20 Best Neighbourhoods: Five great options for first-time home buyers

First-timers, I assume, are concerned mainly about price. If a neighbourhood offers lots of housing close to or under the average February 2012 sale price, that caught my attention. But price doesn’t mean merely the price of the house. If it’s a steal but it’s so far out that you have to spend hundreds of dollars a month on gas just to get to work and the grocery store, it’s a bit of a false economy. So I also took into account such variables as car use and nearby amenities.

One thing is clear: if you’ve been renting with three roommates in Centretown and you dream of buying a place where you can still walk home from Elgin Street, your options are limited. Forget about a house unless you have a trust fund. You could get a condo apartment, but if you’re hoping to spend under $300,000, it will probably be so small that you’ll have to keep your cat on the roof and store your winter clothes in the oven. But if you’re willing to trade urban glamour for a bit of elbow room in a safe neighbourhood, here are five spots to consider.

Borden Farm/Stewart Farm/Carleton Heights/Parkwood Hills
Where: Bordered by Merivale Road, Meadowlands Drive, Viewmount Drive, Coolspring Crescent, Valley Ridge Street, and Fisher Avenue
OREB code: 7202
Condo prices: $157,900-$379,900
Condos available: 6
Non-condo prices: $294,900-$989,500
Non-condos available: 10
People who got to work by car: 72.3 percent

It’s easy to make fun of the hideous stretch of Merivale Road from Baseline Road to Hunt Club Road and beyond. While it’s true that it’s never going to win any design awards, the strip is chock full of useful stores. If you move to this collection of neighbourhoods east of Merivale, they’ll be on your doorstep — and Hog’s Back Park and Mooney’s Bay will be in your backyard. The main attractions of this area for first-time buyers are the condo apartments along Meadowlands Drive, along with a smattering of small townhouses throughout the area. It’s far from the richest community in Ottawa, but crime rates are low and only five percent of the houses need major repairs, lower than the city average. Direct — if somewhat pokey — buses link the ’hood to Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, and downtown. It’s a reasonably priced choice for budget-conscious buyers who think anything beyond the Greenbelt is practically Mars. And if you’re an empty-nest pensioner rather than a 20-something, you won’t be the only Zoomer reader in the neighbourhood: 25 percent of the locals are 55 or over.

If not here, then … On the other side of the Rideau, Riverside Park/Mooney’s Bay also has a good selection of condos at somewhat higher prices — that nice view of the water will cost you.

Glen Cairn/Hazeldean
Where: Bordered by Terry Fox Drive, the Greenbelt, Fernbank Road, Eagleson Road, and
Hazeldean Road
OREB code: 9003
Condo prices: n/a
Condos available: 0
Non-condo prices: $225,000-$384,900
Non-condos available: 16
People who got to work by car: 76.3 percent

If you have your heart set on a freehold house rather than a condo, Glen Cairn/Hazeldean gives you a lot of bang for your buck. The post-war neighbourhood — 70 percent of the housing stock was built between 1960 and 1980 — boasts leafy streets, good-sized lots, and access to decent shopping along the Hazeldean Road strip. The Ron Maslin Playhouse, home of the Kanata Theatre, is located just north of the neighbourhood in Katimavik. And you can take the back route home from Scotiabank Place, avoiding the Queensway pre- and post-game traffic jams. Though it’s a fairly car-centric neighbourhood, there is a park-and-ride Transitway station at Eagleson Road and the Queensway, offering direct service to downtown. One note of caution: do be sure to do your due diligence and get a house inspector before buying. Parts of the neighbourhood have been bedevilled by leaky basements ever since an epic flood in 2009.

Added bonus: You’re a stone’s throw from Stony Swamp Conservation Area with its popular Old
Quarry Trail.

Hunt Club Park/Greenboro
Where: Bordered by Albion Road, Hunt Club Road, Conroy Road, and Johnston Road
OREB code: 3806
Condo prices: $162,900-$279,900
Condos available: 10
Non-condo prices: $280,000-$649,900
Non-condos available: 16
People who got to work by car: 73.8 percent

To the west and north, the surroundings aren’t encouraging: South Keys and Heron Gate are two neighbourhoods with a bad rep for crime (property crimes were 125.1 per 1,000 in 2006). But once you cross Albion Road, things improve considerably on that score. In this relatively young neighbourhood — 90 percent of the houses were built after 1970 — you’ll find a good range of condos and freehold townhouses. It’s a short drive or bus ride to the big-box stores, cinemas, Transitway stations, and O-Train station at Greenboro/South Keys. If you’re planning to drive downtown daily, however, you’ll likely find traffic an issue.

Added bonus: Animal lovers love Pine Grove Park. As well as Conroy Pit, a popular off-leash dog park, Pine Grove also has almost 10 kilometres of equestrian trails. After your walk or ride, O’Grady’s Outpost at Albion and Johnson has some of the best pub grub in the city.

Orleans Wood/Convent Glen North
Where: Bordered by Orleans Boulevard, Highway 174, Champlain Street, and the Ottawa River
OREB code: 2003 and 2005
Condo prices: $147,900-$269,900
Condos available: 16
Non-condo prices: $284,900-$639,900
Non-condos available: 5
People who got to work by car: 62.5 percent

Orleans Wood (north of Jeanne d’Arc Boulevard) has more condos and slightly lower prices than the section of Convent Glen North immediately south. But both offer a lot of advantages for the price. A quick drive or bus ride takes you to Orleans Town Centre and Place d’Orleans, where you’ll find the 28,000-square-foot Ruddy Family Y, a Mayfair rep cinema, and the busy Shenkman Arts Centre. The Transitway station at Place d’Orleans offers direct bus service to downtown. It’s also one of Ottawa’s more bilingual neighbourhoods, with 52 percent of residents speaking both English and French. And if you’re looking for a newish house that isn’t a handyman special, you’re in luck. Just two percent of the housing stock here was built before 1970, and the area’s owners are largely house-proud. According to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (, only 2.2 percent of the houses need major repairs, compared with the city-wide average of 5.9 percent.

If not here, then … Queenswood Heights, on the south side of Highway 174, is even closer to the amenities at Place d’Orleans but has fewer condos (just five were for sale when we checked in March) and slightly higher prices.

Riverside South/Gloucester Glen
Where: Bordered by the Rideau River, Mitch Owens Road, Limebank Road, and the Black Rapids Locks
OREB code: 2602
Condo prices: $235,000-$249,900
Condos available: 5
Non-condo prices: $299,900-$1,899,900
Non-condos available: 45
People who got to work by car: 87.3 percent

This is the most car-centric area in our first-timers list. Transit access to this far-flung neighbourhood is — how should I put this? — atrocious. As a result, almost nine out of 10 residents get to work by car. So why did it make the cut? Because if you want an almost new condo townhouse for under $250,000 and you value green space over urban amenities, you’ll find a lot to like in Riverside South. It’s growing by leaps and bounds — it can feel as though the paint is barely dry on most of it — but the Rideau River is lined with parks. The drive south from the airport still has a rural vibe — for now, anyway. The project is in flux, but residents hope 2012 brings the opening of the bridge over the Rideau, which will link Earl Armstrong Road to Strandherd Drive in Barrhaven. To the big-box stores!

If not here, then … On the other edge of the city, Avalon on the southeast side of Orleans has a similar range of almost new condos at similar prices, but not the adjacent riverfront — you’ll have to drive about six kilometres north along Trim Road to get to Petrie Island Park.