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Affordability has many Canadians considering major moves

60 per cent of renters surveyed in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver could be lured by lower costs of living: Royal LePage

Karen Yolevski, the COO of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd. (Courtesy Royal LePage)

Half of respondents from the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal areas would consider moving to one of Canada’s 15 most affordable cities if they were able to find a job or work remotely, according to a Royal LePage survey.

The online poll of 900 adults living in the three major Canadian cities found a desire for a lower cost of living is driving the trend (57 per cent), and people currently renting their homes were the most likely to say they would pack up and move (60 per cent).

Edmonton and Quebec City are among the most popular destinations.

The most affordable city, as defined by Royal LePage based on the percentage of income required to meet a monthly mortgage payment, is Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario, followed by Saint John's, and then Red Deer, Alta. Edmonton is in fifth place; Quebec City in eighth place.

“Many aspiring homeowners in the country's largest and priciest urban centres are seriously considering relocating to less expensive cities in order to get a foot on the property ladder," Karen Yolevski, the COO of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., said in a release.

Even as high housing prices are leading many to consider leaving, she said demand for housing in the three major metros remains high. A supply-demand imbalance is posing a “major challenge” for people wishing to enter these markets, Yolevski added.

Where people want to move

In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 51 per cent said they would consider moving to a more affordable city. Slightly more respondents in the Greater Montreal Area - 54 per cent - said the same. Residents in Greater Vancouver were more likely to intend to stay put, with 45 per cent of respondents saying they would move for affordability.

Regional differences were identified in the data. “Despite the high cost of housing, residents from Greater Vancouver are the most likely to want to stay put, with 46 per cent saying they would not consider moving, compared to 40 per cent in the Greater Montreal Area and 37 per cent in the GTA,” Royal LePage writes.

Edmonton topped the list of potential destinations for GTA residents at 19 per cent, followed by Thunder Bay at 15 per cent and St. John’s at 14 per cent.

Residents of Greater Montreal named Quebec City (29 per cent), Sherbrooke (15 per cent) and Trois-Rivières (12 per cent) as their choices – all cities within Quebec.

Like GTA residents, Edmonton was the top choice for people living in Greater Vancouver at 19 per cent, with St. John’s (13 per cent) and Thunder Bay (nine per cent) as the next two.

In Thunder Bay, 22.2 per cent of household monthly income is required to fund an average mortgage payment.

Edmonton, the most popular choice among respondents in the GTA and Greater Vancouver, will offer a “family-sized home on a sizable lot within proximity to desirable amenities” on a budget of $500,000, Royal LePage says. Here, 28.9 per cent of a household's monthly income would be required to service a mortgage payment.

Quebec City, the top choice for Montrealers, requires an average of 30.8 per cent of household monthly income for a mortgage payment.

Why people want to move

Economics is the top factor behind the desire to move.

"In today's higher borrowing cost environment, where the price of everyday goods has increased in tandem with interest rates, homebuyers are considering buying a home in a more affordable community," Yolevski said.

She also notes the prevalence of remote work, which enables some people to search for more affordable housing without affecting their ability to do their jobs.

Lifestyle showed up as a key factor. Being closer to nature and away from densely populated areas (41 per cent), or seeking a more relaxed pace of life (40 per cent) were priorities identified in the survey.

Yolevski said Canadians are looking for a “break from the hustle and bustle of urban centres". This is a trend that began before the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerated from 2020 to 2021 because people could have more privacy, living space and exposure to the outdoors.

Such lifestyle factors stand out in Thunder Bay and St. John’s, Royal LePage writes.

“With its variety of recreational activities and beautiful landscapes, St. John's offers a relaxed lifestyle away from the so-called rat race,” Jerry Boyles, a sales representative for Royal LePage Property Consultants in St. John's, said in the report.

Though a significant number of Canadians in the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver areas are considering a move, Royal LePage also found 40 per cent do not want to leave for the most affordable cities. Homeowners were the likeliest to express this stance at 47 per cent, compared to 30 per cent of renters.

Jobs and lifestyle keep people in the biggest cities, Yolevski said, so demand will remain high for housing in Canada’s metropoles. But this also indicates a problem, she continued.

“The fundamental supply-demand imbalance poses a major challenge for those attempting to access these markets, underscoring the crucial need to build more homes faster in markets of all sizes."

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