Out of reach: a Fraser Valley apartment now costs more than a house did in 2012
Save up. Work hard. Fall behind.
That’s been the story for many would-be home buyers in the Fraser Valley the past decade.
As 2021 drew to a close, renters across the valley were left facing the reality that the dream of home ownership has likely gotten further away in the past year. The numbers are well known by now. But comparing them to those from a year—or a decade—ago underscores the futility many are feeling.
Is saving now futile?
In the central Fraser Valley, the cost of a townhome has risen by more than $240,000 in just three years—more than most people will have made before taxes during that time. And people like Jess, a 28-year-old Abbotsford woman preparing to start a family, are close to giving up.
“You can skip the avocado toast and the Starbucks all you want, but it isn’t going to make a difference,” she said.
Jess, who didn’t want her last name used so she could be transparent about finances, began looking at homes with her husband in 2019. But the pair were still on temporary contracts, so they couldn’t actually buy a home. Last year, with their jobs guaranteed and providing an above-average income, they started seriously looking to purchase their first home.
As they did so, they witnessed the cost of houses spike. The couple had looked at townhomes in an East Abbotsford complex in 2019. They cost around $475,000 at the time. Last year, one unit sold for $810,000.
The pair persisted. They put in offers. They were outbid.
“At this point, I’m kind of just willing to bow out,” she said. “We’re not going to get what we want. And we’re probably going to overpay massively and saddle ourselves with a huge amount of debt.”
Not your grandfather’s starter home
Over the past decade, “starter homes” have grown increasingly unaffordable to anyone who isn’t already a homeowner.
The median household income in Abbotsford—before taxes—is between $75,000 and $80,000 (new figures will be released later this year). Those figures include households with two income-earners. But in just the last year, the value of an Abbotsford apartment—the lowest rung on the home ownership ladder—rose by more than $100,000. In five years, the price of a typical apartment has doubled, rising by more than $200,000. Prices have increased at a similar rate in Chilliwack.
The situation is even starker when looking back a decade. Across the Fraser Valley, apartments now cost significantly more than a full single-detached house did 10 years ago. At the start of 2012, the typical condo in Mission or Abbotsford was selling for around $170,000. Townhomes were going for around $200,000—more for newer ones, less for older ones. Now, 40 year-old townhomes are being sold for upward of $600,000
(A decade ago, that could have bought you a brand new home complete with a two-bedroom basement suite.)
Today, the average price of an apartment in the central Fraser Valley is around $430,000. As of this writing, there are only seven apartments listed for under $300,000 in the entire Fraser Valley. There are also a couple dozen mobile homes being sold separately from the land on which they sit.
Those who bought a decade or more ago have seen the value of their homes explode. For everyone else, buying a home today means spending the sort of money that would have bought you three properties a decade ago.
A different world
Jess isn’t sympathetic to those who bought decades ago when interest rates were much higher. She points out that her grandfather was able to buy a house and support a family of five as the sole income-earner. That’s unthinkable today.
“It’s just a very different world that we’re facing in the younger generations,” she said.
She says she and her husband are fortunate. They have money from a family inheritance and a combined income above $100,000. They could potentially afford a condo. For now, they will probably keep renting and are looking to move into a two-bedroom coach house. But they want four walls and a yard—even a very small one—to call their own. Because a baby is on the way this spring.
“The biggest motivator for purchasing a place is stability, the ability to settle down,” she said. “I want to be able to freely paint the walls in my home and decorate my kid’s room.”