Affordability in the Epicenter of Canada's Housing Bubble
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Mapping Affordability in the Epicenter of Canada’s Housing Bubble

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Mapping Affordability in the Epicenter of Canada's Housing Bubble

Mapping Affordability in the Epicenter of Canada’s Housing Bubble

At the epicenter of Canada’s housing bubble, which is now rated as the most overvalued in the world, is the west coast city of Vancouver. It’s there that low interest rates and foreign buying have fueled the average detached home price to a record of C$1.47 million, a 20% increase from the previous year.

While there are many measures of unaffordability, the government and federal agencies frequently use one such measure called the Shelter-cost to Income Ratio. It essentially compares the annual cost of an individual’s housing with the amount of income they have coming in each year. Federal agencies in Canada consider households that spend 30% or more of total before-tax household income on shelter expenses to have a “housing affordability” problem.

In Vancouver, however, the city has become so unaffordable that 25,000 households pay more for their shelter costs than their entire declared income. This works out to 9.5% of the households in the city – far higher than Greater Toronto (5.9%) or Montreal (5%).

We recently stumbled across a data mapping project by Jens von Bergmann, via the Hongcouver blog. Von Bergmann, who runs a data firm in Vancouver, has compiled a series of interactive maps that overlay census data onto the city. In Canada, the mandatory census happens every five years and creates a wealth of granular information.

Here’s the percent of people in each city block that pay more for housing than they take home in income:

Percentage paying more for housing in Vancouver, the center of Canada's Housing Bubble

In an example neighborhood pocket (dissemination area 59150581) located between Arbutus and Macdonald streets, 44.8% of households pay more for shelter than they bring in for income. The average value for each “shelter”? A cool C$1.98 million. Yet, the median individual income in the area is only C$19,993.

Things get stranger yet in Vancouver’s high-end Coal Harbour neighborhood, where somehow 62% of households claim to have lower income than shelter costs. In a pocket of Yaletown, 50% of people make less than the cost of their housing.

While the precision of the data is excellent, the only problem with it is that the last census in Canada took place in 2011. Four years ago, housing prices were a fraction of what they are today. Compare today’s price of a detached home (C$1.47 million) to the price in August 2011: C$888,243.

Have median wages jumped this much? Not likely – the problem is only getting worse.

Here’s how the value of land has changed by block from 2006 to 2014 according to some of von Bergmann’s other data based on City of Vancouver assessment records:

Vancouver change in land value

Despite the country entering a technical recession, consumers having record-high debt, and commodity markets getting routed, Vancouver’s market is still flying high today.

Housing sales in August 2015 were up 28% compared to the ten-year average, and the median price in Vancouver’s west side is entering “crazy” territory at C$2.87 million. While it is true that shelter in the epicenter of Canada’s housing bubble may seem quite expensive, at least the homes don’t look like crack shacks. Or do they?

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Business

Pandemic Recovery: Have North American Downtowns Bounced Back?

All North American downtowns are facing a sluggish recovery, but some are still seeing more than 80% less foot traffic than pre-pandemic times

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Pandemic Recovery: Have Downtowns Bounced Back?

As we continue on our journey towards recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, North American offices that sat empty for months have started to welcome back in-person workers.

This small step towards normalcy has sparked questions around the future of office life—will office culture eventually bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, or is remote work here to stay?

It’s impossible to predict the future, but one way to gauge the current state of office life is by looking at foot traffic across city centers in North America. This graphic measures just that, using data from Avison Young.

Change in Downtown Office Traffic

According to the data, which measures foot traffic in major office buildings in 23 different metropolitan hubs across North America, remains drastically below pre-pandemic levels.

Across all major cities included in the index, average weekday visitor volume has fallen by 73.7% since the early months of 2020. Here’s a look at each individual city’s change in foot traffic, from March 2, 2020 to Oct 11, 2021:

CityCountryChange in Foot Traffic
Austin🇺🇸-51.70%
Calgary🇨🇦-54.50%
Boston🇺🇸-54.90%
New York🇺🇸-60.50%
San Francisco🇺🇸-60.80%
Edmonton🇨🇦-62.20%
Houston🇺🇸-67.90%
Chicago🇺🇸-68.10%
Vancouver🇨🇦-68.20%
Los Angeles🇺🇸-68.60%
Philadelphia🇺🇸-69.00%
Washington, DC🇺🇸-69.40%
San Francisco Peninsula🇺🇸-70.00%
Denver🇺🇸-73.50%
Nashville🇺🇸-75.60%
East Bay/Oakland🇺🇸-76.10%
Atlanta🇺🇸-77.50%
Dallas🇺🇸-79.80%
Montreal🇨🇦-80.30%
Toronto🇨🇦-81.20%
Miami🇺🇸-82.20%
Silicon Valley🇺🇸-82.60%
Ottawa🇨🇦-87.70%

The Canadian city of Calgary is a somewhat unique case. On one hand, foot traffic has bounced back stronger than many other downtowns across North America. On the other hand, the city has one of the highest commercial vacancy rates in North America, and there are existential questions about what comes next for the city.

