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Housing affordability has become such a critical issue in Canada that the federal government is hatching a plot to help first-time homebuyers.

But those who can afford to purchase their own homes have an advantage over sellers in several Canadian cities, a new report suggests.

According to a brief study by BMO Economics, six out of 11 of Canada’s bigger cities are currently buyer’s markets for residential real estate.

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To take advantage, homebuyers will have to look to Western Canada, where all of the buyer’s markets are found: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver, and Regina all favour homebuyers right now.

A buyer’s market doesn’t mean real estate is affordable for the average person or that prices are crashing. One typically arises when waning demand leads to listings piling up, sometimes giving consumers the opportunity to haggle pricing down.

Chart: BMO Economics

A common gauge of market balance is the sales-to-new listings ratio. The Canadian Real Estate Association generally considers markets with ratios between 40 and 60 percent to be “balanced.” Higher ratios suggest a seller’s market, while lower readings generally indicate a buyer’s market.

The ratio is calculated by dividing sales by new listings in a given month and expressed as a percentage — so a ratio of 100 percent means homes are selling at a rate as fast as listings are appearing.

Five of the so-called buyer’s markets still have ratios in excess of 40 percent, but BMO has taken long-term trends into consideration in its evaluation.

“Those [score card evaluations] are relative to what’s normal in each particular market,” Robert Kavcic, the senior economist who authored the study, tells Livabl. “We kind of say that Toronto’s always going to be a tighter market than Windsor, for example,” he explains, suggesting there are different thresholds for market balance in different markets.

Therefore, applying the 40–60 percent measure broadly may mask local trends, though both methods are “probably fine,” Kavcic notes.

According to Kavcic’s longer-term calculations, two markets, Toronto and Winnipeg, were deemed “balanced,” while Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa were in seller’s territory.

Based on the sales-to-new listings ratios in Montreal and Ottawa — 71.6 and 77.5 percent, respectively — a Scotiabank Economist recently predicted “pretty strong price gains” for the cities this spring.

March 25th, 2019: This article has been updated to include comments from BMO Senior Economist Robert Kavcic.

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