TORONTO, Feb. 24 /CNW/ – Alberta’s housing market officially became the most affordable in Canada in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to the latest Housing Trends and Affordability report released today by RBC.

Thanks to lower mortgage rates and further softening in home prices, RBC’s Affordability Measures for Alberta fell yet again in the fourth quarter, by 1.0 to 2.4 percentage points, extending their long strings of declines since late 2007.

“Alberta saw a notable downswing in demand for housing last spring and early summer, giving buyers the upper hand and pushing prices down,” said Robert Hogue, senior economist, RBC. “Alberta’s reign as the most affordable housing market may be short lived, however. Demand has shown more vigour in recent months, alongside a provincial economy that is gaining more traction, and Alberta’s market has become better balanced. We expect that this will stem price declines this year and erase a potential offset to the negative effect of a projected rise in interest rates on affordability.”

The RBC Housing Affordability Measures for Alberta, which capture the province’s proportion of pre-tax household income needed to service the costs of owning a home, eased across all housing categories in the fourth quarter. The measure for the benchmark detached bungalow moved down to 30.9 per cent (a drop of 2.4 percentage points from the previous quarter), the standard condominium to 20.3 per cent (down 1.0 percentage points) and the standard two-storey home to 34.4 per cent (down 2.2 percentage points).

The RBC report notes that gradual and steady improvements in Calgary’s housing demand have recently started to bolster market conditions as home resales increased appreciably since June which helped trim down the slack that kept buyers in the driver’s seat.

A return to more balanced market conditions in Calgary, however, did not succeed in reversing the tide in the fourth quarter of 2010 as home prices continued to weaken for the most part in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, this contributed to further material improvement in affordability. The RBC Measures for Calgary again fell the most among Canada’s largest urban markets, declining by 0.9 to 3.1 percentage points.

“Affordability in the Calgary area is now the best in almost six years and this attractive level of affordability will support further increases in demand as the local economy picks up steam in the year ahead,” added Hogue.

Elsewhere in the country, a majority of provinces saw improvements in affordability in the fourth quarter. Only the standard two-storey benchmark became less affordable in Ontario and Quebec, as did the standard condominium apartment in Quebec and the Atlantic region.

The RBC Housing Affordability Measure, which has been compiled since 1985, is based on the costs of owning a detached bungalow, a reasonable property benchmark for the housing market in Canada. Alternative housing types are also presented including a standard two-storey home and a standard condominium. The higher the reading, the more costly it is to afford a home. For example, an affordability reading of 50 per cent means that homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes, take up 50 per cent of a typical household’s monthly pre-tax income.