Amid the impacts of inflation and the rising cost of living across the country, affordability is the top factor that potential buyers are considering when choosing a neighbourhood in Western Canada.  This is the case in 75 per cent of the regions surveyed including Vancouver, BC; Kelowna, BC; Regina, SK; Winnipeg, MB; Brandon, MB; and Medicine Hat, AB. The only outliers to this trend are Calgary, AB where proximity to preferred schools is top of mind and Edmonton, AB which can be attributed to the relative affordability it provides prospective buyers, as compared to many other provinces and regions across the country.  Other priority factors Canadians in the West are considering when scouting for neighbourhoods include access to green space (a factor listed in 100 per cent of the regions); proximity to preferred schools (in 75 per cent of the regions) and proximity to work (in 50 per cent of the regions).

As Canada continues to grapple with a housing crisis rooted in a persistent inventory shortage, RE/MAX Canada explores possible solutions through the launch of its latest report, 15-Minute Neighbourhood: Lessons for Small Communities. The report, named for an urban planning concept that puts daily necessities within a 15-minute walk, bicycle or transit ride from home, attempts to highlight this pragmatic approach to building the right supply of housing for the greatest number of Canadians, in a way that delivers maximum liveability and affordability – particularly in smaller municipalities that are experiencing rapid growth.

As regions that have remained relatively stable over the last couple of years, these are not priorities that have shifted significantly for the most part and in fact, are expected to remain the same in Vancouver, BC, Kelowna, BC and Regina, SK. Although quality of life is considered satisfactory in regions like Vancouver, BC, Winnipeg, MB and Medicine Hat, AB having greater proximity to work; more access to public transit, bike lanes and/or walking paths, preferred schools and medical services factors were identified as drivers to boost liveability. Meanwhile, in cities such as Kelowna, BC and Regina, SK where many neighbourhoods already capture the spirit of the 15-minute neighbourhood in some capacity, rank quality of life as very satisfactory. It is anticipated that Calgary, AB and Brandon, MB’s liveability would increase with greater proximity to work/professional opportunities.

Regional Insights:

In the 15-Minute Neighbourhoods Report, RE/MAX Canada examined a selection of large and small markets from coast to coast, with RE/MAX brokers and agents asked to share their insights into local liveability. Here’s what they had to say.

Affordability, proximity to transit, easily walkable, with access to green spaces and/or dog parks and grocery stores within walking distance, are the top priorities for buyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood in Vancouver, BC.

“Affordability has always been a hot topic in Greater Vancouver with some of the highest home prices in the country. As such, over the past few years, we’re seeing more and more clients moving further east where it’s more affordable,” says Tim Hill, Realtor, RE/MAX All Points Realty. “Proximity to transit for those living away from Vancouver’s downtown core is key to get to work, shopping and socializing with friends, and we’re also seeing a trend of people not wanting to get in a car every time they work or have plans. More people are switching from owning cars to ride sharing apps, public transit, and walking, which is why developing our infrastructure in a way like the 15-minute neighbourhood is so important.”

Quality of life in Vancouver is currently described as satisfactory. Quality of life could be higher given the natural beauty of the area and opportunities within Vancouver-proper, yet the lack of affordability in Vancouver means most homebuyers looking to settle down in the region must choose between location or home. Often, buyers will either move further east where larger properties are more affordable or choose a smaller home to be closer to Vancouver’s downtown core. As a result, accessible transit has become a top priority for buyers in the area, especially for Gen Z and millennial buyers.

The top 3 priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – lack of affordable options in Vancouver-proper means buyers looking to settle in the area must choose between proximity to Vancouver’s core or a larger home, generally further East, or a smaller home within Vancouver-proper.
  2. Proximity to transit – is key for easily getting to work or social plans. The new SkyTrain line which will connect Langley, BC and Surrey, BC is intended to increase residents’ connectivity. It’s also raised housing values in Langley City. This was not a premium area until its popularity skyrocketed for investors and principal residence purchases seeking accessible and efficient transit.
  3. Easily walkable – most people settling in Vancouver are turning away from owning cars and relying on them for their primary mode of transportation in favour of public transportation, ride shares and walking. As such, walkable neighbourhoods are becoming key to residents’ satisfaction.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  1. Proximity to work/access to professional opportunities – in Vancouver, it’s common for residents to commute to work. Residents who travel to an office several times a week or daily could benefit from more walkable neighbourhoods with employment opportunities nearby to spend more time with friends and family.
  2. Preferred schools – in the past, it was common for clients to buy within specific school catchments. Now, while many buyers will try and prioritize buying a home within proximity to good schools, many will settle if necessary.
  3. Proximity to health or medical services – an increased interest in health and wellbeing since the pandemic has increased demand for dwellings within proximity to health or medical services.

