A while back I looked at house prices in Winnipeg, and realized just how effed up the housing market has become. When I left in the mid-nineties you could get a downtown condo or suburban single-detached house of reasonable quality for under $100,000. I saw the same houses listed for as much as $350,000, and some of those were stripped-to-the-baseboard renovation specials. Former MP and financial gadfly Garth Turner, who’s been going on for some time about the imminent collapse of the Canadian housing market, had a post about the Winnipeg situation last week: surging demand, limited rental housing stock, unaffordable prices. This is not the Winnipeg I remember.
Urban Issues & Housing
If you’re interested in urban planning, public transit or Ottawa in general, you really should read Richard’s excellent rant about all of these things.
Another reason to keep renting for now: “Canada’s housing market is in a bubble that’s set to burst and prices could plunge by as much as 25 per cent, a major independent research firm warns,” reports CBC News.
Apart from not having enough money on hand for a down payment, there are two very good reasons we’re renting instead of buying a house: one, our rent is so cheap that taking out a mortgage on something even barely equivalent to where we’re living now would nearly double our housing costs; and two, the housing market is rather soft out here, which is suboptimal if we suddenly decided we needed to relocate.
It turns out that the conventional wisdom that buying a property is always better than renting has been coming under fire lately. In Monday’s Globe and Mail, Rob Carrick argues that the smart thing to do, in a profoundly unaffordable housing market, is to rent and invest the difference. Last month, James Altucher went further, saying he’ll never go back to home ownership: it ties up too much money in an illiquid asset that costs a bunch to maintain and that, historically speaking, has a lousy return on investment. (See his earlier post as well.) Renting, on the other hand, allows you to diversify your investments and savings in something other than a home, and enables you to move to a new job in a new location with less worry. And you’ll never be underwater on your mortgage.
Market forces and demographic shifts may be killing the suburb, Kaid Benfield writes in an interesting post summarizing several analyses. It’s not just high gasoline prices discouraging growth in car-friendly suburbs; it turns out that zoning doesn’t necessarily help real estate values, the mortgage market is in the crapper, and younger people are preferring urban lifestyles more and more. Not to say that suburbs don’t have a lot of life left in them: wake me when suburban schools close in favour of schools downtown.