Surprise! The market didn’t do what it was predicted to do

The unpredictability of 2013 has added yet another surprise. Housing sales dipped in November but the decline expected to follow failed to materialize. Canada’s housing market is on track to close on a stronger note than 2012, defying expectations. Twenty-five out of 26 largest Canadian cities recorded price gains, a complete contrast to predictions made by industry experts earlier this year.

The market it expected to remain resilient through 2014, that is if interest rates remain low. RE/MAX Realty is predicting that sales will increase by 2% and prices by 3%. Canadian Real Estate Association is calling for sales growth of 3.7% with average price increases of 2.3%.

For Calgary, their November year-over-year home price growth, best in the country with more than double the national average, is expected to forge strongly into 2014. Toronto’s 3-year challenge with property shortages isn’t expecting to change, and Vancouver’s laneway house popularity is hoping to help families with affordable housing options.

More highlights from December’s headlines:

OVERALL

  • Stats Canada: Credit-market debt such as mortgages increased to 163.7% of disposable income, compared with a revised 163.1% in the prior three-month period, Mortgage borrowing climbed 1.8% to $1.13 trillion.
  • Stats Canada: Over the last five years, the growth in mortgage debt has averaged 1.7% per quarter, while consumer credit debt growth has averaged 1.2%.
  • Stats Canada: The amount of equity that owners have in their homes as a percentage of real estate dropped to 69.3% in the quarter from 69.5%.
  • Stats Canada: National net worth increased 2.1% to $7.50 trillion in the third quarter. On a per capita basis, the gain was to $212,700 from $209,200.
  • Deutsche Bank Report: Canada has the most overvalued housing market among 20 developed countries. The new report comes as real estate giant Re/Max predicts an “exceptionally healthy” year for real estate in 2014. Deutsche Bank estimates that house prices in Canada are overvalued by 60 per cent. That’s an average of two different measures: Home prices compared to rent (88 per cent overvalued) and home prices compared to income (32 per cent overvalued). The analysis compares house prices to historical norms.
  • Canada’s housing market is on track to close out 2013 on a stronger note than last year, defying the expectations of economists just a few months ago.
  • Canada named Evan Siddall, a former official with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as chief executive officer of the country’s government-owned housing agency, CMHC.
  • CREA chief economist Gregory Klump said while interest rates remain relatively low, the Canadian market should remain “well behaved” based on current trends. “Most housing markets are in balanced territory, including in many large urban centres where sales are below peaks reached earlier this year.
  • Don Lawby, the chief executive of Century 21 Canada, agrees that so far the Canadian housing market seems to be holding its own, if no longer taking off. “The collapse has not happened and it looks like there is a stable market and people are still out there looking for real estate,” said Mr. Lawby. “In my mind what we have now is a very stable market. People have heard this story of a balloon that was going to pop for so long,” said Mr. Lawby. “People carry on as long as their employment carries on. Maybe there is a postal worker out there today not going to buy a house but most people are in a stable environment.”
  • CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal said he could see a little bit of negative sales numbers in December or January but concurs that the market is showing more resiliency than many anticipated.
  • CMHC Report: Growth in owner-occupied condominiums has exploded over the last three decades. In 1981, there were 171,000 owner-occupied condo units but that figure grew to 1,154,000 by 2011.
  • CMHC Report: Women are a growing powerhouse in the Canadian condominium market. Among people who live alone, women made up 65% of owner occupants in 2011. The female factor is even more prevalent among older women with 76% of those 55 and older living alone women. Among lone-parents, women make up 84% of condominium owners.
  • CREA: November’s home sales dipped slightly from October but were up substantially from the same month last year, when the industry was going through a soft patch attributed to changes in federal rules for mortgage lenders and borrowers.
  • “In staggering contrast to the dire forecasts early this year, precisely one of the 26 largest cities in the country has reported a drop in average prices so far this year — Victoria, with a minuscule 0.6 per cent sag,” said Doug Porter, chief economist with BMO Capital Markets. “All of the other 25 cities have recorded single-digit price gains, with the median city posting a non-threatening 3.6 per cent rise. “When judged by total sales volumes, a measure that combines both price changes and the number of units sold, the hottest markets this year have been Calgary, Edmonton, and, against all expectations Vancouver. All three reported double-digit volume increases, the only cities in that category.”
  • CREA: By November, year-to-date sales for the entire country were up 0.2% from the previous year with 433,678 transactions. Prices climbed 5% over the first 11 months of the year from the same period a year earlier to an average of $382,111.
  • A report found Calgary’s median family income at $100,500. Three other cities surveyed had median family incomes of $72,400 in Toronto, $72,800 in Vancouver and $73,200 in Montreal.
  • The ratio of house prices to annual family income in Calgary was 4.1. It was also 4.1 in Montreal, 6.6 in Toronto and 8.3 in Vancouver. The mortgage service costs as a percentage of family income were: 23.1 in Calgary, 39.3 in Toronto, 50.2 in Vancouver and 23.1 in Montreal.

