The homeowner life in Canada is changing. We see it everywhere: The once-endless expansion of suburban neighbourhoods has slowed, and highrise cranes now dot the skyline, often even far from city centres.

But how much have things really changed? Is the dream of a detached home in the suburbs, with a backyard and a barbecue pit, still attainable? Or is it irrelevant in an age when so many homebuyers are choosing an urban lifestyle instead?

HuffPost Canada built profiles of the typical first-time homebuyer neighbourhood in three Canadian metro areas, using data on housing construction, first-time homebuyer incomes (ages 25 to 34) and house prices ― one profile for 1977, and another for 2017 (the most recent year for which all the necessary data was available).

What we found is that in the priciest cities ― Toronto and Vancouver ― millennial first-time buyers today can afford roughly a third as much space as their boomer parents could when they were buying their first homes in the late 1970s.

But while prices have soared, falling interest rates have kept monthly mortgage payments in check. Between those years, the minimum down payment for an insured mortgage came down to 5% from 10%, also taking some pressure off first-time buyers.

But in mid-sized Canadian cities ― as the Halifax example shows ― affordability hasn’t deteriorated to nearly the same extent. 

Here are the sorts of neighbourhoods first-time buyers could afford ― then and now ― in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.

Toronto

Boomer Toronto 

The 1970s were smack-dab in the middle of the great North American suburban migration, and in 1977, an average-earning household in the 25 to 34 age range could afford a house of up to $340,000 (in 2017 dollars). Since the average selling price for residential properties at that time was $247,000, that meant first-time buyers could afford a typical suburban house, which in the 1970s in the Toronto area averaged around 2,070 square feet in size.

Millennial Toronto

Between 1977 and 2017, the average income in first-time homebuyer households in the Toronto area rose by 12%, while inflation-adjusted house prices more than tripled, $794,000 from $247,000. With a maximum purchase price of $505,000 ― about $15,000 short of the average price of a condo ― first-time buyers are limited to smaller condos in the rapidly-growing high-density clusters around the Greater Toronto Area, such as Toronto’s Liberty Village or the central Square One area of Mississauga, Ont. The average size of a new condo in Toronto over the past decade has been 647 square feet.

Boomer (1977)

Millennial (2017)

House Size

2,070 square feet

647 square feet

Average First Time Buyer Household Income

$73,500.00

$82,500.00

Maximum Purchase Price

$340,600.00

$505,000.00

Average Selling Price

$247,000.00

$794,000.00

Maximum Monthly Payment

$2,500.00

$2,290.00

Maximum Mortgage

$318,000.00

$499,000.00

Mortgage to Household Income Ratio 4.3 times household income 6 times household income

*All numbers are in 2017 dollars

Vancouver

Boomer Vancouver

An average-earning first-time buyer household could afford an average-priced property in 1977, which was $306,000 in 2017 dollars. Like everywhere else on the continent, Vancouver was suburbanizing at the time, and an average house in one of the new suburban subdivisions had 2,180 square feet of living space.

Millennial Vancouver

The average income for households in the first-time buyer range fell by 6% in Vancouver from 1977 to 2017, while the average house price more than tripled to $998,000. By 2017, an average first-time buyer household could afford a maximum house price of $500,000, or less than a third of the price of a detached house. Only about 8% of listings on the market today would fall within range. Most of those are smallish condos farther out from the centre, in communities like Metrotown of Burnaby, B.C.. So it’s still the suburban lifestyle, only smaller and at a higher altitude. A typical condo built in Vancouver in recent years is just under 800 square feet.

Boomer (1977)

Millennial (2017)

House Size

2,180 square feet

800 square feet

Average First Time Buyer Household Income

$79,600.00

$75,000.00

Maximum Purchase Price

$369,000.00

$500,000.00

Average Selling Price

$306,000.00

$998,000.00

Maximum Monthly Payment

$2,667.00

$2,262.00

Maximum Mortgage

$342,000.00

$494,000.00

Mortgage to Household Income Ratio 4.3 times household income 6.6 times household income

* All numbers are in 2017 dollars

Halifax

Boomer Halifax

For Halifax, we used 1980 numbers, because not all data was available for 1977. Haligonians had lower incomes than Torontonians or Vancouverites back then, but the city’s relatively low house prices meant that if you earned the average for a first-time buyer household, you could afford nearly twice the average house price ($288,000 versus $159,900, in 2017 dollars). At the very least, you could buy something considerably larger than the 1,560-square-foot home that was typical for the area at the time.

Millennial Halifax

Unlike Toronto and Vancouver, house prices in Halifax didn’t triple over the past 40 years ― they only doubled. As a result, first-time buyer households can still afford their own front door and a backyard, and with homes increasing in size to an average of 2,340 square feet, Nova Scotia millennials might actually have the opportunity to move into homes larger than their parents’ ― truly living the boomer dream.

Boomer (1980)

Millennial (2017)
House Size

>1,560 square feet

>2,340 square feet

Average First Time Buyer Household Income

$62,000.00

$58,000.00

Maximum Purchase Price

$288,000.00

$430,000.00

Average Selling Price

$159,900.00

$297,000.00

Maximum Monthly Payment

$2,100.00

Maximum Mortgage

$267,000.00

$425,000.00

Mortgage to Household Income Ratio 4.3 times household income 7.3 times household income

Notes about the data:

  • Historic house price numbers are based on data from local real estate boards, and adjusted to 2017 dollars. For current prices, we used the average price for 2017, as provided by the real estate board. If no such average number was available, the June 2017 monthly number was used.
  • Affordability estimates were done using CIBC’s affordability calculator.
  • Median household income numbers are from Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) for older numbers, and the Canadian Income Survey for more recent data. Halifax data is an estimate based on individual income data. 

Source:  Huffington Post