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:
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:
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?
Ranked: The Cities With the Most Bubble Risk in Their Property Markets
Despite higher mortgages and sharply correcting prices, some cities’ property markets are still in bubble-risk territory.
Which Cities Have Bubble Risk in Their Property Markets?
Buoyed by low interest rates for the last decade, many property markets have seen substantial price growth since 2010. Experts warned that real estate bubbles—in which the price of assets moved up far beyond their intrinsic value—were forming.
The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index analyzes the real estate market of 25 major cities across the globe and assigns them a score between -0.5 to 2.0 to convey bubble risk. The higher the score, the more imbalanced the market is, with those above 1.5 in “bubble-risk” territory.
We visualize the data in the above map, along with charting the real property price changes in the last year.
Ranking Bubble Risk by City
At the top of UBS’ findings is Switzerland’s financial capital Zurich, with a 1.71 score, putting the city firmly in the bubble-risk zone. With its high-income earners and the country’s low interest rates, the city has been steadily climbing the real estate bubble-risk rankings, 5th in 2021, to 3rd in 2022, to the top spot this year.
Unlike many of its former peers in the risky territory, local prices adapted to increased mortgage rates this year, and have stayed elevated.
Here’s the full rankings for bubble risk in all 25 property markets:
|6||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||1.24||Overvalued|
|9||🇺🇸 Los Angeles||1.03||Overvalued|
|11||🇮🇱 Tel Aviv||0.93||Overvalued|
|18||🇺🇸 New York||0.47||Fair-Valued|
|22||🇺🇸 San Francisco||0.27||Fair-Valued|
|24||🇧🇷 São Paulo||0.09||Fair-Valued|
Tokyo (1.65) is the second and final entry in the real estate markets with immediate bubble risk. This is a decrease from nine total cities in that category last year.
In fact the other seven real estate markets which scored above 1.5 in 2022 have all seen significant real property price drops, many of them in the double-digits, which has moved them into “overvalued territory.”
These include: Frankfurt (-15.9%), Toronto (-14.7%), Amsterdam (-14.0%), Munich (-13.8%), Vancouver (-10.6%), Hong Kong (-7.1%), and Tel Aviv (-0.7%).
The key driver of these price drops across the board are the aggressive interest rate hikes to counter rising inflation, which pushed many housing markets into unaffordability, forcing sellers to lower their prices.
However, a few cities have seen real property price increases, including the aforementioned Tokyo and Zurich.
Here’s UBS’ full ranking of real property price changes between 2022–2023.
Price Growth (YoY)
|4||🇺🇸 New York||+3.2%|
|8||🇧🇷 São Paulo||+1.4%|
|10||🇮🇱 Tel Aviv||-0.7%|
|13||🇺🇸 Los Angeles||-3.7%|
|14||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||-7.1%|
|19||🇺🇸 San Francisco||-10.6%|
A significant outlier within this group, Dubai, has registered double-digit growth property price growth. This was fueled by expanding household incomes—thanks to an economic boom from oil prices—as well as increased immigration by wealthy individuals.
Ranked: Cities With Rising Rental Prices
However, even as property prices have cooled in the majority of the analyzed real estate market, the rental market for many cities, like Vancouver (+10.7%) and Toronto (+6.0%) has moved swiftly in the opposite direction.
In this case, inflation is a key reason as well—pushing up incomes, in turn leading to rising rents. Furthermore, owners-occupants with tenants seek to pass on higher mortgage costs in an effort to reduce their financial burden.
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