First National Financial LP

Residential Market Commentary - Goodbye city life?

  • First National Financial LP

Labour Day has come and gone, and along with it the notion that everyone would be “back in the office”.

So, the questions persist: will workers be heading back to the office, and if they do will there be a change in direction that sees homebuyers coming back to the cities?  

The real estate consultancy Avison Young hopes it can help answer those questions with a new tool it calls its Vitality Index.  The firm is using anonymized cell phone data to track the volume of foot traffic in the downtown cores of 23 North American cities including Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

The first readings indicate there is a long way to go before things return to a pre-pandemic normal.  The index suggests buyers, sellers, renters and lenders should be preparing for a new normal, at least for the foreseeable future.

Using the pre-lockdown period of early March 2020 as a baseline, the Vitality Index shows foot traffic in Canada’s major metropolitan areas remains down by between 65% and 90%.

The increasing ability to work from home, and the continuing refinement of working remotely would seem to reinforce the idea that the return to the office in pre-pandemic numbers is unlikely even as vaccines do their job and health restrictions are eliminated.

Many members of the important, first-time buyer cohort are ready, willing and able to work remotely.  Given the affordability problems they are facing it is likely that cheaper, out of town, properties will remain more desirable until the housing stock increases enough to meet demand and stabilize prices.