PREDICTIONS

  • “As the housing market stabilizes over the coming quarters and income growth picks up, the debt-to-income ratio is expected to remain close to its current, still elevated, level,” Leslie Preston, an economist at TD Economics.
  • Central 1 Credit Union says higher mortgage rates in the next three years will restrain housing sales in Ontario as a whole, but not cause a market correction. Ontario home prices will rise about 4% a year through 2016, down from a decade-long annual average of about 6%. Toronto condo market will slow as builders delay new construction in the face of weaker demand. Ontario’s overall rental apartment vacancy will hold steady at 2.6% through 2014, before declining to less than 2% in 2016.
  • The Canadian Real Estate Association’s 2013 sales projections have been increased slightly upward in Ontario and the four western provinces and that prices have been generally firmer than expected.
  • Re/Max says that nationally, home sales are expected to climb 2% to 475,000 units next year after a 3% increase to well over 453,000 projected for 2013 when all the numbers are in. At the same time, the value of an average Canadian home is forecast to escalate 3% to $390,000 in 2014 after rising 4% to $380,000 in 2013, according to a survey of the group’s independent brokers and affiliates. Re/Max says its optimism is largely based on an improved outlook for Canada next year which is expected to see the country enjoy economic growth second only to the 2.8% rate of the United States among Group of Seven countries. Although there are several factors that are expected to contribute to rising housing prices on a national basis, one of the most pressing is build out, Re/Max said. “As such, the availability of low-rise homes relative to the population is expected to contract, placing further pressure on prices,” it said.
  • Helmut Pastrick, chief economist of Central 1 Credit Union, expects Toronto resale house prices to continue to climb by a more modest, but still healthy, 4 to 5 per cent through 2016 and double over the next 25 years fuelled by a shortage of land for new development and rising population levels. “Housing in Toronto is expensive but not overvalued, especially from a long-term perspective,” Pastrick said in a forecast. “Today’s record high prices will seem inexpensive in 25 years.”
  • While that spending spree has already shown signs of a letup, demand for houses continues to outstrip supply which could see Toronto price gains “temporarily rise” to as much as 7 per cent, year over year, in early 2014, says Amna Asaf of Capital Economics.
  • Real Estate Association said that it now expects the average price of houses sold over the Multiple Listing Service to have risen by 5.2 per cent this year, to $382,200. Heading into 2013, CREA had been expecting the average price to rise just 0.3 per cent; it became even more pessimistic in March when it revised its forecast and called for a 0.2-per-cent decline, to $362,600.
  • CREA’s prediction for the number of houses that will change hands this year is now 458,200, which would be a 0.8-per-cent increase from 2012. In contrast, at the outset of 2013, CREA was expecting sales to fall 2 per cent, and by March it was expecting sales to fall by 2.9 per cent. CREA is calling for sales to grow by 3.7 per cent in 2014, while it expects average prices to rise by 2.3 per cent.
  • CREA said there was a drop off in the fourth quarter but sales are expected to be up 0.8% this year. In a new forecast, it is now predicting an even stronger rebound with a 3.7% increase in sales.
  • Nationally, CREA is projecting 458,200 homes will be sold through its members this year — eight-tenths of a per cent more than in 2012. CREA also anticipates next year will be even stronger, with 475,000 homes nationally. The updated numbers are slightly ahead of a forecast in September by the association that predicted 449,900 homes sold this year and 465,600 in 2014.
  • CREA: the 2013 projected national average price is $382,200, a 5.2 per cent increase from last year. The projected national average price for 2014 is $391,100, a 2.5 per cent increase from this year.
  • CREA: Alberta this year is projected to reach 66,300 units, which is a 9.8 per cent hike from the previous year and the best growth rate in the country. Sales will rise an additional 3.5 per cent in 2014 to 68,600 units.
  • Across Canada, CREA is forecasting 0.8 per cent growth this year to 458,200 sales and 3.7 per cent growth in 2014 to 475,000. As for the average sale price, CREA is projecting it to rise by 4.9 per cent this year in Alberta to $381,100 followed by 3.4 per cent growth, the best in Canada, in 2014 to $393,900. Across Canada, the association is forecasting 5.2 per cent price growth this year to $382,200 and 2.3 per cent growth in 2014 to $391,100.
  • “A tweak to amortization or requiring a little more down payment is not enough to significantly change the state of the market. The big change will occur when the cost of money starts to rise and that won’t happen in 2014,” says Mr. Soper, Chief executive of Royal LePage Residential Services
  •  “The investor is a big part of the condo market and rents are still rising. It’s not that difficult to find a tenant given the condo vacancy rate is quite low,” says the economist, noting the issue for buyers today is rent is simply not covering all the costs of owning a condo. “If prices start to fall, we could see investors getting antsy and start to sell their units which could aggravate the market,” said Bank of Montreal senior economist Sal Guatieri, who nevertheless says the risk is low because a spike in rates seems unlikely.
  • Toronto: With a surprisingly unpredictable 2013 coming to an end, economists are weighing in on what the future could hold. While opinions vary somewhat, there seems general agreement that house price gains will slow — if not slip by the end of 2014 — and the rental vacancy rate should edge up slightly as a record number of new condos come on the market.