Affordability, grocery stores within walking distance, and easy access to bike lanes/walking paths are the top priorities buyers are looking for when selecting a residential neighbourhood in Kelowna, BC. Even in a post-pandemic world, these priorities have remained the same and are expected to remain the same for the foreseeable future, “buyers and residents in the Kelowna area embrace an outdoor lifestyle with a desire for biking and hiking trails, and walkable neighbourhoods,” says Jerry Redman, owner, RE/MAX Kelowna. “Due to our city’s layout, cars are still required for most of the travel here, and the 15-minute neighbourhood concept would be difficult to incorporate in Kelowna. That said, areas like Rutland, Kelowna South, and North are good examples of how a 15-minute neighbourhood works in Kelowna. These desirable areas offer resources and amenities within those existing communities.”

Quality of life in Kelowna is currently described as very satisfactory, attributed to the natural environment, beauty, and mild weather. The outdoor lifestyle is one of the significant draws to Kelowna and Central Okanagan; however, traffic congestion is one of the biggest problems in the area. The land base makes road expansion difficult due to the lake and surrounding hills.

The top 3 priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – is a struggle in Kelowna, in yet there continues to be a high demand for property in the area due to the city’s natural beauty.
  2. Accessibility to outdoor recreation (i.e. hiking, nature paths, water sports etc.) Easy access to bike lanes and/or walking paths – With Kelowna being a hub for outdoor recreational activities, it’s not surprising that homebuyers would identify access to bike lanes and/or walking paths as a top-priority
  3. Grocery stores within walking distance – Although the city continues to be car reliant, residents do search for necessities, like grocery stores and other amenities, to be within walking distance as they look for a home in Kelowna.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  1. Proximity to work/access to professional opportunities – likely due to Kelowna’s spread-out geography was identified as a key factor that would improve liveability for Kelowna’s residents.
  2. Public transit – most of Kelowna’s residents drive, and as such, public transit options are is quite limited.
  3. Easily driveable – due to the city’s geography, with lakes and hills, driveability is important to those living in Kelowna and is the primary mode of transportation.

When it comes to choosing the right neighbourhood, prospective buyers in Calgary are prioritizing education, affordability and childcare. Similarly, to neighbouring towns and cities, affordability continues to be a reoccurring theme among many families and individuals interested in investing in real estate, despite properties being more affordable. Rising living costs and inflation, have also prompted many Canadians to be more conscious of their personal finances and investments.

Calgarians are also focused on providing their children with a positive educational experience, and this in turn influences their purchasing decisions greatly. Throughout the years, education has dictated where families look for homes, and which neighbourhoods they’re hoping to integrate into, and this doesn’t seem to be changing. In addition, childcare options also sway opinion among families, as many are looking for support whether it be due to work related circumstances or not.

With the city infrastructure being commuter friendly, and the extreme weather conditions Calgarian experience on a seasonal basis, many are dependent on their vehicles to get to and from their destinations. Prospective buyers are also prioritizing proximity to their workplaces as well as public transportation, ensuring they have easy access to and from the major city centre and surrounding suburbs. “With a strong and robust road system, it’s no surprise that easy navigation is still important to buyers, and despite the size of the city, many of us don’t mind how sprawled it is.” says Darryl Terrio of RE/MAX Complete Realty “There seems to be an appetite among Calgarians, for a balanced community lifestyle between having access to city-centric amenities and recreational outdoor amenities.”

The top three priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Proximity to preferred schools – there’s a desire among families and young couples to be located in a neighbourhood with a strong education system, and access to favourable schools.
  2. Affordability – despite Calgary having some of the more affordable housing across Canada, affordability is top of mind among buyers when investing in property.
  3. Proximity to childcare options – many families where both parents are providers, or having working jobs require additional childcare support.

