Last September, Leslie Anderson uprooted her family’s life in midtown Toronto and moved to Calgary to be near her aging parents. Like her, thousands of Canadians, primarily from Ontario and B.C., relocated to Alberta in 2021, driving inter-provincial migration numbers in the third quarter of the year to a level not seen since 2015.
(While inter-provincial migration hit positive numbers in some quarters of 2018 and 2019, it never did so by more than 1,000 people until the third quarter of 2021, when Alberta gained nearly 4,500 residents from inter-provincial migration. By contrast, between July, 2020, and July, 2021, Calgary lost nearly 3,000 residents to other provinces, according to Statistics Canada estimates.)
But Ms. Anderson’s wasn’t an easy choice. Born and raised in Calgary, she left for Toronto in the late 1990s with no intention to return, as Alberta’s conservativeness misaligned with her personal values. However, after spending five months in Calgary with her partner and two daughters in early 2021, she considered moving back for the first time in 25 years.
“During that time period we did a lot of travelling out to the mountains, hiking in the snow, and having bonfires alongside the river,” Ms. Anderson says, “a lot of things that in Toronto were just not a possibility because we lived pretty close to the centre of the city.”
Trying to make ends meet in midtown Toronto, Ms. Anderson spent all of her time working full-time at a legal-aid clinic, and maintaining a private practice as an immigration lawyer. “I was a hot mess – not a great mom and not a great partner,” Ms. Anderson acknowledges, noting that she found herself at “the verge of collapse” prior to the pandemic and that the extended visit to Calgary prompted her to question her choices.
“Why am I doing all this for, really? Is this really the lifestyle I want to have for my family?”
Moreover, during the five months spent in Calgary she realized how much the city has changed since she left in the nineties. “I think there’s more nuance in the city as it’s growing, as it’s becoming more diverse,” she says.
Affordability, however, was the key driver of her decision, Ms. Anderson says. “If the market in Calgary had been equivalent to the market in Toronto, I don’t think we would have done it.”
The sale of her two semi-detached houses in midtown Toronto, one her home and the other an investment property, allowed her to purchase a more spacious home in Calgary’s southwest community of Canyon Meadows, as well as three additional investment properties in adjacent neighbourhoods in the south of the city. “It feels like winning the lottery,” Ms. Anderson says. “For someone who’s got Toronto real estate PTSD, it felt amazing to look at what we can buy [in Calgary].”
In the face of rising housing prices across the country, residents of the GTA seem to be taking a renewed interest in what Calgary has to offer. According to Robert Price, founder and CEO of Bode Canada, a Calgary-based real estate start-up, his company’s online marketplace has seen a 40-per-cent increase in traffic from Ontario visitors in the past six months. Similarly, since September, Calgary realtor Amanda Ku has noticed a rising influx of clients from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) interested in Calgary properties said – from families such as Anderson’s to young professionals and investors.
“We’re starting to see more people come here, and part of it can be due to how we don’t have additional taxes for purchasing properties; it’s still quite affordable.” Ms. Ku says, noting that for people earning an average income, homeownership is easier to attain in Calgary than in the GTA.
Indeed, Nadeem Shaikh and his wife moved to Calgary in October, as the cost of living in Mississauga became hard to sustain for a couple in their mid-20s. Despite both of them having good jobs in property management and human resources, living in the GTA “didn’t make sense for us” Mr. Shaikh admits.
Priced out, they began looking at options elsewhere. “We were thinking of Halifax, Montreal; one of our friends suggested Winnipeg, Ottawa; and we were also looking at St. John’s,” he says, but after carefully considering their options, Calgary was the city that better suit both their budget and lifestyle.
Similarly to Ms. Anderson and her family, the Shaikhs found that they could get more bang for their buck in Calgary without compromising their quality of life. After selling their condo in Mississauga last June, they purchased a townhome in Legacy, a new community located in Calgary’s southeast. “Calgary is the only city that could meet our needs in terms of what it has to offer at a much lower price tag,” Mr. Shaikh says.
But Calgary’s affordability may not last long, particularly in the detached segment. In December, Calgary’s Real Estate Board reported a record low inventory of single-family homes, and aggregate home prices are expected to increase by eight per-cent in 2022, according to a market survey conducted by Royal LePage.
While Ms. Anderson and her family are still adjusting to their new suburban lifestyle, they believe moving to Calgary was the right choice. “I never would have imagined that I would have the finances to put my daughters in horseback riding lessons. It’s such an amazing gift to be able to give them,” she says. “[Before relocating] the answer to basically everything was, ‘Sorry, no – I don’t have the time and I don’t have the money.’”
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