October 18th - 2015

Don’t fear the heritage property

Heritage properties need not be a source of fear if you work in real estate. They are a substantial part of many markets across the province and one expert predicts their numbers will only increase over time.


Heritage properties need not be a source of fear if you work in real estate. They are a substantial part of many markets across the province and one expert predicts their numbers will only increase over time.

by Robert Hulley

Why do some Realtors tend to avoid dealing with heritage properties?

The short answer is that they simply want to stay within their own area of expertise and they are not familiar with the heritage market. This is quite understandable, since there are only 27,000 heritage properties in Ontario either designated under the Ontario Heritage Act or forming part of the 121 Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) in Ontario.

To put this in context, slightly more than 25,000 new condominium units were added to the Toronto housing stock in 2014 alone. It is clear that heritage properties are not the dominant entity in today’s real estate market overall.

Let's stand back and look at the heritage market for a moment. Firstly, heritage properties are not spread out evenly across the province. They are concentrated in pockets designated as HCDs, mostly in southern Ontario. In these communities, most brokers and salespeople should welcome an opportunity to deal in heritage properties since they play a bigger role in these markets. Although heritage property may not be the lifeblood of real estate everywhere in the province, it is a more substantial segment of the market in some areas than others.

"A heritage buyer is interested in unique design features for their rarity, style or type of construction materials.”

Secondly, while the standard home buyer will look at the number of rooms, bathrooms, parking, proximity to schools, etc., a heritage buyer is more interested in unique design features for their rarity, style or type of construction materials. Heritage property buyers seek a high degree of craftsmanship and elements of artistic merit. They may be ecstatic if the property has historic significance, was lived in by someone of local or national importance, or was designed or built by someone of note. They also show a keen interest in properties that are a local landmark or define the area in some manner or another.

Orangeville's commercial heritage conservation district

Although we tend to think of heritage properties as residential, the market is actually quite diverse. For example, in addition to the industrial and condominium heritage markets, there are some 7,000 commercial or commercial/residential heritage properties existing just in the current listing of HCDs. A point often overlooked is that the commercial and leasing potential on sites in these districts can be very high. Some communities such as Cobourg, Kingston, Peterborough, Port Hope, Markham, Stratford, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Old Town Toronto demonstrate the clever use of heritage properties for commercial purposes in various ways.

Another major difference between heritage property and other real estate is that the former is subject to the provisions of the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA). This legislation was introduced in Ontario in 1975 and has since been modified and improved – it underwent a major overhaul in 2004. Since the act was established, no less than 55 properties have been added under its regulations every month for the past 40 years. I expect this trend to continue with more properties added as time goes on.

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There are no particular qualifications that a Realtor must possess in order to work in the heritage market, although perhaps there should be. That is the position taken by The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), which has long recognized that Realtors are the front line of the industry in dealing with people who wish to acquire or sell heritage properties. Therefore, the ACO has recently launched a non-certificate program offering seminars to Realtors who wish to enhance their knowledge of the heritage field.

Several seminars for Realtors have already been offered and more are planned for the future. In April 2014, a seminar was organized by the ACO and its Chatham-Kent branch. In Kitchener-Waterloo, the ACO seminar last fall was delivered in three separate seminars. All of these were conducted with the support and participation of the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Tania Benninger, communications and government relations manager at the Kitchener-Waterloo Association of Realtors, noted that “The Kitchener-Waterloo series was extremely well received by approximately 30 Realtors who took advantage of these unique field trips. They heard a variety of speakers covering a full range of topics relating to heritage real estate. Many who attended clearly had an existing interest in and appreciation for the value of heritage homes. Others left with a newfound appreciation and can now better recognize and uncover the potential of the heritage market.”

Robert Hulley

Over the years, there have been many twists and turns in the real estate market. Who knows what the next 10 or 20 years may bring? The one thing that has not changed and will likely only improve in the future is the skill and good judgment provided by Realtors who are fully trained and motivated to do their jobs well.

Robert Hulley is past president of the Credit-Humber branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, a retired Toronto Realtor and a frequent writer on heritage issues.

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