Canada's housing market has maintained its strength across the country compared to its struggling neighbors to the south. Skyrocketing prices and bidding wars have continued in cities like Toronto and Vancouver to the exasperation of homebuyers, even though some say a housing bubble is on the horizon.
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So where are the deals? By comparing average home prices and median household incomes in cities across the nation, we zeroed in on the cities where you'll find the best bang for your buck. The following prices are all in Canadian dollars.
- Anywhere in New Brunswick
Low housing prices combined with a higher-than-average income level make Moncton, St. John and Fredericton great options for buyers looking for a deal. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), the average housing price in St. John and Frederiction is around $169,000, with the provincial average hovering around $155,000. The province's urban centers have jobs in health care, finance and education. The rural economy depends on forestry, mining and fishing, and both Irving Oil and McCain Foods are based in New Brunswick. The province shares the characteristics of all Maritime provinces, like quaint, clapboard homes and easy access to the great outdoors, but doesn't have the same schizophrenic weather patterns that affects Nova Scotia.
- Sydney and Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia
Sydney, the largest city on Cape Breton Island, and the rest of the county boast some of the lowest housing prices in the country, with the average cost of a home at just $98,338. "At the end of 2008, buyers were clearly nervous whether to enter the real estate market based on the economy," said Linda Smardon, president of the Nova Scotia Board of Realtors. "Towards the middle of 2009, consumer confidence began to build again and the recovery from double-digit decreases in sales and dollar volume indicates a brighter 2010 for the market than some previously thought." A slow economy makes it tough for many to find high-quality work in the area, but those in the market for an oceanside cottage with fabulous views who can't afford west coast prices could find their dream home on the island. (When you're looking for a new house, it's important to know what not to do. Find out more in Top 8 House-Hunting Mistakes.)
- Windsor, Ontario
Windsor's close proximity to Detroit, Michigan, and its close ties to that city's dying automotive industry means there's a high unemployment rate and housing prices are way down in the area - the average home price is listed at $164,123. But tourism, the University of Windsor and the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery employ thousands who are able to take advantage of real estate investment opportunities with the hope that the city will recover in the coming years. A $1.6 billion parkway project and a $900 million border crossing should create jobs and pump some money back into the local economy. And with milder winters and longer, hotter summers than the rest of the province, Windsor's bargains could be an attractive option.
- Gatineau, Quebec
Gatineau (formerly known as Hull), found just on the other side of the Quebec border from Ottawa, has become a popular place to buy a house for many who work in the nation's capital. A mere 10-minute drive away, buyers in Gatineau (who enjoy prices approximately $100,000 lower than prices in Ottawa) also take advantage of Quebec's subsidized daycare system and tax breaks.
As opposed to other suburban areas, Gatineau sits on the edge of the Ottawa River and still has a small-town feel to it, which also makes it attractive to buyers. Finally, not all locals commute to government jobs across the river- federal government locations have sprung up in the town in recent years.
- Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
A slightly higher than average income level and a low average housing price ($188,000) makes Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island an affordable option for homebuyers. But with a population of just over 32,000, be prepared for a very isolated and small-town feel to the whole province (you can drive around the entire island in less than a day). Government, healthcare and education are the driving factors in the local economy. Like Cape Breton, Charlottetown's sandy beaches, wildlife, seafood and golf courses make it a great place to put your roots down or find a relaxing summer vacation home. (Once you've decided on a house, the purchasing process still isn't over. Find out more in 12 Steps To Closing A Real Estate Deal.)
- Regina, Saskatchewan
Regina has a healthy economy, and with average home prices at a moderate $250,826, chances are good that you can find a real estate deal here. A substantial number of people work in the natural gas and oil industries, with Imperial Oil having a refinery here, but there are also vast green parks, recreation spaces, a vibrant arts and culture scene, and the University of Regina. If you can handle a higher crime rate than other parts of Canada, and the flat, seemingly never-ending prairies, Regina has a lot to offer.
The Bottom Line
Before you pack your bags, sell your condo and upgrade to a house in Regina, there are a few considerations that aren't accounted for in the numbers above. Disposable incomes and the cost of living will vary between provinces, with a range in sales, property and income taxes in different areas of the country. Goods will cost more in some places than others depending on where they are produced and how they're transported to a city, and some cities have added municipal taxes to real estate sales. And always make sure you do a thorough inspection of any house you're thinking about buying - it goes without saying that a low price could mean there's something wrong with it. But that's not to say your dream of a home bargain isn't just around the corner.
Feeling uninformed? Read this week's financial news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Buffett's Armed and Greece Keeps Falling.