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Housing is becoming less affordable in Vancouver and Toronto, bank says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 3:21am

Vancouver remains the least affordable city to buy a house in Canada, while home ownership in Toronto is becoming more difficult, Royal Bank of Canada Economics Research says.

The costs of owning a detached bungalow in Vancouver take up 82.3 per cent of a typical household's income, up 0.1 percentage points from the previous quarter.

In Toronto, the largest city in Canada, that figure is 53.8 per cent, up 0.8 points, according to a housing affordability report for the first quarter produced by Canada's largest lender. "The Canadian housing market cooled significantly in the past year," Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said. "There is mounting evidence that activity is no longer weakening."

However, a "significant nationwide price correction" is not imminent as long as affordability stays within the current range, Wright says.

Exceptionally low mortgage rates have been the chief factor in keeping home ownership costs relatively affordable, RBC says.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tightened mortgage rules four times in the last five years amid concern that overbuilding in some markets could lead to a sharp drop in prices. The Bank of Canada forecasts housing investment will be a drag on economic growth this year and next.

"While affordability levels are manageable at this point, we'd be humming a very different tune if interest rates were to suddenly rise substantially," Wright said. "Fortunately, the likelihood of a surge in rates is slim at this stage."

Across Canada, the costs of owning a standard two-storey home take up 48 per cent of a typical household's monthly pretax income, while condominiums eat up 28.1 per cent, according to the index. Both figures are unchanged from the previous quarter.

The RBC housing affordability index, compiled since 1985, measures how much of pretax household income is needed to own a home.