Should I Buy A House In 2017? A Data Driven Approach To Buying Canadian Real Estate

Should I Buy A House In 2017? A Data Driven Approach To Buying Canadian Real Estate

Every week I get emails from people asking if now is the right time to buy in their market. I reply to each one of these emails with pretty much the same answer, I don’t know what’s right for you. It’s a slight cop-out, but I do walk them through some of the data points to consider.

Since we received a spike of emails from Toronto this week, I thought I would write a post about it. While I don’t like to tell people what to do with their money, here are the factors I would consider, and some of the data every buyer should think about. Don’t worry, I break it down in plain English like we always do.

Emotional Factor

There’s an emotional factor to buying a home that can’t be quantified. To certain people, having that home is more important than the investment factor. If you’re the type of person that’s always dreamed of owning your home, don’t put your life on hold because market conditions don’t fit your narrative. Now, don’t overextend yourself financially, and if you do overpay a little consider it the cost of your dream. I’ve wasted much more money on much less.

Looking At It As An Investment

If you’re looking at it from a financial perspective, that’s very different. No one knows where real estate prices are heading, due to the emotions involved. Figuring out what triggers a buyer’s emotions is difficult (although we’re taking a stab at it with IBM’s Watson). Until someone figures that out, it’s best to look at the broader market, and try to understand how to minimize the chances of a loss. Personally, I suggest people should take a closer look at the economy, demand, and personal finances before deciding.


Performance of the broad economy is often an indicator of where real estate will head. There’s a lot of reasons why the economy and real estate are tied, but employment is the obvious one I like to look at. If you’re looking at a starter priced place, will the next wave of buyers be able to afford your home? Especially in a city like Toronto where the median income has moved around 1% over the past 30 years, inflation adjusted. Taking median income into account, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that the next wave of buyers will be able to afford a home. Many real estate markets rose in Canada with the ability to borrow, not because people are making a ton more.

Scaled Index of Prices Vs. Borrowing

The qualifying borrowing rate is determined by the median household income, and the size of mortgage that would be approved that year. As of 2016, it appears the number of people that can afford a home at current amortization lengths is being topped out.

First time buyers now qualify for less this year than last, so ask if this is a trend that will continue. If they can’t buy a starter home for more, starter owners likely can’t upgrade. If they can’t upgrade, this causes a ripple effect through the market known as buyer gridlock. One wild card you can’t plan for is the government legalizing 35, or 40 year mortgages – and they might. This would mean that buyers can finance larger purchases over a longer period of time, which could in theory ease buyer gridlock.

Demand For Real Estate

Do you think demand for Canadian real estate will increase? And don’t just go “yeah, the city is booming!” Logically, where are these qualified buyers coming from? Rich buyers on millionaire visas will likely impact the high end of the market, not provide mobility for lower income Canadians. Lower income Canadians migrating might provide a boost to the lower market, but they need to find jobs that pay well enough.

Then there’s artificial demand created by speculators, which can go many ways. Will a vacancy tax force them to sell, or will they start renting it out? Will renting it out bring down rental prices, or will it drive up market rates since they want to break even on costs? If the former happens, more liquidity means lower prices. If the latter happens, rental prices go up, which makes buying more attractive. It’s a crap shoot.

Demand can also be influenced by age groups. Older Canadians likely already have a home, and are less likely to want to buy a starter. If there’s a ton of older Canadians, can the number of young people efficiently absorb inventory. Japan is a great example of this in action, where the number of young people aren’t even close to the number of older people. This resulted in large areas of empty homes, less demand for real estate, and ultimately lower prices.


Toronto Buyers Market Vs Sellers Market

The purple highlights the First-Time Buyer Market (FTBM), the age group of people that are most likely to buy a home. The blue highlights the Sellers Market (SM), the age group of people that are most likely to sell their home. According to the Ontario population projections, there will be more people of selling age than buying age by 2041. 2041 sounds like a long time, but today’s buyers will have just paid off their mortgage. At that time, they’ll be ready to enter the SM age group.


Financial situation (Now or Wait)

The higher rent you pay, the more it makes sense to buy. I would run a ten year difference between what I would pay on a house, vs what I would pay in rent. Don’t forget to include all of the costs when buying (maintenance, taxes, interest, etc.). If the amount paid is substantially larger than rent, I would consider renting longer. Also, if you’re going to be living paycheck to paycheck like a large number of Canadians, you probably shouldn’t make the jump into homeownership either. This would assume a similar rate of appreciation for my portfolio vs real estate prices. Note, you need to contribute the difference between rent and a mortgage to an investment portfolio to assume that last point!

