For sale or rent: Hard to beat housing prices in Quebec City

Date 07/09/2016

Written byTaylor Ireland

In my previous blogs I’ve talked about some of the outstanding attractions of Quebec City, my adopted home for going on 11 years now. We’ve looked at the amazing assets the city has to offer for doing business and quality of life: The exciting business environment, the welcoming community, the spirit of youthful energy and the exceptional range of recreational options. These all add up to create an idyllic place to grow and prosper.

Should the seed be planted about the possibility of moving to Quebec City one of the first questions would seem to be: where would I live and what can I afford? Most people would start searching the Internet to check out what’s available and for how much. At that point, they would most certainly be astounded – and delighted – to find how incredibly affordable housing is to rent or own in this city of endless charms.

We’ll look at some reasons why this may be the case shortly, but first let’s look at the facts that prove without a doubt Quebec City is a dream place for someone looking for more than fair value for their housing needs.  According to the latest real estate surveys, the average price of a single family house in Quebec City is $266,578. Everything is relative, of course, but once you start comparing that figure with other cities in Canada and elsewhere, it’s clear housing is an unbeatable bargain in the provincial capital.

The overall Canadian average for the same « typical » house is $480,743; Quebec City is just 55 percent of that value. Ottawa’s average is $374,00, Victoria, $580,000, Calgary, $469,000, Winnipeg, $282,000. Even Montreal, with its vast stock of  lower-income neighbourhoods, has an average price much higher than Quebec City, at $349,000. As for the monsters of real estate prices in Canada, Toronto’s average is $709,000; Vancouver, $1,007,000.

A house in Quebec City is even more affordable than a city in a less economically robust place like Nova Scotia, where the average home price in its capital of Halifax, is $292,000.

As for the major city nearest to where I come from, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, even it has a considerably higher average house price than my new Quebec home: $346,879.  I discovered that pleasing differential recently when my wife and I purchased our house in Quebec City for about 60 percent of the equivalent abode in Saskatoon.

Elsewhere in the world, the comparison is even more stark. Take two cities of approximate size on both coasts of the United States: Raleigh, North Carolina, average house price: $312,000; Sacramento, California:  $355,000.

Hopping across the pond, we find the average house price in Edinburgh, Scotland, is $465,000, and in Bremen, Germany, $385,000.

Real estate agents will tell you a key factor in evaluating properties is « location, location, location. » That being the case, Quebec City offers exceptional attractions of a « location, » yet its real estate values are significantly lower than in places that, frankly, cannot offer the same quality of life.

So, why are Quebec City’s housing prices so dramatically lower than other cities – in fact, a recent survey shows prices have actually dropped slightly in the past year? There is no single or simple answer, but it has a lot to do with the rhythm of the market.

For many years the real estate market in all of Quebec, and particularly in its largest city of Montreal, was stagnant. Though other factors played a role, it’s clear the political situation had created much uncertainty. Beginning in the 1990s, real estate values in the province began to catch up with the rest of the country, with Montreal leading the charge. Quebec City was slower to gain ground, but in the past decade or so with strong growth in a diversifying economy there has been a boom in construction, particularly condominiums.

Analysts have noted, however, that supply has significantly outpaced demand, or more precisely, ability to afford. A survey found that 60 percent of people aged 18-34 would like to own their own home, but face a challenge raising the money for a down payment. Other dampening factors are the aging population and a prevailing trend towards rental versus ownership.

Yet, if renting is your preference, particularly if you are first locating in the city, la vieille capitale, once again, has some of the most advantageous rates around. According to Numbeo, the global cost of living database, average rents in the city are, for example, 23 percent lower than Montreal, 51 percent lower than Toronto, and, yes, 32 percent lower than Saskatoon.

There is an immense variety of rental units in Quebec City, from a charming « 3 1/2″ in a historic building with stone walls and a fireplace in the heart of the old city, or an ultra-modern unit in one of the growing suburbs.

When shopping for an apartment it would be wise to keep in mind some of the quirks of the local rental market. For example, more often than not, units do not include appliances such as fridges and stoves. On the other hand, in most cases, tenants are free to paint their unit to their liking. Unlike other cities, rarely do landlords require security deposits when you sign a lease. Another feature of renting in Quebec is that many leases run from July 1 – which makes for the traditional Canada Day moving frenzy.

Also, it’s important to know in a city where winter runs from October to April what utilities you need to pay. The cost of heating an apartment can be substantial if it’s not included in the rent. But remember, rent in Quebec City is still a genuine bargain.

So, all this adds up to the fact that, viewed from outside, housing in Quebec City is an excellent buyer’s or renter’s market. And, say industry watchers, this happy situation is likely to stay that way for some time to come.