Low inventory levels set stage for heated Spring market in most major Canadian centres, says RE/MAX

Active listings down in 81 per cent of markets in January

Lack of inventory will be the greatest challenge facing housing markets across the country this Spring, according to a report released by RE/MAX.

The RE/MAX Market Trends Report 2010, which examined real estate trends and developments in 16 markets across the country, found that unusually strong activity during one of the traditionally quietest months of the year has led to a sharp decline in active listings in 81 per cent of markets surveyed. The threat of higher interest rates, tighter lending criteria, and in British Columbia and Ontario, the introduction of the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) have clearly served to kick-start real estate activity from coast-to-coast, prompting an unprecedented influx of purchasers. As a result, 87.5 per cent of markets posted an increase in sales in January. Average price appreciated in 81 per cent of markets surveyed.

There have never been so many motivating factors in play at once. We’re in for a heated Spring market that will, in all probability, spill over into the summer months, as the window of opportunity draws to a close. The supply of homes listed for sale has been drastically reduced, housing values are once again on the upswing, and banks and governments are moving in unison toward stricter lending policies.

Markets experiencing the tightest inventory levels include Toronto (- 41 per cent); Kitchener-Waterloo
(-33 per cent); Ottawa (- 30 per cent); Victoria (- 30 per cent); Greater Vancouver (- 27 per cent); Halifax-Dartmouth (- 19 per cent); London-St. Thomas (- 18 per cent); Regina (- 16 per cent); and Winnipeg (- 13 per cent). Conditions were still balanced, but starting to tighten in Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon, particularly in the single-family detached category.

The highest year-over-year sales gains were reported in Greater Vancouver (152 per cent), Kelowna (121 per cent), Greater Toronto (87 per cent), Victoria (69 per cent), Hamilton-Burlington (58 per cent), London-St. Thomas (55 per cent) and Calgary (47 per cent). Western Canadian cities dominated the list of centres with the highest increases in price appreciation. These included Victoria at 25.5 per cent, Kelowna at 22 per cent, Greater Vancouver at 19.5 per cent, and Winnipeg at 17 per cent. St. John’s (23 per cent) and Toronto (19 per cent) were also among the frontrunners for price growth.

Affordability is the catalyst for the vast majority of purchasers in today’s housing market. While homeownership is still within reach in many major centres, levels are slipping. There is a growing sense, on both sides of the fence, that the time to act is now.

While buyers are taking advantage of favourable conditions, sellers too are reaping the rewards. Competing bids are a factor in the marketplace once again, with well-priced listings—especially at the entry-level price point—experiencing multiple offers. Properties priced at fair-market value will likely sell quickly for top dollar. The overall pressure on sales and price is significant across the board – and it’s not likely to subside unless more inventory comes on-stream.

The level of frustration is growing, as pent-up demand builds. For every successful offer, there are those that will walk away empty-handed. They’re thrust back into the buyer pool and the process starts all over again. Some buyers are upping the ante, while others are considering alternate housing options. Still, purchasers remain cautious in their bids, with most careful not to max out debt service ratios.

Recent revisions to lending criteria will add fuel to the fire in the short term. Buyers considering a variable rate mortgage will step up their plans for homeownership in the next month or so just to get in under the wire. In the longer term, buyers will adjust, but move forward. Compromise has long been a reality—particularly in the larger centres. This simply means they may go smaller or further in their pursuits.

It’s been a 180 degree turnaround from this time last year. It’s clear that real estate from coast to coast has roared back to life and markets are once again firing on all cylinders. The vast majority of markets are now recovered and fully-evolved, with all segments working in tandem. At the luxury price point, activity was brisk in seventy-three per cent of centres surveyed, with momentum ramping up in the remainder. Opportunity exists in some areas, but the question is for how much longer?

The local real estate market is quite active at the moment. Should you wish to discuss how the information above might impact the value of your current home or the price of a home you might be considering, please feel free to contact me at rdavison@trebnet.com or 905-330-1241. Exciting times!

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Jim Flaherty’s Changes to Mortgage Qualification Rules

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced three changes to Canadian mortgage rules on February the 16th. These are important changes, but less important that what Mr. Flaherty did not change. There had been industry talk of increasing the minimum down payment from 5% to 10% and shortening the maximum amortization period from the available 35 years. Thankfully Jim Flaherty understood that increasing the down payment rules and shortening the amortization would potentially put the brakes on higher priced markets like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

The changes that the Finance Minister did make are designed to impact real estate speculators and heavily indebted people looking to roll higher priced debt into their mortgages. The every day home purchaser should not notice much of a difference following the implementation of the changes as of April 19th, 2010. These changes impact mortgages with less than 20 per cent down that are covered by government backed mortgage insurance, in the following ways:

– Increased mortgage term used for mortgage qualification calculations. Regardless of the term or type of mortgage the consumer selects, they must qualify against the 5 year fixed rate. This is up from the 3 year fixed rate that is currently used for qualification. Once qualified against the 5 year fixed rate, the consumer can select whichever type and term of mortgage they wish. This approach will insulate borrowers from the shock of the rising rates in the future.