If you’re a regular reader, you probably realized I wasn’t going to give you a clear cut yes or no. Buying a home is the largest purchase most people make, so they should run (and understand) the numbers to make an informed decision. No one knows which direction the market will head, but you know how much risk you’re willing to take. So educate yourself on the numbers.

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  • Dave Calhoud 7 years ago

    I noticed he didn’t outright say it, but if you’re selling in a pool in a negative flow of buyers in 2041, your investment is going to tank. Unless millennials start having babies rapidly at 25…which is a pretty unrealistic scenario.

    • Mike 7 years ago

      Immigration could also bolster first time buyers, but that’s expecting a lot from a demographic of people that are going to arrive to our rapidly deteriorating job market.

  • Jim 7 years ago

    Excellent post. As a dual homeowner, I can tell you the financial burden and maintainace stress can be overwhelming at times. Every house I’ve bought over the years was a painful financial stretch and caused me sleepless nights. Not to mention literally thousands of trips to Home Depot , Canada tire, etc. I’m 61 bought my first house in a semi rural location when I was 23. My friends thought I was wasting my social life and spending money. I took maybe 4 plane ride type vacations, in 30 years.
    But I “sweat equitied” and traded up and traded up and mortgaged myself to the eyeballs. Mortgage rates in the early 80s were in the teens.
    Then I sold, over the years to reduce debt and now own debt free in West Vancouver.
    But I worked my ass off evenings and weekends, took too few vacations, and watched a few gut wrenching market declines come and go. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard:”this time is different”, when the real estate market was going up and when it was going down. It’s never different. Buy what you can afford, when it’s right for you, hold it long term. Compromise.

    • Stephen Punwasi 7 years ago

      Thanks Jim!

      Always great to hear homeowners talk about the sacrifices they make in order to buy a home. I hear from people way too often that Boomers had it much easier to buy. In actuality, when you inflation adjust and factor in the sky-high mortgage rates, it really wasn’t that easy. It’s a sacrifice that people should understand before getting into it, instead of jumping in and figuring out afterwards.

      Buy what you can afford, when it’s right for you, hold it long term. Compromise.

      You can’t get more accurate and concise advice about ownership.

      • Neo 7 years ago

        That should be by what YOU can afford NOT what the bank tells you that you can afford.

        • Julie 6 years ago

          Then we will never be able to buy :(. Im about to have my first child and its so scary living in a expensive rental market (Vancouver) where your landlords kick you out for anything they can legally claim (so they can re-rent, increasing the price). Then, trying ot find a new place in this that will accept a young family and rent isup another 200$. Just feels so insecure and scary. On top of stagnant wages and massive student loans. Would love to buy, but even the 30,000$ we’ve scrapped together through no vacays, limiting what we eat and going out, etc. over 10 years isnt enough. I’m 32 and all I want is a home where my children (we’d like two, but it may not be possible) are safe and wont be kicked out. So, sometimes it does come down to what the bank tells you, even if you know its wrong financially. Cant even start on retirement. Im so scared for our future. People make it sound like people walk into being ‘house poor’ because theyre stupid. Sometimes its because we have so few other choices. Sometimes we just want the security of a place to call home, where our kids can grow without moving every year.

  • Neo 7 years ago

    Looking at the graphs for average, HPI and median prices across the GTA is looks like Milton was the first to roll over March 2nd and the majority of the rest of the GTA started March 21st.

    This could all be short lived but this is supposed to be the height of the Spring buying season now so we shouldn’t be seeing this. At the same time, prices went up way too fast from January to March so this may just be a breather. Either way, once prices start going parabolic like they have since 2016 things don’t usually end well. The interesting thing is prices in the GTA are tracking exactly like the Vancouver market that peaked last March and then drifted sideways to down for the rest of the year with a Foreign Buyer’s Tax putting the final nail in that coffin. It looks like the Provincial Government is going to implement the same policy along with some other speculation/flipper legislation.

  • Ali Akhtar 7 years ago

    the 40 to 64 group is growing by 650k people. you are assuming that this group will not be selling or buying but these 650k additional people need to be accounted for. assuming that these are mostly going to be immigrants.

    we also need to know how much housing exist today and how much would be available at that time.

    also I would divide these numbers by two assuming that couple would be needing 1 unit.

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