As a real estate agent active in Hillcrest Village since 1989 Josie Stern says she sees a fundamental and newfound strength in the local market.
„I can't say I can compare this place to any other.“
That was the response when I asked Josie Stern how Hillcrest Village stacks up against other neighbourhoods in Toronto. And she would know. Stern has been selling real estate in and around the area for more than 20 years, and has watched the area change and change again since her first sale on Wychwood Avenue.
That was in 1989, Stern was still a rookie when she signed on to help a family sell their home in what she would soon realize was a declining market.
“They entrusted me with the sale of their house,” says Stern. “I wanted desperately not to let them down, but the market was tanking quickly and I had little experience. I had a mountain to climb. Buyers were nowhere to be found. So I marketed the heck out of that property.”
The house did eventually sell, but Stern's uphill battle wasn't over. The market was faltering, and the area didn't yet have the appeal it boasts today.
“It was hard to lure buyers – the few that existed – away from more established neighbourhoods,” recalls Stern of the challenge. “They didn't recognize the benefits of living here. To them it just wasn't yuppie or trendy enough.”
In the mid-'90's, houses that were valued over $300,000 were selling for as low as $230,000. But today, with the turn-around in the market and the neighbourhood's stock rising quickly, some of those same houses are now being valued at over $800,000.
Stern says the drastic changes began in 1996: ”After years of market doldrums, it turned into a seller's market. Prices started climbing heavily in the other parts of the city, so Hillcrest Village was being revisited more seriously by buyers.
“But by 2002, prices were climbing faster in Hillcrest than any other area,” she recalls. ”Cajoled by developments along St. Clair, the many festivals that expose the best of the community, delectable restaurants and bakeries, great gift shops that collectively gave people a taste of the Hillcrest experience, buyers began to see for themselves just how special this community is.”
While the streetcar has helped make St. Clair more accessible, Stern knows there are other pieces that have helped define the area, where new housing developments and businesses pop up continually.
“The opening of our cherished Wychwood Barns has done more to promote this community and bring it together than anything I can remember in the last 20 years,” Stern says. “People love going there with their children, catching up with neighbours, exchanging recipes and stories about their lives, and experiencing the weekly farmers' market. Wychwood Barns has cemented our community.
“And the much-needed Forest Hill, Rise and Rushton condominium developments on St. Clair and The Hill in Cedarvale have allowed older residents to stay in the area instead of moving to areas that offer them that kind of lifestyle. I can't tell you how many times older residents tell me, proudly, that they are moving to one of these buildings.”
So with the experience of over 20 years under her belt, where does Stern see the area heading?
“Today, the majority of people moving to Hillcrest Village are young, professional singles and couples between the age of 25 to 35. They either have no children, are expecting their first, or have just one young child. Many come from the Annex, from North Toronto, Forest Hill, Leaside and the 905 area code. I believe this trend will continue. A younger, more active community will continue to come here, and it will be mostly made up of young professionals and two-income families in a higher earning bracket who have disposable income to spend on lifestyle living and on their children.
Stern has been an active participant in the community since her first sale on Wychwood Avenue. She knows that times may get tough again, but says the area will always pull through.
“We want this prosperity to continue, but it will inevitably be affected by the normal ups and down of capital markets,” she says. “However we're a stronger community than we were in 1989. We're a more bonded and open-minded community, and we will stick together through the good times and the bad.”
by Nicholas Prospero
Originally printed in the Village Living Magazine in April, 2012.