Sat., May 28, 2022 | 5 min. read
Looking to buy a house but not willing to shell out a million bucks on a decrepit Toronto bungalow that might be falling apart?
Perhaps you should be looking at a little house on the Prairies.
In recent years, Toronto’s housing market has effectively priced out a large segment of the population, with many young people giving up hope of ever owning a home. But in some of Canada’s largest Prairie cities — Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon — the dream of home ownership is actually within reach — for less than $200K, even.
As of 2022, the average home price in Canada is about $865,000. In the entire country, only about 10 per cent of all homes for sale are listed for $200,000 or less, but that number changes dramatically when you hone in on the Prairie city centres: in Regina, more than 36 per cent of homes were listed for under $200,000. According to the report by Point2Homes, a real estate trends website, nearly 25 per cent of Edmonton’s housing stock is less than $200,000.
What would $200,000 get you in the 416?
“A parking spot,” suggests Toronto realtor Shay Asnani, who added that he was surprised a house could be purchased for that price anywhere in Canada.
Nasma Ali, a broker in Toronto, said it’s not uncommon for people in that market to make a down payment of $200,000.
“My God — when I saw 200K, that’s like an imaginary number,” Ali said.
“There was a time when people felt like they could get something, they could get a small condo, maybe they could go outside the city and buy a tiny little house … Now, all of those doors have closed,” she added.
Ali said in downtown Toronto, you might get a 400-square-foot studio condo for $500,000. Home ownership is out of reach for most single people.
“In Toronto, you need a double income,” Ali said. “You need to get on Tinder before you start getting on realtor.ca.”
Indeed, the Star explored what one can purchase with roughly $150,000 in equity last year and found that the only options were small plots of land, parking spaces and storage lockers. Point2Homes reports there’s not a single home to be found for under 200K in Toronto, nor in nearby cities such as Mississauga or Brampton.
The closest one would have to go to find a similarly priced home would be Hamilton, where less than one per cent of homes are listed for that price.
The Realtors Association of Edmonton analyzed Point2Homes report of 1,300 homes on offer for less than $200,000 and said it roughly aligns with their internal figures.
Board chair Paul Gravelle said the numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Many of those homes are not in the City of Edmonton proper but in the Edmonton region, which includes cities several hours away by car.
Furthermore, based on his search of the database, he said many of the homes in the $200,000 would be major fixer-uppers. Still, there are options.
“It’s still an affordable home for either an investor or first-time homebuyer that says you know what? Yeah, it’s an older home, or it needs some work, but I’m willing to put work into it because it makes it (affordable),” Gravelle said.
“In the Edmonton market … it’s still very affordable for a young couple to say I can have a half-duplex, or a condo.”
A search on Realtor.ca for Edmonton properties for under $200,000 shows 1,636 listings, which includes duplexes, condominiums and rural properties just outside of the city. A search for similarly priced properties in Toronto shows 31 listings, all of which are parking spaces, storage lockers or rental properties listed for $1.
Asnani said the housing portfolio on offer in GTA has left some of his clients resigned to renting for life because “it’s not within their reach to buy something in Toronto.”
The Prairies had the most cities with listings under $200,000, but cities in Atlantic Canada are also much more affordable than the Canadian average, especially in Cape Breton, N.S., and Saint John, N.B. But Halifax, that region’s largest city, might be out of reach for those shopping on a budget — only 1.6 per cent of its listings are under 200K.
None of British Columbia’s large cities list homes for under 200K. Quebec, meanwhile, offers some cheap options, especially in the province’s capital, with about 240 listings in Quebec City under 200K. Montreal falls in line with Canada’s two other biggest cities — only 0.3 per cent of homes listed can be scooped up for this threshold.
Chris Guérette, with the Saskatchewan Realtors Association, said she wasn’t surprised to hear her province was more affordable than others, but she didn’t expect there to be quite so many homes on offer for under $200,000.
She said she’s noticed a shift in where people are willing to live — and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
“I think how people are moving within the province and into the country has changed since the pandemic because of this whole work-from-home reality. I know that we’re seeing an influx … and so that’s changing the supply and demand ratio,” Guérette said.
Gravelle, in Edmonton, has also seen more clients willing to purchase far-flung properties in rural Alberta or smaller centres.
“COVID changed everything. Because now there’s people that have been delegated to work from home that said, ‘You know what, I don’t mind going to live out in Warburg or St. Paul or Cold Lake,’” he said.
That trend has been less pronounced in the GTA, Ali says. In the first and subsequent waves of the pandemic, she did notice there was a “frenzy” of people evacuating the GTA to smaller centres.
But now that things seem to be returning to normal, people still want their coveted Toronto property.
“Since January of this year, I haven’t had one person reach out saying I want to leave,” Ali said. “No one’s leaving the city anymore.”
Asnani has noticed that a lot of his clients are deeply attached to Toronto and wouldn’t even consider moving to the Prairies.
“I think the thing that keeps people away from certain parts of Canada, like Saskatchewan and Alberta, is that everyone’s afraid of the weather,” he said. “Or at least everyone I talked to.”
But that could change as Canada’s largest city becomes increasingly unaffordable. Guérette expects Saskatchewan will continue to see growth as people reconsider what their priorities are.
“People make the choice of where they live and what kind of house they want … based on their lifestyle and where they are in that time. And you know what? It’s amazing what changes even in four years.”
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