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Property Transfer Taxes. The Impact on Housing Affordability.

Property /Land Transfer Tax Revenues

There are many current challenges for home buyers in today’s market including high prices, low inventory and rising purchase costs. Toronto and Vancouver stand out as the most unaffordable in Canada.

A property transfer tax or land transfer tax is a significant additional cost paid by a buyer every time a home is purchased. The tax is payable to the Province and each Province calculates these fees differently.

In 2022/23 the British Columbia Property Transfer Tax (PTT) brought in $2,026 Billion in revenue. The 2023/24 forecast was $1,799 Billion. British Columbia has added numerous other property based taxes including vacant properties, foreign buyers and the new home flipping tax in 2024 including those specific to Vancouver and regional zones.

In Ontario the land transfer tax brought in $5,685 Billion in revenue in 2021/22 with a similar forecast for 22/23. Toronto charges an additional tax and alone brought in about $948 million for Toronto in 2022.

 

Housing Affordability

According to RBC Housing Affordability report from April 2, 2024, this is the toughest time ever to afford a home in Canada. Each new tax and fee makes housing less affordable.

How incentivized are the provinces to solve this problem when they earn such high revenue from the transfer of property in their respective provinces through property/land transfer taxes and fees.

What are Average Sale Prices Across Canada?

Median home prices vary greatly across the country. The Fall 2023 Home Price in Calgary is $553,800 compared to $1,208,400 in Greater Vancouver or $345,700 in Winnipeg.

Source: Zoocasa. Oct 3, 2023.

What are the Property/Land Transfer Tax costs across Canada?

Note: There are exceptions or rebates across the country for first-time home buyers, family transfers and other status. As well, there are additional taxes in some Provinces related to foreign buyers, foreign corporations, property flipping and other exceptions. Check your region for specifics.

 

The general property transfer tax per Province on the purchase of a $500,000 home:

ProvinceCostNotes
BC$8,000 
Alberta$420, potentially increasing to $1,000 in 2024.Alberta doesn’t charge a true property transfer tax. There is a charge to register land titles and mortgages on title. This value assumes an 80% mortgage
Saskatchewan$2,000 
Manitoba$7,774 
Ontario$6,475 
   Toronto$12,950 
Quebec$5,903Adjustments for Montreal
New Brunswick$5,000 
Price Edward Island$5,000 
Nova Scotia$7,500Additional $25,000 for non residents
Newfoundland$3,796 

 

Now considering media home prices, using $500,000 as a benchmark makes sense for most of the country but not for Toronto, Vancouver or Victoria.

 

The general property transfer tax per Province on the purchase of a $1,000,000 home:

ProvinceCostNotes
BC$18,000 
Alberta$740, potentially increasing to $1,900 in 2024.Alberta doesn’t charge a true property transfer tax. There is a charge to register land titles and mortgages on title. This value assumes an 80% mortgage
Saskatchewan$4,000 
Manitoba$17,774 
Ontario$16,475 
   Toronto$32,950 
Quebec$13,403Adjustments for Montreal ($15,800+)
New Brunswick$10,000 
Price Edward Island$10,000 
Nova Scotia$15,000Additional $25,000 for non residents
Newfoundland$5,000 

 

The property/land transfer taxes are on top of all other home purchase costs including any fees associated with borrowing and mortgages.

 

The Revenue Handcuffs that impact Home Affordability

Wouldn’t just the act of removing/reducing these taxes assist with home affordability?

Since the Provinces collect such huge revenues from the property/land transfer taxes, especially in BC and Ontario, are they really even able to reduce the dependence on this revenue to make housing more affordable?

Since most Provinces and even cities like Toronto have been increasing taxes and fees rather than lowering them, it is unlikely to see this aspect of affordability change anytime soon.

Is this dependence also responsible for the lack of action around mortgage fraud, straw buyers and other challenges that have pushed up home prices in some regions?

 

May You Always Find Your Way Home

Preparing Your Home for Sale. Essential Preparations and Potential Renovations.

