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Alberta’s housing dilemma: Influx of out-of-province buyers sparks market concerns

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Over the last two years, Alberta has seen an influx of residents from big cities seeking more space and a cheaper way of living. People in Toronto and Vancouver, particularly those able to work remotely, saw an opportunity for a more lucrative life in another province — and the Alberta government was strongly encouraging them to move to the Prairies.

“We have the most affordable housing in all of Canada, pretty much any city,” Brian Jean, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy and northern development, said in March 2023. “They can sell their house in Toronto or Vancouver, buy four houses here in Alberta and live in one and rent three.”


Over 100,000 migrated in four years, at least as many more expected by 2027


Many took up the offer. Statistics Canada reported from July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023, Alberta’s population grew by 4 per cent, with over 55,000 more people moving in than moving out. In four years, Calgary’s Housing and Affordability Task Force believes that number surpassed 100,000, with another 110,000 coming in the next few years.

The negative consequences of such a campaign are being realized as those moving into Alberta are finding their dollar goes farther, while those in Calgary are seeing prices increase.


Migration seen as problematic for long-time Calgary residents waiting to buy


“My clients who have been here for 15, 20 years are trying to get into the market, and the down payment they had is not good enough anymore,” says Anthony Lewis, a Re/Max Real Estate (Central) agent.

A lifelong Calgarian and realtor of over 10 years, he points to the migration as a problem for those who have been living in Calgary and waiting to buy. “People from Ontario and B.C. are coming in, and now it’s too pricey for (my clients) who want a detached home. Now it’s a townhouse or condo apartment.”


More market tenacity from non-Albertans


The province in general and Calgary, in particular, are seeing the same trends as the rest of the country in anticipation of interest rates going down: low inventory and more competition as people ready to enter the market. This leads to more tenacity from some buyers, particularly from outside the province.

“I get a lot of people from Ontario and B.C. offering sight unseen,” says Lewis.”They want to buy an investment property in Calgary, so we have video calls. I’m seeing unconditional offers which may be normal in Ontario, but over here we’re like, ‘get the home inspection.’”

About the Alberta campaign and its marketing efforts to Ontario and British Columbia, Lewis feels it’s “not really doing any favours to home ownership in Calgary.”


Issue seeping into local rental market


It’s not just prospective homeowners who are feeling squeezed; Calgary is seeing their rental crisis exacerbate.

The February 2024 housing report by notes the average Canadian rental price for a one-bedroom unit rose by over 12 per cent. This follows a 19.2 per cent increase from the previous year. Notably, studio apartments, typically the cheapest rental option available, saw their average price rise by over 30 per cent — meaning those seeking out the least expensive option are finding it tougher than ever to secure a place to live.

What’s more, this year CBC reported a dim outlook by the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC), with vacancy rates set to drop as prices increase and the market tightens. The CMHC January 2024 report noted the average price of a two-bedroom residence in Calgary is $1,695, an increase of 14.3 per cent in one year.

“Where is everyone going to live?” asks Lewis. “People are getting kicked out of their homes.”


More agents, more competition — including from outside Alberta


The influx of residents has increased the number of licensed agents in the province, as well. 

The Real Estate Council of Alberta reports that since January 2021, it received 1,385 mobility applications from real estate agents and mortgage brokers outside Alberta to become licensed in the province. The three-year period previously saw only 399 such applications.

In addition to the rise of licensed agents to deal with the increase in transactions, there’s more competition. So, Lewis and others must face being skipped over entirely.

“Builders here are marketing to people directly in Ontario,” he explains. “I had this problem two years ago, where I was trying to get a presale for this condo, but they weren’t marketing to Calgary real estate agents.”


Increased unaffordability a growing concern: “This is our reality”


While Lewis acknowledges there’s more money to go around for agents, he worries about the increase in people who can’t afford to live there.

“We need to slow down, we need to look at what’s happening,” he says. “It’s out there now that Calgary is a nice city, and that’s what brings everyone here, but I don’t think it can slow down, and I don’t think the government wants it to slow down.”

He does have some advice for fellow agents facing similar dilemmas: “All we can do for the buyers we have that aren’t out of province is paint the picture of how it’s going to be,” says Lewis. “You’re going to be competing against five other people, and three of the five will be from B.C. or Ontario and will go over asking. This is our reality.”


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