Houses for sale in Ottawa

Vancouver and Toronto still have average home prices around $1 million, necessitating a substantial down payment

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In a recent survey, Royal LePage found that 29 per cent of renters had contemplated buying a property before renewing or signing a lease. And thirty-three per cent of these would-be buyers said they were waiting for interest rates to decline. Now that the Bank of Canada (BoC) has lowered its key rate to 4.75 per cent, it seems a good time to revisit the age-old question of whether it’s better to rent or to buy. The Financial Post’s Shantaé Campbell weighs the options in this evolving economic terrain.

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What has changed?

Thanks to the Bank of Canada’s decision to drop its key rate, borrowing is now slightly cheaper, making mortgages slightly more affordable. Those considering buying a home may be tempted by the prospect of lower monthly mortgage payments.

According to Ratehub.ca’s mortgage payment calculator, a homeowner who put a 10 per cent downpayment on a $703,446 home with a 5-year variable rate of 5.95 per cent amortized over 25 years (total mortgage amount of $652,727) has a monthly mortgage payment of $4,157. With the BoC’s 25-basis point decrease, their variable mortgage rate drops to 5.70 per cent, lowering their monthly payment to $4,061. This means that the homeowner will pay $96 less per month, or $1,152 less per year in mortgage payments.

“People who are considering getting into home ownership may find that that’s more affordable, but at the same time, it’s also likely to bring out people who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, which could end up pushing prices up,” Desjardins economist Kari Norman said.

Despite lower interest rates, home prices in many parts of Canada remain high. Vancouver and Toronto have average home prices around $1 million, necessitating a substantial down payment.

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How do I calculate if it is more costly to rent or buy?

The five-per-cent rule is a helpful tool when considering the costs of renting versus owning. According to this rule, if a year’s rent is less than five per cent of a comparable home’s value, renting is financially attractive. If it’s more, owning might be better.

For example, if you’re renting a one bedroom plus den condo for $2,000 a month, your annual rent totals $24,000. Dividing this amount by 0.05 gives you $480,000. If a similar condo in your area costs more than $480,000, renting may be the smarter financial choice. If it costs less, buying might be more advantageous.

Another way to determine if it’s more costly to rent or buy is by calculating the price-to-rent ratio for a particular area. This ratio is obtained by dividing the median home price by the median annual rent. While the price-to-rent ratio does not provide a comprehensive view of overall affordability, it can offer insight into the relative value of different property types compared to rental rates.

A price-to-rent ratio of 21 or higher means buying is more expensive than renting. A ratio below 16 suggests buying is cheaper. A ratio between 16 and 21 indicates renting may be more favourable.

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What are the price-to-rent ratios across Canada?

According to a Zoocasa report released in late May, investing in a condo may be wise in cities with low price-to-rent ratios, such as Edmonton at 9.7. Calgary and Winnipeg also have low ratios, at 10.8 and 11 respectively. Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London have condo price-to-rent ratios under 16, indicating high rental costs compared to owning.

Halifax-Dartmouth offers favourable conditions for buying a detached home with a ratio of 12.9, despite two-bedroom rental prices rising 15.6 per cent year-over-year. Burnaby and Vancouver have the highest ratios for detached homes, indicating buying is much costlier than renting.

Why are people still hesitant to buy right now?

Lower interest rates make buying more appealing, but high home prices and substantial down payments remain major barriers for many prospective buyers.

“While a third of Canadian adults are currently renting, and there are families who are perfectly content doing so, the desire for home ownership remains strong among a large portion of this segment of the population. Our latest research reveals that a material number of renters wish to transition to home ownership. Understandably, the greatest barrier to entry is the ability to drum up the initial capital for a down payment,” Phil Soper, president and chief executive officer of Royal LePage, said of the survey’s findings.

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In the same example, the down payment is the initial amount paid upfront by the homeowner. For a $703,446 home, a 10 per cent down payment equals $70,344. This reduces the mortgage amount to $652,727, which the homeowner will repay over 25 years. In addition to a hefty downpayment, closing costs can run a homebuyer three to five per cent of the purchase price of a resale home.

On the other hand, renting avoids these hefty upfront costs and exempts tenants from property taxes, maintenance, and major repairs, making it a more financially accessible option for many, even if rental prices in major Canadian cities like Vancouver and Toronto often exceed $2,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. And while renting can be more affordable month-to-month, it doesn’t build equity like homeownership does.

However, Norman points out there’s no guarantee home values will appreciate as much as they have in the past.

So what’s the verdict on renting vs. buying?

The national average rent for a two-bedroom condo is $2,236. To purchase a home at the national average price of $699,117, a buyer needs at least $48,938 saved up for a seven per cent down payment, plus $26,007 for CMHC insurance. Aside from all the additional costs associated with buying a home, this means the minimum monthly mortgage payment would be $4,206 at a 5.70 per cent variable rate.

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For renters, the $2,236 monthly rent is subject to annual increases, while a homebuyer’s variable mortgage rate can cause their payments to increase or decrease. Unless the renter relocates to a cheaper property or changes their living situation, it’s unlikely their rent will ever go down.

Recommended from Editorial

According to Urbanation and Rentals.ca’s June report, asking rents in Canada have surpassed $2,200, reaching a record high. Rents increased by 9.3 per cent annually in May, matching April’s growth rate and the 9.1 per cent average annual growth over the past three years – including the rent declines of 2020 and 2021.

Still, despite the recent interest rate drop, buying and owning a home remains costlier than renting in most parts of Canada.

• Email: shcampbell@postmedia.com

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