What are essential preparations to get the best sale possible? Are renovations necessary? There is a distinct difference between preparing for the sale of your home and renovating to sell your home.

Preparing Your Home for Sale

I strongly believe you should absolutely prepare and stage your home for sale. A well presented home will often sell quicker and for more money. In some cases, it will sell for thousands more. Real estate sales are about price and condition, or as has been eloquently put, “It’s all a price war and a beauty contest.” This is all about preparing for the beauty contest.

Well presented homes are:

Exceptionally clean

Clean your home from top to bottom including walls, baseboards, cupboards, windows and everything in between. If there are ceiling stains they will be noticed.

Uncluttered

It is hard to see a home and visualize a buyer’s furniture and style when a home is very full of furniture and belongings. A pre-pack is often necessary to unclutter, clean and open up spaces while still maintaining some personality and defining spaces.

Neutral in smell

You may no longer notice odours in your home. However, buyers may be sensitive to various odours including cooking, pets, gym equipment, mould or purposefully scented items or perfumes. If a home has a lot of scented items such as candles or wall plug-ins, buyers will often discuss what is being covered up. Some buyers also have issues with strong scents and will leave a showing primarily due to the smell. The ideal smell in a home is a neutral smell.

Light and bright

Turn on the lights and open the blinds to let in as much natural light as possible. If there will be evening showings, do a walkthrough to see if darkly lit rooms or corners can be brightened. Ensure lightbulbs are natural in color and light a room quickly. Buyers are less likely to buy what they can’t see.

Well defined with each room displaying a specific purpose

If a home is listed as a three bedroom home, aim to have 3 beds to show off the 3 bedrooms. An office is best remembered when staged as an office, rather than full of overflow storage. When each room is set up with purpose it makes it easier for buyers to visualize themselves in the home.

Well organized including closets and cupboards

Buyers will open up main cupboards, pantry and closet doors and storage areas. If they look too full then buyers may assume there isn’t enough room so organize and leave open spaces.

Well landscaped with maintained yards

The curb appeal of the front landscaping and lifestyle appeal of a backyard or private space are top of mind for many buyers. Just as inside, clean up, stage and present a welcoming space.

In good repair 

All the little repair jobs around the home are best done before buyers find loose cupboards, a light that doesn’t work, a broken deck board or squeaky doors. The buyer’s perception about home maintenance goes far in choosing a new home.

Home staging services can be great resources if you need help preparing your home. Many provide consulting services to assist sellers.

Should You Paint your Home for Sale?

Painting is one of the ‘in the middle’ items. Buyers really get stuck on colour so neutralizing strong design choices can have an impact on the speed of sale and the final sale price.

As most buyers first look at listing photographs prior to viewing, consider the overall color impact when looking at the main rooms to ensure the listing presents as well as possible. If bedrooms are strong or dark colours, try and neutralize with a white bedspread and accessories.

As well, if a home is well lived in than a refresh can be worth the investment. As many buyers often redecorate and repaint themselves, it isn’t always worth it so evaluate this one carefully.

If the current paint is chipped, flaking and in disrepair than a fresh coat of paint can have the most impact.

Home painting is one of the renovation/repair items that has a positive return on investment, meaning it can result in a price adjustment higher than the cost of doing the work.

Note: Pink is consistently one of the least popular colors for decorating and home sales.

Should you renovate to sell your home?

Usually, preparations are all that are necessary to set the stage for a successful sale. However, it is worth the time to review if any renovations may be worth the time and expense.

Renovations are larger scale improvements and include anything from large scale painting to replacing kitchens, roofs, updating landscaping and more.

Before setting out on a renovation project there a few things to consider.

Before you look at any specific improvements, have a look at comparable homes in your neighbourhood that are selling around the same price point as your home.

Are they similar to yours? Do they all have an improvement that your home does not? Look through a buyers eyes to see what have be distinguishing features between the higher selling homes in your category and your own home.

What to consider when evaluating renovations for sale.

Inspection Issues

If there is a deficiency that will result in a buyer walking away from the purchase then it is best addressed prior to listing. Items of disrepair or safety issues should be reviewed independently of aesthetic improvements.

