• Ownership costs on the rise again in the third quarter: Mortgage rate increases and modest appreciation in home prices drove up RBC’s aggregate affordability measure for Canada by 2.8 percentage points to 62.5%. (A rise in the measure represents a loss of affordability.) This reversed a modest improvement in the second quarter.
  • At or near worst-ever affordability levels in many markets: The situation is particularly tense in Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto where the costs of owning a home are sky-high. Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax also face challenging affordability conditions.
  • No exception to the recent deterioration: All markets we track saw their affordability measures rise in the third quarter. Vancouver and Toronto recorded the biggest increases.
  • Hopeful signs on the horizon: The softening in the housing market since summer is now giving way to price declines in parts of Canada. And with growing expectations the Bank of Canada’s next move will be a rate cut, there’s some scope for a reduction in ownership costs in the period ahead. Any improvement in affordability over the coming year, though, is likely to be modest and leave budget-constrained buyers wanting.

A smaller share of household can afford to buy

The significant loss of affordability during the pandemic has shrunk the pool of homebuyers in Canada. Close to 60% of all households could afford to own at least a regular condo apartment in 2019 based on their income. That share has plummeted to 45% in 2023. An even tinier 26% could now afford a (relatively more expensive) single-family home.

The national picture masks wide variations on a provincial basis, however. Between 70% and 80% of households could afford to own a modest home (condo) in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 2023. That proportion was slightly above 50% in Nova Scotia and Quebec, and well below that in pricier Ontario and British Columbia. The differences are sharper when it comes to owning a single-family home. Approximately 10% of British Columbia households and 22% of Ontario households have sufficient income to own a home in that category. This compares to around 60% in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick. And closer to 50% in Alberta, PEI, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

It’s no wonder the housing market has been softest in Ontario and British Columbia this year.

Modest relief in view…

The good news is the latest bout of housing affordability deterioration has likely run its course and the third quarter will prove to be the cyclical-worst point for RBC’s affordability measure. We see the situation improving from now on as home prices drift lower or stabilize in the majority of markets, and household income continue to grow at a solid pace. The trend will become even friendlier once the Bank of Canada starts cutting rates—around mid-year in our view.

…but the weight will remain considerable

Nonetheless, there’s a very long way to go before affordability is meaningfully restored. Buyers in many of Canada’s large markets will contend with extremely difficult conditions for some time. We expect home resale activity to stay especially quiet in Ontario and British Columbia until interest rates fall materially. And then, the recovery that will follow is likely to be gradual at first. Buyers in other markets may respond more quickly to easing rates. Those in the Prairies (including Calgary) still display strong confidence levels at this juncture.

Victoria – Bar still extremely high for buyers

So much for the slight gains in affordability in the first two quarters of this year. They were entirely reversed in the third. RBC’s aggregate measure rose 2.8 percentage points to 76.1%¬¬ last quarter—setting a new all-time worst level for the area. Such a high bar to homeownership is pushing many potential buyers to the sidelines. Home resales fell close to a decade low this fall (excluding the pandemic shutdown period). The resulting weakening in demand-supply conditions is now dampening property values. Victoria’s benchmark price has started to edge lower lately—a trend we expect will extend into the first half of 2024.

Vancouver area – Worst-ever conditions take a serious toll

The already-dire situation got worse for buyers last quarter. A typical household needed to allocate a further 4.4 percentage points of its income to cover the costs of owning an average home at current prices and interest rates. In fact, the entire income of that (median) household wasn’t enough, as RBC’s aggregate affordability measure clocked in at an astounding 102.6%. The only viable option for most ordinary buyers remains a less expensive condo apartment though even this is a stretch for many. Home transaction activity is now cooling again after rebounding surprisingly this spring. And prices are coming off their summer’s peak. We think the downward drift could pick up velocity in the near term in the face of excessive unaffordability pressures.

Calgary – Long-standing advantage is diminishing

Calgary’s affordability position compares well to other major markets but its advantage is diminishing. RBC’s aggregate measure for the area jumped 3.0 percentage points in the third quarter—the third-largest increase among the markets we track. At 47.6%, the measure could soon surpass that in Ottawa as the fifth least favourable in the country. The rapid deterioration stems in part from tight demand-supply conditions. Calgary has been Canada’s housing hotspot in 2023. And with inventories persistently low, this has kept property values on a steady incline. We expect this uptrend to continue, though more balanced demand-supply conditions are likely to slow the pace down.

Edmonton – Buyers remain undeterred

Similar pressures are building in Edmonton as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Rising prices since summer have turned the heat up on ownership costs, causing RBC’s aggregate affordability measure to rise 2.0 percentage points to a 15-year high of 36.7% in the third quarter. To date, homebuyer demand has stayed solid. Home resales remain more than 50% above pre-pandemic levels and far outpace new supply. We think it would take a significantly larger loss of affordability to deter buyers at this stage given the strength in the provincial economy and demographic trends.

Saskatoon – Market’s resilience being tested

The market has proved quite resilient this year in the face of high interest rates. Transactions to date have been essentially flat compared to a year ago. Still, momentum has slowed this fall. No doubt mounting ownership costs are beginning to weigh more heavily on buyers. RBC’s aggregate affordability measure has gone up considerably over the past two and a half years, reaching a 15-year high of 35.7% in the third quarter. We think a further moderation in resale activity is in the cards in the near term, which should temper price appreciation.

