Toronto and Vancouver’s housing markets remain exempt from the Canadian real estate’s upswing in affordability.
Yet in virtually all other municipalities, declining mortgage rates and rising incomes have brought affordability back in line with historical averages, according to National Bank Financial.
Of course, there’s a wide margin in affordability, depending on where you live.
This past June, Vice conducted an expose on the length of time a typical millennial would have to save for an average Canadian home. For Toronto millennials, it would take a whopping 21 years, for a resident of St. John’s, Newfoundland, it would take five.
Average out the discrepancy and you get some strange stats: for example, the typical household would need to spend 43 per cent of its pre-tax income to make a mortgage payment. While the number says very little, affordability shows up in the comparison: last year a typical household had to use up to 50 per cent of its income on payments. That decrease ups the affordability factor.
“Surging population growth in Canada’s largest metro areas, coupled with levelling mortgage rates, should limit the scope for further improvement in home affordability,” economists Matthieu Arseneau and Kyle Dahms said in the bank’s report. They also noted that some rates fell by an entire percentage point. “Indeed, the free-fall in financing costs over the last nine months was the most substantial since 2012."
So why are so many Canadians still struggling to secure a mortgage?
Robert McLister, the founder of RateSpy.com, a mortgage comparison site, said it's because of the mortgage qualifying rate (the most common five-year fixed post rate at Canada’s biggest banks), and that’s hardly budged.
“What we’re seeing now is the Big Six banks hold mortgage qualifying rates high mainly out of their own self-interest,” McLister said. “If you saw that stress test rate go from 5.19 per cent down to where it should be based on the current levels of bond yields, then you’d see a significant impact on home sales and demand.”
And young people trying to enter the market are most often sidelined by the rate. It’s the demographic that’s just at the cusp of securing a career and saving for a downpayment, yet their lower salaries (compared to other cohorts) can make qualifying a near impossibility.
While the Toronto and Vancouver markets have improved somewhat since last year, the cities remain essentially grid-locked with demand exceeding supply and with monthly mortgage payments for Torontonians eating up more than 56 per cent of their household income on average.
Looks like the United Way’s Unignorable Tower is on track to earn a few more storeys.