Over a third of people who moved upsized their homes

By: Jessica Wei on March 20, 2024
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With the key lending rate sitting at 5% and cuts projected to start later this year (or perhaps even next), qualifying for a mortgage is more challenging than ever before. Meanwhile, home prices in Ontario have only marginally slackened, with the average home in Ontario at $850,561 (and $1,108,720 in Toronto).

But still, when you gotta move, you gotta move. The two-bedroom rental apartment that suited a newlywed couple can quickly run out of space when kids come on the scene; teens overrun a charming starter home like stampeding elephants.

A divorce, a new job, a return-to-office order, retirement: All these events, and others, can push a person back into the real estate market.

For the third consecutive year, we surveyed Ontario users to learn about their home-buying plans – if they were planning to move, if they already moved, where they moved, and why they moved.

To dig into the details, read on.

The race for real estate

Despite the one-two punch of elevated inflation and high interest rates, it may come as a relief to some that people are still finding ways to buy homes. Over a third of respondents (36%) moved over the last two years – most of them (22% of the respondents) were first-time home buyers, a significant uptick from last year, when only 11% of respondents were first-time home buyers.

A further 25% of respondents were planning to purchase a home soon, which is relatively consistent with last year when rates were still on their way to the 5% mark but rising rapidly.  

The cost of real estate has never been higher than it is now, but many believe that it’s still the most reliable route towards building long-term wealth and security – and for good reason. According to RBC Economics, renters are dissaving at a higher rate than homeowners, meaning they’re spending more than they’re saving.

“Even though renters’ incomes have risen at the same pace as homeowners’ since the late ‘90s, the share of income that they allocate to housing has grown rapidly,” says Carrie Freestone of RBC Economics. In 2023, renters allocated 29% of their income to housing costs, while homeowners put 22% of their income towards housing.

In the third quarter of 2023, renters spent nine per cent more than what they earned, while homeowners, even with the added interest costs, spent seven per cent more than their earned income.

Long-term prospects also favour homeowners – since 2010, real estate assets have grown four times the rate of similar investments made in pension savings and life insurance.

“Real estate is at the end of the day, one of the most booming economies in Canada. It's the thing that generates the most wealth for Canadians,” says Michelle Farrugia, a mortgage broker with Mortgage Outlet.  

Related: How do high interest rates impact Canadian renters?

Interest in moving to a different province has been high and remains high

Over the past few years, this continually challenging economy and remote work have opened new doors for prospective homeowners – but they’re a few hours’ drive outside the city, or even as far as Calgary and Edmonton.

In our survey, 2023 and 2024 saw fewer people staying in their original towns and cities. Among the people who reported moving in 2022, 61% stayed put, while the last two surveys found that 52% and 53% of movers stayed in their city in 2023 and 2024.

In our survey, four per cent of people who moved went to a different province, and 39% moved to a different town in Ontario.

The call of the prairies, specifically Alberta, has grown louder in recent years, promising cheaper rents, wide open pastures and, unlike Ontario, no land transfer tax.

This makes a huge difference for homebuyers. For example, someone who is looking at a $1.2 million home in Toronto can expect to pay almost $41,000 in land transfer tax.

 “If you can qualify for the mortgage, you can take $41,000 to Calgary and that’s the down payment on a $650,000, which a place like Calgary would give you,” says Farrugia.

Within Ontario, Farrugia sees homebuyers flock to places like Schomburg, East Gwillimbury, and Orangeville.

Calculate the cost of your land transfer tax using the calculator.

To downsize or delay?

While an empty nest typically signals a great change – such as plans to snowbird down to Florida, or trading in the family home for a cheaper and maintenance-free condo – the past two years have flipped the calculus.

Fewer people are downsizing over the past few years. In 2022, 10% of people who moved reported downsizing. In 2023, that figure shrunk to 6.7%, and only 6% responded having downsized in 2024.

“Some of my older clients just don't like the idea of living in a condo,” says Farrugia. “The idea that they're going to have to move from a larger space to a smaller space is just not something that a lot of them are ready to do.”

It’s just as well. High interest rates and a tight housing market have also made it difficult for people to sell their homes for a good return while being able to qualify for a smaller condo or apartment. Plus, people are finding other ways to live out their golden years.

