A survey collected by a Canadian rate comparison website found that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the decisions of homebuyers.
Of the 12 per cent of Canadians who plan to purchase or have already purchased a primary residence since April 2020, almost a quarter of them considered COVID-19 when making major decisions and 21 per cent of homebuyers have moved or plan to move from a major city hub to a small town or rural area.
RATESDOTCA found that inaccessible housing prices plague many Canadian metropolitan areas and 61 per cent of homebuyers cite affordability as a key criterion when deciding to relocate.
As a response to the trend of urban flight during the pandemic, the website created a Livability Report that ranks more than 150 Canadian communities based on affordability, growth potential and lifestyle.
Out of 166 cities, Langford, B.C., was named the most liveable city in Canada. Greater Sudbury got the Gretzky, coming in at No. 99.
“Canada has some incredible hidden gems if you’re relocating for a change in lifestyle – places people seldom think about,” said Robert McLister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA.
“We set out to discover which of these areas have the best combination of affordability, economic momentum and livability.”
The comparison website looked to the data they gathered from the online survey of 1,514 Canadians, conducted by Leger Marketing from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24, to build the parameters for the report.
For example, 51 per cent of Canadians who moved in 2020 due to COVID-19 did so to be closer to nature and 36 per cent felt financial pressure to find a cheaper home.
The report examines factors like home price growth and mortgage costs, as well as economic and quality of life factors such as promising growth trends, amenities, and climate. Attributes like proximity to mountains and major bodies of water, outdoor activities and nightlife were also considered.
Data was taken from StatsCan, real estate boards, and municipal estimates for things like population growth and average home price, while subjective ratings were gathered for things like scenery and climate.
RATESDOTCOM then produced a numerical ranking of each city based on an internal scoring algorithm that analyzed almost 10,000 data points.
“Our first ranked city, Langford, B.C., got high marks for growth, affordability (particularly relative to other BC hotspots), property tax costs, desirable climate and proximity to spectacular nature,” said McLister.
“This and other top 10 locations could see outsized real estate returns in coming years given they check a lot of homebuyer boxes and are relatively cost-effective.”
Joining Langford in the top ten most liveable Canadian cities are Kelowna, BC; Trois-Rivières, QC; Bathurst, NB; Rossland, BC; Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON; Cowichan Bay, BC; Sydney, NS; Penticton, BC; and Quebec City, QC.
Sudbury, described by the report as “an economic hub of Ontario’s north, the city got its roots in mining lies amid countless lakes and forests,” was ultimately ranked in the bottom third after Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Thunder Bay.
According to the report, Sudbury’s population is 172,462 and its population growth rate is 0.3 per cent. The average home price in the city was listed at $326,106 as of Dec. 31, 2020, representing year-over-year growth of 20.1 per cent.
(Another recent report recently published by Zoocasa indicated that the average home priced increased to $356,633 in January 2021 compared to the same month last year, an increase of 38 per cent year-over-year.)
The average mortgage payment in Sudbury is $1,360.
Assuming 20 per cent down, a 30-year amortization, a 4.79-per-cent qualifying rate, one-per-cent property tax rate, $150 per month for heat and $500 for other monthly debt, the minimum income required to live comfortably is pegged at $65,174.
Sudbury’s proximity to lakes and forests was a nod in its favour, according to the report, but it is not close to mountains, and it’s unclear how much weight that factor was given when determining each city’s rank.
The city was awarded three stars for nightlife and outdoor activity, but only one star for climate. It is also a 24-minute drive to the closest commercial airport.
In comparison, Sault Ste. Marie, described as a border city near Lake Superior with a stable economy, ranked in the 39th spot with a smaller population of 81,238, average home price of $224,960, average mortgage payment of $938, and average income required of $50,450.
Alternatively, the city’s population is growing at a higher rate than Sudbury at 0.7 per cent and the average home price rose by 24.6 per cent as of Dec. 31, 2020.
The Sault’s environment is similar to Sudbury, being close to water, but not mountains, and both cities have scenery ratings of two stars.
Further, Sault Ste. Marie’s nightlife and climate rating is two stars, and it gets four stars for outdoor activity.
Two other northern cities were ranked ahead of Sudbury – North Bay is the 48th most liveable city in Canada followed by Thunder Bay, which ranked 68th. Both cities had a population growth of 0.2 per cent.
Average mortgage payments in Thunder Bay are significantly lower than Sudbury at $991 and average home prices increased by 15.2 per cent.
In comparison, North Bay’s average mortgage payment is closer to that of Sudbury at $1,128 and average home prices increased by 26.1 per cent as of Dec. 31, 2020.
The minimum incomes required to live in North Bay and Thunder Bay are $57,198 and $52,487 respectively.
“This list shows that there are affordable home options for homebuyers willing and able to broaden their horizons,” said McLister.
Colleen Romaniuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with The Sudbury Star. The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.