Despite pandemic, Canadians spending extravagantly on homes

by Neil Sharma on 26 Feb 2021

Purchasers are spending money on more expensive homes in Canada’s biggest cities and it’s trickling down the ladder, making housing more prohibitive for the people most affected by the pandemic.

“Existing home sales have shifted towards more expensive housing types in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and away from generally less expensive apartment condominiums and attached dwelling,” said a new report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “These markets have also seen a shift in the distribution of sales towards higher price ranges.

“This shift likely reflects the uneven distribution of the economic impacts of the pandemic, with higher-income households able to maintain their income through adapting to work from home. In contrast, those employed in lower-paid industries were less able to adapt to pandemic conditions so that, in combination with a sharp decline in new migrants to Canada, relative demand for less expensive housing types fell.”

To be clear, demand from immigrants and lower wage earners for less expensive housing has greatly diminished, but relatively well-heeled Canadians priced out of the single-family market are climbing down the housing ladder and buying whatever they can afford. According to Robert Mogensen, a mortgage broker, their ranks are swelling.

“If they had their sights set on a single-family home, with the way pricing has gone on more modest ones, they’re being pushed down into townhouses and condominiums,” said Mogensen of The Mortgage Advantage. “I’ve had a number of clients you’d assume would have no trouble, like dentists, doctors and lawyers, who’d be looking specifically for single-family homes, not qualify. Maybe because they were getting started in their professions, but they’d have to start looking at townhomes, which are typically for middle-of-the-road income earners, and now it’s driving the price of townhomes up.”

Mogensen says the fierce competition at the higher end of the housing market—where he’s seeing multiple offers on almost everything, as well as “crazy offers with no conditions”—is trickling as far down as the condominium market.

“Buying activity for higher-end homes has picked up from where it was a year ago, and now it’s working its way right down the scale. The condo market is starting to heat up as well for exactly the same reason the townhouse market is.”

At the same time, the economic impact of the pandemic is disproportionately affecting younger Canadians and lower-income households, who are watching the cost of housing soar to new heights from the sidelines.

“Despite increased government transfers to these households, their exposure to negative employment effects meant they were less likely to purchase a home during the pandemic than other households,” said the CMHC report.

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