Aging in place with a reverse mortgage

Instead of cashing out on their big home, people are making good use of their existing mortgage.   

“Our reverse mortgage products are getting significantly more popular,” says Farrugia. “People don't have to leave their homes to be able to use them as their retirement plan anymore.”

With a reverse mortgage, an older individual can borrow up to 55% of their home value, converted into tax-free cash, while remaining in the home. The loan will be paid back at the time of the home sale, or if the owner passes away.

“That basically allows their property to work as their income source while they continue to live in it. And that loan just grows over time,” she says. “The product is designed to have interest kind of accrue against it at a rate that is similar to the appreciation rate of a home.”

Multigenerational households

Along with taking advantage of reverse mortgages, retirement-age Canadians are also increasingly coalescing around their growing families.

Examples include having their kids move back in or selling their homes and using the proceeds to buy a larger home with their adult children with an in-law suite. Or, if a couple have two properties – say a main residence and a cottage – they may consider moving into the cottage and pass the main house to their children.  

“I've definitely seen a couple of intergenerational home transfers,” says Farrugia. “I don’t think it’s necessarily about the investment — [people are also asking] ‘What are their next generations going to look like?’”

This is part of a growing trend that is spurred by multiple societal factors. First, grandparents can offer affordable childcare at a time when the province struggles with high daycare fees and intense competition for limited affordable spaces. Second, increased immigration to Canada means that there are more families who are already accustomed to this living arrangement.

According to the latest census data available, nearly one in 10 children lived with a grandparent in Ontario in 2021, up from 7% in 2001 – that number was higher in areas in the GTA, including Brampton (where 28% of children live with at least one grandparent), Markham (23%) and Caledon (20%).

As older people increasingly recognize the value of their homes, they’re more likely to consider how to also support their children.

“In the last three or four years, I’ve definitely been seeing more family members come together to structure their real estate portfolios together,” says Farrugia. “That’s not something I saw when I first came into the industry.”

Related: What you need to know about transferring a mortgage

Upsizing is on the up and up

Perhaps due to a combination of enlarging their household through multigenerational living, opting to move to more affordable areas, or simply benefitting from a large gift from family (Farrugia sees gifts of up to $300,000 to $400,000), our survey saw an upward trend in people reporting moving to a larger home.

This year, 37% of respondents who moved reported moving to a larger home – a 14% increase from last year.

A further 21% of respondents who plan to move within the next two years also cited “to purchase a larger home” as their primary reason for moving.

A diminishing middle class means fewer buyers but bigger buys

To be clear, a lot of people can’t get a foot in the door of homeownership.

According to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TRREB), 2023 saw the fewest home sales since 2001, with just shy of 66,000 sales.

In addition to higher interest rates, inflation remains above the Bank of Canada’s 2% target, and food prices are expected to increase by 2.4% to four per cent this year. People are being squeezed on all sides.

Meanwhile, while home prices have seen a modest decline, they’re still beyond the realm of affordability for many.   

“Very often, I come across new graduates who make $80,000 to $90,000 and have saved down payments of around $60,000, and they can’t even qualify for a home priced $500,000, which is pretty much the base of what you would need to be able to purchase a starter condo in the City of Toronto,” says Farrugia.

“And they’re not doing anything wrong. They’ve actually done everything right. They're saving and managing their money well, and even they cannot keep up with the cost of housing,” she adds.

This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Toronto. In its report, RBC found that 68% of Canadians would not be able to access property on earned income alone.

Meanwhile, the people who can afford to buy take advantage of the slightly depressed home prices in a slower market.

 “What we’ve seen are people of a slightly higher socioeconomic status being able to make those moves to bigger homes, to their dream homes,” she says. “There’s significantly less competition and they’re getting them at hundreds of thousands of dollars of discount over what the same home would have sold for in 2021 or 2022.”

In our own survey, only 21% of respondents cited moving in the past two years to afford a home – down from 28% the previous year.

A generation ago, buying a home was a rite of passage that could be easily afforded on a middle-class salary. However, after rapid population growth, a few major recessions, and a global pandemic, it seems that many are finding themselves playing catch-up to this Canadian dream – or chasing a different dream entirely.

*Survey conducted by, polling 1,129 Canadians between March 2 and 3, 2024 who used’s mortgage quoter. 


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