Many buyers may not be able to afford a necessary deficiency repair or renovation when buying a home near their maximum budget so they could not buy the property thus reducing the buyer pool for the property. If the property was priced a touch higher with the repairs completed, this may increase the buyer pool for the property.

Value

Evaluate the return on investment, the cost of the potential renovation vs the price adjustment on the sale price.

For example, if the kitchen cabinets are of average style and condition, replacing them with new cabinets may not result in a higher sale price and just cost you money.

Harrison Bowker Valuation Group regularly publishes a Home Renovation Value Guide related to Alberta. Use the guide as a starting point to determine potential renovation costs and returns.

For example, a bathroom remodel in the price range of $10,000-$20,000 may only result in a 50-75% return on investment. That new hot tub may only return 5-40% of cost.

Speed of Sale

Some renovations increase the speed of sale. Some buyers do not have the time between leaving their current home and moving into their new home to complete a renovation or they just don’t want to deal with a renovation with unknown costs and timelines.

These buyers are more likely to purchase a home with their priority items completed. 

A home that is missing something that other similar homes have to offer may take longer to sell. This is especially true when buyers have many homes to choose from in their area.

Market Timing

Some communities have seasonal sales cycles. For example, strong family neighbourhoods tend to see increased sales in the spring time and possession/occupancy dates that avoid disruptions to school schedules. Sales may slow in areas during summer holidays, large scale events or longer seasonal holidays such as Christmas.

Many people would rather avoid moving during the cold of winter. If you are considering a sale with a renovation consider timing to ensure your completion is best timed with the market cycles.

Real Estate Market

If the market is unbalanced, either strongly favouring the seller or the buyer than these tips become less or more relevant.

When there are more homes on the market than buyers, a buyer’s market, then preparations and presentation become much more important. Sellers will need to present well in listing photos and details to ensure buyers shortlist their home for viewing.

May you always find your way home.

With Tough Times Come Property Foreclosures. Are Foreclosures Such a Great Deal?

Foreclosures will now get renewed attention as families are pushed to their financial limits and mortgage delinquencies rise.

The number of mortgages up for renewal at significantly higher mortgage rates than their previous payments will hit a peak in the next 1 – 2 years.

There will be realtors with ‘foreclosure lists’. There will be sharks.

There will also be buyers trying to find ‘a great deal’ in the market.

The balance of risk/reward is understanding the adjusted price and associated risk for each individual property.

Who owns the foreclosed property?

When the title to the property is searched, who is the legal owner?

When a homeowner gets behind on their payments, the bank can take them to court to initiate a sale of the home to pay off the loan.

At this stage, any real estate listing would be a Judicial Listing. The title of the property remains in the name of the original homeowner, not the bank.

Alternatively, the bank can complete foreclosure proceedings where the bank becomes owner on title and then sells the vacant property. This is a Foreclosure listing.

All listing and purchase contracts are dramatically altered on Judicial and Foreclosure Listings. Risks for Buyers for Any Foreclosure.

Real Property Reports Not Provided

In Alberta, a property requires a valid real property report (RPR) often with a City Compliance Stamp to transfer ownership. The RPR requirement is usually struck in these purchases.

A real property report typically shows:

Locations of buildings, garages, structures
Locations of right of ways and encroachments
Compliance with municipal bylaws and codes

People make assumptions when they view a home or walk a property. When they see a fence, they assume a property line. When they see a structure, they assume it is permitted to be there.

Buying a home without a RPR means the buyer may not know the true property boundaries, or if structures were built without permits, across boundaries or setbacks and right-a-ways. The buyer bears the cost of resolving these issues. The Alberta Land Surveyors Association provides information and resources regarding RPRs.

Changes to the Standard Contract

As mentioned, the purchase documents are dramatically altered for these purchases. Understand what is added and removed.

There are also often additional documents such as a ‘Schedule A’ or ‘Schedule B’ which add additional detail to changes to the standard purchase contracts. You may wish to review the contract with your real estate lawyer.

