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The most affordable cities to buy a home in Alberta

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A recent RBC Housing Trends and Affordability Report revealed that Calgary’s housing market was one of Canada’s most affordable cities at the onset of the pandemic. While a typical Canadian household spends just over 47% of its gross income to cover homeownership costs, Calgary households spend just under 36% of their gross income on housing costs. Among the seven big cities surveyed in the report, Calgary ranked second most affordable, beaten only slightly by Edmonton, where households spend just over 29% of their gross household income on homeownership costs.

In a country that boasts strong real estate markets, Edmonton and Calgary are fast-becoming the go-to cities for housing affordability. The cities are large, offer exceptional employment opportunities and a better-than-average chance for first-time buyers to get into the market. Thing is, they aren’t the only cities in Alberta to offer opportunities for home buyers. Turns out, Alberta offers many affordable and a diverse cross-section of housing markets — from the oil fields of Fort McMurray to the natural gas fields of Medicine Hat, to the home of the Oilers in Edmonton and the windy city of Lethbridge. Those looking to purchase property will find a variety of options, many of which offer excellent remote working flexibility, homes with greater square footage and exceptional access to green space.

Evaluating the most affordable cities in Alberta

To help you find the best option to meet your needs, we evaluated 27 major cities in Alberta based on a few integral factors, including:

Affordability

First, we considered the affordability of the city’s housing stock. To determine affordability we created a score based on the price-to-income ratio and the city’s unemployment rate.

The price-to-income ratio is based on the average home price, which was determined through Zolo’s current trends data (as of October 2020), and compared this to the average income earned in that city or region (as sourced from Statistics Canada).

As a ratio, the price-to-income calculation reflects how many years it would take to pay off the average-priced home if 100% of a household’s income went to paying off the mortgage debt.

Once the ratio was calculated, we then assigned each city a rank from 1 to 27. The most affordable housing in a city or region is ranked Number 1, while the least affordable is given a rank of 27.

Employment options

We then pulled supporting data to assess each city’s economic potential. Since most homeowners use a mortgage to purchase a home, the majority of homeowners need to find employment in order to pay back that mortgage debt. A city or region with low unemployment rates suggests an area that supports employment opportunities.

Unemployment rates for each Albertan city used in our study were sourced from economic areas as defined in Statistics Canada’s September 2020 labour force characteristics study. Again, we assigned each city’s employment potential a rank, with municipalities with the lowest unemployment rate getting a Number 1 rank and cities with the highest unemployment rate ranked at Number 27.

Employment and Affordability Score

We then summed each city’s home price-to-income ratio rank with its unemployment rank to calculate each city’s overall affordability score. Since no city is perfect, there were no cities with a score of zero. Instead, our lowest score (of 6.0) went to a city with the highest level of housing affordability due to low unemployment, high median income earnings and relatively inexpensive housing stock.

Top 5 most affordable cities in Alberta

Below are the top five cities based on our affordability score.

image of lloydminster and its affordability chart

Albertans get ready to lay down roots in Lloydminster!

Ironically, the city that ranked most affordable in our study of Albertan cities is the only town in Canada that straddles two provinces. Lloydminster is proud of its unique bi-provincial status as well as the city’s ability to offer the comfort of a rural lifestyle with the convenience of urban amenities.

The average price of homes for sale in Lloydminster is $308,909, and this, combined with a good median household income, meant that the buyers’ home to price income ratio was the lowest in our study at roughly 3.59. This means it would take a Lloydminster household roughly three year s and six months to pay off the entire cost of their home if all their income was used to pay off that mortgage debt.

What also makes this city attractive, from a housing affordability perspective, is that the unemployment rate was also one of the lowest in our list of Alberta cities, sitting at 8%.

When it comes to natural disasters, Lloydminster can be affected by floods and lightning storms; however the area has not seen such storms since 2013. 

image of cold lake and its affordability chart

The city of Cold Lake ranked second best for affordability. The city’s home price-to-income ratio was the second lowest in our study, right behind Sylvan Lake at 2.34; however, its unemployment rate did reach 11.4% placing it in the top 10 (hitting the 7th lowest spot in our rank). 

Known for its Cold Lake oil sands, the city of Cold Lake offers outdoor adventure year-round as well as public transportation that makes it convenient to travel around the city without a car. The city is also known for offering many entertainment options at no cost to citizens. For example, they host the Canada Day Events, Aqua Days and the annual Christmas Parade.

image of grand prairie and its affordability chart

Grand Prairie is an Albertan city named after the large prairie which lies to the north, east and west of the city. It’s also the seventh-largest city in Alberta with 63,166 people. 

With an average home price of $305,209, Grand Prairie ranked fourth for a home price-to-income ratio at 3.47. The city also had an unemployment rate of 11.2% sharing a 5.5 rank with Canmore. 

image of sylvan lake and its affordability chart

The city of Sylvan Lake ranked fourth in our study with the lowest home price-to-income rank. What deterred Sylvan Lake from ranking higher was its high unemployment rate of 12.1%.

Sylvan Lake has a long history as a popular resort town. Because of the beautiful lake and the well-developed waterfront, tourism has been Sylvan Lake’s biggest draw since it incorporated in 1913. Situated on the southern shore of Sylvan Lake, the city of Sylvan Lake is located just 18 kilometres west of Red Deer. 

image of fort mcmurray and its affordability chart

Once a thriving city, economically speaking, Fort McMurray has seen better days. 

From oil price slumps to natural disasters, to legal fights over resource projects, the last few years have been hard on this Albertan city. While Fort McMurray might be highly affordable, it’s the city’s current economic conditions that won’t allow it to climb higher in our ranks. Unemployment rates are still higher than the provincial average of 11.7%. Still, the city did rank third for best home price-to-income rank at 2.86.

Fort McMurray has a diverse and multicultural community that still attracts people from all corners of the province and Canada.

Main findings: The most affordable cities in Alberta

To see how each city in our study performed view the raw data that the rankings were based on below. You can use this to compare specific elements that contribute to affordability in each city.

top albertan cities for affordability

Wherever you decide to lay roots in Alberta, skip home buying stress and check out the most affordable houses for sale in Lloydminster to get started!

Methodology

In this study, we calculated the home price-to-income ratio for the top 27 major Albertan cities based on average home prices from the most current trends data (from October 2020) and compared it to the averaged income (median single and dual-or-more household income) earned in that region (as sourced from Statistics Canada). We then assigned each price to income ratio a rank from 1–27 (1 indicating the lowest ratio).

We then pulled unemployment rates for the Albertan cities sourced from economic areas present in Statistics Canada’s September 2020 labour force characteristics study. Next, we assigned each unemployment rate a rank from 1–27 (1 indicating the lowest unemployment rate). We then summed up each city’s home price-to-income ratio rank with its unemployment rank to calculate each city’s overall score. 

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.