Unlike other regions across Canada, the priorities for prospective buyers in Edmonton, Alberta, vary. With the majority of the workforce in Edmonton skewing towards blue collar, buyers are looking for neighbourhoods that are easily drivable, ensuring that they have easy access to all corners of the region regardless of where their current worksite may be.

“Take for example construction workers, many of them will at times work on a project in one area for a longer period, then transfer to another area after that. It’s important that drivability to and from work is easy and manageable.” says John Carter, from RE/MAX Rivercity.

Buyers today are also looking for an interconnected neighbourhood that allows individuals to be near preferred schools and academic institutions, that have access to green spaces as well as dog parks, recreational outdoor activities like hiking, nature trails and water sports, and proximity to workplaces. With that in mind, Edmonton has already been developing neighbourhoods aligning with the 15-minute neighbourhood concept, as many of their suburban and infill and established mature communities feature these amenities.

“The priorities among buyers have shifted dramatically, and it is something that will continue to evolve. The “pandemic wants” is something we’ve witnessed more frequently, with families, couples and individuals.” adds John Carter from RE/MAX River City “The need for more useable and outdoor space, has been dictating purchasing habits in Edmonton, and while infill is still popular, due to the appeal of new homes in established mature, and amenity rich neighbourhoods, the price point of those homes has been a limit. Which is why many turn to suburban locations.”

Infrastructure within Edmonton, Alberta has also seen a shift. Zoning changes have been the biggest influence and have allowed for more densification within secondary legal suites, garage/garden suites and more. The city has been consistent with constant iterations based on builders and industry feedback. There is a current zoning bylaw renewal project set to be finalized in 2024, that may allow for even more expanded options for densification.

When compared to other major cities in Canada, Edmonton is considered to be one of the best cities when speaking to quality of life, and overall lifestyle. Due to higher average incomes, job growth and opportunities as well as housing affordability, Edmonton has been experiencing a massive migration both internationally and nationally.

The top 3 priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Easily drivable – with most of the workforce in Edmonton being blue collar, or with many suburban office locations, drivability to and from a neighbourhood is at the top of the priority list. The downtown workforce is much less than in other similar metro markets, although the expanding tech sector is increasing.
  2. Proximity to preferred schools – prospective buyers in Edmonton are looking for top-performing schools and education, when looking at neighbourhoods they’re potentially interested in settling in, as every address in the region has a designated school assigned to them.
  3. Access to green spaces and/or dog parks – homes located within close distance to green spaces are becoming increasingly popular, as more individuals seek active and outdoor lifestyles following the pandemic.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  1. Easily walkable – while the general downtown core may be walkable, the moment families, couples and individuals settle in suburban neighbourhoods, they’re automatically car-dependent to get to and from general amenities. The demand for infill in mature neighbourhoods is driven by walkability and has increased the values of homes in those areas with it.
  2. Living near/on the water – Summerside is a recreational lake community on the southeast side of the city and has been one of the hottest demand markets in the last few years. In addition, Jensen Lakes in St. Albert is developing a similar recreational lake community, in addition to the fact that most new developments will have water features integrated and sell those lots and homes backing them for a premium. The river valley in Edmonton also draws the highest demand, whether it’s infill in mature areas or new luxury developments in the Jaguar Ridge and Windermere areas of the southwest.

Affordability continues to be one of the top priorities for prospective buyers across Canada, including Medicine Hat, Alberta, as inventory for single-family homes, townhouses, and condos continues to be low, bringing at times multiple buyers for a single property. This in turn can increase the prices for these homes due to a competitive marketplace.  Due to inflation, including higher interest rates, the cost of living is only going up, and many, including buyers in Medicine Hat, are looking at ways to save money and cut costs. This will continue to be a top priority, especially considering that not many new homes have been built in the last couple of years, and it’ll most likely remain that way.

While Medicine Hat isn’t as vast as other cities and regions in Canada, being within proximity of preferred schooling is also at the top of the priority list when looking for homes, as it eliminates the need for commuting by vehicle, in turn reducing the extra costs associated with driving. With 12 elementary schools (pre-k to grade 6) and 4 secondary schools (grades 7 to 12) in Medicine Hat, families are selective of the neighbourhoods they’re looking to purchase within, as schools are assigned according to neighbourhood boundaries.