Financing Challenges

Some lenders will not finance a mortgage on a foreclosure property and/or a judicial listing. If you have a mortgage pre-approval, it is irrelevant in this case. Discuss this specific purchase with your lender before putting forth an offer without a financing condition. Lenders may require higher down payments and only offer higher interest rates or different terms for these listings.

 

Disclosures

All disclosure requirements are typically removed from the purchase contract. The seller or bank does not need to disclose any material latent defects or stigmas to the buyer. They do not have to disclose if the property was a former grow-operation, had a health caveat, or other previous issues.

 

Property Condition

Property Inspections may or may not be accepted as a condition of purchase. If you can inspect, complete all available inspections including a permit review.

Appliances are often not included in the sale so they may be on property at the time of viewing but may or may not be there on possession day.

Some larger appliances such as furnaces, alarms, solar panels and other major components may be rented rather than owned.

The property is usually sold with an ‘As-Is/Where-Is’ clause. The buyer receives the property in whatever condition it is in on Possession Day without any recourse for issues that exist.

Permits

Any permit or lack-of-permit issues become the buyer’s full responsibility.

Higher Insurance Costs

Insurance costs for a foreclosure may be higher than a standard home purchase and may require inspections to be completed by the buyer as a condition of insurance.

Condo documents Not Provided

A Condo Documents Review condition may not be accepted as a condition of purchase.

The seller or bank does not need to provide any condo documents as typical in a regular purchase. There is no obligation by the seller to disclose upcoming special assessments. It is up to the buyer to obtain these documents.

Title Issues and Hidden Costs

A title search may uncover additional financial challenges such as outstanding liens, claims, or other legal issues against the property.

A buyer may incur additional hidden costs such as court fees, legal expenses or expenses to resolve outstanding taxes or liens.

Some major items such as furnaces, hot water tanks, security systems, solar panels or other systems may be rented rather than purchased. It is up to the buyer to research these items.

Additional Risks to Purchase for Judicial Listings

Limited Viewing

Homeowners under the pressure of foreclosure are often not very open to home viewings. Homeowners may deny access until court ordered and even then make viewings difficult, limited or challenging.

 

Loan Buy Back

The bank may allow the previous homeowner time to pay back their loan before the property is transferred. In this case, the homeowner could pay back their loan and keep their home. Details around redemption, legal proceedings and timing vary by jurisdiction.

There is risk here for the buyer that the sale will not be completed.

Ongoing Occupancy

When a property is sold as a judicial listing, the court then gives the previous homeowners a set amount of time to vacate the property before the new owner takes possession.

The ongoing occupancy can result in additional challenges.

There may have been damage, minor or major, caused by the ongoing occupancy prior to possession day. Due to the As-Is/Where-Is clause discussed above, all costs may become the buyer’s responsibility with limited legal recourse.

Offers

There is a set process for how legal proceedings occur and vary by area. Speak to your real estate lawyer for details on the types of proceedings, timing and deadlines for your specific situation.

Offers presented to the bank may take time to get a response and with limited negotiation. Once an offer is received only then may a court date be set.

Generally offers are reviewed by the court on a court appointed day so you may have to submit an offer, but then wait until the court hears the case to know if the offer was accepted. Depending on timing and the type of offer submitted, the buyer may not be able to offer on another property during this time.

Proceedings are public and presented offers become public record.

Additional offers or bidding can and often occur in court. Attendance is recommended.

How to Mitigate the Risk of Buying a Foreclosure

Understanding the risks will help you make informed decisions and ask questions to protect yourself and better understand the value of the property.

  • Research the property through all available means including permit searches and any municipal records available
  • Review the Historical Property Title
  • Review the property sale history and any historical information
  • Complete the inspections
  • Buy and review the condo documents
  • Talk to the neighbours
  • If you see structures, fences or other improvements, do the research regarding their locations and construction against community standards.
  • Discuss insurance options with your Insurance Company
  • Discuss a mortgage on the specific property with your lender
  • Talk to a Real Estate Lawyer before putting in an unconditional offer.
  • Buy Title Insurance
  • Verify responsibility and payment for previous utility costs
  • Verify there are no ‘rented’ appliances on the property that may have outstanding contracts.

