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Priced out of Ontario, homebuyers turn their eyes to the Calgary real estate market

Alberta realtors buzzing about what they say is an unusually high number of inquiries from Ontario
Steam rises from buildings in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

As Ontario’s sizzling real estate market puts home ownership out of reach for many Canadians, a growing number of prospective buyers are looking west in hopes of achieving their white-picket-fence dreams.

Like newlyweds Vineet Mrug and Kushbu Mistry, who relocated to Calgary from their hometown of Toronto last year, some residents of the GTA and other hot Ontario markets are moving to Alberta for what they believe is their last opportunity to own an affordable piece of real estate in a large Canadian city.

“We entertained the idea (of staying in Toronto), but it was very short-lived, just because of the sheer price of homes,” said Mrug, adding he and his wife made the move with the intention of starting a family soon.

“In Ontario, especially Toronto, within our budget we were restricted to a two-bedroom condo. And that really would not have cut it for us, with the kind of plans that we had.”

Mrug and Mistry ultimately purchased a 250 square metre home with a walkout basement and a large backyard in Calgary’s northwest neighbourhood of Valley Ridge.

“We got three times the amount of house for the same amount of money,” Mrug said. “We’re very happy with our decision.”

Mrug and Mistry’s experience is not unique. A quick perusal of housing-related forums on online mediums like Reddit turns up dozens of recent inquiries from GTA residents asking about weather, commute times and popular neighbourhoods in Alberta cities, especially Calgary.

Realtors in the western province are also buzzing with anecdotes about what they say is an unusually high number of inquiries from Ontario. Those stories appear to be backed up by Statistics Canada data, which says Alberta led the country in interprovincial migration in the fourth quarter of 2021, for the first time since 2015. On a net basis, the majority of Alberta’s new interprovincial migrants in the fourth quarter came from Ontario.

“We’re starting to see that migration based on affordability,” said Don Kottick, president and chief executive of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “I think we’re seeing some of this driven by the old FOMO, the fear of missing out. People are going to look where you can still afford a house.”

The benchmark price for detached homes in Calgary rose to $620,500 in March, which is over $73,000 higher than December levels and 20 per cent higher than levels recorded last year. Many homes are receiving multiple offers and selling over the asking price.

On the higher end of the market, the uptick in activity is even more dramatic. Detached and attached home sales in the $1 million-plus price category in Calgary rose 71 per cent and 258 per cent year-over-year respectively, according to Sotheby’s.

But even as Calgary home prices rise, they pale in comparison to what prospective homebuyers are facing in other parts of the country. In Toronto, the average selling price in March of 2022 was $1.3 million, according to The Canadian Real Estate Association, while the composite benchmark price in Metro Vancouver for the same month was $1.4 million.

While the federal government committed in its most recent budget to taking steps to cool Canada’s overheated housing market, for many first-time homebuyers, it’s too little, too late. Data analyst Ryan Sekulic — who had been working in the U.K. — accepted a job at Calgary tech company Helcim last year, after looking at opportunities in both Toronto and Vancouver.

“None of the jobs I was looking at in Toronto or Vancouver paid enough to justify living in either of those cities,” said Sekulic. “I did eventually want to be a homeowner, and I’ve bought one now … which would have been impossible there.”

Canada’s housing affordability crisis has coincided with Alberta’s recovery from years of recession due to depressed oil prices, which may be another reason Eastern Canadians are once again looking west. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Alberta is projected to lead the country in economic growth in both 2022 and 2023 due to surging commodity prices. The province is also working to diversify its economy, with some success — both Calgary and Edmonton have seen rapid growth in their local tech scenes.

Outside buyers also appear to be attracted to Calgary’s proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Recreation properties in Alberta are now the most expensive in all of Canada, outstripping even B.C., according to a recent report from Royal LePage Realty. In Canmore, a desirable mountain town located 80 km west of Calgary, single family home prices have soared 33 per cent year-over-year, to $1.36 million.

While much of that demand is still driven by Western Canadians, local Royal LePage realtor Brad Hawker said a growing number of Canmore properties are being snapped up by Ontario retirees.

“They’re cashing out of a (high-priced) market, leaving segments of Ontario, and coming here for a combination of more affordable real estate and a different quality of life,” Hawker said, adding he doesn’t expect the threat of rising interest rates to slow that specific trend.

“I honestly don’t see it changing. A lot of those buyers are cash buyers,” Hawker said. “They aren’t putting a mortgage on the property anyway, so interest rates aren’t relevant to them.”

—Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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