Prospective buyers are also prioritizing access to green spaces and/or dog parks, especially as many have grown to realize that additional space for outdoor activities and past times is crucial. “Following the pandemic, I think all of us came to the consensus that our communities are an extension of our homes and that we should be living in an area that we can benefit from.” says Dione Todd, of RE/MAX Medalta Real Estate. “Many existing residents, as well as potential buyers are looking for less density, and more parks, trails as well as larger lots.”

The top three priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – as housing prices continue to rise, and the lack of new homes, prospective buyers are looking at all the options available.
  2. Proximity to preferred schools – communities with preferred schools nearby help reduce costs associated with commuting and driving, therefore being more appealing to prospective purchasers.
  3. Access to green parks and/or dog parks – homes located in less dense areas with access to green spaces, and parks are becoming increasingly popular among buyers.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  • Easy access to bike lanes and/or walking paths – providing communities and neighbourhoods with access to bike routes, and walking paths will enable to individuals to maximize green space around them, while also reducing extra costs surrounding car-dependency

Prospective buyers in Regina, Saskatchewan, continue to prioritize affordability when it comes to selecting their preferred residential neighbourhoods, despite the lack of inventory of affordable housing. The current health of the real estate inventory in Regina has impacted the overall cost of housing, which is why affordability continues to be a top concern for many. In addition to the current economic nature of Canada, many are experiencing budget constraints when it comes to living expenses. Inflation has impacted the quality of life for many individuals, couples and families, from higher grocery bills to costly gas expenses, which is why they are seeking affordability within their larger investments.

While other regions in Canada fluctuated and experienced a slight drop in costs, Regina’s lack of housing and high demand for affordable homes has propped up the market and current available inventory. The sale price is not expected to fluctuate in 2023. Regina’s development sector has also experienced a significant shift from condominium developments to purpose-built rentals.

Proximity to work, educational and childcare facilities are also at the top of the list, indicative of living within an interconnected neighbourhood that permits functionality and greater quality of life. It also echoes the fact that many are possibly considering whether or not they’re able to walk, bike or bus to their priority spots, rather than be dependent on a vehicle so as to save on gas.

“Overall stability within a smaller city, is a top priority for many, especially when seeking to make a hefty investment in a home, even if it may be in the affordable market segment,” says Jeremy Cosette from RE/MAX Crown Real Estate. “While Regina is smaller in scale than other major cities, and realistically you’re able to get from one end to the other in 15 minutes, buyers are still honing their focus in on amenities surrounding the area of interest that can bring a better quality of life with ease.”

The top three priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – As inflation, cost of living and higher interest rates impacts many Canadians, including those in Regina, affordability continues to be a high priority for prospective buyers
  2. Proximity to work – Cutting costs where possible is important to many buyers, and proximity to work will ensure costs for gas, vehicle maintenance and potentially insurance are low

Proximity to preferred schools – Time and time again families are concerned about which school their children will attend, as they want to ensure they have a positive experience when it comes to their education, therefore this continues to be a top priority when choosing a neighbourhood to purchase a home in.

Winnipeg, Manitoba like other regions in Canada is feeling the pressures of inflation, rising interest rates, as well as the increase in cost of living, which is why affordability is a top priority for prospective buyers when it comes to the 15-minute neighbourhood concept. Rising interest rates in particular are set to put pressure on affordability and pre-approval amounts in 2024.

As a result of ongoing affordability challenges, the region has experienced a surge in multigenerational family and joint-family ownership. This trend is indicative that expenses are top of mind for buyers, , from grocery to excessively high gas bills.

Buyers in Winnipeg are also looking to live within a neighbourhood that’s easily accessible by foot, with amenities and day-to-day necessities within walking distance from their residential abode. On the other hand, due to the necessary improvements needed for bike lanes, and pedestrian pathways during the winter months, it’s just as important for buyers to live in a neighbourhood easily accessible by car to ensure they’re not in a compromising position during the more temperamental winter months.

“The market out here in Winnipeg isn’t as fast-paced as it may be in other major cities across Canada. People here are looking for slightly different things when purchasing a home, and while affordability is at the top of their lists, due the climate of the city, access to and from their neighbourhoods is pivotal.” says Akash Bedi, broker and owner of RE/MAX Executives Realty. “Easy accessibility by foot is just as important as drivability to and from the community. Walking paths and roads allow for year-round commuting.”