At the end of the day, a Judicial Sale/Foreclosure listing has pros and cons and each buyer needs to decide if the price is worth the risk.

It is up to the buyer to understand the real estate purchase process, the specific issues regarding judicial sales/foreclosures and the legal proceedings.

Engage the advice of a real estate lawyer and a realtor with specific knowledge of judicial sales and foreclosures.

May you always find your way home.

How to Buy Your Next Home

When I bought my first home I had no idea what I was doing. It was overwhelming and I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I’ve since bought and sold numerous properties in BC and Alberta and later became a realtor myself with a busy decade + of helping people buy and sell homes in Calgary. 

Buying a home is often one of those things that is slow and super fast at the same time. So I thought the info below would help you find your way.

First, consider the things to think about before you find ‘the’ house such as money, realtors, paperwork, community, and general research.

Second, learn about free tools to help you research a specific property.

Money

 

Mortgages

Right now with mortgage rates fluctuating and home prices increasing there is a pressure to push financial limits. It’s easy to talk yourself into just a little extra each month but it’s really hard to live being house-poor.

Before you look at any property run through your financial and mortgage approvals with a mortgage broker. I suggest you find one not working for a major bank, but an independent financial advisor/broker. An independent financial advisor/broker may be more inclined to help you find the best deal among a variety of lenders rather than only offering products from their own institution in the case of agents at a major bank.

They can help explain mortgages, mortgage costs, and fees and help you get your pre-approvals in place.

 

Total Cost of Borrowing and Home Ownership

Depending on your mortgage type and the amount of your down payment, there may be additional costs of borrowing such as CMHC fees and other administration fees. Ask for the details so you understand your total mortgage amount.

Once you know the mortgage costs, find out about closing costs including property transfer taxes.

Then research ongoing costs of ownership such as municipal property taxes, utilities and municipal fees, insurance, and condo fees if applicable. Estimate annual maintenance costs. Then add it up. The total cost of ownership is more than just mortgage costs. Those condo fees can especially be a surprising additional cost.

Pay the Right Price

In some markets, homes are listed for sale and sell relatively close to that price. In other markets, homes are listed low to get multiple offers and sell much higher than listed.

Before looking at list prices to determine the type of home you can afford, do a bit of research to find out which market you are in. You want to see Sold Prices whenever possible and also how quickly homes sold.

If you are signing a fixed mortgage, say a typical 5-year fixed rate mortgage, when rates are high, ensure you understand what ‘interest rate differential’ means. It is an article in itself, but basically, you can’t just sell the home or change mortgage providers mid-term without paying the penalty calculated using the amount owing, the duration left in your mortgage term, and the interest rate difference between your existing rate and a new lower rate.

Have your mortgage broker explain these details to you. If they won’t explain them then get a new mortgage broker. This is especially important right now as there is a significant potential for mortgage rate drops in the coming months.

Realtors

 

Choosing the Right Realtor for You

Choosing a realtor is a big deal. I’ve worked with a number of realtors buying and selling properties in numerous cities and then been one myself. As with any profession, there are good and bad ones. It’s important to find one that you get along with and is a better fit for what you need.

It is ok to chat with a few different realtors and ask questions to make sure their areas of expertise match your needs. Many real estate boards require paperwork to be signed before viewing homes. It is ok to interview people and then sign once you are comfortable. Don’t feel pressured to sign and work with someone if you want to take more time to consider other options. On the flip side, don’t have a realtor show you 50 homes and then buy one through your cousin’s friend. That’s not cool either.

 

Some Potential Questions:

  • Have they bought and owned property themselves?
  • Do they work independently or as part of a team of people who may rotate schedules to assist you?
  • Do they know the area?
  • Do they have experience with the type of home you are looking for? For example, not all realtors have additional knowledge and experience with condos or country residential properties.
  • What is their availability?
  • How do they communicate with you?
  • Do they answer their phone when you call?
  • Do they work full time in real estate?

