5 Best Cities To Live In Where Houses Are Under $400K

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Fed up with high house prices in Toronto or Vancouver? Thinking of packing up and moving elsewhere? We hear ya. With the average price of a single-family home in both these cities well above $1 million, plenty of people in Canada's priciest cities are looking for alternatives.

Under the federal government's new mortgage rules, the average-earning household in Canada — with a total income of $80,000 — can get a mortgage of around $380,000 today (assuming a 25-year mortgage at three per cent). That, plus the down payment, is what an average household in Canada can afford.

So we combined the Bank of Montreal's labour market report card with data on house prices from the Canadian Real Estate Association to come up with a ranking of the best cities to set up shop, where an average home costs less than $400,000. Here's what we found.

5. Halifax

halifax panorama
(Photo: Walter Bibikow via Getty Images)

BMO labour market ranking: 12
Average household income: $84,560
Average mortgage payment: $1,038

People outside the Maritimes rarely consider moving there, but Halifax’s 5.9-per-cent unemployment rate, and its addition of 1.2 per cent new jobs over the past year, make it a decent candidate.

And with the average house price at $274,142 in December, it's one of the most affordable major markets in Canada.

4. Montreal

montreal panorama
(Image: iStockphoto)

BMO labour market ranking: 8
Average household income: $75,010
Average mortgage payment: $1,330

Quebec’s largest city has been a job-creating powerhouse lately, accounting for all the net growth in full-time jobs in Canada in 2016. There are four per cent more jobs in Montreal today than there were a year ago and the jobless rate is a rock-bottom 4 per cent. The average house price was a comfortable $351,255 in January.

3. Ottawa

ottawa panorama
(Image: David Chapman/Design Pics via Getty Images)

BMO labour market ranking: 5
Average household income: $102,020
Average mortgage payment: $1,492

Ottawa has benefited from looser spending under the Liberal government, and the number of jobs in the city rose by 3.5 per cent over the past year. The jobless rate stands at a very respectable 5.7 per cent.

With an average house price of $394,001, the city just barely fits our criteria. But prices have been growing slowly in recent years (they’re up 1.9 per cent over the past 12 months) so there’s no need to panic-buy in this market.

2. Windsor, Ont.

windsor panorama
(Photo: Getty Images)

BMO labour market ranking: 4
Average household income: $76,260
Average mortgage payment: $825

The city across the river from Detroit struggled through some hard times in the wake of the Great Recession, but that seems to be behind it now. Employment in the city jumped by 3.8 per cent over the past year, and its jobless rate dropped to 5.4 per cent, down from 8.9 per cent just a year earlier.

What’s more, it has some of the lowest home prices of any mid-sized city in Canada. Even with prices up 9.2 per cent in a year, homes in Windsor-Essex County averaged $217,926 in December — practically free, by Toronto and Vancouver standards.

1. Brantford, Ont.

brantford ontario
(Photo wyliepoon via Flickr)

BMO labour market ranking: 1
Average household income: $73,082 (2010)
Average mortgage payment: $1,464

Brantford is another city that struggled in the wake of the Great Recession, and is now recovering impressively. The southern Ontario city, on the distant fringes of the Greater Toronto region, grew its number of jobs by a stunning 10.3 per cent in the past year, pushing the jobless rate down to 4.7 per cent — the sort of jobless rates Alberta used to enjoy before the oil crash.

The average price of a home in the city was $386,716 in January, but if you want in, you may need to hurry. The average house price jumped by 20.9 per cent over the past year, as Greater Toronto residents move ever farther out in search of affordable housing. So houses under $400,000 may not last long there if trends keep up.

On the other hand, if the Bank of Montreal is right in its diagnosis of a housing bubble in the area, there may yet be affordable homes in the region in the years to come.

Mortgage payment estimates are based on a five-year, fixed-rate mortgage at three per cent interest, with an amortization of 25 years, calculated on the city's average house price.

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