Quebec City or Edmonton? Who’s moving where for affordable housing

Real estate professionals would use the old phrase “drive until you qualify” to give prospective homebuyers in Canada’s biggest cities an idea of how to break into the housing market: essentially, get out of the expensive urban areas to find a cheaper home you can afford.

quebec city or edmonton? who’s moving where for affordable housing

But a Royal LePage report released Wednesday reveals that many first-time buyers now feel they might have to fly to qualify, moving out of province to more affordable destinations.

The report measures 15 of Canada’s more affordable housing markets as of the first quarter of 2024, and also includes a survey of which cities are most alluring for Canadians currently living in the Greater Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver areas. Some 900 Canadians were surveyed from May 13 to 16 via Leger’s online platform.

The ranking of most affordable markets, based on the percentage of monthly income needed to service a typical mortgage payment on a representative home, saw Thunder Bay, Ont., come out on top. Saint John, N.B., Red Deer, Alta., Trois-Rivières, Que., and Edmonton rounded out the top five, in that order.

Most affordable cities (mortgage payment as percentage of monthly income)

  • Thunder Bay, Ont. (22.2 per cent)
  • Saint John, N.B. (25.1 per cent)
  • Red Deer, Alta. (25.7 per cent)
  • Trois-Rivières, Que. (28.5 per cent)
  • Edmonton, Alta. (28.9 per cent)
  • Regina, Sask. (29.1 per cent)
  • St. John’s, N.L. (30.1 per cent)
  • Quebec City, Que. (30.8 per cent)
  • Sherbrooke, Que. (30.8 per cent)
  • Winnipeg, Man. (31.8 per cent)
  • Fredericton, N.B. (32.0 per cent)
  • Saskatoon, Sask. (32.7 per cent)
  • Windsor-Essex, Ont. (36.4 per cent)
  • Charlottetown, P.E.I. (36.6 per cent)
  • Gatineau, Que. (36.8 per cent)

Edmonton tops Calgary for affordability in Alberta

But while Thunder Bay was the outright most affordable, Edmonton was the top choice for current residents of the Greater Toronto and Vancouver areas thinking about a move. Alberta’s capital city was the most attractive and affordable destination for 19 per cent of respondents from these markets in the poll.

St. John’s, N.L., and Thunder Bay rounded out the top three for both markets.

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Karen Yolevski, Royal LePage’s chief operating officer, said it’s “not that surprising” to see Edmonton top the list for Toronto and Vancouver residents, given Statistics Canada data showing interprovincial migration trends from Ontario and B.C. flooding into Alberta.

According to StatCan, Alberta’s population surged by 202,324 residents in 2023, the biggest annual increase in the province’s history. While the bulk of the growth came from international migration, Alberta also shattered a national record last year for interprovincial migration, with a net gain of 55,107 people.

While Red Deer and Edmonton remain relatively cheap options for would-be Albertans, Yolevski notes that Calgary, once hailed as an affordability haven for Canadians in recent years, did not rank among Royal LePage’s top 15 most accessible markets.

quebec city or edmonton? who’s moving where for affordable housing
1:59 Turning Calgary’s office space into affordable housing

While other housing markets have seen prices cool in recent years amid the Bank of Canada’s interest rate tightening cycle, Calgary’s economic prospects and relative affordability have seen prices and activity largely continue to tick up during the housing correction, Yolevski explains.

Renters were more likely to move for housing affordability (60 per cent) than those who already own a home (45 per cent), the Royal LePage report showed.

Ipsos polling conducted exclusively for Global News in April suggests that 72 per cent of non-owners have “given up” on ever buying a home, while four in five respondents said they now felt homeownership was only for the rich.

Some Canadians more open to lifestyle changes, polling suggests

Canadians are flying further afield for affordable housing in part because they can find new job prospects where they land, and partially because the new openness of remote and hybrid work is giving buyers more flexibility about where they call home, Yolevski says.

Canadians are now “looking at potentially flying to an entire new province or quite farther away within the same province so that they can have more of a change and more cost savings,” she says.

Cost is one major factor driving migratory patterns, but so too is lifestyle, the Royal LePage report says.

While 57 per cent of respondents considering a relocation said the lower cost of living was a significant factor in their decisions, others sought a life away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Some 41 per cent said they wanted to be closer to nature and live in less populated areas, while another 40 per cent said they wanted a more relaxed pace of life. Respondents could choose more than one option in the poll.

Culture was one reason why Yolevski says homebuyers in the Greater Montreal Area were most likely to stay in-province when searching for more affordable pastures.

Montreal residents polled for the report said they were most likely to move to Quebec City, followed by Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières.

Quebec options did not rank highly for Canadians living outside the province. But Yolevski says there’s “great value” in the province’s real estate market, particularly for bilingual homebuyers looking for an investment opportunity or their first property.

“It is a very viable option and a great opportunity to get into property ownership at a price point that’s going to be more affordable for your average Canadian,” she says.

quebec city or edmonton? who’s moving where for affordable housing
6:24 Canada’s housing market summer outlook

Not all residents living in relatively unaffordable housing markets are so keen to move, however. Respondents from Greater Vancouver were most likely to want to stay put, with 46 per cent saying they would not consider moving, compared with 40 per cent of Montrealers and 37 per cent of Torontonians.

That’s despite B.C. failing to land a single city on Royal LePage’s top 15 more affordable markets ranking. No Nova Scotia cities made the list, either.

“We boil that down to the lifestyle in Vancouver, the access to nature and outdoor activities,” Yolevski says. “It’s just too alluring for some people to consider moving.”

– with files from Global News’ Anne Gaviola, Caley Gibson

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