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Homebuying Intentions Soar As Canadians Redesign Their Lives For An Era Of Remote Work

The share of renters who are planning to buy has quadrupled, and what they want to buy is changing.
A subdivision of houses under construction in East Gwillimbury, Ont., Jan. 30, 2018.
Mark Blinch / Reuters
A subdivision of houses under construction in East Gwillimbury, Ont., Jan. 30, 2018.

As the world moves into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians are showing a distinct nesting instinct, with owners rearranging their priorities for home life and renters increasingly determined to get onto the property ladder.

The exodus from urban centres to suburbs and rural areas is well-documented at this point, but what’s only becoming clear is how many renters are jumping into the housing market despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

A survey from Mortgage Professionals Canada (MPC), released this week, found the share of non-owners who plan to buy a house in the coming year jumped to 27 per cent in January, from 7 per cent before the pandemic. And that’s despite prices rising at breakneck speed.

Watch: Tips to maintain your mental health as you continue to work from home. Story continues below.

“Extremely low interest rates have more than offset the effects of higher prices,” MPC’s chief economist Will Dunning said in a statement.

“When I did the calculations, I was surprised to find that affordability has actually improved in the past few months. The consequence is that interest in buying is currently far in excess of the available supply, and (that) is resulting in very rapid price growth across Canada.”

Priorities are also changing in terms of what people want in their homes. Increasingly, homebuyers are taking into account things such as where the home office will be, and where the children will do online lessons if and when schools are shut, said Romana King, director of content at real estate site Zolo.

A home is “not just where you go at the end of the day. It’s vastly more important to people’s lives now,” King said.

In a survey of homebuyers’ preferences carried out in January, Zolo found a shift away from certain more cosmetic aspects of homes and towards things that more directly impact quality of life.

While in previous years buyers may have prioritized things like a nice view or an open concept layout, now buyers are more interested in an updated HVAC system (the most common priority for women, with 73 per cent listing it) or private outdoor space (the most common priority for men, at 71 per cent).

And both men and women highly prioritized an updated kitchen, which shows that the kitchen “is a family environment,” King told HuffPost Canada.

“Buyers are asking themselves, ‘Do I have the space? Can I use this space effectively, outside and inside, so all family members can do what they want to do?’”

Going too far?

Still, some observers of this trend toward nesting at home think it may have gone too far, too soon. While some surveys show many businesses will now be open to employees telecommuting at least part of the work week, a report from CIBC Economics earlier this month suggested that people may want to hold off on a final decision about relocating until the pandemic is over.

“A survey by Statistics Canada taken in the third quarter of last year suggests that many employers of workers currently doing their jobs solely from their homes expect them to go back into the office full time after the pandemic is in the rearview mirror,” the CIBC economists wrote.

“Not two days a week. Not three days a week. Full time.”

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