Consolidated Credit: The housing market is on the minds of many Canadians these days, particularly millennials eager to achieve the financial milestone of home ownership. But hot markets and rising prices may be turning today’s new homeowner into a member of the growing “house-rich, cash-poor” population, with plenty of others wondering if they’ll be renters for the rest of their lives.
The map below can be used to gauge just how (un)affordable housing is in Canada. Using Consolidated Credit’s recommended budget plan as a benchmark, we evaluated the affordability of housing in major cities across the country. We looked at average house prices and crunched the numbers to see if the cost of mortgage payments and property tax fit into 25 per cent of after-tax median income levels, representing our recommended spend on housing costs, not including utilities (see full methodology below).
The results are not so encouraging for people looking to become a first-time homeowner in a major city outside of Atlantic Canada, save for Regina. Of the cities we investigated, only Charlottetown, Saint John, Regina, and St. John’s fit the affordability bill. Halifax and Winnipeg barely miss the mark and could probably be considered reasonably affordable. Calgary and Montreal come in under 33 per cent of monthly after-tax income; and Toronto and Vancouver smash the budget to pieces at 54 per cent and 71 per cent respectively.
The plight of the house-poor
You might be reading this and thinking, “25 per cent is no problem – I can make 30 per cent work.”
Maybe you can – the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) sets its affordability limit at 32 per cent of gross income (before taxes and deductions). This must also include heating (a difficult variable to control), but it does bring all the cities except for Toronto and Vancouver into an “affordability” range.
But Consolidated Credit’s recommended budget of 25 per cent of net income (after taxes) is not meant to be the outer limit of affordability – it is a component of a sustainable budget that includes room for savings and all other financial obligations.
There is a huge difference between being able to pay your housing costs and affording your housing costs, and maxing out your budget to meet your mortgage payment is like clinging to the edge of a financial cliff. With little-to-no ability to save for emergency expenses, what happens if you lose your job or a sudden disability prevents you from being able to earn an income?
Beyond emergency savings, an overweight mortgage will force you to live on a shoestring budget and will impact your ability to pay for other necessities like transportation, food, and utilities, and forget about leisure spending. Worst yet, with no room left in your budget, some of these every-day expenses might find their way to your high-interest credit card.
There are many benefits to owning a home, but the cons may outweigh the pros if your housing costs are unaffordable. If you are shopping for a home, make sure you are financially ready. Resist the urge to jump the gun; don’t act until your income is sufficient and you have saved a 20 per cent down payment. Be sure to pad your emergency fund as well. Let’s not forget interest rates – when (not if) they go up, your house of cards could come tumbling down.
We took the most recent (July 2015) average housing prices from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and used a mortgage calculator from a major Canadian bank to determine monthly mortgage payments based on a 20 per cent down payment, 25-year amortization, and a 2.7 per cent interest rate.
Property taxes are difficult to precisely measure because there are a number of unique factors involved from city to city. However, using local information from Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax, Charlottetown, and St. John’s, we were able to come up with reasonable approximations for the purposes of this map.
“After-tax” incomes are province-specific numbers calculated using SimpleTax.ca and median incomes are from Statistics Canada’s most recent data (2013).