Regina – In full flight

While some of the same trends are playing out in Regina, the market isn’t yet showing any signs of softening. Home resales are running more than 40% above pre-pandemic levels and demand-supply conditions are as tight as ever in the late stages of 2023. Clearly, buyers feel confident and Regina’s good affordability picture may be a strongly contributing factor. Despite rising since 2021, RBC’s aggregate measure isn’t far off historical norms for the area and remains one of the best among the markets we track. We expect conditions will continue to support mild price increases in the period ahead.

Winnipeg – Tipping over to the softer side

The spring market rebound was short lived. By fall, unambiguous signs of easing had emerged for resale activity, prices and demand-supply conditions. We think they’re a direct result of high interest rates and the toughest affordability environment since 1992. RBC’s aggregate measure ticked 1.2-percentage points higher to 32.8% in the third quarter—fully reversing the prior two quarters’ (tiny) declines. The outlook is for more of the same in the near term. We see room for prices to fall modestly until interest rate cuts next year stimulate demand and heat up property values.

Toronto area – Ownership costs reach crushing levels

Solid price advances this summer made a tough situation even tougher for Toronto buyers. The appreciation amplified the toll exerted by higher interest rates, and cranked up ownership costs to crushing levels. RBC’s aggregate measure soared 4.2 percentage points to 84.1% in the third quarter—easily surpassing the previous all-time high set at the end of 2022. This swiftly put an end to the spring rally and weighed heavily on resale activity this fall. Demand-supply conditions have swung sharply in favour of buyers as a result. Prices have recently come under renewed downward pressure. We expect this pressure to remain in effect over coming months.

Ottawa – Buyers have pulled back

Buyers also struggle with the high cost of owning a home in Ottawa. They would have needed to spend a near-record 48.4% of their income to carry the payments on an average home bought in the third quarter (RBC’s aggregate affordability measure). This was up 1.7 percentage points from the second quarter. Buyers have pulled back significantly since summer. This has taken home resales down to near decade-low levels lately and significantly eased demand-supply conditions. We expect prices to come under downward pressure in the period ahead as a result. There are in fact signs of such already emerging in the latter stages of 2023.

Montreal area – Harsh reality weighs on the market

The harsh reality set back in this fall: the historic loss of affordability during the pandemic is taking masses of potential buyers out of the market. Further deterioration in the third quartet—RBC’s aggregate measure rose 1.3 percentage points to 51.9%, or just a touch below the area’s all-time high—thwarted the market recovery that took off in the first half of 2023. Home resales have so far reversed almost two-thirds of that rally, and prices have recently levelled off. We see little that will turn things around quickly. We expect transaction activity to stay soft and prices flat until interest rates move materially lower.

Quebec City – Vibrancy sustained despite it all

The story is still one of resilience. High interest rates and strained affordability conditions haven’t dampened buyers’ enthusiasm much to date. Transactions continue to run above year-ago levels and generally low inventories are keeping prices on a modest upward trajectory. Owning a home is a bigger financial commitment than it’s been in decades in the area but compares favourably to larger markets such as Montreal. RBC’s aggregate affordability measure inched 0.7 percentage points higher to 34.4% in the third quarter.

Saint John – Higher costs, low supply holding buyers back

Market action has calmed down substantially over the past year. Buyers are no doubt put off by the sharp rise in ownership costs that’s taken place since 2021. RBC’s aggregate measure clocked in at 30.2% in the third quarter, just shy of an all-time high for the area and up from 21.5% two years ago. But they may also be frustrated by persistently low supply. New listings have lingered around 18-year lows (excluding the pandemic lockdown period) this year. This has kept demand-supply conditions especially tight for this stage of the cycle. Prices continue to trend modestly upwards as a result though we think some moderation may be in store in the period ahead.

Halifax – Cost pressures weigh heavily on the market

Market activity has slumped a great deal this year as Halifax buyers face higher cost pressures. Pricier real estate and soaring interest rates have propelled RBC’s aggregate affordability measure for the area to its worst-ever level (44.2% in the third quarter)—a situation that is forcing many buyers to the sidelines. The slump is also partly attributable to a lack of supply. New listings are down 14% so far this year. Despite the softness in sales, demand-supply conditions remain tight, and prices are still trending up at this juncture. But the days of this tightness may be numbered. Housing starts have soared 38% to date in 2023 and this is poised to bring more supply to market in 2024.

St. John’s – Maintaining a favourable position

The market is holding up well when compared to most others across Canada. Home resales lately have been running more than 25% above pre-pandemic levels. Prices continue to appreciate at a decent clip amid strong competition between buyers and low inventories. It must be said that owning a home in St. John’s is generally affordable. In fact, it is the most affordable among the markets we track. RBC’s aggregate measure for the area was just 27.9% in the third quarter—a fraction of the 62.5% average in Canada. Such a favourable position is likely to sustain solid demand in the period ahead.

Read the full Housing Trends and Affordability report for extensive market-by-market analysis.

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