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Single-Detached Houses Are Here to Stay in the GTA, Contrary to Media Reports and Planners’ Dreams

By: Frank Clayton and Hong Yun (Eva) Shi

September 4, 2019

I have to say I was taken aback by a recent Globe and Mail editorial which announced that ‘The era of the single-family detached home is over.’The editorial also labelled the single-detached house as the least efficient way to house people, which brings to mind the humongous rows of non-descript apartment blocks the Communists built in the U.S.S.R. after the Second World War. Apparently consumer preferences do not matter, only the lowest possible cost of producing housing per person housed do!

Let us look at the types of housing units being bought by first-time buyers across Canada but especially in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) - as approximated by the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area - to see if the dream of owning a single-detached house is becoming futile. If buyers are being driven away from single-detached houses due to high prices, first-time buyers would be the ones to be most affected as move-up buyers would have the proceeds from the sale of their current home to apply to the price of a bigger and better house.

DATA SOURCES

Genworth Canada’s survey of first-time homebuyers2

Environics Research conducts a biennial survey on the types of homes purchased by first-time buyers for Genworth Canada. Here we are using the results from the surveys conducted during the first quarters of 2015, 2017 and 2019 respectively, which includes the responses of approximately 1,800 households who had purchased a home within the two years prior.

Note that the 2015 and 2017 survey questions separated the City of Toronto from the rest of Ontario while those in the 2019 survey separated the GTA from the rest of Ontario.

TREB’s survey of prospective homebuyers3

Over each of the past four years in November, Ipsos Reid, on behalf of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), conducted a survey of households (on average 1,000 buyers) likely to buy a home over the next year in the GTA.4 The survey asked respondents if the home they were likely to purchase would be located in the City of Toronto or in the 905 regions, whether they were first-time buyers, and what type of housing they would most likely purchase. The data for housing types presented here pertains to all buyers, first and repeat buyers.

FINDINGS FROM THE GENWORTH SURVEY OF FIRST-TIME BUYERS

Half or nearly half of recent first-time buyers across Canada and in Ontario bought a single-detached house in the two years prior to early 2019

It is hard to foresee the demise of the single-detached house when close to half or more of first-time buyers in Ontario or across Canada as a whole bought them in the latest two year-period (see Figure 1). It is true there has been some shift away from singles for the country as a whole but it is modest – from 55% in the 2015 survey to 50% in the 2019 survey. In Ontario, the proportion of buyers buying a single-detached house remained stable at 46%-47%.

For Canada as a whole, the proportion of all millennials who owned their homes rose from 55% in the 2015 survey to 60% in the 2019 survey.

Canada-wide and in Ontario more than 80% of all first-time buyers bought a ground-related home

If we look at the combined purchases of singles, semis and townhouses (what we call ground-related housing) the Canada-wide proportions remained stable at 83% over the three surveys, with only 16%-17% of first-time buyers buying a condo apartment (see Figure 1). For Ontario, the proportion of buyers buying a ground-related home was similar to Canada as a whole, though the proportion purchasing a condo apartment increased slightly between the 2015 and the 2019 surveys, from 17% to 19%, after a dip in the 2017 survey.

Almost a third of all GTA first-time buyers bought a single-detached house and 71% bought a ground-related home, according to the 2019 Genworth survey

Some 31% of first-time buyers in the GTA in the two years prior to early 2019 bought a single-detached house with an additional 41% buying a semi-detached/duplex home or a townhouse. Despite the rapid growth in the number of condo apartments in the housing stock, just 29% of first-time buyers in the GTA bought a condo apartment, a lot less than the common perception.5

Nearly two-thirds of first-time buyers in the City of Toronto bought a ground-related home and 30% bought a single-detached house according to the 2017 Genworth survey

In the most recent survey containing data for City of Toronto (early 2017), the bulk of first-time buyers bought a ground-related home, with 30% buying a single-detached house. This is about the same proportion as for respondents buying in the GTA as indicated in the 2019 survey (see Figure 2). Just over a third bought a condo apartment.

FINDINGS FROM TREB’S SURVEY OF PROSPECTIVE BUYERS

About three-quarters of GTA and 70% of City of Toronto likely buyers (first-time and repeat) intend to buy a ground-related home, with 43% planning to buy a single-detached house, according to the 2018 TREB survey

Single-detached houses represented the largest category of homes prospective GTA buyers of all types intended to buy (43%), with 26% planning to buy a condo apartment, according to the November, 2018 survey. The comparable proportions for the City of Toronto were 38% and 30%, respectively.

Over the four years there has been a pronounced shift in intentions from buying a single-detached house to a condo apartment in the 905 regions of the GTA

Surprisingly, the switch in intentions to purchasing a condo apartment instead of a single-detached house largely occurred in the 905 regions. The proportion of prospective buyers most likely to buy a single-detached house dropped from 61% in 2015 to 48% in 2018. Conversely, the share of intended purchases of condo apartments in the 905 regions climbed from 11% to 23%.

Buyers that intended to buy in the City of Toronto recorded only a slight shift away from singles to condo apartments over the same four years.

BOTTOM LINE

Single-detached houses, as well as close substitutes like semis and townhouses, are here to stay in the GTA. The demand pressures from millennials and other buyers will more than offset the desire by environmentalists and their allies, including many land use planners, to sharply constrain the production of new single-detached houses. A recent report by RE/MAX, Rising detached home sales pull up average price in the GTA,6 concludes that a recovery in the single-detached house market is already well underway.

If land use plans reduce the supply of new single-detached (or ground-related) units and the demand continues as indicated by the data, there will be an upward pressure on prices. Politicians (hopefully) ultimately respond to the wishes of the electorate over that of special interest groups. The current provincial government recognizes the innate robust demand for single-detached houses and other forms of ground-related housing and is taking steps to expand the supply, in contrast with the previous government, which discouraged the building of singles on environmental grounds.

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Sources:

[1] Globe and Mail (2019). “The era of the single-family home is over.” July 13, 2019.

[2] Genworth (2015). “Decoding Today’s First-Time Homebuyer: Understanding motivations, triggers and behaviours of millennial homebuyers, April 7, 2015.” [Online] Available: http://s1.q4cdn.com/456119668/files/doc_presentations/2015/Genworth-Final-Slides_Seminar_04-07-2015v2_v001_w9i23y.pdf; MacDonald, David (2017). “2017 Genworth Financing – First-time Home Ownership Study, May 8, 2017.” [Online] Available: http://s1.q4cdn.com/456119668/files/doc_presentations/2017/GNW_HEW_2017-FTB-Study_Presentation.pdf; Genworth (2019). “Key Motivators for First-Time Homebuyers.” [Online] Available: https://genworthassetlibrary.s3.amazonaws.com/pdfs/Genworth%20HEW_FTHO%20Environics%20Presentation%20EN.pdf

[3] TREB. (2019). “Market Year-in-Review & Outlook Report.” [Online] Available: http://communications3.torontomls.net/auth2/mediafiles/Market-Year-in-Review/pdf/2019-YearInReview_interactive_2Col.pdf

[4] A survey was also conducted in May of this year but is not included here given the different seasonal market dynamics in May as compared to November.

[5] Purchaser data for first-time buyers in the GTA are available only in the 2019 survey.

[6] REMAX (2019). “Rising detached home sales pull up average price in the GTA, August 12, 2019.” [Online] Available: https://blog.remax.ca/rising-detached-home-sales-pull-up-average-price-in-the-gta/

Frank Clayton is Senior Research Fellow at Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR) in Toronto.

Hong Yun (Eva) Shi is Research Assistant at Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR) in Toronto.

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