Interestingly, a number of cities with a high proportion of tech jobs, such as Austin, Boston, and San Francisco bounced back the strongest post-pandemic. Of course, there is one noteworthy exception to that rule.

A Tale of Two Cities

Silicon Valley has experienced one of the most significant drops in foot traffic, at -82.6%. Tech as an industry has seen one of the largest increases in remote work, as Bay Area workers look to escape high commuter traffic and high living expenses. A recent survey found that 53% of tech workers in the region said they are considering moving, with housing costs being the primary reason most respondents cited.

Meanwhile, in a very different part of North America, another city is experienced a sluggish rebound in foot traffic, but for very different reasons. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is facing empty streets and struggling small businesses that rely on the droves of government workers that used to commute to downtown offices. Unlike Silicon Valley, where tech workers are taking advantage of flexible work options, many federal workers in Ottawa are still working from home without a clear plan on returning to the workplace.

It’s also worth noting that these two cities are home to a lot of single-occupant office buildings, which is a focus of this data set.

Some Businesses Remain Hopeful

Despite a slow return to office life, some employers are snapping up commercial office space in preparation for a potential mass return to the office.

Back in March 2021, Google announced it was planning to spend over $7 billion on U.S. office space and data centers. The tech giant held true to its promise—in September, Google purchased a Manhattan commercial building for $2.1 billion.

Other tech companies like Alphabet and Facebook have also been growing their office spaces throughout the pandemic. In August 2021, Amazon leased new office space in six major U.S. cities, and in September 2020, Facebook bought a 400,000 square foot complex in Bellevue, Washington.

Will More Employees Return or Stay Remote?

It’s important to note that we’re still in the midst of pandemic recovery, which means the jury’s still out on what our post-pandemic world will look like.

Will different cities and industries eventually recover in different ways, or are we approaching the realities of “new normal” foot traffic in North American city centers?

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Markets

The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

According to UBS, there are nine real estate markets that are in bubble territory with prices rising to unsustainable levels.

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Ranked: The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, even though many of us “know a bubble when we see it”, we don’t have tangible proof of a bubble until it actually bursts.

And by then, it’s too late.

The map above, based on data from the Real Estate Bubble Index by UBS, serves as an early warning system, evaluating 25 global cities and scoring them based on their bubble risk.

Reading the Signs

Bubbles are hard to distinguish in real-time as investors must judge whether a market’s pricing accurately reflects what will happen in the future. Even so, there are some signs to watch out for.

As one example, a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents is a common red flag. As well, imbalances in the real economy, such as excessive construction activity and lending can signal a bubble in the making.

With this in mind, which global markets are exhibiting the most bubble risk?

The Geography of Real Estate Bubbles

Europe is home to a number of cities that have extreme bubble risk, with Frankfurt topping the list this year. Germany’s financial hub has seen real home prices rise by 10% per year on average since 2016—the highest rate of all cities evaluated.

housing bubble index 2021

Two Canadian cities also find themselves in bubble territory: Toronto and Vancouver. In the former, nearly 30% of purchases in 2021 went to buyers with multiple properties, showing that real estate investment is alive and well. Despite efforts to cool down these hot urban markets, Canadian markets have rebounded and continued their march upward. In fact, over the past three decades, residential home prices in Canada grew at the fastest rates in the G7.

Despite civil unrest and unease over new policies, Hong Kong still has the second highest score in this index. Meanwhile, Dubai is listed as “undervalued” and is the only city in the index with a negative score. Residential prices have trended down for the past six years and are now down nearly 40% from 2014 levels.

Note: The Real Estate Bubble Index does not currently include cities in Mainland China.

Trending Ever Upward

Overheated markets are nothing new, though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of real estate markets.

For years, house price appreciation in city centers was all but guaranteed as construction boomed and people were eager to live an urban lifestyle. Remote work options and office downsizing is changing the value equation for many, and as a result, housing prices in non-urban areas increased faster than in cities for the first time since the 1990s.

Even so, these changing priorities haven’t deflated the real estate market in the world’s global cities. Below are growth rates for 2021 so far, and how that compares to the last five years.

housing bubble price increases 2021

Overall, prices have been trending upward almost everywhere. All but four of the cities above—Milan, Paris, New York, and San Francisco—have had positive growth year-on-year.

Even as real estate bubbles continue to grow, there is an element of uncertainty. Debt-to-income ratios continue to rise, and lending standards, which were relaxed during the pandemic, are tightening once again. Add in the societal shifts occurring right now, and predicting the future of these markets becomes more difficult.

In the short term, we may see what UBS calls “the era of urban outperformance” come to an end.

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