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Canada's Senior Homeowners To Buyers: Back Off, We're Not Going Anywhere

The vast majority of seniors plan to stay in their homes through retirement. That's bad news for young homebuyers.
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One of the reasons house prices have shot up in many Canadian cities, observers say, is that there are fewer homes for sale than there used to be.

And one of the reasons for the shortage is that current owners of suburban homes are selling their homes less frequently as they age. For younger generations, the hope is that these aging Baby Boomers will put their homes on the market as they downsize in their golden years.

But there's one problem with that: Seniors have no plans to downsize. According to a new poll from Ipsos, 93 per cent of seniors polled want to stay in their homes throughout their retirement.

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As homeowners grow older, they become more attached to their homes, the survey found. Among 35- to 44-year-olds, 68 per cent say they don't want to move from their home in retirement; among the 55-to-64 crowd, that rises to 79 per cent.

The poll was carried out for HomeEquity Bank, which is behind the heavily-advertised CHIP Reverse Mortgage.

"For senior homeowners, staying at home and not moving away during retirement is mostly about maintaining a sense of independence," Ipsos said in a statement.

Other reasons given for staying put include "preserving a sense of community and attachment," as well as staying close to friends and family. Four in 10 said they have emotional attachments and memories that hold them in place.

Isolated seniors?

But for many aging homeowners, staying put will prove to be easier said than done. With two-thirds of Canadians living in low-density suburban neighbourhoods, many of Canada's seniors risk becoming isolated in their homes once they are unable to drive, according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).

"With Canada's population aging rapidly, municipalities must refocus community planning efforts to deal with the impact of decades-old car-dependent suburban sprawl that leaves less mobile seniors isolated," report author Glenn Miller wrote.

"It is fair to say that our current suburbs are no place to grow old."

Miller noted that "although most of Ontario's largest cities have declared their intention to become 'age-friendly,' none have yet taken the basic step of amending their land-use plans to reflect that commitment."

New homebuyers sniffing around

In many of Canada's largest housing markets, buying a detached family home in the suburbs has nearly become a zero-sum game.

Construction of new detached homes in Toronto and Vancouver has declined to multi-decade lows, due to rising land prices that push developers to build more densely, and also due to municipal density requirements.

That means current homebuyers are chasing mostly after the existing stock of detached homes, even as cities' populations grow. That's part of the reason why prices for those homes have soared in recent years.

And it helps to explain why, according to the Ipsos poll, nearly a quarter — 24 per cent — of homeowners aged 75 plus say they were approached by a realtor, unsolicited, about selling their home.

That may be a clear sign of just how desperate things have become for homebuyers in some markets. The Ipsos poll suggests that, with seniors staying put as long as they can, there's no tidal wave of seniors' homes for sale on the horizon. The struggle continues.

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