People born between 1946 and 1965 currently outnumber all other generations in Canada and, according to Environics, for the first time in the history of the country, there are now more seniors than children under 14. Also, the 2016 Census showed that the number of Canadians over age 55 went up by a robust 87% in the decade between 1996 and 2006, while the number of Canadians between 16 and 54 only rose by 14% during that same period. These numbers are dramatic enough on their own, but their social implications might be even more profound. So what is the impact of this demographic shift on the housing market?
Seniors, the “Demographic Time Bomb” Changing Real Estate Trends
According to the 2016 Census, people over 55 own properties further away from major business and financial centres. In these areas, as per multiple associations and CREA numbers, properties are less expensive and also boast more elbow room than homes in bigger cities.
But as they grow older (in a decade, even the youngest boomers will turn 65), many owners exit the homeownership market, opting for rentals or senior care facilities. Others, however, start to think about downsizing or buying second homes closer to city centres, trading space for accessibility and more comfort.
All these moves might lead to a glut of boomer properties, larger homes located in smaller cities, which would not be of interest to younger generations. Both Millennials and Gen Z-ers are looking for smaller and more affordable homes as close to the hustle and bustle of downtown as possible.
And with both seniors and younger generations looking for homes in the bigger cities, the pressure on the condo market increases, putting the spotlight on a sector already receiving a lot of attention.
Number of Seniors Increases Fastest in Cities with More Young People
Proof that a demographic shift really is underway, in Canada’s most active provinces it is the cities dominated by young people that are seeing the biggest increases in senior populations. Due to the growing number of seniors who are moving closer to family and baby boomers living in the city who are deciding to ‘age in place’, people over 55 are slowly taking over the urban spaces that used to be the Millennials’ playground.
The next decade or so will probably bring significant changes, but what are the seniors currently interested in and where are they positioned in the housing market? To discover how seniors are changing homeownership trends, as well as to gauge how this demographic shift might impact housing in the future, we looked at population changes between 2006 and 2016 and at the correlation between the percentage of seniors and home prices in Canada’s 150 biggest cities.
British Columbia Boasts the Highest Home Prices, and It’s Aging Fast
In BC, with very few exceptions, most people over age 55 are currently living in cities outside the Greater Vancouver Area. The “oldest” cities in the province are Penticton, West Vancouver, North Cowichan, Courtenay, and Vernon, which all have a share of seniors of over 40%.
At the other end of the spectrum, Port Moody, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, and Prince George have a considerably smaller share of seniors, around 25%. Vancouver is hot on their trail, coming in sixth in the province, with only 28% of its population over the age of 55.
Home prices are inversely proportional to age: with a few exceptions, the more people over 55, the cheaper the homes. For example, the five most expensive cities in the Greater Vancouver Area all boast some of the lowest shares of seniors in the province.
One notable exception is West Vancouver, where the share of people over 55 is the second highest in the province, but where homes also routinely sell for prices that would make your head spin.
However, just like at a national level, BC’s youngest cities are the ones getting old the fastest. Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, two of the youngest cities in our analysis, have seen the biggest jumps in the number of seniors: 46% and 39% respectively.
The Prairies Region Is the Youngest, Has Second Lowest Home Prices
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba represent Canada’s youngest provinces. No city in this area has a share of seniors higher than 35% (Moose Jaw, AB is the “oldest” city, with 33% seniors), and the youngest city, Wood Buffalo, AB has a share of people over age 55 of only 12%.
Following Wood Buffalo, Airdrie and Grande Prairie, both in Alberta, have the second- and third-lowest shares of seniors, both under 20%.
Of the three capitals, Edmonton, AB has the lowest share of seniors (24%), making it the “youngest” capital in The Prairies. Regina, SK comes second, with a slightly higher share of seniors (26%), meaning Winnipeg (28% people over 55) is the “oldest” capital in The Prairies.
As for the correlation we’ve observed at a national level, home prices are inversely proportional to age in The Prairies as well: in the majority of cases, the higher the share of people over 55, the lower the average home price. One exception is Calgary, AB. Home prices here are the highest in the region, although almost a quarter of the city’s population is represented by seniors.