Understand Your Rights

One major suggestion: Do not work with the realtor who is listing the property you want to buy. Why? The listing realtor’s job is to get the house sold at the highest/best price. That is their primary job. The buyer’s realtor’s job is to represent the buyer’s interests and get the house bought at the lowest/best price.

The responsibilities of a realtor to their client are undivided loyalty, confidentiality, full disclosure, obedience, reasonable care and skill, and full accounting. How is it possible for one person to demonstrate that equally to both sides of the same negotiation?

Yes, you can be asked to sign away some of your rights and allow one realtor to represent you as the buyer while also representing the seller in this situation, but why would you?

Contracts and Paperwork

 

Read the Documents

Read the paperwork and contracts you will be signing before you present an offer for a specific home. I know it’s boring. But there’s some important stuff in there and you are spending huge sums of money. These contracts change regularly so even if you bought a home a few years ago, have another look.

Research Typical Conditions of Purchase

Also, have a chat with your realtor about common conditions of purchase and start researching what other professional services you will need to complete the purchase process. For example, some common conditions are financing and home inspection.

Older properties may require you to obtain specialists for conditions regarding wood-burning fireplaces, septic systems, wells, oil tanks, or sewer sewer scopes.

More modern homes may have solar panels, unique appliances, or automated systems that a standard home inspector may not be qualified to review.

If there are large structures on the property such as retaining walls on property lines, it is important to understand who is responsible for their maintenance and who can inspect them.

Community

If you are buying a home in a community that you have lived in for many years there are a lot of things you already know. You may remember which houses always seem to be for sale and which areas look well cared for while others have issues. You may know where the parking is always a challenge or where the best Halloween houses are. If you are new to an area then you don’t know these things. It’s worth a drive around and a check on community social media pages to get a sense of things.

Research

 

General Maintenance

Homes that have been well cared for will look good for their age. If you are looking at a few homes in the same community it will soon be easy for you to tell which have been maintained regularly and which have not.  Some research is needed to understand what is typical in the area you are looking at and the usual maintenance requirements.

Ask yourself: What is the typical heat source? Electrical? Water and plumbing? Are homes on municipal services, co-ops, or individual systems? When it comes time for the home inspection, attend and ask questions.

Radon testing is a more recent change to the industry and building codes have been updated to address radon mitigation in residential homes. Ask about radon testing and disclosures in your area.

Stigmatized Properties

Some homes have specific red flags or may be considered a stigmatized property with a history that you consider an issue but someone else may not. Sellers don’t have to tell you these things so you need to ask the questions.

Even with red flags, every property has value even if sometimes that value is just the land after the house is torn down. However, a home with an unusual issue/history may be worth less than a comparable home without that issue/history.

Warranty

Unless the home you are buying is recently built with a transferable builder warranty, there is no warranty. There are different rules in different municipalities and provinces about required disclosures for issues, defects, history, etc, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the buyer doing their research to ensure they are buying what they think they are buying.

Condo Corporations

If you are purchasing a condo such as an apartment or townhouse, the research includes understanding how a condo is structured. When buying a condo you also become responsible for your part of the total building/complex and there are often by-laws or rules to follow that may include limits on pets, parking, noise and how you use your unit. There are also financials and other documents to review.

What is important to you?

Looking at a specific property, what information would be the line between you buying or not buying a property? A former grow-op? Work completed without a permit? A death on the property? Future development around the corner? Zoning? A potential special assessment by the condo board? Some of these questions you have to directly ask, and others you can research.

 

Tools

Google Maps

Look up any property on Google Maps.

  • Turn on the terrain layer to see what is around the home. You may find unexpected infrastructure behind trees, small business registrations in your area, a beautiful park you didn’t know existed, transit stops and lines, and many more details.
  • Use the traffic layer at different times of day to see how busy things are around the area.
  • Look up a specific property and use the peg man icon to drop him on the street to look around. In this mode, you can also go back in time to view the area over previous years using the timebox in the upper left corner. You can see changes on the property over time as well as the homes around the area.

