canada home prices

Homes with backyards and office space more valuable than ever in pandemic-era Canada

The ways in which Toronto residents live and work have changed drastically — in some cases, permanently — since March of 2020, when you know what threw us into an excruciating series of lengthy, rolling lockdowns.

Nowhere have we seen the impacts of this shift more than on the real estate market: Condo sales sank, rent prices tanked, and detached home values skyrocketed in major cities and smaller communities alike all over Canada.

The condo and rent markets are rebounding now that vaccines are widespread and things are starting to open up, but house prices haven't cooled down at all.

In fact, average Canadian home prices continue to explode in this post-pandy world, to the point where political parties are making unheard-of campaign promises (such as banning foreign buyers and speculators) in a bid to win the upcoming snap federal election.

A huge part of the problem is that housing supply isn't robust enough in most parts of the country (least of all Toronto or Vancouver) to meet the demand — not just for homes, but for detached homes with specific features that buyers seem to value way more since COVID hit.

canada home prices

Outdoor space is among the most desirable features home buyers have been seeking since the pandemic began in early 2020. Image via Zoocasa.

A new report from the real estate brokerage and analysis firm Zoocasa suggests that outdoor space and enough room for an office are high up on the list of things people are now looking for when purchasing new homes in Canada.

While people have obviously valued both of these things in a home for some time, a whopping 65.8 per cent of respondents to a recent Zoocasa survey indicated that outdoor space (yard, deck or balcony) is now a "more-desirable" characteristic in a home for them than it was before the pandemic.

Some 43 per cent of the nearly 1,500 Canadians surveyed between Aug. 2 and 11 said the same thing about office space. "Access to delivery service" was also high up there, with 55.4 per cent of respondents saying it's more important to them now than before the pandemic.

While these points may seem kind of obvious, it's interesting to see how they've changed since Zoocasa last asked these same questions through a survey in February.

"As many Canadians continue to work remotely, homes with office space continue to be in high demand — though at a lesser rate than in February, perhaps indicating a renewed interest in urban living," reads the report.

Demand for office space in a home dropped by about 15.9 per cent between February and August, according to the survey findings, while demand for outdoor space was down 10.5 per cent.

"Access to delivery service remains top of mind, with 55.4 per cent of respondents saying it is more important," notes Zoocasa, "though also down -8.10 per cent from February, perhaps reflecting expanded access to in person shopping."

canada home prices

Nearly 30 per cent of remote workers plan to stay at home when offices reopen, according to the results of a recent Zoocasa survey. Image via Zoocasa.

The office space part of the picture may be linked to how people see their needs changing as workplaces reopen.

Similar to the results of a recent Angus Reid study, Zoocasa found that just under 30 per cent of remote workers intend to stay home full-time once things go back to "normal."

"As economic re-opening plans take effect across Canada, many employers are announcing what their post-lockdown strategies will entail. For those who moved away from city centres due to their ability to work remotely, this has raised the question of whether some will need to return, potentially fuelling a new buying trend," writes Zoocasa.

"According to the survey data, -7.1 per cent fewer respondents reported they will continue to work from home following the end of COVID-19 lockdown measures, at a total of 29.7 per cent. An additional 24.2 per cent reported that they have a hybrid working arrangement, which is an increase of 6.4 per cent."

Just over 19 per cent of workers told Zoocasa they planned to go back to the office full time, marking no change from February. By Angus Reid's calculations, the same figure is close to just six per cent of workers.

Either way, going back to a life without dedicated space from which to take Zoom calls or to simply take refuge from household chaos doesn't sound very appealing.

And no matter how widely the economy reopens, there's a good case to be made for spending time one's own private balcony, yard or deck. All it took for many of us to realize this was a global pandemic.

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