Home ownership for less than $1M in: Bowmanville

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First in a three-part series pinpointing areas in the GTA where home ownership is still in reach for less than $1 million.

In 2021, Fiona Pollock was living with her husband, daughter and dogs in Whitby, when an “explosion” of new development along Highway 412 brought big-city problems to the town of 130, 000.

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“All of a sudden, the traffic was insane,” she said. “People had always been respectful, but all of a sudden people were cutting me off, honking. It really lost that small-town feeling it used to have.”

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Because of this, Pollock and her family decided to move. In the whirlwind real estate market of the pandemic, it took her and her husband six months to find a “nice, large, quiet property” ­where they could raise their family. In the fall of 2022, they found it at last, thirty kilometres east in the town of Bowmanville.

After listing their home in Whitby for over $1 million, they purchased their dream bungalow on a much larger lot in Bowmanville for $764,000.

“Even though it was built in 1969, (the previous owners) redid the kitchen, the windows are new, and it backs onto a ravine,” Pollock said. “It’s beautiful.”

Bowmanville is one of a handful of towns and rural hamlets that make up the municipality of Clarington.  Roughly the same size as the City of Toronto but with less than half the population of Whitby, Clarington is known for its booming energy sector, expansive trails and green spaces, and tight-knit community.

“There’s lots to do.” Pollock said.  “We’ve got farms close by, Algoma Orchards where we can get fresh pies, and a place called Archibald’s that does the best cider. The town is full of these little gems. And the thing is, if we need anything else, we can always go to Oshawa, which is a 10-minute drive on the highway. We’ve loved living here.”

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Numbers “that have never been heard of”

Pollock’s family is one of hundreds who have made Bowmanville home in the past few years. Between 2016 and 2021, the population of the relatively small town increased 16 percent, from just under 49,000 to nearly 57,000. It is the fastest-growing municipality in Durham region.

Derek Hooper, a real estate agent from Home Choice Realty who has been selling homes in the region since 2007, says demand for housing in Bowmanville reached new heights during the pandemic.

“As soon as we went into lockdowns, people stopped listing their homes,” he says, pointing to the main reason for increased competition in the market. “This accumulated into a massive amount of buyers. We were getting 20 to 30 offers per house, numbers that have never been heard of.”

According to the Durham Region Association of Realtors, the average price of a home in Clarington (the municipality encompassing Bowmanville, Newcastle and Courtice) was just over $600,000 in March 2020 when the pandemic struck.

By March 2021, this figure had ballooned to $827,000, and would continue to steadily rise over the following months. Prices peaked early the following year, with the average home in Clarington going for over $1.1 million in Feb. 2022.

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Since then, following a slew of interest rate hikes, demand has slowed.

“Buyers right now are not as aggressive as they once were,” Hooper explains. “They’re very uncertain about the market. It’s kind of mellowed out.”

As of Sept. 2023, the average price of a home in Clarington sits at just over $850,000.

The owners of 1651 Nash Rd., Unit 5A, asked $629,900 for their three-bedroom bungalow in Courtice. Photo by Supplied

Housing the fastest-growing municipality in Durham

Carlos Salazar, director of Planning and Infrastructure for the Municipality of Clarington, says Bowmanville’s natural landscapes and community spirit make it a perfect place to raise a family.

“From downtown Bowmanville, you are five minutes away from a creek where you can fish for salmon,” he said. “There are beautiful agricultural areas where you can visit blueberry farms or have a nice coffee and cake in a rural hamlet. It has a wonderful mix of urban and rural areas that is not at all like other dominant urban centres.”

To retain this quality of life, Salazar says, the municipality is developing the region with access to nature in mind.

“We’re trying to design our new neighbourhoods so that parks, community facilities and trails are within walking distance,” he says.

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The municipality is also focused on developing a range of housing types to accommodate the region’s rapidly growing population.

“We’re in a crisis of affordable housing, and the only way out of it is to develop housing as fast as possible,” Salazar said. “So, we’re seeing higher-density developments that allow for different types of households. This includes allowing additional dwelling units within single family homes, which has been received well by residents.”

Higher-density sites are planned around transit corridors, particularly the forthcoming GO Train extension to Bowmanville.

“It’s not just families, but couples and young people who are also moving to Bowmanville, and we’re trying to provide housing for all those people.”

With the rise of remote work, the expansion of the Darlington nuclear power plant, which supplies 20 per cent of Ontario’s energy, and Bowmanville’s existing family-friendly infrastructure, Salazar anticipates the town will see continued growth.

As for Fiona Pollock, she says in Bowmanville, her family found the small-town feeling they were always looking for.

“We’ve got fantastic neighbours, and everybody wants to know everybody,” she said.  “People aren’t doing 70 in a 40 zone, and we’re a five-minute walk from anything we need.”

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