Has the Canadian housing market reached its zenith? Will the red-hot housing market begin to cool down? Will new homebuyers get a chance to achieve the Canadian dream of owning property? As Canadian real estate skyrockets, reporting record-breaking figures month after month, the list of questions just keeps on growing!
It has been a raucous 16 months in Canada’s housing industry. From major urban centres to rural communities, sales activity and home prices have been soaring to unprecedented heights. Historically low interest rates, strengthening demand, and lacklustre inventory levels – there have been many factors accelerating the housing affordability crisis. This had defied conventional thinking in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, with some anticipating a collapse of the Canadian real estate market. Instead, the housing sector has become so intense that bidding wars, bully offers, and blind bidding have infected small towns, suburbs, and cottage country.
The latest data suggest that the Canadian housing market may have finally peaked. Across the country, price growth has slowed down, residential sales have declined, and more supply is coming to market. Moreover, expectations of higher interest rates and stress tests could be additional factors that could spawn a noteworthy slowdown.
This could be the lifeline that many young families had been hoping for in the post-pandemic recovery.
Sales Volumes Finally Start to Cool in Canadian Housing Market
According to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national residential sales tumbled 12.5 per cent month-over-month in April. The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI), which is considered a more accurate representation of average and median prices, rose 2.4 per cent in April.
Indeed, on an annualised basis, home sales and prices have soared 256 per cent and 41.9 per cent, respectively. But these figures are skewed since the nationwide real estate market was at a standstill at this time a year ago. This is why, when examining small communities in the Ontario real estate market or Atlantic Canada, that sales and prices are up as much as 600 per cent.
Industry experts are now concentrating on month-over-month data to garner some insight into what could be happening as the summer progresses. But, for now, the consensus is that the significant gains of the last year are unlikely to be replicated moving forward.
“While housing markets across Canada remain very active, there is growing evidence that some of the extreme imbalances of the last year are beginning to unwind, which is what everyone wants to see happen,” said Cliff Stevenson, Chair of CREA, in a news release.
That said, Stevenson made a good point that the fresh lockdowns and restrictions imposed in the last few months might force the spring market into the summer, igniting another round of pent-up demand.
“The result is that a relatively more ‘reasonable’ set of numbers in April 2021 looks both way up or way down depending on what crazy part of the last year you compare them to, but the correct interpretation of those big numbers is that the April housing numbers came in somewhere in between those extremes, which is a good thing,” he stated. “While we still have a ways to go, measures of market balance have finally turned a corner and monthly price growth has decelerated. I believe we’ve all wanted to see the temperature turned down on this market after the last year and it looks as though that is finally happening.”
Moreover, fresh housing stocks keep getting injected into the market. New numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) show that housing starts advanced 2.53 per cent to 279,055 units. The six-month moving average is heading in the right direction, possibly alleviating tight conditions and setting the tone for the remainder of the year.
Inside the Canadian Housing Market
Let’s take a look inside the Canadian real estate market and see how individual markets are performing:
Vancouver (April | MoM)
- Residential Sales: -14 per cent
- Benchmark Price: +2.6 per cent to $1,152,600
Edmonton (April | MoM)
- Residential Sales: +17.6 per cent
- Residential Average Prices: -0.4 per cent to $389,773
Toronto (April | MoM)
- Residential Sales: -12.7 per cent
- Average Price: 0% at $1,090,992
Montreal (May | MoM)
- Residential Sales: -14 per cent
- Median Prices for Single-Family Homes: +3.11 per cent to $496,000
Halifax (May | MoM)
- Residential Sales: -12.5 per cent
- Average Price: +2.57 per cent to $363,300
Will New Developments Douse the Fire?
At the end of its June policy meeting, the Bank of Canada (BoC) decided to leave interest rates unchanged at 0.25 per cent. According to the central bank’s guidance, rates are expected to remain unchanged until the second half of next year. The institution is forecasting a robust economic rebound this summer, alluding to reopening, greater vaccination rates, and higher consumer spending.
Does this mean it is all quiet on the western front? Not exactly.
The new stress test level went into effect on June 1, which will make it harder to qualify for a mortgage. The federal government increased the minimum financial threshold that anyone applying for a mortgage must meet to 5.25 per cent, which is two per cent above borrower’s mortgage rate.
This move will reduce the number of qualified borrowers and is projected to cool down the Canadian real estate market. With signs that the housing sector is on the road to cooling down, this could further douse the flames. But will this prevent another barrier to entry for new homebuyers? While price growth will not accelerate as it did a year ago, home valuations across the country are at record highs, making it harder for many households to purchase a property.
Meanwhile, Ottawa is expected to relax border restrictions soon, facilitating immigration and the movement of people. Since immigration levels were projected to top 400,000 this year, an influx of even half that figure would add pressure to a market with limited supplies.
What’s Next for Canadian Real Estate?
The Royal Bank of Canada’s senior economist Robert Hogue did an excellent job of succinctly summarizing the state of the Canadian real estate market recently: the mania has toned down, fewer homeowners are listing homes for sales, homebuyers are declining faster than sellers, and a reversal of the “unsustainable spike” is unfolding.
Real estate agents and market analysts alike will undoubtedly hone in on the summer months like a guided missile!