LISTEN: Real Estate Reality: Neighbours fed up with vacancies, monster home flips

There's the unassuming blue-doored cottage. The tidy mid-century bungalow. The sprawling new build, two storeys of stone and brick.

They're all on the same Banburry/Don Mills area street, just north of the Shops at Don Mills. At each of them if you knock you will find no one at home. All of them are owned by buyers who have never moved in.

This week NEWSTALK 1010 is bringing you "Real Estate Reality", a series of stories focused on selling, buying and renting homes in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Ontario government plans to try to discourage foreign investors from snatching up Toronto homes with no intention of building a life in the city with a 15% "non-resident speculation tax". Officials have not been able to say how many houses and condo units in the city are vacant. Mayor John Tory has speculated the number could be as high as 65,000.

Steve Skandalis, a real estate agent with Royal LePage who lives on the vacancy-dotted street says an unprecedented five homes have sold there since January. Two of them remain vacant. A third has been leased out by its new owners.

"It's terrible," says Irina, motioning with her cigarette to a vacant home two doors down from her own. "It doesn't feel like a neighbourhood...it used to be very friendly."

Skandalis calls this a close-knit community where neighbours barbeque together and stop to chat while walking their dogs. It is part of why it hurts to see his own former home, a few doors down from his new place, sit empty.

"It is kind of hard sometimes to drive by and see it vacant, and just nobody there," Skandalis tells NEWSTALK 1010 looking up at the darkened house.

It's been that way for about a year.

Wanting some distance from the business side of selling, Skandalis and his wife recruited an agent friend to represent them through the process.

"(The buyers are) an Asian family, they do have children. We were told and we were under the impression that they were going to move in and join the neighbourhood. But we had our doubts."

It's a pattern another neighbour who did not want to give his name is tired of seeing repeated. He stands in his sock feet at the end of his driveway pointing out all the homes that are currently vacant or have been for long stretches of time in recent years.

"My intention to live here is to raise a family, not to speculate on real estate or anything like that. You get all these people coming here under the ruse of living here," he says, exasperated. "It's a little disheartening that everything's changing."

He lives next-door to one of the new-build "monster" home flips neighbours complain are supplanting the street's modest mid-century homes.

Neighbours are also frustrated that they're being hounded for their sought-after postal code by wannabe-buyers, developers and real estate agents.

Skandalis says he has had people show up on his doorstep, children in tow asking to buy his home. On the day NEWSTALK 1010 spoke with her, Irina said she had shooed away two agents with some choice four letter words. Her neighbour has stopped answering the door if he isn't expecting visitors.

As an agent, Skandalis isn't sure about the effectiveness of a foreign speculators' tax to cool the Toronto housing market.

"But I do think we're getting close to the point where something needs to be done."

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