The top three priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – Winnipeg residents like many others are feeling economic pressures, and while the market is balanced, buyers are still prioritizing affordability at the top of their lists
  2. Easily drivable – due to the way the city is designed, many buyers prioritize how easily accessible it is to drive to and from their neighbourhood and the downtown core
  3. Easily walkable – neighbourhoods that have retail, restaurants, kids amenities, etc. within a reasonable walking distance such as in Sage Creek or Bridgewater are more attractive to purchasers.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  1. Proximity to work/access to professional opportunities – The city’s infrastructure can make it difficult to access workplaces, with 40 per cent of offices of Winnipeg’s top employers located in the downtown core while the other 60 per cent are spread out across the city.
  2. Independently owned retail stores, gyms, bars and restaurants – newer developments that offer modern style and concept for businesses, offer a good entry point for a local restaurant, retailer, gym etc., to get established in a new neighbourhood. We are seeing the large national chains along with local Manitoba business thrive in these settings.
  3. Accessible outdoor recreation (i., hiking, nature paths, water sports, etc.) – this is not really a highlight of new developments or neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. Manitoba offers many hiking/nature paths however a short drive out of town is required for this.

Like everywhere else in Canada, affordability continues to be the common denominator among prospective buyers when looking for new homes, including in Brandon, Manitoba. While housing prices continue to be relatively low, individuals and families are still conscious of what they’re spending.

The housing market in Brandon, Manitoba has rebounded when compared to the prior year. That said, over the years, the downtown area of Brandon has been experiencing lifestyle challenges which has ultimately driven prospective buyers away.

Prospective buyers are also prioritizing proximity to preferred schools, as many purchasers are families with children, and parents want to ensure that their kids have a positive educational experience. especially as parents enrolling their children into to schools between pre-K and 6th. grade are advised to choose facilities within their neighbourhood, which indicates why this is a priority for many when choosing their community and home.

Low-density neighbourhoods are also at the top of the list, as several single-detached properties are redeveloped into multi-family unit residences, as the number of serviced, shovel-ready residential lots is limited, making the development of brand-new housing somewhat scarce. Prospective buyers want to ensure they have space, as well as access to outdoor amenities and recreational activities, including bike lanes, walking paths, and green spaces, while still being accessible by vehicle.

Residences of Brandon, Manitoba live with a rural mindset, where driving is a convenient necessity. Individuals and families can drive across town in the span of 10 to 15 minutes, therefore public transportation and the walkability of the city isn’t critical.

“Buyers today are looking at homes in a more wholesome community, that allows them enjoy not only the amenities within their own abode but also those surrounding them,” says Michael Barrett from RE/MAX Valleyview Realty.

The top three priorities for homebuyers when selecting a residential neighbourhood:

  1. Affordability – despite housing leaning towards being more affordable in Brandon, Manitoba, prospective buyers continue to prioritize affordability as the cost of living continues to rise.
  2. Proximity to preferred schools – parents determine their preferred neighbourhoods based on the schools that are accessible to them based on residential boundaries and schooling zones.
  3. Low density neighbourhoods – as more detached houses get redeveloped into multifamily units, more and more buyers seek neighbourhoods that are less dense with access to outdoor amenities.

Factors/amenities currently missing that would improve residents’ quality of life:

  1. Public transit – with parking readily available, and the majority of residents of Brandon, Manitoba being car-dependent, public transit is limited.
  2. Living near/on the water – housing development along most of the river in Brandon is not practical and not a main criterion for most buyers in the Brandon market. However, there is a growing market for lakefront recreation properties within an hour of Brandon, primarily for recreational cottage properties.
  3. Proximity to work/access to professional opportunities – anyone who lives and works in Brandon is generally within a 15-minute drive from home to work. Canadian Force Base Shilo is also a driving factor in the market, with civilian staff and military members commuting to the base from Brandon and surrounding communities. With jobs spread throughout the community, Brandon, Manitoba is very much a commuter market, and having access to a vehicle seems to be a part of a sense of independence in the agrarian culture adopted by many within this region.