City Information and Mapping

In Calgary, the city provides a wide range of public information maps from development application maps, flood maps, pathways, parking zones, transit, and much more. Similar information is available for many cities and municipalities.

Is your potential home in a flood zone? Could this affect your insurance costs? Are there parking restrictions in your area that carry additional costs?

If you want to use your home for a specific use such as a home business or childcare? Finding out zoning and permit information to ensure you can use a specific home for business use.

Police Department

If you are concerned about the history of your property of interest you can visit your local police department to ask if there have been significant issues at a property. You can also have your realtor directly ask the listing agent a specific question.

Services

If you are looking for a home in an urban centre then you are most likely assuming all typical services are available to you, but otherwise, you may want to check which utilities, internet, and even delivery services are available in the area. Some apartment buildings don’t have a choice of service provider for internet/TV and if that’s an important consideration for you then it’s worth asking early in the process.

 

When you go and view homes and find ‘the one’, I hope that this information has helped prepare you to make your best decision. If you have any questions I can answer please feel free to contact me. I am happy to assist where I can and I am sure others have the same questions too.

 

May you always find your way home.

The Downsizing Myth

Many people climb the real estate ladder with the intent of one day selling and using the proceeds to fund their retirement.

Most of us start out renting, move around, maybe own a condo or townhouse, and then move to a family home and then again to something further up the ladder. This has been the dream of many for home ownership.

Later in life, it is often in the financial plans to sell the larger family home, put some money from the equity into savings, and move to something smaller that is easier to manage and allows for aging in place. This is called ‘the Downsize’.

The problem is that the vision of what ‘the Downsize’ will look like and the reality of real options are very different. This difference turns the ‘the Downsize’ into a myth. I have had the misfortune of dispelling this myth to many families.

The Options

As people plan for their retirement years, they often look for home features that allow them to age in place and remain in their independent home for as long as possible. These features include single level homes with limited stairs and locations close to amenities and family.

Most people I have spoken to had expected their own downsize to be a move from their current larger family home, usually a 2 storey home in Calgary, to a smaller single level family home. A single level detached home in Calgary is called a bungalow.

A second option is a villa townhouse. This is an attached townhouse style design that usually offers a single level design and is usually structured as a condo corporation with bylaws, services such as landscaping and associated monthly condo fees.

The third option is an apartment also structured as a condo corporation.

When we price out the potential costs of these options, most people are shocked at both the purchase prices and the associated condo fees. The bungalow option and even the villa option has many times priced out as more expensive than their current home resale value and it sends people into a tailspin.

Families are left with the decision of making compromises they didn’t expect. Usually, next is a call to a financial advisor, family and some time to deliberate next steps.

Stay in the Current Home

Many families have opted to just remain in their current homes. This has often resulted in some renovations, hiring of service companies to assist with maintenance/landscaping and readjusting retirement plans. It is the ‘do nothing because we don’t know what else to do’ solution. It works until it doesn’t due to a fall, illness, other family needs or financial issues.

The Bungalow Option

Bungalow numbers are declining. The supply and demand challenges here going forward are going to be even tougher than they are today.

Older existing single level homes are regularly taken down in Calgary and replaced with multi-level semi-attached duplexes and recently quadplexes especially in inner city communities. These older single level homes usually need modernizing and it is more profitable to tear down and rebuild more dense home options. New zoning will most likely see these homes torn down and replaced with denser multi family options even quicker as years progress.

Take a drive around Bowness, Marda Loop, Dalhousie or any communities in the initial suburban ring around the city and see for yourself.

There are fewer new construction bungalows being built in newer neighbourhoods. Compare the number of bungalows in a community like Scenic Acres built in the 1980’s compared to Nolan Hill, built just recently.

I wish I could provide detailed data to show you the number of single level homes available over time but neither the City of Calgary nor the Province of Alberta provides this information. The available information only focuses on single family vs multi family statistics. If you find a source of this information please do let me know. The best way to see if just to look at homes for sale on realtor.ca. It is striking.

