Gross national happiness (part 2)

Jun 1st, 2015 | By FCT

How intangible measures of progress/prosperity inform real estate markets and drive expectations

In part one, we explored why cities are increasingly looking to livability indexes both to define their aspirations and to market themselves on one hand and to shape public policy on the other.

The big question for the real estate industry, given this growing emphasis on progress/prosperity measures as consumer ‘top of mind,’ is: what factors are clients considering (on their phones, increasingly, and in infographics!) in tackling the complex decision of buying a house?

We’re going to look at two entirely different indexes:

1) For desirable “smart cities” (because they’re the aspirational targets for early adopters and influencers); and

2) How the thinking of new immigrants to Canada tracks when weighing the ins and outs of Calgary versus Cape Breton (because it’s the most distilled intelligence around).

One thing’s clear: cost of living is a big ‘key performance indicator’—just how far will a dollar go in buying what gives me and my family what they need (core services) and what they want (lifestyle)? This balancing act is of course highly personal but there’s a clear pattern to the thinking in early adopters, which looks a lot like this…and it’s not the lens homebuyers used even a decade ago.

The Intelligent Community Foundation, a US-Canada non-profit that we discussed in our last EXPERT/ease blog post, applies the following key indicators scorecard for ‘smartness’—and these are the kinds of questions the folks who are deep into the next economy are asking:

  • Connectivity – To what extent is the community my family and I are considering online and active? Is there a knowledge network (great hospital and library, progressive schools, community programming in the arts/culture/tourism/sports and recreation)?
  • Knowledge workforce – What’s my prospective community doing to attract entrepreneurs, students and even “smart tourists”? Is there an emphasis on green industry rather than smokestack?
  • Digital inclusion – How does the community ensure people don’t get left behind in all this progress? Are the elderly and the less fortunate being considered?
  • Innovation – How are businesses, institutions and organizations creating new opportunities to engage online? In other words: is the community thinking global and acting local? Does the local economy scale in the new economy—or flatline?
  • Marketing and advocacy – Is the community good at promoting its future in what’s now an international marketplace for new industry and new business? What about regionally: is the word out this community is a great place to live and work and raise a family and/or retire?

Then there’s a sixth variable, which changes yearly: last year the Intelligent Community Foundation used a cool new measurement called net job sustainability—how many great jobs are being created versus how many low-value jobs are being lost? That measurement shows prospective homebuyers that not only is the local economy under consideration growing, but it’s also growing in the right direction: sustainably.

Few people have a harder time stickhandling their lives in Canada than the new Canadians, families or breadwinners who’ve just arrived and have to roadmap a whole new culture on the fly…and figure out how to buy a home to boot. The Canadian Immigrant website not only features nation-wide career fairs to connect communities with newly arrived talent, but also has in-depth hard numbers and lifestyle descriptors that really clarify choices about buying a new home. This is a great resource for real estate pros trying to attract newcomer business.

Here the measures have less to do with navigating the digital divide than ethnocultural touchpoints for New Canadians, such as those that hedge the shock of a new life amongst folks who speak your language and eat the same food you miss so much. For example there are more Icelanders in Gimli, Manitoba, than anywhere else outside Iceland (who knew?) and Canada’s two Chinatowns are the biggest on the planet. These connections aren’t small things but are, of course, trade-offs against potential job growth and infrastructure.

The StatsCan “average household expenses” hard numbers don’t speak to this. However, what does speak to a prospective homebuyer are measures like job stability: Ontario has a high median wage but now leads the country in layoffs, especially the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where whole industries are being disrupted. But contrariwise, one measure new Canadians often weigh, according to, is pace. The pressures of big city work/life are tough enough on Canadians, but new immigrants face all the problems of navigating culture, red tape and simple networking, often on their own. Here’s one family’s strategy:

“We love that London has a slower pace,” says a 30-something communications specialist who works in the same life insurance company as her husband; together they own a four-bedroom home in a new neighbourhood. “This really suits our temperament. We don’t miss the frenetic lifestyle of the GTA. Other advantages over Mississauga are better access to healthcare facilities (shorter wait times, more focused care) and education. We also find the local libraries have a better collection of books and DVDs than the libraries we accessed in Mississauga.”

That’s but one lifestyle strategy story for new homebuyers measuring their big purchase. For more true-life case studies that reveal why new Canadians made the choices they did and how they weighed the trade-offs, these stories make great shares for newcomer clients.

Categories: Real Estate

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