VANCOUVER

  • Of Canada’s four largest real estate markets, Vancouver has the highest number of vacant condos, with 1,934 units completed and unabsorbed.
  • The city of Vancouver says demand for laneway houses continues to grow, with 348 permits to build the rental dwellings issued in 2013. Laneway housing, also known as granny flats, coach or carriage houses and “Fonzie suites,” are usually one-and-a-half or two stories high, and typically built above or next to detached garages in narrow lots or laneways.
    • Laneway housing is just one part of a series of consumer-driven housing trends that is changing the provincial residential construction sector, according to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of B.C. That includes strong demand for smaller, cheaper units, dense housing along transit lines, and residential space in shopping complexes.
    • More than 1,000 laneway house permits have been issued in Vancouver since they became legal in 2009. That year there were just 18 permits handed out. But by 2012 a record 350 permits had been issued, up from 192 in 2010 and 229 in 2011.
    • “We’re seeing this as a family-based solution. Often we see the parents build them for their adult children. So it’s not a silver bullet for the affordable housing strategy but it is one piece in trying to confront the (housing) crisis.” Says city councillor Geoff Meggs
    • Laneway houses were first approved by Vancouver back in 2009 as a way to boost the supply of affordable rental housing in a landlocked city where the vacancy rate has hovered at less than 1 per cent for years and the average two-storey detached house costs more than $1 million. But they’re now exploding in popularity for other reasons, says Brian Jackson, general manager of planning and development for the City of Vancouver: They’re allowing baby boomer homeowners to downsize but yet age in their own communities. They’re also enabling echo kids to stay close to home and raise their kids in neighbourhoods they otherwise couldn’t afford. In fact, the program has worked so well that the City of Vancouver has now amended its bylaws so that every single-family lot can now have three units — a basement apartment and upper suite in the main house, as well as a laneway home in the backyard. Already he’s working with one B.C. credit union that’s approving so-called “mixer mortgages” that allow shared ownership of a property. He foresees a day where two buyers will jointly own both the main house and a laneway home through something akin to a condominium agreement, and perhaps even swap homes as their personal circumstances change.

