Canadian home buyers face least affordable market in a generation

  • Sky-high prices and rising interest rates pummel affordability: RBC’s aggregate affordability measure for Canada surged 3.7 percentage points to 54.0% in the first quarter of 2022 — the worst level of affordability since the early 1990s. Ownership costs rose in every market we track, though the degree of pain felt by buyers varies dramatically across the country.
  • Situation in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria reaches extremes: Becoming a home owner is now also very hard to achieve in other parts of southern Ontario and BC’s Lower Mainland.
  • The Prairies and some east-coast markets still boast relatively affordable conditions: Despite deteriorating trends, buyers in these regions can still generally manage (albeit increasingly less so in Halifax).
  • Affordability expected to worsen before getting better: The Bank of Canada’s ‘forceful’ interest rate hiking campaign will further inflate ownership costs in the near term, putting RBC’s national affordability measure on a path to worst-ever levels. However, we see the burgeoning price correction eventually bringing some relief to buyers. Property values, already slipping, are likely to fall more than 10% in the coming year.

Uneven impact of higher interest rates

Interest rates are back on the rise after falling to historic lows during the pandemic. This is a game-changer for Canada’s housing market, which saw prices soar on the back of rock-bottom rates. In March, the Bank of Canada initiated a hiking cycle that we expect will culminate in a 250 basis-point increase in its policy rate by the fall. As of June, half of that is still to come.

Higher rates will affect virtually every buyer across the country, hitting them with steeper monthly mortgage bills that make it harder to acquire properties. But buyers in the priciest markets will be challenged most. Elevated property values ​​— and more important, larger corresponding mortgage sizes — heighten sensitivity to interest rate movements. For instance, a 1 percentage-point rate increase, raises mortgage payments by more than $ 600 per month in Vancouver, $ 554 in Toronto and $ 481 in Victoria, based on typical home prices in the first quarter (valued at $ 1.4 million, $ 1.3 million and $ 1.1 million, respectively). These figures far exceed the $ 360 a month average rise in mortgage rates in Canada. St. John’s, Regina and other more modestly-priced markets are considerably less sensitive, with increases ranging from $ 125 to $ 160 a month.

The impact on affordability is also uneven. A rise in RBC’s affordability measure represents a deterioration in affordability. A 1 percentage-point rate increase interest rates causes the aggregate measure to spike more in Vancouver (8.8 percentage points), Toronto (7.8 percentage points) and Victoria (6.4 percentage points) than the national average (5.5 percentage points). While appreciating property values ​​dialed up sensitivity in many Prairie, Quebec and Atlantic Canadian markets, the loss of affordability arising from a rate rise is still considerably less in those regions than the national average.

Affordability to get even uglier in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria

This is bad news for buyers in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria who face a further affordability squeeze as the Bank of Canada advances its rate hiking campaign. RBC’s aggregate measures are likely heading deeper into record territory in all three markets, pointing to a worsening affordability crisis. Pressure is also set to intensify materially for Montreal, Ottawa and to a lesser extent Halifax house hunters, whose prospects are already the toughest in decades.

Canadians will not easily give up on their ownership dream

Sky-high prices and rising interest rates pose huge (and growing) obstacles for Canadian home buyers. Still, many will pursue every possible avenue to keep their ownership dream alive, mainly by adjusting their preferences (housing type, location, mortgage amortization period) and seeking additional support (supplementary rental income, parental help for a down payment, multi-generational household setups). We think these coping mechanisms will cushion the impact of rising rates on housing demand.

But something — prices — will have to give

These mechanisms can only do so much. Affordability tensions are already at unsustainable levels in Ontario and British Columbia, and will likely become intolerable in other parts of the country. This will cool down demand significantly, rebalance market conditions and apply downward pressure on prices — a process that began this spring.

What could turn the tide on affordability in a higher rate environment? Rapid household income growth and declining prices. The recent acceleration in wage increases will help but we think the factor most likely to move the needle is a price correction. We now expect Canada’s benchmark price to fall more than 10% from peak to trough in the coming year, with more significant drops of 13% in British Columbia and Ontario. We project comparatively smaller declines in the rest of the country — between -2% and -5% (peak to trough) in the Prairies, around –7% in Quebec and between -6% and -9% in Atlantic Canada.


Read the full Housing Trends and Affordability report for extensive market-by-market analysis.

Robert Hogue is a member of the Macroeconomic and Regional Analysis Group, with RBC Economics. He is responsible for providing analysis and forecasts for the Canadian housing market and for the provincial economies. His publications include Housing Trends and Affordability, Provincial Outlook and provincial budget commentaries.

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