Scarborough: The GTA's hidden gem

Scarborough in Toronto's east end hasn't had the best reputation, hence its nicknames, Scarberia, Scarlem and Scareborough.

Toronto residents often poke fun of the borough as a crime-ridden, unsafe area. However, Scarborough is getting the last laugh. Throughout the years it has evolved into a desirable location for major employers, such as Telus Mobility, Scarborough General Hospital, Centennial College, University of Toronto - Scarborough Campus, as well as Torontonians looking for a short commute downtown and reasonably priced housing.

Located approximately 17 km east of downtown Toronto, Scarborough is bound by Lake Ontario to the south, Steeles Ave. to the north, the Rouge River to the east and Victoria Park Avenue to the west. The modern City of Scarborough, Ontario, was officially incorporated as a township on Jan, 1, 1850, as a borough on Jan.1st, 1967, as a city in June of 1983 and was officially amalgamated into the City of Toronto on Jan.1, 1998.

Today more than half a million people call it home. When it comes to choosing an area within Scarborough, Anna Michaelidis, real estate broker at Royal LePage Urban Realty, points to Wexford as a sound investment. Wexford, located in MLS District: E04, is bound by Eglinton Ave E. north to Ellesmere Rd between Victoria Park Ave. and Birchmount Rd.

Wexford began in the 1840's as a community at the Lawrence and Pharmacy Avenue crossroads, with a hotel owned by an immigrant from Wexford County, Ireland. The area has been plagued with many highrise low-income rental buildings that run along major arteries such as Victoria Park and Lawrence.

It's also home to some dodgy commercial plazas that run along Lawrence Ave that sat partially vacant in recent years. However, the area has evolved throughout the years and flourished into a neighbourhood that many young professionals and families can call home. Wexford has seen some positive changes over the last few years. Eglinton has undergone a complete transformation in the last few years thanks to several city blocks of shopping (Wal-Mart Superstore, Lowes, GAP, Starbucks, restaurants (East Side Marios, Tim Hortons) and entertainment (Cineplex Theatre) stretching from Pharmacy to Warden and now continuing onto Birchmount.

Wexford is also easily accessible to Toronto via car or public transit. For drivers, the area is a five-minute drive to Hwy 401 and the Don Valley Parkway, which connects to the entire City of Toronto in 15 or 20 minutes on a good traffic day. There are also countless bus stops throughout the neighbourhood connecting to Victoria Park and Warden subway stations as well as the GO Station. "And, unless future politics gets in the way," adds Michaelidis, "the plan seems to be in place for the Eglinton subway extension to connect to Wexford directly."

Although Victoria Park and Lawrence Ave still have a high density of lowrise and highrise rental buildings, the side streets are filled with proud homeowners (approximately 70%). The majority of the homes in Wexford were constructed in the 1950s and 60s and are mainly a mix of bungalows and one-and-a-half-storey houses. Detached three-bedroom bungalows are the majority (over 90%) in the area. Many of the homes in the area also feature finished basements with separate entrances, many of which have rental units for extra income.

Vacancy rates in Wexford have been in line with Scarborough's vacancy rate which is holding steady at 2.3%. "Rentals in and around the Wexford neighbourhood are in demand because of the accessibility, proximity to downtown, shopping and amenities," says Michaelidis. Rents tend to average higher in Wexford than the rest of Scarborough.

A one-bedroom in Wexford rents for $950, compared to $849 in Scarborough and a two-bedroom in Wexford garners approximately $1,050, compared to $967 in Scarborough. In addition, with its generous lot sizes, Wexford has also become a popular spot for homeowners looking to build their custom homes close to the city. "Many streets have already started to see second floor top-ups going up in record time," says Michaelidis. "Not only on the side streets but also on the major arteries, within the last year there have been several top-ups popping up along Pharmacy as well."

Homeowners are finding they have extra money for neighbourhood-enhancing renovations since house prices in the area are so reasonable - especially compared to Toronto standards. "An entry-level home (mid-high $300,000s) gets you a solid post- Second World War brick bungalow on a generous lot (by Toronto standards) with private parking," Michaelidis says. "The d‚cor at this price point may be a bit retro but many of these homes have been lovingly maintained by original owners." As of June 1, the average price for a home in Wexford is $390,367, up from $368,564 in 2010.

Bungalows and one-and-a-half-story houses start in the mid to high $300,000s for a fixer-upper and move into the mid to high $400,000s for something updated and move-in ready.

Many of the new construction two-storey homes are going in the $700,000 range. "If we continue to see values soar as they have in the last few years, Wexford's average price today, $396,043, will shoot up close to the $500,000 mark in the next three years," says Michaelidis. "Its future is looking good."

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