TORONTO

  • TREB: Toronto home sales rose 13.9% to 6,391 units in November from the same month the year before. The average price of homes sold during the month rose 11.3% to $538,881
  • Despite concerted efforts by Ottawa to cool the housing market, the average price of a home in the GTA hit $538,881 last month, up from $484,208 in November of 2012.
  • But what’s really pushing up prices — in addition to exceptionally low interest rates — is the worsening shortage of properties for sale that has plagued the Toronto market for more than three years now. The number of new “for sale” signs dotting the region was down 4.4 per cent in November, year over year, and month-end active listings were down 12.1 per cent, according to TREB.
  • TREB: The number of new “for sale” signs dotting the region was down 4.4 per cent in November, year over year, and month-end active listings were down 12.1 per cent.
  • The average sale price of a detached house in Toronto was a whopping $855,188 in November.
  • Condo sales showed somewhat mixed results depending on where people were buying. Sales remained strong in both the city and suburbs, up 12.7 per cent and 14.2 per cent respectively.
  • Resale condo prices were up 10 year cent, year over year, in the 416 region, but they were down just slightly, 0.4 per cent, in the 905 regions.

CALGARY

  • 22,489 MLS sales in the city, up 10.85 per cent from a year ago. New listings of 31,366 are up by 0.75 per cent but active listings of 3,034 are down 19.27 per cent. So far this year, the median selling price of $400,000 has increased by 5.26 per cent while the average sale price of $456,680 has risen by 6.60 per cent.
  • BMO Economics report: new home construction has picked up but housing starts have barely kept pace with an exploding population. “Inventories of new homes are very low, while benchmark prices are climbing the fastest among major cities and have now all but retraced the 16 per cent collapse from 2007 to 2009.
  • Guatieri, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, said that despite “heady price gains” they remain reasonable at about four times the median family income and mortgage costs “consuming a manageable” 23 per cent of earnings. “About half of the increase in prices is supported by rising income. Hourly wages in Alberta are up 4.4 per cent year over year in the first 10 months of the year, double the national rate,” he said. BMO said immigrants and young Canadians are flocking to the city, drawn by better job prospects, faster wage growth, and healthier housing affordability than in Vancouver and Toronto.
  • (December) Sales in the city are actually higher than new listings this month making it a strong sellers’ market right now.
  • Calgary Real Estate Board: total MLS sales in the city were 546 transactions, up 14.95 per cent from the same period a year ago. New listings of 511 are up by 1.19 per cent. Active listings of 2,865 are down 18.77 per cent.
  • The tight market has pushed sale prices higher this month than a year ago. The median price of $406,000 is up by 7.98 per cent while the average sale price has risen by 0.91 per cent to $457,758.
  • CREB: the last time the city has had more sales than listings was December 2012. Before that, it was 2006. Right now, it’s looking like this December will be the 12th time since 1990 when sales eclipse new listings and seven of those have been in December.
  • Canadian Real Estate Association: Calgary year-over-year home price growth was the best in Canada in November and more than doubled the national average.
  • CREA: MLS sales across Canada in November rose by 5.9 per cent to 32,411 units. They were up by 18.7 per cent in Calgary to 2,173 units and increased by 13.1 per cent in Alberta to 4,563 sales.
  • BMO: If there is a market that can support further price gains it is Calgary, which has been a major benefactor of net-immigration growth. Alberta attracted 53,000 more people in the last year than it lost.

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