– Increased down payment requirements for income properties when the property is not the owner’s principal residence. Investors that purchase these investment properties will have to come up with a 20% down payment to qualify for mortgage insurance as of April 19th, 2010, instead of the 5% down payment required at the moment. Currently, very few investors would purchase a rental property with 5% down payment.

– Mortgage refinance restrictions. Home owners that are looking to roll higher priced consumer debt into their longer term, lower cost mortgage debt through refinancing will face limited access to their equity. Currently, home owners are able to take up to 95% of the equity out of their homes. As of April 19, 2010 refinancing will only be allowed to a limit of 90% of the equity of the home.

Jim Flaherty’s changes to mortgage qualification rules are slightly more restrictive than what was in place prior to his February 16th, 2010 announcement. However, he has not implemented any changes that will put healthy Canadian real estate markets in shackles. These are responsible restrictions that will help the real estate market avoid over heating and heading toward bubble territory.

Should you have any questions about this or any other piece on the 905 West Word blog please feel free to contact me at rdavison@trebnet.com or 905-330-1241.

Resale housing forecast extended to 2011

Published February 8, 2010

OTTAWA – February 8, 2010 – The Canadian Real Estate Association has revised its forecast for home sales via the MLS® Systems of Canadian real estate boards in 2010, and extended the forecast to 2011.

With Canadian economic growth rebounding from the recession, the unusually severe decline in sales activity in early 2009 is not expected to recur in 2010. Annual activity in 2010 is forecast to be well above the previous year’s level as a result.

CREA forecasts national activity will reach 527,300 units in 2010, up 13.3 per cent from 2009. This would represent a new annual record, standing 1.2 per cent above the previous peak in 2007. Low interest rates are expected to boost housing demand in the first half of the year, resulting in strong annual sales growth in nearly all provinces in 2010, led by British Columbia and Ontario.

National home sales activity is expected to remain strong in the first half of 2010, fuelled by low interest rates and homebuyers motivated to avoid the HST before it comes into effect in Ontario and British Columbia. Over the second half of the year, national activity is expected to trend downward as the last of pent-up demand is exhausted, interest rates begin rising, and the HST comes into effect in Ontario and British Columbia.

Interest rate increases will contribute to weaker national sales activity in 2011. National home sales activity is forecast to decline 7.1 per cent to 490,100 units in 2011, putting it on par with annual levels reported in 2005 and 2006.

“Although interest rates are expected to rise, they will still be low enough to keep affordability within reach for many homebuyers requiring mortgage financing, and support overall housing demand,” said CREA President Dale Ripplinger.

The national average home price is forecast to climb 5.4 per cent in 2010, reaching a record $337,500, with average price gains forecast in all provinces. The national average price increase will continue to reflect upward skewing from the rebound in activity among Canada’s priciest markets, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario.

The national average price is forecast to ease by 1.5 per cent in 2011. Modest average price gains are forecast for all provinces except British Columbia and Ontario, whose share of national activity is expected to ease. The shift in the contribution made by provinces toward national activity will continue skewing the annual comparison in the national average price in 2011.

The price trend is similar but less dramatic for the weighted national average price, which compensates for changes in provincial sales activity by taking into account provincial proportions of privately owned housing stock. The weighted national average price is forecast to climb 4.8 per cent in 2010, and remain stable in 2011.

“Improved financial market stability and recovering global economic growth mean that home sales activity in 2010 is unlikely to repeat the dive it experienced in late 2008 and early 2009,” said Chief Economist Gregory Klump.

“Fiscal restraint, a strong Canadian dollar and a subdued inflation outlook point to marginal interest rate increases over the next couple of years, especially if the U.S. economic recovery proves to be weak and protracted,” said Klump.

“The Bank of Canada will need time to gauge the effect of interest rate increases on Canadian economic growth,” Klump said. “It recognizes that consumer debt burdens are running high, so it will want to gauge the impact of interest rate hikes on domestic demand and overall economic growth. Changes in interest rates impact the economy with a lag, so the timing and magnitude of interest rate hikes will be tricky, given that the Bank expects the private sector to lead economic growth once temporary government stimulus spending expires,” he added.

“The decline and subsequent rebound in sales activity for homes in the upper price spectrum in some of Canada’s priciest markets skewed average prices upward in the second half of 2009 and into 2010. This segment of housing activity in Ontario and British Columbia is expected to ease beginning in the second half of 2010, causing average prices to moderate in those provinces,” said Klump.

“A downward trend in national sales activity combined with an increase in listings will result in a more balanced market. Although builders are understandably more upbeat than they were during the depth of the recession, speculative building will likely continue to be held in check. As a result, while the real estate market will become more balanced, Canada will continue to avoid the massive realignment in housing supply and demand experienced in the U.S.”

MLS® Systems are co-operative marketing systems used only by Canada’s real estate Boards to ensure maximum exposure of properties listed for sale.