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Bill Pinto

Cracks appear in the real estate market

For several years now I have been advocating that the Canadian real estate market was not behaving in correlation with the US market and that there was no bubble to burst here.  Gloom and doom reporters have been trying their best to falsely create this situation here in Canada, to no avail.

I believe this reporter sums up the reality of the situation quite well.

The Canadian housing boom is ending, but there is no “major correction” in the cards – and buyers are unlikely to see anything near the bargain-basement prices that currently characterize the United States housing market, the Bank of Nova Scotia said Thursday.

“After many false calls, there is now convincing evidence that Canada's housing market has come off the boil,” the Bank of Nova Scotia in a report on real estate trends.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., in its second-quarter outlook, reported Thursday that new home construction will begin to slow in 2008, “but remain high by historical standards.”

Both Scotiabank and CMHC said the Canadian housing market is fundamentally strong.

However, higher mortgage carrying costs “will be a catalyst for the decrease in residential construction to 214,650 units in 2008, from 228,343 in 2007,” CMHC said in its second quarter housing market outlook.

Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist, added that most of the pent-up demand that built up during the 1990s “had now been fulfilled and residential construction activity will gradually move in line with Canadian demographic fundamentals.

“These factors will continue to exert downward pressure on housing starts, which will decline to 199,900 units in 2009,” Mr. Dugan said.

Scotiabank, looking at the resale market, reported that home resales – having fallen for four consecutive months – are running about 15 per cent below last summer's historic peak.

“Average annual home price appreciation has eased back into the mid single digits, as overall market conditions come into better balance,” according to the Scotiabank report.

“Adjusted for inflation, the average resale home price in Canada registered its first quarterly decline in seven years in the first quarter of 2008,” the bank said.

However, senior Scotiabank economist Adrienne Warren said in an interview that the softening market is due to a “cyclical slowdown,” and the Canadian housing market is “fundamentally stronger than the situation we're seeing in the U.S.”

The cooling could bring eventually price relief to buyers, she said.

“The market is becoming better balanced, so there will be more homes listed, which takes a little bit of pressure off prices,” Ms. Warren said.

“But it will take some time, and a number of years of fairly soft prices, in order to bring affordability back to the levels” that are typically seen at the beginning of an upward cycle, she said.

CMHC forecast that existing home sales, as measured by Multiple Listing Service, will fall by 8.5 per cent in 2008 to 475,900 units, and the trend will continue in 2009, with a decrease to 465,000 units.

“Despite a slowdown in MLS(R) sales, demand remains strong by historical standards,” CMHC wrote. Average resale prices will increase by 5.1 per cent to $323,000 in 2008, and by 3.3 per cent, to $333,500 in 2009, CMHC projected.

In line with the CMHC report, Scotiabank noted that “cracks are appearing on the new home front as well.

“While housing starts in early 2008 are essentially tracking last year's elevated levels, demand for new residential building permits has fallen sharply. Price increases for new homes are moderating, while inventories of unsold new homes are trending higher.”

Ms. Warren said she expects overall sales volumes in 2008 to be about 15 per cent below last year's record levels, and home prices to increase on average by about five per cent.

“Price gains should slow further in 2009 with the return of a balanced market for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, housing starts are projected to gradually moderate, returning toward underlying annual household formation levels of around 180,000 by the end of the decade, from the current 225,000 unit range,” Ms. Warren said.

The report also notes that the cooling in overall activity is most pronounced in many of Canada's hottest urban housing markets in recent years, including Calgary and Edmonton.

“Both centres have officially moved into buyers' territory as soaring prices weaken demand and fuel new listings. More generally, however, economic conditions continue to favour the resource-rich markets in the West over manufacturing-dominated centres in Central Canada. Regina and Saskatoon are currently in the strongest sellers' position nationally, supported by good affordability, rising population inflows and tight supply,” according to the report.

However, risk of a major correction is low, Ms. Warren said.

“Home prices in Canada are not substantially overvalued. Our long-term housing price model puts average home prices in 2007 at about eight per cent above their long-term trend, compared with a premium of 12 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, at the 1976 and 1989 housing cycle peaks. Recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates placed Canada at the bottom rungs of international home price overvaluation.”

Scotiabank also said in its report that Canada's real estate market is not overbuilt.

“While inventories of unsold homes are trending higher, the number of unabsorbed units, including condominiums, remains well below prior cyclical peaks in most major centres. Tighter lending guidelines and high construction costs have likely contributed to a more cautious approach among builders.

Overall mortgage quality is still sound, Scotiabank said.

“Canada does not have ultra-low teaser rate mortgages that have contributed heavily to U.S. defaults as they reset. Adjustable-rate mortgages, sub-prime lending, borrowing against home equity, and insured investor mortgages all account for a much smaller share of the Canadian mortgage market than in the United States,” the report said.

At the end of the day, we predict a soft landing for the Canadian housing market, with somewhat lower sales and construction, and a period of relatively flat inflation-adjusted home prices,” added Ms. Warren. “While underlying domestic housing fundamentals remain healthy, a major risk to the outlook would be a deeper and more protracted downturn in the U.S. economy, with more serious repercussions for domestic output, employment and income growth.”

© The Globe and Mail


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Steward said:

Fascinating argument, one which evidence exists for it. For example, in 2009 many realty markets in the states saw decreases and some saw increases in price; a mixed bag to say the least. However, in <a href=http://www.jimsparrow.com/blog/nov-09-metro-calgary-stats.html>realty in Calgary</a> prices steadily increased; a trend that Canadian real estate markets also saw. While this is somewhat anecdotal it shows that if looked in depth someone might be able to pull out concrete numbers.

February 16, 2010 2:31 PM

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