1. Moncton, N.B.
For the second year running, Moncton tops our list as the best place in Canada to buy real estate. Not only are houses here very affordable — with an average price of $163,000 — but household incomes average a respectable $72,093. This year, it was the only city out of 35 that got an A+ in our value ranking, meaning that homes are well within reach for local residents who make a typical salary. In fact, it takes only 2.26 year’s worth of the average family's annual household income to buy (before taxes and other expenses).
With a population of 126,400 — and growing — the city has a wide range of housing. Jobs abound in this diversified bilingual town, with UPS, FedEx, Purolator, Royal Bank and ExxonMobil all calling Moncton their regional home.
2. Regina, Sask.
Four years ago, Regina had the country's hottest housing market. This year, the city nabbed the No. 2 spot on our list, mainly because its economy is on fire. Sectors such as oil, potash, uranium, diamonds and farming are all booming, and Regina has the lowest unemployment rate of all the cities we ranked, at 4.6 per cent.
Much of the growth is due to healthy immigration into the province, which reached a record 3,400 people in 2010. Although housing prices have more than doubled over the past four years, the average cost is still a reasonable $260,000.
GDP expected to grow by 3.4 per cent this year, and a large grocery warehousing and distribution firm recently opened a one-million-square-foot facility for trucks to drop off and transfer goods, making Regina a new Asia-Pacific gateway for trade and adding 800 new jobs in the city.
3. Fredericton, N.B.
Overall, the province of New Brunswick did well in our ranking. While Moncton topped the chart at No. 1, the provincial capital of Fredericton was right on its heels at No. 3—up from the No. 4 spot it held last year. What accounted for the rise? Its value score jumped up to an A and its momentum score was boosted to B+.
The data shows a cheap average house price of $174,000, coupled with a respectable average household income of $76,659 annually. That may not sound like a lot of money to people who live in big cities, but in Fredericton, an average worker's buying power is huge. It takes only 2.27 years worth of that annual household income (before taxes and expenses) to buy a home—a close second to Moncton in our measure of affordability.
But though house prices are low, they still made healthy gains of 4.5 per cent over the past year, the second largest increase on our list. Then there's Fredericton's rock-bottom unemployment rate, which stands at just 5.6 per cent.
4. Winnipeg, Man.
From manufacturing and government to agriculture and education, Winnipeg boasts a diverse economy that has weathered the recession well. The city of 642,000 people has an average house price of $239,183, an average annual household income of $80,859, and an attractive affordability rating.
The south side of the city has traditionally been the most popular, particularly with families. Neighbourhoods like River Park South, Linden Woods, Whyte Ridge, Island Lakes and Sage Creek all boast top schools and facilities—as well as resale value.
There has been demand for condos in the downtown for a while, and many older factory buildings have been renovated into loft-style condos along the waterfront and are gaining popularity. Downtown revitalization remains an ongoing process with a new baseball stadium, the Forks and the MTS Centre providing a solid base for further development.
5. Saint John, N.B.
Saint John is the largest city in New Brunswick, situated in a scenic spot at the mouth of the St. John River. Though house prices here have risen by 27 per cent over the last four years, demand is forecast to stay strong well into 2011. That's because the average home costs just $179,000, while unemployment is a super-low 6.4 per cent and projected to keep falling.
While known primarily as an industry town that is home to thousands of refined petroleum, manufacturing and transportation jobs, Saint John has also quietly developed a diverse and vibrant arts scene. The Imperial Theatre, built in 1913 and restored in the 1990s, has been designated a National Historic Site. It plays to packed houses year-round and is home to the city's symphony, opera, ballet and theatre.
6. Saskatoon, Sask.
Saskatoon made our list mainly because of one thing: its hot economy. The city ranked No. 6 overall and received the highest marks for its growing industry and rock-bottom unemployment rate. Aside from being the world's largest producer of potash, and home to one of the globe's largest publicly-traded uranium companies (Cameco), Hub City has gradually evolved into a destination for young people in the technology and health sciences industries. Housing prices have grown by 27 per cent in the past four years and the average is now about $296,000.
For entry-level housing, the west side is your best bet. Though communities such as Stonebridge in the south and Willowgrove in the north are newly established, developers project a high demand and are responding accordingly.
7. Gatineau, Que.
Often obscured by Ottawa's long shadow, Gatineau — just across the Ottawa River in Quebec — has all the benefits of the capital's steady economy plus a much more affordable real estate market. It has several massive office towers for government workers, and the unemployment rate is expected to fall in the years to come. Gatineau earned a high grade for value, with the average house costing just $220,500 — about $14,000 less than in Ottawa.
The former city of Alymer is now a suburb of Gatineau where many anglophones are taking advantage of the hot market for new homes—as well as its golf courses, spas, and bicycle paths. The former city of Hull, across the Gatineau River, is also a safe bet.
8. Charlottetown, P.E.I.
No longer known for just lobster and potatoes, Charlottetown has many of the attractions of a larger city — but with less crime and a close-knit community. It received a value grade of A for its extremely low average home price of $175,000. Over the past four years, 65 per cent of all homes listed were sold, making Charlottetown one of the healthiest resale markets in Canada. The unemployment rate is still high at 9.2 per cent, but it's projected to dip below 8 per cent by the end of 2011.
When scouting out real estate buys, look for gorgeous historical homes in the downtown core that have been completely renovated, or consider a condo at Patterson Terrace. A two-bedroom unit near the ocean starts at $150,000. Second-home buyers will also not be disappointed.
9. St. John's, N.L.
St. John's tied with first-place Moncton for the highest score in momentum this year. Its biggest resource is the ocean, which now provides Newfoundland with an offshore oil industry attracting scores of newcomers in search of work. Last year, the economy in St. John's grew by 5.8 per cent and the area saw the emergence of a new metal mining sector, with construction already underway on a nickel processing plant near Long Harbour, about an hour west of the city.