have to deal with all the bullshit. I say choose an interesting neighbourhood even it means paying a bit more. What I like about renting is that you can live in a neighbourhood that you wouldn't be able to afford. Don't start looking in Bell Corners or Barrhaven or some other godawful place to save yourself a few bucks.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Aggie on the renting advice. Having owned a home in the Glebe for about 5 minutes and flipped it quickly because of, um, unforseen circumstances, I learned a lot. One, how lucky I was to buy a home in there and sell it for $10,000 more than I bought it for only a few months later. Two, how effective Grapevine is. Three, that you should never buy a house under pressure (and never in order to establish the security your relationship isn't giving you). Four, all the things that I want in a house and had: a nice neighbourhood, good neighbours, proximity to downtown, exquisite decor and older fixtures, and what I didn't have, namely, a big yard, and a quiet street. Finally, five, how difficult it is to manage a house on your own. Maintenance is a huge factor and I will remember that should I ever try again. It is so much easier renting, just throwing garbage down a chute, walking out the door to easily accessible places, no shovelling, no repair bills, etc. Funny how much you learn from your mistakes . . .

zoom said...

Interesting post. I'm still a neophyte buyer living with the results of her mistakes (ie a mildly depressing neighbourhood), so I feel more qualified to give Milan some renting advice.

I agree with Aggie - choose a great neighbourhood, one that's already got most of what you want and need. Secondly, I'd stay out of highrises because they tend to be soul-less and they distance you from your neighbourhood. And third, if you're going to rent in Centretown or the 'short west' try Centretown Citizens of Ottawa Coroporation (CCOC) - great non-profit landlord, fair rents, and lots of selection. You can check out their properties on their website too - it'll save you a little running around.

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys,

this is some great advise, can you provide me any info of condos going up on Elgin.

There appears to be one really tall one going up near Lord Elgin, it may also have a theatre at its base - any info you could provide would be great.

pandora said...

I too am breaking into the Ottawa rental market this spring, so thanks for the rental advice and keep it coming...

fox said...

So, you're all in the market for condos? You're almost not worth parodying. Get the slightest bit more boring and we'll give it up.

(Not Elf. Elf never gives up.)

Audrey said...

Great tips, Conch Shell!

I think that even if renters are not yet willing to take the plunge, they should be actively following the real estate market. This is how I bought my first home.

Renters should be: reading the listings, visiting open houses, meeting with their banker to find out their borrowing limit, researching the merits of variable vs fixed interest rates, asking their friends to recommend a home inspector, and saving their excess cash in an RRSP so they have a good deposit.

Conch Shell said...

Thanks Audrey, I thought you'd approve. Fox has got a bit of attitude, don't you think? Hey, Fox, why so anti-condo? (although, I suspect Fox is just reaching out (I read that BSI blog)). And Woodsy, I'm sure it's going to go well. Really, I meant a view of the Queensway. Do you have that too?

4th Dwarf said...

Is Fox implying that the BSIs have been parodying us?

This could explain why their names all seem so similar to our names.

Woodsy said...

I have another question for Conch Shell and Audry... My agent says that I shouldn't leave pictures of family and friends out... they say that the person visiting wants to be able to picture themselves in my home... I say people want to see what kind of person presently lives in my home... Who do you think is right?
Seeking Your Wise and Expert Opinion

Asteroidea Press said...

Having looked at a fair number of houses lately, I would say leave the photos visible. I've seen a few places that took your agent's advice, and I thought they looked sterile.

But then, I'm not your target market, so there you go.

Good luck, Woodsy!

zoom said...

Woodsy, I've heard that too. I found when I was house-hunting that I liked a house more if I liked the current owner's tastes and personal touches. But the opposite was also true: sometimes I disliked a house because I got the feeling I wouldn't like its current owner. I have a feeling you have a universal appeal, so it's probably okay to leave some traces of yourself lying around so the place feels warm and homey.

Conch Shell said...

I've heard this too, repeatedly on those "Sell This House" shows I've watched while sleepless at 3 a.m. Why don't you go half-way, and just have a few photos? I can see, that if the new potential buyer isn't like you and yours, then you might be distancing them from feeling that special "at home" feeling in your house.

Mud Mama said...

We just sold, and bought a new house. In selling I made "generic pretty art" to go on the walls and took down all our family photos.
I made the living/dining/kitchen/baths as neutral as possible and the bedrooms were still full of our personalities.

We sold to an art prof who asked to keep the "generic art" I'd made! Etsy here I come!

When we were looking, I LIKED photos in the houses. The things that turned me off were cluttered walls of old graduation photos and faded baby portraits from Sears - we felt...like we would be throwing the family out on its ear - it didn't "feel" like they wanted to move. I think that kind of stagnant feeling is really hard to get past.

The house we bought needs to be completely repainted (still haven't started) because the last owner tried to follow the fashion shows and painted it a trendy green colour IN ALMOST EVERY ROOM - yes its a lovely green in daylight, at night MY HOUSE IS MINT GREEN! The other rooms are a failed attempt at chocolate brown, but really I'd call it dung hut brown.

Conch Shell said...

Mud Mama: That's seriously impressive when you create your own generic art and then an art professor wants to keep it.

Audrey said...

Woodsy: I don't think your agent is correct. I think you should leave buyers with the impression that you are a fascinating person and that they, too, will become fascinating people if they buy your home.

There must be something special about your home so that it is unforgettable.

Years ago I toured a place that really impressed me. It was very tidy and had several lovely antiques. The curtains were pushed back, letting in lots of light. There were several large, healthy plants. There was a super new tv. And, there were some unusual family photos (one was of two naked people windsurfing!). My mom and I still discuss "the luxury pad", all these years later. In fact, I bought an identical tv!

You could very easily create this look. To give your place that added look of luxury, get one of those flat-screened tvs.

p. said...

pimping your house is a great excuse for buying cool electronix, if that turns your crank.

I sold my house in the not-too-recent past. I pimped it with the expert advice of my real estate agent and it sold on first viewing. She emphasized:

-paint touch ups on trim in the main living areas downstairs
-clean, immaculate staircase in the entry hall
-functioning, sparkly pool (it was summer)
-there is no fourth thing

In addition to the above, I took time off work to exhaustively clean, 'edit', put up bland pictures, plant flowers and tidy the yard. I pressed some long-suffering relatives to work on this as well.

Then on the afternoon of the day the agent came by to take photos, I came home to find:
-a stack of erudite looking books sitting at an angle in a cosy corner of the house
-a child's hand knit tuque and small toy on the living room table
-the loveseat was at an angle

I offer up these details as a humble contribution to our collaborative knowledge-making enterprise.

Woodsy said...

Thank you all... this is great advice. I have had most of the place painted a light neutral color, and it looks good in both daylight and artificial light... all the trim has been repainted too... and I am removing all the clutter. I hope to make it look spacious, bright and homey. I want people to walk in and feel that it won't be too much work to make it their place with their colors... I will leave family photos out... just a few... but no nudes!

ginger said...

Post more about the Ottawa housing market! I found this post via google and will be keeping an eye on your blog. I think the area you were originally talking about with the expensive house is what is lovingly referred to as Ottawa's Golden Triangle - nothing there is cheap, ever.

For those interested in renting, I would suggest CCOC - http://www.ccochousing.org/ - they're my landlords and I love them. Their apartments tend to be blank slates but are easy to add character to, affordable, and in awesome locations. To be honest, they aren't the easiest to get in touch with when you are looking. I suggest visiting their offices, asking what is coming available (they will tell you as soon as they have received noticed, often giving you a heads-up on availability months in advance!).