According to the Alberta Regional Dashboard , 40.3% of homes in Calgary were single family houses in 2021. The percentage of single family homes in Calgary greatly declined -28.6% in the last five years.

This statistic is for all single family homes, not just a single level bungalow style.

The Single level Villa Townhouse Option

Just like the demise of the construction of single level homes there are few single level villas/townhomes or semi-detached properties built in Calgary these days except for the luxury market. If you have over $1Million to spend on your ‘downsized’ townhouse villa there are options, but many homeowners are not considering spending 7 figures on a downsized property that meets their needs.

There are existing villas in more mature neighbourhoods, but past clients found the pricing higher and homes older than they expected. It made the prospect of selling their current home less attractive. The layered challenge was for clients that owned pets, especially dogs. Many complexes outright ban dogs on property while others allow only those under a 20 or 30 pound weight limit.

If the decision to move was about lifestyle, then families do have numerous luxury options. However, if ‘the Downsize’ is a financially driven decision, then the options are challenging.

The Apartment Option

In my experience, people looking to downsize were either ready and looking to move into an apartment or absolutely not there yet. It is a lifestyle decision as well as a financial one.

For those ready to make the lifestyle adjustment, the move is usually slow with an eye on just the right location, complex and unit with a lot of time spent on figuring out how to adjust life, furniture, possessions, cars and hobbies.

One of the main pros for the apartment choice is the lock and leave lifestyle especially for snowbirds, those people that spent their winters in warmer climates. There are also many age 55+ condo complexes in the city. This is a great option for seniors that want the social atmosphere, amenities, and community support available.

The apartment market is often not as varied as people would hope. There are a large number of compact units with fewer options for larger sizes and flexible bylaws. Apartments also have condo fees. When considering even a modest condo fee of $0.50 per sq ft then that a 1000 sq ft condo can easily cost over $500 a month in condo fees alone. Most are higher especially in complex with more amenities.

As mentioned, some people are ready for the lifestyle change, but others are very far from accepting the adjustment easily.

One of the biggest challenges is pets. Most condos, apartments, and townhouse complexes alike in Calgary, restrict pets. There are some that allow pets but finding one that allows dogs over 20 pounds is often a big challenge. I have had a townhouse condo corporation deny an application for a buyer to keep their 12 year old 40 lb dog in order to buy the unit.

Another consideration is rules. Some people really like rules. Some people really don’t like rules.

Retirement Home Options

I should also mention the retirement home option. I’ve recently delved into understanding this market specifically built to support seniors with options ranging from independent living units, seniors lodges and medically assisted care facilities. These are group home settings of various styles that offer additional services, meal services and additional care options. This is usually not ‘the Downsize’ so I wasn’t sure if I should include this category, but then decided to include it just from a planning and pricing perspective.

There are some government subsidized options for low income seniors, but wait lists are long and there has been an increase of private facilities in recent years with private tier pricing to match. Even this week the pricing issues made the news for one complex.

City Development and Planning

Even before the current housing crunch, the City of Calgary put forth administrative policy changes around community planning and housing density. This has only been accelerated by recent housing shortages.

Reading through the documents there is a lot of focus on density, but I haven’t found much context or response regarding single level housing, aging in place or planning for the demographic shift for the general market.

Two things need to happen. There needs to be a more thoughtful consideration of the number of people entering retirement age in the coming years. As well, there needs to be a review of the standard bylaws and structures that currently govern condo corporations.

From Statscan Population Projections:
“The proportion of seniors (aged 65 and over) in the population would increase from 17.2% in 2018 to between 21.4% (slow-aging (SA) scenario) and 29.5% (fast-aging (FA) scenario) in 2068. The increase in the share of seniors would be most pronounced between 2018 and 2030, a period during which all members of the baby boom would reach age 65 and over.”

The Myth Concluded

So I dispelled the myth and you may be feeling the feeling others have felt when long held plans and current options don’t align. Maybe contact your local government representatives to voice your opinions about housing and home planning. Or maybe time to talk to your financial planner and family and look forward to a new plan that works for you.


May you always find your way home.