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Finding affordable housing in Canada can be challenging for newcomers. Here's how to find a great home now.

“The last six months have been a challenging housing market for everyone,” says Paolo Cartocci, owner of Cartocci Real Estate Group with Re/Max Masters in British Columbia. “This can make finding a home as a new immigrant more challenging.”

While no one can predict what the markets will do, here’s how to navigate the challenges and find a great home now.

Rental Opportunities

For many newcomers, renting may be the easiest and most affordable option. Rental prices took a bigger dip than buying prices due to increased inventory. For example, “Vancouver has a lot of part-time film people who all fled when COVID-19 hit, leaving a huge rental inventory,” says Cartocci. “It’s starting to bounce back, but it hasn’t fully yet.”

The average rent across Canada still down almost 7.1 per cent over last year, with Canadian properties averaging $1,723 per month, according to Rentals.com’s January 2021 National Rent Report.

So what does it look like to rent in the city?

  • Vancouver has the highest average cost for rentals, averaging $2,635 per month for a 2-bedroom.
  • In Toronto, the average rent for a 2-bedroom is $2,416.
  • In Montreal, the average rent for a 2-bedroom is $1,860.
  • For Calgary, the average rent is $1,470.

Short-term versus Long-term Rentals

Airbnb and the short-term rental market have greatly impacted the real estate landscape in the past few years, especially in and around the biggest cities. Prior to the pandemic, there were more than 30,000 units across Canada. The Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver areas accounted for nearly half of all active Airbnb listings, according to pre-COVID-19 research from McGill University. The remaining half of active rentals are spread across Canada, with more availability in cities like Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.

With tourism down and many condo boards temporarily banning short-term rentals in response to the pandemic, as many as 7,500 short-term rentals are transferring to longer-term rentals.

For those looking to rent, an empty short-term rental unit may now be a viable long-term option. Due to the dramatic addition of rentals on the market, this is great news in terms of pricing, as prices of rentals, especially in urban condos may continue to drop.

Affordability largely unchanged across Canada

More than 70 per cent of recent immigrants live in either Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. These cities tend to have more expensive homes and greater demand; however, newcomers can find affordable housing throughout most of Canada.

“The overall picture hasn’t changed much,” according to an RBC Economics Canadian Housing Report for December 2020. “It was still more affordable to own a home compared to the same period a year ago in virtually all markets.”

In larger cities, single-detached homes are more in demand, which drives up prices. Condo apartments in these areas may be a potentially more affordable option says RBC Economics.

“Buying close to the city will be tough,” says Gilmour, who suggests finding an agent who speaks your language and is willing to spend the time to not only find an area that works for you. “An agent that you connect with is your best resource at helping to find a deal,” says Gilmour.

Getting Started

It’s still possible to find an affordable home throughout most of Canada. There are, however, more options further out of a downtown core. And if you’re looking to rent, prices now are still slightly lower than they were last year.

For more useful tips and information on settling in Canada, visit rbc.com/newcomers.