Canadian real estate has been one of the hottest in the world throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Virtually every region from coast to coast, from the major urban centres to cottage country and rural areas, have posted record-setting growth during what can only be described as chaotic times. The Canadian housing market has been so strong, that it has supported the nation’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the sharpest financial crisis in history. But it has also been a double-edged sword for many households.

Although many had anticipated a slowdown in the housing sector at the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis (which never materialized), the rapid sales activity and the ballooning prices suggested these prognostications were incorrect. As a result, this has created a housing affordability crisis, leaving many Canadians sitting on the sidelines and unable to achieve the dream of home ownership.

While the economic data has pointed to a modest cooling period of recent sky-high gains, some industry experts believe the sector could find additional support from yield-hungry investors, albeit at a modest level. Indeed, how much investors would contribute to valuations is uncertain at this point, but even a modicum of investment could further lift prices in the critical jurisdictions of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and a growing list of other municipalities.

Are Investors Driving Up Canadian Real Estate Prices?

According to data published in the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) financial system review, investors represented one-fifth of all residential purchases nationwide. Since the early days of the once-in-a-century global health crisis, investor buying advanced 20.1 per cent. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), investors accounted for 22.7 per cent of home purchases, says BoC. This is higher than in the pre-pandemic economy, but lower than at the end of the previous housing boom.

Considering that the national average home price has skyrocketed by more than a third to north of $700,000, it would be simple to surmise that this is the doing of real estate investors. However, experts contend that it could be difficult to reach this conclusion without further study. Meanwhile, others are blaming the housing inventory shortage for rising prices.

“Determining the precise level at which investor activity should be a cause for concern is difficult and requires further study,” central bank spokesman Alex Paterson told The Globe and Mail.

Earlier this year, the BoC told reporters that there is growing evidence that real estate investors are engaging in “a lot more flipping,” creating a “fear of missing out” for both investors and buyers.

One of the data points policymakers might be looking at is gross fixed capital formation (GFCF). According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than one-third of GFCF is allocated to real estate investing. The previous high was 22.4 per cent in the year 2000. Moreover, housing now imbibes more than 66 per cent of the nation’s fixed capital investment.

Better Dwelling may have said it best: “To say it’s disproportional for the size of the economy is a big understatement.”

That said, Aled ab Iorwerth, the deputy chief economist at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), said in an interview with the media outlet that when real estate investors substantively enter the market, they will inevitably boost home prices. And, according to Jean-Philippe Deschamps-Laporte, the chief of Statistics Canada’s Housing Statistics Program, this will make it harder for homebuyers to compete, emphasizing that “that is a fact.”

Buyers could find it challenging to afford to purchase a home in Canada, even in Atlantic Canada or rural communities in the west. But, with the latest trend of developers and lucrative investment funds going on a buying spree of properties, renters could bear the brunt of higher prices. Over the next 12 to 18 months, it could be the last time to move into a somewhat affordable apartment or condominium unit as a combination of low vacancy rates, a paucity of affordable housing, and stronger competition could lead to soaring rents in the urban centres.

An Affordability Crisis in the Rental Market?

In June, social media was abuzz that investment institutions have been scooping up homes and even entire communities across the United States. Despite the conspiracy theories scattered across the Twitterverse, this has had been part of the finance industry’s plans prior to the pandemic. Still, there are fears that this would further exacerbate affordability issues, and not just for homebuyers.

Is the same trend occurring up north? With interest rates sitting at record lows, the same developments are unfolding across Canada.

Over the last year, there was nearly $13 billion in apartment building transactions. This included Starlight Investments and KingSett Capital acquiring 27,000 apartment units and several hundred short-term rental apartments throughout the country. In a market where high-income households are forced to rent, the latest investment developments make sense.

On the surface, this might seem like a worrying move. But, once you scratch underneath the surface, economists suggest that these developers are not reducing the housing supply. “They are shifting it from home ownership to rental,” noted CMHC’s deputy chief economist.

Are Buyers Giving Up?

It is hard to disagree with the notion that this has been a stressful and fatiguing real estate market for young families. Recent polls have found that a notable percentage of Canadian homebuyers are suffering from buyer fatigue. Other surveys suggest a considerable number of households do not think they will ever be able to buy a home. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) discovered that most Canadian real estate markets are witnessing buyers dropping out of the market quicker than sellers. If this keeps up, the country could see a generation of permanent renters. That is until a significant correction or downturn takes place. Will this happen? As has been the case over the last 16 months, anything can happen.