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With the high price of real estate in Canada, condominiums have become the proverbial starter home for many young people. But how much home can you expect for your money? Here’s a look at the Canadian house market in four cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and Halifax), and what you’d get for $350,000 in each city, plus some tips for would-be buyers to keep in mind.

Vancouver - Prices Steeper Than The Rockies

With a steadily growing population and a minimal supply of land for building detached homes, Vancouver has been the country’s hottest condo market for the past couple of decades. In 2012, the average price for a high-rise condo was $512,000. (You could get a 3,200-sq.ft., five-bedroom detached house on a one-acre lot in the Halifax suburbs for that, with seven grand left over for gas.

With an average price of $563 per square foot, $350K would get you a 620-sq.ft. apartment - and there’s not a lot on offer in that price range. One sample (found in early October 2013) is this one-bedroom, 672-sq.ft. North Van condo.

Toronto - Big Condo Competition

"Boom" doesn’t quite cover the situation with Toronto’s highrise condo market. Nuclear armageddon comes closer. There are currently nearly 200 buildings under construction in the city. But all that supply only seems to be barely keeping up with demand.

The average selling price for condos in Toronto in the first quarter of 2013 was pretty much spot on with our $350K price point. With 5,984 sales in that time frame, the average price was $347,896. For $350,900 you can get a one-bedroom, 685-sq.ft. condo with a den on the lakeshore in the west end.

Calgary - High Salaries, High Prices

A decade-long economic boom in oil country has steadily driven up the price of detached housing in Calgary, so many buyers are looking at condos to get their foot in the door. In August 2013, the average sale price for a Calgary condo was $311,921. An additional $40,000 will land you in a 1,200-sq.ft. three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse condo at the north end of the city.

Halifax - Higher Affordability

While Halifax is the economic hub for Atlantic Canada, it’s still a relatively sleepy town compared to the hot markets out west. The average sale price for a detached home in the city was just under $270,000 in 2012. The most expensive condo listings in the city fall just under our $350K benchmark, at $349,900. For that, you can get an 875-sq.ft. oceanfront condo right on the harbour. Or move out of the downtown core and you could buy a couple of two-bedroom condos for $175,000 each.

Buyers Beware

A few points to keep in mind if you’re in the market for a condo:

  • Regardless of where you end up buying, you’re going to want to get the best deal possible on your mortgage.
  • You can save a considerable sum by buying a pre-construction condo, but you will have to wait (literally) years before you can move in. And there’s no telling which direction the market may go during that time.
  • While all those snazzy amenities – from the pool and fully equipped gym to the rooftop patio complete with barbecues – are an enticing proposition, keep in mind that they will also have to be maintained, and eventually replaced, adding to future markups on monthly condo fees.
  • Parking spots and storage lockers can seem exorbitantly pricey (some condo parking spots in Toronto are reportedly going for as much as $60,000), but their availability can make or break a deal when it comes time to resell.
Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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