As was the case in British Columbia, in all three Prairie Provinces it is again the younger cities that see the biggest spikes in senior population: Okotoks, AB has seen a staggering 59% increase, and Wood Buffalo, AB, the city with the lowest share of people over 55, saw its number of seniors increase 41%.
Ontario Ages Fast, Has Second-Most Expensive Home Prices in Canada
As expected, it is the cities in the Greater Toronto Area that boast the lowest shares of people over 55. With a percentage of only 18% seniors in 2016, Milton is the “youngest” city in Ontario, followed by Brampton (22% of the city’s population are seniors), and Ajax (23%).
The three cities with the highest share of people over age 55 are Kawartha Lakes (43%), Brockville (42%), and Owen Sound (40%).
Similar to other provincial capitals and major business hubs, Toronto and Ottawa’s share of people over 55 is just under 30%. And in Ontario, like in the other provinces, the average home price drops as the share of seniors increases.
Again, it is the relatively “young” cities that are aging the fastest, with the biggest increases in share of seniors seen by cities like Brantford (a 61% jump compared to 2006), Aurora (whose senior population grew 52% in a decade), and Clarence-Rockland and Pickering (both witnessing a 44% increase in the past ten years).
The most significant exception here seems to be Milton: not only is it the “youngest” big city in Ontario, but its share of seniors actually decreased since 2006: by -3%.
In Quebec, Blainville Sees the Highest Spike in Seniors
Shawinigan, Sorel-Tracy, and Thetford-Mines have the largest shares of seniors in the province, with 47% and 46%; Cote-Saint-Luc, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Rimouski, and Joliette also have a significant percentage of people over age 55 (in all these cities, 40% of the total population is over 55).
Two of the “youngest” cities in the province boast very low shares of seniors: Mirabel’s population over 55 only reached 21% in 2016, while Blainville reached 23%. Two other cities with a very small share of seniors are Terrebonne and Vaudreuil-Dorion (25%).
With a few significant exceptions, Quebec plays by the rules when it comes to the correlation between the share of people over 55 and home prices in the area: the higher the share of seniors, the lower the average home price.
The most outstanding exception is Cote-Saint-Luc, a smaller city in the Greater Montreal Area. The share of seniors here is rather high, 40%, but this is the only city to see a decrease since 2006. Also, Cote-Saint-Luc stands at the top of the list, with the highest average home price in the province: $484,361.
The Atlantic Region Has Lowest-Priced Homes, and Ages More Slowly
When it comes to the share of seniors, the Atlantic Region has more balanced values overall, without the deep fluctuations seen in other provinces. Here, the lowest share of people over 55 is in Halifax, NS, tying with St. John’s, NL (30%). Comparatively, Cape Breton, NS boasts the highest share of seniors in the region (42%).
In this area, home prices decrease as the share of seniors goes up: Cape Breton, NS has both the highest share of people over 55 and the lowest average home prices, while Halifax, NS and St. John’s, NL are the “youngest” cities, but at the same time, home prices here are the highest in the entire region.
The increase in number of seniors in this region is also less dramatic, with the biggest spike in Cape Breton (28%). However, given that the decade between 2006 and 2016, Cape Breton’s overall population decreased by 8%, the 28% jump in people over age 55 shows that the rapid aging national trend did not bypass The Atlantic Region.
As Canadian baby boomers are retiring and as seniors are weighing up their options, the real estate decisions they make will have a great impact on the housing market.
Whether it’s downsizing, investing in real estate, renting, or helping their millennial children get a foot on the ladder, baby boomers and seniors will continue to play a significant role in the evolution of the housing market.
For this study, we analyzed Statistics Canada and Environics demographics data, such as changes in total population, as well as changes in the share of seniors (people aged 55 and over) in the decade between 2006 and 2016, in the 150 biggest cities in Canada.
We also looked at home price data (February 2019) to establish a correlation between the share of seniors and home prices in Canada’s largest cities. We used several sources: TREB, Centris, CREA, CREA Stats, FCIQ, FVREB, KWAR, BDAR, Niagara Association of Realtors, Brandon Area Realtors, CREB, VIREB, VREB, CARA, LDAR, BC Northern, EREB, QDAR, SRAR, The Association of Regina REALTORS, SOREB, Kelowna Homes, OMREB, REBGV, AREA.
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