For years, it’s been a tough battle for renters living in Toronto and the surrounding municipalities. Rents have only been on an upward trajectory as supply was limited and demand was through the roof. But after a year of the COVID-19 public health crisis, Toronto and GTA rental real estate is now a renter’s market.
The turning point was last spring, when the coronavirus pandemic crippled the nation and forced governments to institute a plethora of new rules and regulations. One of the first items on the chopping block? The short-term rental market, affecting condo investors who relied on Airbnb and other short-term rental arrangements. The other factor was immigration restrictions, which have led to seismic drops in the rental market.
After a year of the COVID-19 public health crisis, Toronto and GTA rental real estate looks very different. Tenants have negotiating power and more options, which was unheard of before the housing boom in North America’s fourth-largest city. At the same time, condo owners are either selling their units or renting their apartments below the cost of their mortgage, resulting in both “seller’s fatigue” and “handcuffed sellers.”
A wide range of reports estimate that the monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto has fallen as much as 23 per cent year-over-year, with prices coming down as low as $1,500 in some of the most appealing locations in the city. Although this is still relatively high compared to the rest of the Canadian real estate market, it is a welcomed relief for renters who have been paying sky-high prices for the privilege of residing in a red-hot urban centre.
Right now, is it even worth it to buy a property when rent is at a multi-year low?
According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), households are paying large premiums to own instead of rent. The crown corporation suggested that condo owners are paying 86 per cent more to own than rent in a purpose-built building. This is the highest premium paid in any housing market of the country, including Vancouver (56 per cent) and Victoria (13 per cent).
This begs the question: will the Toronto and GTA rental market return to pre-pandemic conditions in 2021?
Toronto and GTA Rental Real Estate Market in 2021
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel in Ontario. New cases seem to be declining, more people are getting vaccinated, and the economy is starting to reopen. Even if a third wave strikes amid South African and British variants, the province and many of its sectors have shown their resilience to adapt, survive, and thrive.
Once the Greater Toronto Area returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, which officials are optimistic could happen in the third quarter of 2021, the rental real estate market could be one of the first beneficiaries. From restrictions being lifted at the Canadian border and students returning to the classroom, to the short-term rental market being given the green light again, the Toronto and GTA rental real estate industry could rebound.
PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released a report on the outlook for Canada’s housing sector. The multinational professional services network of firms predicts that the rental market will see benefits from a slowdown in home ownership and a backlog of immigrants. At the same time, it warned about the end of government income support and wage subsidy programs that could hurt tenants’ ability to pay their rent. The organization also said that more university students are likely to enrol in virtual classes instead of in-person learning, which would impact short-term rental activity.
The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) also anticipates a surging GTA real estate market, amid a strengthening economy and widespread vaccinations.
“The pandemic certainly resulted in an unprecedented year for real estate in 2020, but it hasn’t put a damper on the overall demand,” said Jason Mercer, TRREB Chief Market Analyst, in a statement. “Looking ahead, a strengthening economy and renewed GTA population growth following widespread vaccinations will support the continued demand for both ownership and rental housing. But over the long run, the supply of listings will remain an issue, particularly in low-rise segments.”
Put simply, the future largely depends on the vaccine rollout, the coronavirus variants, and the economic rebound.
Transformation of Toronto Rental Spaces?
Perhaps this is an opportunity to reimagine the rental market in Toronto and the rest of Canada’s housing market. With more people working and studying remotely, our homes have become multifunctional spaces to accommodate learning, exercising, entertainment and more. And as a result of this, our need for space has been redefined. PwC called this the “amenitization of communities,” whereby multi-purpose buildings allow new features to accommodate the new normal, such as videoconferencing rooms, dedicated areas for grocery delivery, and perhaps even additional green space.
Once the rental market returns to growth, developers might need to think about how to redesign apartment living for future generations, perhaps inspiring a new wave of rental demand.