When 28 year-old Anna Wiesen found bedbugs in her Parkdale apartment, she and her partner knew it was time to find a new place. The couple had lived in Toronto for ten years, and they’d started a business here, so they kept their hunt within the city limits. But after trawling rental listings for what felt like forever, “we realized we’d been totally priced out,” says Wiesen. “We couldn’t find a 2-bedroom anywhere for less than $1,600/month.”
The couple decided to jump ship for nearby Hamilton. They loved the green space and waterfalls, and it was just a quick drive back if they got homesick or had to meet clients.
And, oh yeah, they could buy a whole house there.
Wiesen’s story is a super common one these days. With the rising cost of real estate (and our wages going nowhere), young people are feeling the affordability crunch. An Angus Reid poll found that over 150,000 families are “seriously thinking” of leaving Vancouver because of the city’s insane price of home ownership.
So does it make sense to skip town for greener (and cheaper) pastures? Let’s break down the pros and cons of things like housing, lifestyle, transportation, and job opportunities in Canada’s big, and not so big, communities.
According to city real estate boards, in December 2016 the average price for a semi- to detached home in Vancouver was $908,300, in Toronto $776,684, and in Calgary $436,200. Unless you’re pulling down a massive income, owning a home in a Canadian urban centre probably isn’t in your future.
And unfortunately, renting ain’t much better. A one-bedroom in Greater Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary will run you $1,700, $1,320, and $1,070, respectively. “Even if you can afford it, it’s a little crazy to be spending that much of your paycheque on such a small space,” says Lauren DeVille, a 28 year-old former body piercer who recently moved to Windsor with her husband and their three dogs. “We were renting a one-bedroom in Toronto for $1,200/month. In Windsor, we’re going to be buying a home soon. In the meantime, we’re renting a three-bedroom house for $825.”
Verdict: If you’re dreaming of a green backyard and a white picket fence, it might be time to start packing.
Here’s where your dirt-cheap duplex in the suburbs may start to cost you. “When I lived in Toronto I primarily biked everywhere,” says Wiesen. “In eight years I never had a MetroPass. Now because I travel to Toronto from Hamilton, there are all kinds of costs associated with driving.”
A report from the Pembina Institute found that for a couple with jobs in downtown Toronto, it’s actually more affordable living downtown and walking or biking to work than living in a suburb where you have to commute in. Adding up your gas, maintenance, and insurance bills, the average price of owning a car in Canada is $10,456 a year. But in a big city, you can skip the car entirely and just spend this cash on artisanal cortados or whatever.
Before you plan your move to beautiful Quispamsis, New Brunswick, you’ll want to take a look at your transportation costs. How far is it to the nearest grocery store? How many hours a week will you be driving? You’ll also have to factor in the costs of getting your stuff there in the first place. The average cost of moving house is $2,000 in Canada, and this will rise the further you’re heading from home.
Verdict: Sorry , you’ll have to do the math on this one.
Who needs a $14 cocktail when you’ve got bike trail, right? Lifestyles are subjective, but a move outside the city will definitely save you some coin on your entertainment budget. “In Toronto we went out and did the whole nightlife thing,” says Deville. “Everything in Windsor is a lot cheaper. One can argue it’s not as good, but hey, if you’re just out to have fun with friends, alcohol is alcohol.”
Aaron Scott Hildebrant is a 33-year-old writer and video game animator. After seven years of struggling to make it work in Vancouver, his young family set off for a rural life on Vancouver Island. They love the green space, but find that recreating their urban habits poses some challenges. “A lot of the biggest expenses are cheaper here, but it isn’t until you’re back in the country that you realize just how streamlined city life is, and how expensive day-to-day life can be when you don’t have that infrastructure.”
There’s also the cultural concerns to think about. You’re unlikely to find the same kind of diversity in a more rural setting, and this may pose problems if you’re into a more alternative scene. “We’re both heavily tattooed, so we’re going to get looked at weird anywhere we go,” says Deville. “But in Windsor we definitely get a few more looks.”
Verdict: If art galleries, live music, and varied cuisine is your MO, stick to the city.
One of the major benefits of urban living is access to a creative and financial centre. If you’re in a specialized industry like film production or management consulting, you can’t stray too far from the city limits or you’ll risk losing out on important gigs.
Hildrebrant found that island living caused him to fall out of some the professional circles he’d built as an animator in Vancouver. “There aren’t really any industry meetups,” he notes. “A lot of the people I meet don’t even understand what my job is. That’s tough, when I’d been used to getting together with other industry people a few times a month.”
Of course, there are novel ways to make it work if you own your own business or have some control over your schedule. Wiesen heads to Toronto two to three days a week to help out her creative agency’s team onsite, and for the rest of the week, she asks her staff to come to Hamilton. “Commuting to Hamilton isn’t a big deal, and our team enjoys the change of scenery,” she says.
But if you’re lucky enough to have a job you can work remotely, it’s a no-brainer. “It doesn’t matter if I’m living in a city or on an island, I’d be doing the same job.” says Hildebrandt. “And I can take a walk through the forest at lunch, or hike up a mountain after work.”
Verdict: Examine your field and whether there’s potential for you to flourish outside of the traditional industry hotbeds. There’s nothing like taking a conference call from a cabin on the coast.